Missouria (Native Americans of the Great Plains)

Missouria or Missouri, an Algonquian term probably meaning "People with Dugout Canoes." Their self-designation was Niutachi, or "People of the River Mouth." They were closely related to Poncas, Ioways, Otoes, and Winnebagos. All Southern Siouans had elements of both Plains and Woodland cultures.

Location Located near the Missouri and Grand Rivers in the late eighteenth century, today most Missourias live in the Red Rock region of Oklahoma and in regional cities and towns.

Population There were about 1,000 Missourias in the late eighteenth century. Enrolled membership as of the mid-1990s was about 1,500.

Language Iowa-Otoe-Missouria was a member of the Chiwere division of the Siouan language family.

Historical Information

History According to tradition, the Winnebago, Ioway, Missouria, and Otoe once lived together north of the Great Lakes. In the sixteenth century, the groups began migrating south toward their historic areas. The Otoe and Missouria continued past the Ioway and especially the Winnebago until they reached the junction of the Missouri and Grand Rivers around 1600. There the tribes had a falling out ascribed to a love affair between the two chiefs’ children.

After the split, the Missouria were under constant attack from such tribes as the Sauk and Fox. They were also regularly struck by smallpox and other diseases. Jacques Marquette encountered the Missouria in 1673 by the Missouri and Grand Rivers. Trade with the French soon developed and continued for about a century.

In 1730, after the Sauk killed several hundred of their people, the Missouria moved across the Missouri River and settled near the Osage. After they acquired horses in the early to mid-eighteenth century, their lives became much more focused on hunting buffalo. The Missouria were nearly all killed in a 1798 Fox ambush on the Missouri River. Many rejoined the Otoe at that time. Some also went to live with the Osage and the Kaw. Several years later, the rest of the tribe, including the fewer than 100 survivors of the devastating 1829 smallpox epidemic, joined the Otoes.

Several difficult decades followed, during which the people continued to battle disease as well as Indians and non-Indians. By treaties in the 1830s and 1854, the Otoe-Missouria ceded all land and moved to a 162,000-acre reservation on the Kansas-Nebraska border, along the Big Blue River. Additional land cessions in occurred in 1876 and 1881.

Two factions developed in 1880 over the issue of acculturation. The Coyote, or traditional faction, moved to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Quakers ceded their land for a 129,000-acre reservation near Red Rock in north-central Oklahoma. Most Coyotes joined them by 1890, having lived for a time in a separate village on the Iowa Reservation. The reservation was allotted by 1907.

The tribe established a court system for both civil and criminal cases by 1900. Many people lived by growing grains and potatoes. After oil was discovered on their land in 1912, the United States forced many Otoe-Missourias to give up their allotments. During the early to mid-twentieth century, intermarriage truly created one tribe. Many Indians left the region during the 1930s. The tribe received a $1.5 million land claim settlement in 1955 and another payment in 1964. Both were divided on a per capita basis.

Religion Wakonda was recognized as a universal spirit, to which the people could draw closer through fasting and vision seeking. There were secret curing and dance societies and a hereditary priesthood. As part of a Woodland ceremony related to the Ojibwa Midewiwin, members of a particular religious society "shot" a prospective member with a magic shell. The candidate was later restored by older shamans.

Government Political authority was vested in hereditary clan and war chiefs.

Customs Each of about ten patrilineal clans had specific social and religious responsibilities. The people played lacrosse, a Woodland game. Corpses were placed in a tree or buried in the ground. A four-day mourning period followed funerals, and a horse was sometimes killed so that the dead person’s spirit might have transportation to the spirit world.

Dwellings Missourias lived in small farming villages of between 40 and 70 semiexcavated earth lodges. Each lodge measured about 40 feet in diameter and was constructed of interwoven brush and grass over a heavy wooden framework, with an outer earthen layer. From the eighteenth century on, the people used skin tipis on hunting trips.

Diet Women grew corn, beans, and squash in river bottomlands. Men assisted with the crops but mainly hunted buffalo (twice a year from the eighteenth century on), deer, and small game. Hunting, in fact, was a major occupation, and once on the Plains the Missouria gradually came to rely more on buffalo than on crops. The people also gathered plant foods such as nuts, berries, and roots, and they ate fish.

Key Technology Crops were stored in underground bell-shaped caches. People speared fish or caught them in weirs and basketry traps. Women dressed skins with elk antler scrapers.

Material items included buffalo wool bags; reed floor mats woven over a bark-cord foundation; twined rectangular storage bags; rawhide trunks or containers, bent and sewn into place; and buffalo-hair wallets. The latter two items were more typical of Woodland tribes such as the Sauk and Fox.

Trade During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Missourias traded heavily with the French, supplying Indian slaves, among other items.

Notable Arts Woodworking was particularly well developed among the Missouria.

Transportation The Missouria acquired horses during the early eighteenth century.

Dress On the Plains, Missourias dressed similarly to other local Indians. Skins tanned by women formed the basis of most clothing. Men wore leggings and a breechclout; women wore a one-piece dress. Both wore moccasins. Cold-weather gear included shirts, robes, and fur caps.

War and Weapons Missourias and Otoes were usually military allies. Traditional enemies included the Sauk, Fox, Pawnee, Omaha, and Dakota.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations About 800 Otoe-Missourias lived in Oklahoma’s Red Rock region in the mid-1990s. The tribe is governed by a tribal council under a 1984 constitution.

Economy Jobs are available in the local economy as well as through the various tribal enterprises, such as elderly and community health programs. There is also a tribal bingo parlor.

Legal Status The Otoe-Missouria tribe is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Traditional kinship and family ties remain alive and important. The tribe hosts a powwow in July. Other gatherings and ceremonies take place regularly, often in the cultural center. Children study the native language in school, assisted by a Chiwere grammar published in 1975.

The people began buying land and adding to their land base in the 1970s. At that time they received a series of federal grants to reconstruct tribal facilities and institute services. Religious affiliations include Protestant, Catholic, and the Native American Church.

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