American Indian History

From Prehistory to the Nineteenth Century

Relating to St. Louis and the surrounding States of Missouri and Illinois


American Indian family of the upper Midwest by unknown Swiss artist, 1821.

American Indian heritage is alive and well in Metro St. Louis. But Compared to other States and considering the population size, few American Indians live in the St. Louis area today. According to the 2000 Census, there is an estimated 19,778 American Indians living in Missouri; 31,006 in the State of Illinois; 1,717 in St. Louis County; 950 City of St. Louis; 4,378 Metro St. Louis (State of Missouri); 1,517  St. Louis Metro-East (State of Illinois). That brings the total American Indians living in Metro St. Louis to approximately 5,895, which is less than 1% of the population. 

[Note: The term American Indian is really a misnomer and I only use it for convenience of the popular usage. Although the term, "Native American" is also popular, especially among institutions, "Aboriginal American" is actually the most appropriate.]

Another contribution that should not be overlooked is the unknown number of individuals that may not be an Indian but are descended from an Indian ancestor. Such an ancestor may be several generations back, for example, Pocahontas is an ancestor for hundreds of thousands of Americans spread across the United States. There were hundreds of other lesser known mixed marriages that produced countless descendants. For instance, during the early 1700's, over 85% of the children with French surnames baptized in nearby Kaskaskia, Illinois were born to Indian mothers.

Recent DNA research has the potential to identifying many more descendants or relatives of prehistoric populations.  Many European Americans may be surprised that they are not all that different from American Indians in regard to paternal genetic prehistoric origins.  The Genographic Project, sponsored by National Georgraphic, has identified prehistoric migration routes based upon genetic markers in present day populations. For example, the majority of Europeans share common Y-Chromosome genetic markers with most American Indians.  This has been estimated to reflect a common ancestor, approximately 30,000-45,000 years ago in central Eurasia. Native Americans have a more Asian maternal X-Chromosome, indicating they originate from two separate populations that merged at some point in prehistoric times.

The traditional theory of native American ancient migration was they crossed into North America from Asia via a land bridge at the Bering Strait. A new theory gaining acceptance, immigration from western Europe, is probably a more likely scenario. Early tools of Paleo-Indians resemble more closely that from Europe versus those used in Asia to hunt big game such as the Mammoth. It is also known that these early people would have known how to make boats which could have easily followed a coastline or edge of ice. Abundant food such as seals or fish would have been the lure for such an expedition.  Curiously, the spear point of the Paleo-Indian, the Clovis point is found most abundantly in eastern north America (the Potomac area), which is the same latitude that one would expect if arriving by sea from Europe. The Clovis style projectile is distinctive but could have evolved from points identified as Solutrean in Europe. This Paleo-Indian connection to Europe, if true, may explain why a few very early American Indian skeletons have European-like features.  Overtime both populations underwent divergent physical change.  A coastal migration is also believed to have occurred from Asia. A blending of the two distinct populations is evident in DNA of modern aboriginal Americans. The fairer complexion (actually "ruddy red") of many Europeans developed by tiny mutations only within recent prehistory as studies  (Dec, 2005) by Penn State researchers indicate. See also interview with Smithsonian Paleo Anthropologist, Dennis Stanford

Even for those that believe they have no direct link to the history and prehistory of the American Indian, there is a proximity to that history just below everyday footsteps. Artifacts of all types (stone tools, pottery, trade items, ect.) are fairly common to the area. Also the technology of prehistoric native American society, from building houses to crafting stone tools, was virtually identical to that practiced around the world. Like the construction of a  home in 1200 A.D. Cahokia Mounds, which was nearly the same as a home in Europe during the same time period.


St. Louis under siege. In 1782 a British led force of approximately 1000  warriors of Santee Sioux, Chippewas, Fox,  Menominee, Sauk, Winnebago, and other tribes. For description of battle, see page about the "Attack on St. Louis."


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