Tribe buys American Indian mound in St. Louis

Saturday, August 1, 2009 | 5:14 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — An Oklahoma-based tribe has bought the last remaining American Indian mound in St. Louis for about $230,000.

Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray described the purchase Friday as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The Gateway City was once home to more than 40 mounds and was known as Mound City before the St. Louis moniker stuck. Urban development destroyed all the mounds except Sugar Loaf.

The Osage didn't build Sugar Loaf, but the tribe believes its ancestors include a mound-building people who disappeared long before the arrival of Europeans in North America. That society built massive earthworks throughout the Midwest, the best-known examples being those at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Ill.

"One only has to look across the river to Cahokia Mounds to realize a vast civilization that rivaled any of its day once existed here," Gray said. "This is something that has been in the back of our minds."

The couple who owned Sugar Loaf put it up for sale last fall after deciding to move to California to live closer to relatives.

The tribe plans to demolish the 900-square-foot house on top of the mound as well as two others at its base and develop the property as an interpretive historical site.

The tribe is talking with other groups about the project. The Great Rivers Greenway District and the Confluence Partnership has suggested making Sugar Loaf a centerpiece of a new riverfront trail that would link the mound to Cahokia and other Indian sites in the region.

Plans call for archaeological digs to be banned.

"We can't fix the past, but we can preserve and protect what we still have for future generations," Gray said.

Archeologists, preservations and several politicians, including Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, backed the tribe's plans to buy the mound.

"I'm pleased the Osage Nation has taken steps to preserve this property for future generations and look forward to the area being used for historic and educational purposes," Carnahan said.

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