The first book on the history and culture of the people for whom Missouri is named has been published. Arrow Rock State Historic Site Administrator Michael Dickey has written The People of the River’s Mouth: In Search of the Missouria Indians.
A program on his book will be presented Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Missouri State Archives in Jefferson City.
Dickey says it was about time someone compiled the information that exists on the Missouria.
“I just felt like … here is the longest river in the United States and the twenty-fourth state named after people, and nobody knows hardly anything about them. In fact, most Missourians didn’t even know that the river and the state was named for a specific Indian tribe.”
Many people know “Missouria” as meaning “One who has Dugout Canoes,” but Dickey takes the book’s name from what the people we know as the Missouria called themselves. “In their language, they call themselves Nyut^achi, which means, ‘People of the River Mouth.”
“If we’d asked them,” Dickey jokes, “we might be ‘Niutachi’ today instead of ‘Missouri.'”
So how did these people come to be called Missouria? Dickey explains, “Very typically, almost all the Indian tribes in North America, we know them by names that their neighbors called them, not what they called themselves. Once the name got put on a map, that seemed to be pretty well it.” He explains that “Missouria” comes from the Algonquian language name, “Oumessourit,” used by a Peoria Indian guide for Father Jacques Marquette when he first encountered the Niutachi in 1673.
Dickey says he compiled information from French and Spanish archives and archaeological findings. He also spoke to some people who, though not recognized by some agencies, claim to be Missouria.
“In fact one time I was in Oklahoma and visiting with them and I said, ‘Do you realize that a lot of authorities say that you guys are extinct?’ I got a little chuckle (in response) and they said ‘Well, that’s because the authorities never bother to come down here and talk to us.'”
The Missouria’s origins have been traced back to the Ho-Chunk tribe around present day Green Bay, Wisconsin, otherwise known as the Winnebago. “Sometime, probably around 1300 or thereabouts, the Ho-Chunk began splitting apart and different groups began moving off going to the south and the west, and they became the Iowas, the Missourias and the Otoes, but all their migration traditions … origin traditions … all point back to the Red Banks of Green Bay, Wisconsin as where they came from.”
Dickey says there has been extensive archaeological work done on Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri sites that has been connected to the Missouria as part of a larger cultural group, the Oneota. “The Oneota are basically the proto-historic predecessors of the people that we know today as the Otoe, Missouria, Iowa and the Ho-Chunk.” He says one of the Missouria’s main villages is at the present day Van Meter State Park in Saline County.
It was the daughter of a Missouria chief who married French explorer Etienne De Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont in the early 1710s and bore him a son. Her return from France is pictured in a mural in the Missouri State Capitol.
AUDIO: Author Michael Dickey tells Mike Lear there is much that is not known about the Missouria, such as details about population size, 2:27