I was inspired by a recent article by our editor The Newsletter05, on Native American Heritage Month. As a former St. Louisan, I was always intrigued about the Cahokia Mounds within the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. I took field trips as a kid there; however, when I returned to the St. Louis area in 2014, I could appreciate the historical significance of what is referred to as Cahokia Mounds. What was fascinating is that Cahokia Mounds is within a 12-mile radius in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area, the site of one of the largest historic Metropolis in North America.
More importantly, the mounds stretched west of the Mississippi River to the area we know as St. Louis. I recently became aware that during the 19th century, St. Louis had twenty-seven (27) mounds that were still part of the St. Louis landscape when explorers Chouteau and Laclede arrived. These mounds were a combination of Earthen Barn Mounds and Burial Mounds. The Earthen Barn Mounds kept livestock, according to nineteenth-century archaeologists. A chain of mounds ran the length of the Mississippi and its tributaries. The Native American people of that area were builders of these mounds and were a part of a sophisticated society. Fascinatingly the system of travel and communication extended as far as Mexico.
Bartley (1998) describes in the book “St Louis Lost” an Earthen Barn located at what is now Broadway and Howard (see photo). Across the Mississippi River, beyond East St. Louis, Illinois, was the largest group of mounds on the continent. This would be called “Cahokia Mounds.” Located on land bounded by Broadway, Second Street, Mound Street, and Brooklyn Street. As St. Louis grew, the mounds were gradually destroyed to accommodate buildings and streets. The Cahokia Mounds, identified as the mounds near Collinsville, Illinois, were one of the world’s greatest cities. The Cahokia Mounds (2022) historical center reports that Cahokia was more extensive than present-day London, England, during 1250 AD. Cahokia diminished by 1500 AD.
The Native Mississippians who lived there were accomplished builders who erected various structures for everyday living to monumental public works that have maintained their grandeur for centuries. The remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico are preserved at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Cahokia Mounds (2022) report that the 2,200-acre tract is located a few miles west of Collinsville, Illinois. St. Louis Gov (2022) “The indigenous people built numerous temples and residential earthwork mounds on both sides of the Mississippi River. Cahokia Mounds is the regional center. The many major earthworks within St. Louis boundaries earned the city’s nickname, ‘Mound City. Unfortunately, these mounds were mostly demolished during the city’s development.”
O’Neil (November 8, 2022) cites “Big Mound, at today’s North Broadway and Mound Street, was 319 feet long, 158 feet wide and 34 feet high. Its flat top provided a panorama of river and city. It was a landmark for steamboat pilots and inspired one of St. Louis’ first nicknames — Mound City, a term that once graced dozens of names of businesses and associations.” Mound City influenced the name of the Mound City Bar Association for black lawyers and the Mound City Medical Forum for black physicians, established 100 years ago.
The formation of these two groups represented a time when African American Lawyers and Physicians could not belong to national Medical and Law Associations, which were exclusively for whites. I corresponded with long-time African American St. Louis Lawyer Phillip Dennis who shared with me, “Oh Yeah, I was aware that Mound City was nicknamed for St. Louis long ago due to the presence of earthworks and burial mounds..there is a lot of history in St. louis.” The Narrative Matters!
St.Louis Gov (2022). About St. Louis | History (stlouis-mo.gov)
(2022). Mound City Bar Association
Cahokia Mounds (2022). EXPLORE – Cahokia Mounds
Cahokia Mounds (2022). Cahokia Mounds
Bartley, M. (1998). St. Louis Lost: Uncovering the City’s Architectural Treasures. https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/st-louis-lost-uncovering-the-citys-architectural-treasures_mary-bartley/2969052/#isbn=1891442015
O’Neil, T. (November 8, 2022). A Look Back • Big Mound in St. Louis, legacy of a lost culture, leveled in 1869. A Look Back • Big Mound in St. Louis, legacy of a lost culture, leveled in 1869 (stltoday.com)
Photo credit: The Missouri Historical Society