Brent Jones/St. Louis Public Radio
Source Mound locations

Sacred Native Site to Be Buried by New St. Louis NFL Stadium

Rodney Harwood

Change, in the name of progress, has swept across this country since the first Europeans came to America, covering up what was already here along the way.

Now, it appears the artifacts of yet another ancient civilization are going to be paved over with the construction of the new St. Louis stadium on the riverfront near the Edward Jones Dome. The proposed site for the nearly one-billion-dollar stadium happens to be in the vicinity of where a once thriving Native American town with a vast plaza and nearly two dozen earthen mounds existed about 900 years ago. The Cahokian-era civilization is thought to be similar to the well-known Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois across the river.

The Osage consider themselves descendants of the mound builders. Any more disturbances of the former mounds — even for research — would be a desecration. Everett Waller, the chairman of the Osage Minerals Council, told ICTMN, “That was our land on the mass of those two rivers. It pre-dated Cahokia. It has been a major pre-historic landmark for the Osage. It wasn’t just us, but we were encamped there for at least 400 years. So much of the history of my family campsites, both oral and educational, come from that area.”

Waller said there is still plenty to learn about the people who lived on this side of the Mississippi in the prehistoric “Mound City.” Most of the mounds were destroyed by the mid-1800s.

Across the Mississippi in Illinois there has been extensive research about the area, but not in Missouri. No one knows what might be found underground in the remains of what was once a thriving society. “It would be like you talking about your great grandparents. This is where they lived and died, and I think that should be recognized,” said Waller, who is a direct descendant of Osage leader Watiankah. “I understand wanting to build the stadium, but you can almost build that anywhere. I have no one that can make those mounds whole again. If this was in the Middle East, you’d have a Holy War over it. If it was Japan, they’d protect it. Sometimes it’s not a football that matters. It’s not the all-American dollar that matters. [The proposed stadium site] needs to be looked at as a sacred site that it really is.”

Plans to move the project forward are coming together. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called the stretch of riverfront property east of Interstate-44 to the Mississippi River perfect. The task force appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to study and advance plans for the new stadium unveiled new architectural renderings last week at NFL headquarters in New York City. “If we do nothing, then we’re not an NFL city,” Nixon told St. Louis Public Radio. “If we do nothing, then $10 million of taxes a year is gone. If we do nothing, then people will stand right here 10 years from now, and that will look exactly like it looks like, right there.”

Joe Harl, with the Archaeological Research Center of St. Louis, isn’t against the stadium being built. He just wants whatever is left of the Cahokian-era civilization to be salvaged before the construction crews destroy it. “The Big Mound itself, which is probably a burial ground, sits north of the actual site of the stadium proposal and isn’t in danger,” Harl told ICTMN. [But] another 20 or so mounds are spread out over the area. Some of those may be burial grounds. That’s where we can make our case as developers. Anytime we dig, even a small site, if we come across a burial, we do the right thing and contact the police and avoid the area. But in Missouri, the state and the developers turn a blind eye to it.”

This 1819 survey map by Thomas Say and Titian People was reproduced in Noteson Aboriginal Inhabitants of Missouri. (Missouri History Museum Library)

The Big Mound is actually north of the site proposal and the surrounding area for parking near I-70. A couple of the smaller mounds are near the Lumiere Place Casino to the south and eight more are in the area of I-44. “We looked at the area of the actual construction and there’s a lot of area that’s going to be parking lots. So that wouldn’t really destroy anything,” Harl said. “We could look at any area that wouldn’t be disturbed. The stadium is in the early stages of development, now would be the ideal time to go in and do [our studies]. That way we wouldn’t be holding up any kind of construction. That’s normally how we do these things. I just hope they do the right thing.”

The current stadium proposal doesn’t include any federal funding or permits. But the plan does rely on state bonds to cover about half of the project’s almost $1 billion price tag.


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