Mound City: The Place of the Indigenous Past and Present in St. Louis
Nearly one thousand years ago, Native peoples built a satellite suburb of America's great metropolis on the site that later became St. Louis. At its height, as many as 30,000 people lived in and around present-day Cahokia, Illinois. While the mounds around Cahokia survive today (as part of a state historic site and UNESCO world heritage site), the monumental earthworks that stood on the western shore of the Mississippi were razed in the 1800s. But before and after they fell, the mounds held an important place in St. Louis history, earning it the nickname “Mound City.” For decades, the city had an Indigenous reputation. Tourists came to marvel at the mounds and to see tribal delegations in town for trade and diplomacy. As the city grew, St. Louisans repurposed the mounds—for a reservoir, a restaurant, and railroad landfill—in the process destroying cultural artifacts and sacred burial sites. Despite evidence to the contrary, some white Americans declared the mounds natural features, not built ones, and cheered their leveling. Others espoused far-fetched theories about a lost race of Mound Builders killed by the ancestors of contemporary tribes. Ignoring Indigenous people's connections to the mounds, white Americans positioned themselves as the legitimate inheritors of the land and asserted that modern Native peoples were destined to vanish. Such views underpinned coerced treaties and forced removals, and—when Indigenous peoples resisted—military action. The idea of the “Vanishing Indian” also fueled the erasure of Indigenous peoples’ histories, a practice that continued in the 1900s in civic celebrations that featured white St. Louisans “playing Indian” and heritage groups claiming the mounds as part of their own history. Yet Native peoples endured and in recent years, have successfully begun to reclaim the sole monumental mound remaining within city limits.
Drawing on a wide range of sources—including maps, daguerreotypes, real estate deeds, court records, travelers' accounts, scientific treatises, government records, and personal correspondence—Patricia Cleary explores the layers of the Indigenous history of St. Louis. Along with the first in-depth overview of the life, death, and afterlife of the mounds, Mound City offers a gripping account of how layers of Indigenous history have shaped the city's growth, landscape, and civic culture.
Patricia Cleary is Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach, where she teaches early American history. She is the author of two other books: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: A History of Colonial St. Louis and Elizabeth Murray: A Woman’s Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America.
Publisher: University of Missouri
Publication Date: 05/03/2024 - 12:00am
On Sale: 05/03/2024 - 12:00am