Native American Experience Research Guide

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.”

Articles from Missouri Historical Review and Missouri Times

Digital Collections

Many of SHSMO's digitized collections include information about Native Americans. However, please be aware that many of these materials document a Euro-American perspective on Indigenous peoples and may be inaccurate or offensive.

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Historic Missourian Biographies

Sacred Sun, also known as Mohongo, was a courageous Osage woman who lived for some time on Osage land in present-day Missouri. An adventurous and brave woman, she lived during a period of great change for the Osage. She took a remarkable journey to Europe and her adventure was recorded in French and American newspapers and pamphlets of the day. The accounts of her ambitious journey to Europe offer a glimpse of her life and personality.

White Cloud was a leader of the Ioway and in charge of ensuring the future survival of his people. As settlers flooded onto the Ioways’ land in Iowa and Missouri, that job became very difficult. While some wanted him to resist the white settlers, White Cloud believed that the Ioways could only survive by working with them. After the United States government took over Missouri, White Cloud accepted the U.S. officials as leaders and did his best to follow their laws and advice. While the process was long and difficult, the Ioway have survived.


The State Historical Society of Missouri manuscript collections include primary source materials related to Native Americans.

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On Demand Programs

Points, Pots, Pipes, and Powwows: Missouri's Indigenous Peoples

History books tend to include Missouri’s Indigenous population only during periods when they were a threat to the state’s white settlement. These histories overlook the fact that Native people have lived here for at least twelve thousand years and continue to call Missouri home today. Historian Greg Olson describes the centuries of Indigenous presence in the state and how the inventiveness and adaptability of Missouri’s Indigenous population has changed and evolved in the face of extreme challenges. Olson shows how this resilience allowed Indigenous people and their traditions to survive in Missouri in the twenty-first century. 

Together for '21: "Wait … There are Native People in Missouri?" with Galen Gritts

Watch as Missouri Humanities Council Native Heritage speaker Galen Gritts of St. Louis talks about land acknowledgment of Indigenous people in Missouri and their history long before statehood. Gritts, who is a tribal member of the Cherokee Nation, relates the story of the historic tribes in Missouri and their forced removal from their home by the U.S. government. Gritts also speaks about what it’s like to be a Native person in Missouri and the continued presence and importance of Indigenous people to the future of Missouri history, life, and culture.

White Man’s Paper Trail: Extinguishing Indigenous Land Claims in Missouri

Watch as Greg Olson, independent researcher, writer, and 2020 Center for Missouri Studies Fellow, discusses his article, “White Man’s Paper Trail: Extinguishing Indigenous Land Claims in Missouri.” Drawing on his July 2021 Missouri Historical Review article, Olson examines the treaties that gave the United States legal claim to the state of Missouri and explores the legal foundations that led Americans to believe they had the right to infringe upon Native sovereignty. Olson also highlights how the process of making treaties was intertwined with the military and commercial interests of state leaders, some of whom served as treaty negotiators.