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Missouri Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Missouri Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Missouri language and culture pages for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Missouri pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Missouri Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Missouri"? What does it mean?
Missouri is pronounced "mih-zoo-ree," same as the state. It means "big canoe people" in the language of their Illini neighbors.

Where do the Missouris live?
The Missouri Indians are original people of Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. The Iowa tribe was forced to move to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma in the 1800's along with many other tribes. Most Missouri people are still living in Oklahoma today.

How is the Missouri Indian nation organized?
The Missouris share a single nation with the Otoe tribe. According to legend, the Missouris and Otoes were once the same tribe, but split in half after a quarrel between two chiefs' families. Since then, the Missouris and Otoes lived in separate villages and each had their own government and leadership. But after many of their people died of smallpox in the 1800's, the two tribes merged again.

Today the Otoes and Missouris live on a reservation in Oklahoma, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Otoe-Missouria tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Missouris are also US citizens and must obey American law.

What language do the Missouri Indians speak?
The Missouri people speak English today. In the past they spoke their native Chiwere language, which they shared with the neighboring Otoe and Ioway tribes. Only a few elders still remember the Chiwere language today. But some young Missouri Indian people are working to learn their ancient language again. If you'd like to know an easy Missouri word, "aho" (pronounced ah-hoe) is a friendly greeting used by men and boys, and "aha" (pronounced ah-hah) is a greeting used by women and girls.

What was Missouri culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma. On their site you can find information about the Missouri people in the past and today.

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How do Missouri Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Missouri children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Here is a picture of a hoop game played by Plains Indian kids. A Missouri mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with pictures of Indian cradle boards.

What were men and women's roles in the Missouri tribe?
Missouri men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Missouri women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Only men became Missouri chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Missouri homes like in the past?
During the fall and winter, the Missouri Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Missouri lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. During the spring and summer, the Missouris moved from camp to camp as they followed the buffalo herds. During those times, the Missouris lived in buffalo-hide tents called tipis (or teepees). Tipis were carefully designed to set up and break down quickly. An entire Missouri village could be packed up and ready to move within an hour. Here are some pictures of tipis and lodges.

Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for housing. Most Missouris live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Missouri clothing like? Did the Missouris wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Missouri women wore deerskin skirts and poncho-like blouses. Missouri men wore a loincloth with leather leggings. Like most Native Americans, the MIssouris wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a website with pictures of Native Indian moccasins. In cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. Later, Missouri people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests. Here are some pictures of Plains Indian clothing (though Missouri men, unlike most Plains Indian men, tended to go shirtless.) And here are some photos and links about Native costume in general.

Missouri Indian men didn't traditionally wear an Indian headdress like the Sioux. They often wore otter-skin turbans instead. Missouri warriors usually wore their hair in the Mohawk style or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on the back of their heads). Sometimes they added a porcupine roach to make this hairstyle more impressive. Missouri women wore their hair either loose or braided. Here is a website with pictures of American Indian hairstyles. Both men and women wore Native American tattoos and also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Missouri people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Missouri transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Missouri Indians didn't live near the ocean, and when they went fishing, they usually fished from shore. When they traveled over land, the Missouris used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Missouri food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Missouri Indians were big game hunters. During the spring and summer, the Missouri tribe followed the buffalo herds, and their diet consisted mostly of meat. In the fall, the Missouris returned to their villages to harvest corn, beans and squash. In the winter, they ate dried food, hunted small game, and fished in the rivers. Here is a website with more information about Indian food sources.

What were Missouri weapons and tools like in the past?
Missouri hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen used fishing spears and basket traps. In war, Missouri men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and hide shields. Here is a website with pictures and information about the Native American bow and arrow and other traditional weapons.

What other Native Americans did the Missouri tribe interact with?
The Missouris traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau, such as the Omaha and Ponca. These tribes usually communicated using Native American sign language.

The Missouris also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. Some tribes the Missouris frequently fought with included the Pawnee and Dakota Sioux.

What are Missouri arts and crafts like?
Missouri artists are famous for their wood-working, beadwork designs, and parfleche (decorated rawhide containers.) Here are some photographs of Otoe-Missouri beadwork.

What kinds of stories do the Missouris tell?
There are lots of traditional Missouri legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Missouri Indian culture. I don't know of any Missouri Indian legends online, but here is an Ioway legend which is also told by the Missouris. The Ioways and Missouris are kinfolk who have similar traditional stories.

What about Missouri religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Missouri life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Missouri people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about the sweat lodge used by Missouri, Omaha, and other tribes, or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books about the Missouri tribe written specifically for kids. The Otoe-Missouria People is a good book on Missouri culture and history for older readers. You can also browse through our recommendations of books by Indian writers. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Missouri Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Missouris

Missouri Indian Tribe
An overview of the Missouri people, their language and history.

Missouri Language Resources
Missouri language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Missouri Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Missouri tribe past and present.

Missouri Words
Missouri Indian vocabulary lists.

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