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Our Native American HiSTORY: St. Louis Mounds


View of St. Louis from Illinois, with Big Mound in the background (right)

Long before French or Spanish claims of founding the area, Native Americans formed St. Louis as the center of the largest civilization north of Mexico. This stretch of the Mississippi River has long been landmarked as a place to call home, long before "Louisiana was purchased".

No one knows what happened to the Mississippian culture, also known as "Cahokians," that once called St. Louis and nearby Collinsville home around 1000 AD, but by the time our settlers got here the only thing left were their giant man-made mounds. These giant formations of dirt were believed to have been used for burials, prestige, and religious ceremonies.

(Comicly, the mounds have also been attributed to a "race of pygmy mound builders", the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, the Welsch, the Toltecs, Hindus and Vikings.)

 

In Forest Park alone, 16 mounds were destroyed in preparation for the 1904 World's Fair.

 

At one point in 1819, Army engineers waiting for their steamboat, "The Western Engineer", to be repaired counted "27 mounds, of various forms and magnitudes, arranged nearly in a line from north to south" from Biddle Street north to Mound and east of Broadway, north of today’s Laclede’s Landing.

In the early 1800s most prominent members of St. Louis built their homes on or amongst the mounds. Later teens would use the mounds to dig caves for smoking and skipping school. But somehow, in 1868, city leadership got the idea to dismantle them, their stories and the heritage in them.

 

One of the most distinctive, at Ashley and Biddle streets, was known as Falling Garden because of its three-wide step terraces facing the river.

A mound once situated on the grounds of the Christian Brothers College in north city (now Sherman Park) was destroyed, as was another located at Jefferson and Olive streets.

 

Big Mound, about the size of a football field, and 34 feet high was the largest and northernmost of the 25 mounds downtown.

1852