Confluence of rivers, intersection of cultures exist at Clark’s Hill / Norton State Historic Site
Just east of Jefferson City and north of Osage City is a charming historic site of approximately 14 acres, Clark’s Hill / Norton State Historic Site.
In the early 1800s, the bluff overlooked the confluence of two major rivers, the Missouri and the Osage. In 1804, this cliff was also the site of the intersection of two major cultures: Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with the Corps of Discovery and the Osage Tribe.
Donated to the State by William and Carol Norton and their family, and managed by the Department of Natural Resources, State Parks Division, the site is called “Clark’s Hill” because Captain Clark climbed the cliff while the expedition camped below. It was also Carol Norton’s wish to honor Indigenous culture at the site.
Near Clark’s Hill, an Osage village once stood on the Missouri River. After his ascent to the cliff, Captain Clark recorded two burial mounds from the end of the Forest Period (AD 500-900).
Since November 26 was Native American Heritage Day, this narrative will focus on the Osages, who ruled Missouri at the time and claimed a large area south of the Missouri River, including Cole County and Clark’s Hill.
Historically, the Osage were part of a Siouan linguistic subgroup, the Dhegiha, and first lived in the Ohio River Valley. These groups began to move west and south, later merging in Cahokia Mounds. In a court case involving Sugarloaf Mound in St. Louis, the Osage Nation established that today’s Osage people are descendants of the Mississippian mound culture.
The tribe had long been active in Missouri, especially on winter hunting and trapping trips. In fact, the Osages had been here from around 500 AD until their land cessions began in 1808.
Around the time of Marquette and Joliet’s visit in 1673, they were beginning to expand further into the Ozark area south of the Missouri River. This move was probably their most concentrated occupation near Clark’s Hill.
“Throughout the ancestral lands of Osage, there are a variety of Osage sites. … This includes Osage villages, hunting camps, camps, trails, sacred sites, rock art and many types of Osage burial sites, ”said Dr. Andrea A. Hunter, Tribal Historic Preserver . As a people whose name “Wah-Zha-Zhe” means “The people of water”, the Osages were “close to water and its strength”.
They were a very spiritual people with strong family ties, excellent hunters and farmers. Tall, proud and often at war with other tribes, their warriors were fierce in protecting their material possessions and persons, seeing battle as the most honorable way to die. Mike Dickey, administrator of Arrow Rock State Historic Site, called Osage and Spain “two imperial powers,” putting Osage on par with Spain as a force to be reckoned with .
For 40 years before the Louisiana Purchase, the Osages were Missouri’s primary traders, primarily in furs, but also in horses, bison, and natives captured further west.
However, while the Corps of Discovery saw native war group signs and pictographs on their journey through Missouri, they encountered no Osage. At that time, their villages were located further upstream of the Osage River in the prairies. In addition, members of the tribe hunted bison further west.
For the native tribes, the change in European ownership did not seem important at the time. The tribes had benefited from long-established business models with the French, Spanish, British and Americans that they hoped to continue. We now know that the change has been significant and has resulted in a loss of tribal land and culture.
Missouri no longer has federally recognized tribes. In the early 1800s, the federal government initiated a series of actions to displace the Osage. In 1825, treaties were signed requiring them to cede their land at about one cent by six acres. In 1865, the government moved them back to Oklahoma.
The tribe has since worked diligently to regain their tribal history and sovereignty – a process aided by wealth from a discovery of oil and natural gas beneath their lands.
In 2004, the Osages celebrated obtaining sovereign nation status and ratified a constitution in 2006. Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is the tribal capital, where the tribe was the first in the country to establish its own museum.
Returning to Clark’s Hill / Norton SHS, the mouth of the Osage River gradually moved further downstream towards Bonnot’s Mill. The Corps of Engineers moved the channel of the Missouri River north for the benefit of commercial shipping and flood control.
So today the two great rivers no longer meet at Clark’s Hill and the Osage is rarely seen. However, in winter, after the leaves have fallen, you can see the two rivers, the Missouri to the northwest of the point and the Osage to the east. The view is still a “lovely prospect,” in Clark’s words, and the site retains a tranquil sense of the people who once walked it.
Linda Vogt gives interpretive lectures on the history of the Clark’s Hill / Norton SHS site and leads a group of volunteers who remove invasive plant species along the trail. November is Native American History Month.