Public offered closer look at Mississippian culture site Saturday

Friday, May 11, 2012

EAST PRAIRIE, Mo. -- The latest event at the Towosahgy State Historic Site near East Prairie offers visitors a chance to learn about the region's true first farmers.

Set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, the Mississippian Culture Day will include activities and storytelling by a Native American actor and teacher. Sponsored by Missouri State Parks, the event is free and open to the public.

"It's a great connection for all of today's farmers. We think farming in the region has been only past 100 years doing crop, but 1,000 years ago it took off in the Mississippian villages," said Chris Crabtree, natural resource steward for Big Oak Tree State Park near East Prairie.

Prior to the Mississippian Culture, not one crop was grown in mass quantities, Crabtree said. However, the first farmers of Southeast Missouri -- and much of today's central and eastern United States -- were the agriculture producers of corn, beans and a few other crops.

"Towosahgy is a great site. Unfortunately, it doesn't always get a lot of visitor attention and we want to showcase it more. Since the flood, we're trying to do more with it," Crabtree said, adding the site still doesn't have the interpretive items it had before the floods and new items will be added in the future.

Crabtree said this will be the first Mississippian Culture Day offered at the historic site.

"We were planning this event last year, and, unfortunately, the flood kept us from being able to do this," he said.

On Saturday visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the many aspects of the mound-building culture that flourished in the area 1,000 years ago. They will be able to tour the site where the village once stood and see various pre-historic artifacts from the area.

"So much of Southeast Missouri was in and by these mound buildings and this event gives people an opportunity to learn more about them and be on one of the Mississippian villages," Crabtree said.

Around the early to mid-1400s is when the village site is believed to have been abandoned, Crabtree said. However, the culture had a good 500-year run of agricultural production and pottery, he said.

"It wasn't full blast the entire time but had its original rise where it hit a climax and slowly dwindled down," Crabtree said of the Mississippian Culture.

A special feature of the event will be storytelling by Larry Sellers, an actor, educator and Osage tribal member. Sellers portrayed "Cloud Dancing" on the television show "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" in the 1990s. Sellers will tell traditional Native American stories as well as stories of Osage history.

"I've known him for a number of years and he was more than delighted to participate in the event," Crabtree said of Sellers.

In addition to his role on "Dr. Quinn," Sellers has also starred in such shows as "The Sopranos" and "Beverly Hills 90210," and has also starred in the movie, "Wayne's World II."

Sellers grew up on an Indian reservation in Pawhuska, Okla., and is of Osage, Cherokee and Lokota ancestry. After graduating from college in Arizona, he began teaching American Indian history.

"A lot of people have been calling and asking about it," Crabtree said of the event.

Visitors can make arrowheads, learn how to make cordage (small rope) from native plants, and test their aim and skill with an atlatl and longbow.

"People get to come out and try these prehistoric weapons," Crabtree said of atlatl and longbow.

They can also learn "chunky," an early Native American game and also make modern reproductions of gorget, or a hand-carved shell necklaces.

"They'd engrave a shell they'd get from the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico," Crabtree said. "Authentic gorget are very rare. Just a handful were found in New Madrid County and Mississippi County.

"They would take a large 12-inch shell and cut large circle out of it and engrave something into or cut pieces out of it to make a design," Crabtree explained.

Children will use the craft material, plaster of Paris craft, and design their own reproductions of gorget, Crabtree said.

Towosahgy State Historic Site is located 14 miles southeast of East Prairie on County Road 502 in Mississippi County. For more information about the event, call Big Oak Tree State Park at (573) 649-3149.

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