Who are the Missouri Indians?

Paul Woods

The Missouri Indians, also known as the Missouria Indians, are among the ancestors of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Native Americans based on a federal reservation in Oklahoma, near the town of Red Rock. Never a very numerous people, the Missouri Indians trace their history to a tribe that lived around the Great Lakes before Europeans came to North America. Between the 1700s and the late 1800s, the Missouri were devastated by wars with other Indian tribes and disease, eventually merging with the Otoe Indians and accepting forced resettlement by the United States government from northern Missouri to Kansas and ultimately to Oklahoma.

Like many Native American groups, the Missouri used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.
Like many Native American groups, the Missouri used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.

Tribes of Native American peoples typically are broken down by language groups. The Missouri Indians initially spoke Chiwere, part of the Sioux linguistic family. Chiwere is no longer used as a language in everyday Missouri life and only spoken by a few elder members.

The Missouri Tribe left the Great Lakes region for an area in what is now the northwest portion of the state of Missouri, giving that region its name. Primarily settling where the Grand and Missouri rivers meet, the tribe split into the Otoe and the Missouri tribes in the 1600s. According to tribal legend, a romantic liaison between a son and daughter of two chiefs of the tribe led to the split. The Otoe, with whom the Missouri would ultimately reunite, settled in the far northwest corner of what is now Missouri.

Wars with other tribes plagued the Missouri in the 1700s, particularly attacks by the Fox Tribe. In the mid-1700s, repeated attacks decimated the remaining Missouri Indians forcing the reunification with the Otoes in what became known as the Otoe-Missouria Tribe. The Missouri lost additional tribe members to small pox as well. By the 1800s, some estimates place the total number of Missouri Indians in the Otoe-Missouria Tribe at less than 100.

In the mid-1800s, the combined tribe was forcibly settled on a reservation in northern Kansas. For about 10 years in the late 1800s, the tribe split into those who desired to assimilate in the wider U.S. population and those who desired to maintain the tribal traditions. The groups settled on different reservations until 1890 when they reunited. After resettling on federal land in Oklahoma, the tribe has a total population of around 1,300, including those who live on and off the reservation, and owns several casinos on its property.

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