Guide to Native American Experience in Missouri

Resources for Native American History Research

Collections of primary source materials related to Native Americans held by the State Historical Society of Missouri include records, papers, correspondence, letters, and firsthand accounts of travelers on the Missouri and western frontiers. The Missouri Historical Review also features a number of articles on Native Americans in Missouri.

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A Brief History

When it became a state in 1821, Missouri had a Native American population estimated at around 20,000. Native peoples within the state included the Kickapoo, Shawnee, Ioway, Otoe, Delaware, and Osage. Most of these nations had been driven to Missouri from the east by growing numbers of white inhabitants. The territory of the Osage, the most powerful tribe, included land in present-day Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. But in an 1808 treaty the Osage had given up most of their land in southern Missouri Territory, believing the treaty permitted them to continue hunting and fishing in this region. Conflict between Native and European Americans grew as Missouri’s white population increased and expanded from its earliest areas of settlement along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers into the ancestral lands of the Osage.

By the 1830s most Native Americans had been pushed out of Missouri. Many tribes passed through the state on their way west to the Indian Territory during the forced relocations of the 1830s, including the Cherokees on their tragic journey along the Trail of Tears. There are no federally recognized Native American tribes within the state today, yet many Missouri place-names are of Native American origin. This includes the name of the state itself, which derives from the Missouri or Missouria tribe and means “one who has dugout canoes.” The Missouria, however, called themselves the Niuachi, “People of the river’s mouth.”