Springfield-Greene County History

Local History Website of the SMSU Department of History


Indians in Missouri

Missouri has been the home of many nations of Indians.  The Missouri, Osage, Delaware, Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Cherokee are the major nations.  Wea and Piankashaw, divisions of the Miami, lived in the state for a while as well.  The Sauk and Fox made frequent incursions into northern Missouri, but most of those two nations did not live in the state.

The Missouri (or Missouria as they are sometimes known) gave their name to the state and the major river that runs through it, but they were almost exterminated by the Sauk and Fox in 1798.  The Missouri were traveling by canoe on the Missouri River toward St. Louis on a trading trip when there were attacked and almost wiped out by the Sauk and Fox.  Lewis and Clark met with a few of the Missouri during their trip west.  Most of the Missouri had joined with either the Osage who were a related nation or the Oto for protections.  The Oto had joined with the Pawnee in Nebraska for protection as well.

The Osage were longtime residents of the regions in Missouri south of the Missouri and in northern Arkansas.  They had also lived north of the Missouri River, but were forced out by the Sauk and Fox nations by the late 1790s.  The Osage were divided into three bands.  On band, the Great Osage, lived in what is now southeast Bates County in Missouri, the Little Osage that lived near the mouth of the Osage River, and the Arkansas band on the Verdigris River, a tributary of the Arkansas.  In 1803, the Little Osage had a village on the Missouri River near where Fort Osage was built later, but attacks from the Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo nations forced them to move near the Grand Osage for more protection.

The Grand Osage made much use of the Ozarks region for hunting.  They would build temporary lodges that looked like an inverted bird’s nest.  The lodge was built by sticking slender green poles, sharpened at both ends, into the ground and crossing at the top.  Small twigs would be woven between the poles and filled in with a mixture of mud, grass, and cane.  These temporary lodges would be abandoned when the game they hunted became less abundant.  The Osage would then move on and repeat the process in a more favorable hunting area.

In 1808, the Grand and Little Osage bands signed a treaty with the United States at Fort Osage.  The Osage gave up any claim to the land east of a line form Fort Osage south to the Arkansas River, north of the Arkansas to its mouth, west of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Missouri, and south of the Missouri back to Fort Osage.  This was practically all of southern Missouri.  In return, the Osage received $1200 in cash and $1500 in merchandise.  In 1825, the Osage gave up claim to their remaining land in Missouri and Arkansas and part of their land in Kansas in return for $7000 annually for seven years.

By 1837, with their annuities being paid in goods of little or no value, the Osage were in a state or poverty and near starvation.  They made hunting excursions into Missouri and Arkansas and those hunting trips so alarmed residents of Missouri that the residents called for the state militia.  A large number of Osage had gathered near Sarcoxie where they were met by Missouri militia and sent back across the state line to their reservation in Kansas.  During the winter of 1836-37, Osage hunters again entered Missouri to visit one of their favorite hunting grounds.  Three officers of the militia were sent to tell the Osage to go back to their reservation.  The officers were accompanied by Charley, an African-American who had been raised among the Delaware, whose function was to act as interpreter.  They came across a great number of Osage gathered near a sawmill about 35 miles southwest of Springfield.  The officers decided on strong action and gathered over a hundred men at Ozark.  The Osage began moving back toward their reservation, but the militia overtook them.  The warriors were forced to give up their arms, mostly bows and arrows, but a few guns were included, to provide against any hostilities breaking out.  The guns were rendered unusable by removing the flints from the locks and ramming a ball down the barrel to jam it.  The guns were then returned and the Osage moved back to the reservation.  These incidents came to be known as the “Sarcoxie Wars.”  The Osage caused no further problems in southwest Missouri.

