Landscapes Remember

Nature and the human past are intertwined. Even Native Americans, who occupied Missouri before European settlement, altered the landscape. Mound-builders shaped the land to make burial sites and ceremonial places. Indians periodically burned land to make game easier to hunt. The earliest inhabitants of Missouri left tools and pottery behind as evidence of their ways of living.

Scholarly investigations on Conservation Department lands have revealed much about Missouri's early settlers. In 1985, archaeologists James E. Price and Cynthia R. Price excavated the Fancier site at Owl's Bend, near the Current River. According to James Price, the site dated from the 1790s to 1810, making it the earliest known European-American occupation in the Current River Valley.

The Prices' research, sponsored by the National Park Service and Southwest Missouri State University, uncovered rifle balls, gun flints, European-English ceramics and other items, indicating that trappers or traders occupied the site about the time of the Louisiana Purchase. James Price described the discovery as "terribly exciting and yielding some great information about Missouri at an early date."

Craig Sturdevant, archaeologist, also has conducted investigations on Conservation Department lands. He notes that there is a Civil War site on the Lamine River Conservation Area. "A major battle took place in the river valley," he says. "Someone has to point them out to you, but you can see the earthworks."

The Conservation Department also is preserving another Civil War site at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River, near the Missouri-Arkansas line. Archaeologists have completed a study of Civil War physical features that remain there. The site has a wood road, buried about three meters deep, that led to a ferry crossing. The remains of trenches and embankments are on adjacent property. Skirmishes at Chalk Bluff on May 1-2, 1863, ended General John Sappington Marmaduke's Confederate raids across the Arkansas border into Missouri.

Most human activities leave marks on the land. Stumbling across an old cemetery, with crumbling and unreadable headstones, can be a sobering reminder of the fragility of human life and the shortness of memory.

People strive to build monuments to past glory, but unintentionally leave behind sad reminders of their struggles. There are several brick structures and a cemetery full of unmarked graves at the Sloan Conservation Area, Dade County. They are silent testimonials to the days when some people's last resort was the poor house or poor farm.

From 1890 until the 1940s, the Dade County Court sent homeless people