Native American History

The story of Native Americans in St. Louis begins before the arrival of explorers and pioneers when the region was home to an enormous city called Cahokia. The 20,000-person metropolis thrived from AD 700 until sometime after AD 1300. When European explorers first mapped the Mississippi River in the 1500s, the great city of Mound Builders had been abandoned.

Today at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in Illinois visitors can enter the world of the Mound Builders. Walk in their footsteps up Monk’s Mound, the largest of the area’s surviving earthen structures, and see the 2,200-acre United Nations World Heritage Site below. Special events throughout the year bring visitors closer to the lives of the early residents. At Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial, Missouri, half an hour south of downtown St. Louis, the relationship between the Ice Age mammals and the prehistoric Native American tribes that hunted them is explored. In the so-called Historic Period, after the arrival of the French, the Missouri and Osage tribes dominated the St. Louis region, but by the 1820s, most tribes had headed west. The Trail of Tears, marking the forced march of the Cherokee nation from the East Coast to the established Indian Territory of the West, brought additional Native Americans through Missouri.

Today, representatives from various tribes gather at powwows, dances and other activities held in St. Louis throughout the year, with about 3,500 Native Americans residing in the area. The Museum of Westward Expansion at the Gateway Arch offers visitors a view of the Native American experience during the opening of the West, including highlights such as an animatronic figure of Chief Red Cloud and an exhibit of Indian Peace Medals.