About 650 Shawnee arrived in Missouri in 1770 and settled in southeast Missouri.  Delaware first moved to Missouri in 1784 and settled near Ste. Genevieve in eastern Missouri where the Spanish found them useful as a buffer against the Americans and as protection against Osage horse thieves.  The Spanish governor invited other Delaware and Shawnee to emigrate from Ohio in 1788 and in 1793, the governor granted twenty-five square miles of land to the Delaware and Shawnee near Cape Girardeau.  By 1800, three of the five bands of Shawnee were in Missouri and more Shawnee were living in Missouri than in Ohio.  The Shawnee and Delaware maintained close ties to protect each other from the Osage who liked to steal horses and with the Kaskaskia Indians in Illinois who remembered earlier wars with the Shawnee and Delaware.  By 1815, several hundred of these Delaware and Shawnee had moved to Texas where Spanish authorities used them as a buffer against the Comanche.  In 1825, the 1400 Shawnee in Missouri signed a treaty in St. Louis with William Clark exchanging their land near Cape Girardeau for 2500 square miles in eastern Kansas, $14,000 in moving expenses, and $11,000 to pay debts owed to white traders.

In 1818, the Delaware remaining in Indiana signed the St. Mary’s Treaty ceding all their land in Indiana and agreed to move west of the Mississippi.  The Wea and Piankashaw divisions of the Miami were also parties to that treaty and eventually about 500 from those divisions settled with the Delaware in Missouri.  They were given land in southwest Missouri and moved to the James River in that area between 1820 and 1822.  A town was established on the James about ten miles southwest of Springfield, but other villages were scattered up and down the James and on the banks of Wilson’s Creek.  Many of the homes were built of logs with wood floors and some even had two or three rooms.  One of the white settlers already in the area went to St. Louis to confirm the Delaware’s claim to the land.  In St. Louis, he discovered that the Delaware were telling the truth and that the settlers would have to leave.

Even though the Osage had ceded the land to the government in 1808, they still used the land for hunting and saw the Delaware as intruders.  The Osage were exceptional horse thieves and “acquired” many Delaware horses.  The Osage attacked a Delaware hunting party in 1824 and made a horse-stealing raid in 1826.  These events caused the Delaware and Kickapoo to unite against the Osage.  Government intervention was required to prevent a war and a treaty was signed in St. Louis by all the partied in 1826.  Like many treaties, this one did not stop the bad feeling.  The real problem was that the area was over-hunted and there was not enough game to feed everyone anymore.

In 1829, the Delaware still in Ohio ceded their land to the government and agreed to move west and join the Delaware already in Missouri.  The Delaware on the James River did not know how they could feed another 100 mouths, so they agreed to give up their Missouri lands and move to a reserve in Kansas just north of the Shawnee.

Some of the Kickapoo got an early start in Missouri.  In 1763, a group of Kickapoo moved across the Mississippi River from Illinois and established a village just north of St. Louis.  This village was used a base to attack the Osage villages in central Missouri.  In one raid in 1800, the Kickapoo destroyed a village of the Little Osage on the Missouri River and killed 50 Osage warriors.

In 1819, following the War of 1812, the Kickapoo signed treaties with the United States at Edwardsville, Illinois and Fort Harrison, Indiana ceding all their land in Illinois and Indiana and agreed to move to Missouri.  The government had given the Kickapoo land in southwestern Missouri adjacent to that of the Osage who the Kickapoo had been fighting for over a century.  This caused many Kickapoo to resist moving to Missouri.  Eventually, Federal troops and state militia were needed to evict the Kickapoo from Illinois and Indiana.  Between 1819 and 1824, most Kickapoo were sent to Missouri.

About 1812, a band of Kickapoo who had left Illinois or Indiana built a village near the site of present day Springfield and it was called “Kickapoo settlement.”  It was believed to be near what is now Phelps Grove Park.  It had about 100 lodges and they farmed to the southwest what came to be known as Kickapoo prairie.  Another Kickapoo village was located just north of Strafford in 1828.  In 1832, the Kickapoo ceded their lands in southwest Missouri and moved to a reservation in Kansas near Fort Leavenworth.

Author: Greg Snider

Lewis, Meriwether and William Clark.  The Journals of Lewis and Clark.  Edited by Nicholas Biddle.  Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1814.  Reprint, New York:  Heritage Press, 1962.;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

Website Created and Maintained by F. Thornton Miller, SMSU Department of History