Straight off Missouri Highway 27, a nondescript gravel road takes visitors through fields of corn and soybeans until they reach the Illiniwek Village State Historic Site. The small, protected area once housed the only settlement of the Illiniwek tribe in Missouri.
The gravel drive drops visitors off in a small parking lot. Stepping into a fenced area, they are greeted by a small pavilion that details the history of the Illiniwek tribe, their lifestyle routines and when the site was excavated. To the left, three picnic tables sit with a small grill nearby.
Visitors can park in the lot during daylight hours, April 1 through Nov. 1. The park is still accessible during the winter, but visitors must park outside the gate and walk in.
The historic site was excavated in the 1990s and has been studied sporadically since then. Today, only the longhouse and a roundhouse are marked, and the trail takes about 40 minutes to complete, according to the sign at the trailhead.
A walk through the historic site follows a 1.25-mile loop. It begins by winding through grassland and comes upon a site where a longhouse used to stand, creating a tunnel of trees with sound of birdsong and a distant hum of traffic.
The longhouse and the roundhouse farther along the trail are marked by wooden stakes in the ground, creating the shape of the structures that once stood. The trail turns visitors out near a flooded marsh before looping around and ending on the flatter, grassland terrain.
The Illiniwek or Illini, was a group of 12 to 13 Native American tribes in the upper Mississippi River valley of North America, according to David Costa, a historian at the University of Manitoba. At the time of European contact in the 17th century, they were believed to number over 10,000 people.
The site is the only Illinois Indian village site in Missouri, thought to be occupied from about 1640 through the late 1670s. It is now part of the Missouri State Parks system.