Skip to main content
  The Houston Canoe Club
Share our Joy of Paddling!

P.O. Box 925516
Houston, Texas

The Houston Canoe Club 

is a Paddle America Club

Link to ACA

Add Me To Your Mailing List
HomeNL-2019-02 Missouri

February 2019
by John Rich

Everyone is familiar with the state of Missouri, the 24th state of the United States, whose capital is Jefferson City.  Many of us have visited this beautiful state of the Ozarks, and seen "the Arch" in St. Louis.  But do you know how the state got it's name?  I bet not. 

The state of Missouri, as well as the Missouri River, get their names from a tribe of indigenous Sioux Indians called the Missouris, also called the Missouria. The word "Missouri" often has been construed to mean "muddy water" but the Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology has stated it means "town of the large canoes," and authorities have said the Indian syllables from which the word derives means "wooden canoe people" or "he of the big canoe".  Yes, that's right, the name "Missouri" is all about canoes!

Humans have inhabited the land now known as Missouri for at least 12,000 years. The Missouri tribe's oral history tells that they once lived north of the Great Lakes in present day Canada, and they began migrating south in the 16th century, where they settled through the 18th century.  By 1600, the tribe lived in bands near the mouth of the Grand River at its confluence with the Missouri River, and at the mouth of the Missouri at its confluence with the Mississippi River.  

The Indians 
created regional political centers at present-day St. Louis and across the Mississippi River at Cahokia in what is now Illinois. Cahokia was the center of a regional trading network that reached from the Great Lakes all the way south to the Gulf of MexicoThe complex 
Mississippian Indian culture built huge cities and ceremonial earthen mounds. St. Louis was at one time known as Mound City by the European Americans, because of the numerous surviving prehistoric mounds, since lost to modern urban development. 

And with all the rivers, travel and trading, canoes were certainly a vital part of life in the Missouri culture. So much so, that their tribe was named after their canoes.

The civilization declined by 1400, and most descendants left the area long before the arrival of Europeans in the 1
7th century, who encountered what was left of the Osage and Missouri nations. The 17th century brought hardships to the Missouri. The Sauk and Fox tribes frequently attacked them. Their society was even more disrupted by high fatalities from epidemics of smallpox and other diseases that came with European contact. After a smallpox outbreak in 1829, fewer than 100 Missouri Indians survived, and they all joined with the Otoe tribe.

The remaining Indians signed treaties with the US government in 1830 and 1854 to cede their lands in Missouri. They relocated to the Otoe-Missouri reservation at the Kansas-Nebraska border, where they now number 3,000 inhabitants.

Missouri, in the
United States
Indian tribes

Missouri Indians

Missouri Secretary of State:
Otoe-Missouria Tribe:

The author, John Rich