Towosahgy State Historic Site preserves the remains of a once
flourishing Native American community. Towosahgy (tah-wah-saw-ge) is a
borrowed Osage Indian word meaning “Old Town.” The site was the location
of a once-fortified village and ceremonial center between 1000 and 1400
A.D. Although other groups of
had lived in this area for 9,000
years prior to the founding of the village, their societies did not
reach the highly organized level of the people at Towosahgy.
The inhabitants of the village were part of the Mississippian cultural
tradition, so named as most of these archaeological sites are located
near the Mississippi River. Although other groups of Native Americans
had lived in this region for 9,000 years prior to the founding of the
village, their societies did not reach the highly organized level of the
Towosahgy. Unlike their predecessors the inhabitants of Towosahgy were
town dwellers. There were small hamlets within a short distance of the
main town and the entire area formed a well-developed cultural and
political system. The well-constructed dwellings, utensils, and other
artifacts uncovered at the site indicate the inhabitants led a
relatively comfortable lifestyle.
Crops of beans, maize, squash and sunflowers were raised in fields
outside the walls that surrounded the village. The inhabitants also
lived off wild game, fish, persimmons, wild plums and a variety of nuts.
They relied on trade to obtain other necessary items such as salt,
paint, chert for tools and ceremonial materials. For transportation,
they may have used large dugout canoes. Their houses were constructed by
digging a shallow pit, which left the floor of the structure below the
surface of the ground. Walls were built of small posts placed in narrow
trenches. A central fire hearth and associated packed clay floor mark
the original floors of these houses.
The first scientific excavations of the site in 1891 were conducted by
Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1894 he published a map
of the village area iwhich showed a ceremonial center and a well defined
by a fortification wall that once encircled most of the village. On the
map of the village are six of the seven earthen mounds, two depressions
or borrow pits where dirt was removed to construct the mounds, and the
house depressions. Thomas knew the site as Beckwith’s Fort, named for
the landowner at the time of his visit.
In 1967, the state purchased the site and since then, the Missouri
Department of Natural Resources has conducted limited archaeological
investigations in conjunction with the University of Missouri-Columbia.
At least three log stockade walls have been unearthed, as evidenced by
dug trenches, post holes and charred fragments of actual posts. These
walls were not straight but had bastions protruding from them. These
bastions were spaced about 90 feet apart and extended about 17 feet out
from the stockade and could have been used as watch towers.
Today, all that is visible are the remains of the earthen mounds within
the village area. Six of the seven mounds still exist and surround the
central plaza where various civic and religious ceremonies were held.
The largest mound, located at the north end of the plaza, is about 180
feet wide by 250 feet long at its base, and about 16 feet high. All of
the earth within the mounds was dug by hand and carried in baskets from
borrow pits such as the large pit west of this mound. A kiosk provides
interpretive information about the village and its inhabitants. A trail
leads visitors to the mounds and other areas of the village where they
can imagine this once-thriving culture found in this area hundreds of