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My interest in the Native American presence in the nineteenth-century state of Missouri led to the heartbreaking read, The Ioway in Missouri by Greg Olson, the Curator of Exhibits at the Missouri State Archives: heartbreaking because of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical dissolution of the Ioway tribe, between 1800 to 1837. 

Central to this dissolution was the Supreme Court’s 1827 adoption of the Doctrine of Discovery, found in international law and first practiced by the Crusaders taking over lands of vanquished Turks, perceived as pagans and unfit. In the fifteenth century, this precedent was published in four Papal bulls. Thus protected, American and European settlers headed west, especially following the1803 Louisiana Purchase. No matter that Native Americans were already there. “They’d have to change, be like us.”

From the mid 1700s, however, the Ioway tribe enjoyed a rich presence in and around what constitutes the state of Missouri. Their rituals, tradition, and practices bound them to the earth, perceived as sacred, and to their ancestors in the afterlife from whom they were influenced. From sunup to sundown, theirs was a predictable world, when not warring with another tribe, usually over hunting rights.   

Greg Olson’s use of primary sources, accompanied by photos and maps, makes those thirty-seven years bleed. Misunderstandings, language differences, the violation of multiple treaties, greed, dishonesty, and impatience justify the most stinking aberrations. In 1837, the government removed the Ioway to the Great Nemaha Reservation in the state of Oklahoma, a barren stretch of land where extreme poverty and alcoholism enervated the Ioway even more.

Yet, The Ioway in Missouri concludes with an inspiring epilogue. The Ioway still survive in Kansas and Nebraska and preserve their traditions.

Poverty with its multi-faceted violence scours psyches of survivors eking out a living—but not all are left in dust-pommeled gangways—throughways for rats—as recounted in Vivian Gibson’s memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek (2020).

As a pre-teen, she witnessed the 1959 demolition of the historic four-hundred-square-foot neighborhood of twenty thousand underpaid African American workers in St. Louis, Missouri; its benign neglect, for decades, had contributed to the Mill Creek’s “blightedness” that green-lighted government funding for another Interstate for suburban workers, needing faster access to their city jobs. After the quick work of the medicine balls and tractors, Mill Creek’s bombed-out landscape became known as “Hiroshima Flats.”

What could have been a scorching account of disrupted families, churches, and businesses—a viable through invisible community to the world around it—it was told with honesty, humor, replete with wisdom. Life inside those cold-water flats, heated by coal and wood-burning stoves, many with no indoor plumbing, was not without its rules and consequences. Unique patterns of communication developed among families, bonding them for life.

Such experiences had unfolded within the Ross’s 800-square-foot flat in the 2600 block of Bernard Avenue where lived the author’s seven siblings and her parents, their teachers of positive self-regard, resourcefulness, and the value of education and hard work. All moved through daunting hardships—at times—with ease. Detailed accounts jumped off the pages: their Saturday morning “shopping” at Soulard Market, returning home on the streetcar with bags of bruised fruits and vegetables, left on the ground by the farmers. No one was ever hungry in the Ross household.

Vivian Gibson’s unflinching acceptance of her hardscrabble beginnings contributed to the accomplished woman she has become: author, fashion designer, cook, wife, and mother. She has much to teach us in her memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek.

His name was Kenneth, his badge clipped to the pocket of his navy uniform shirt trimmed in red. White-haired, slight in build, sensitive tapered fingers, he seemed more an academician than a checker at Schnucks. Below his scrutiny slowly passed a senior’s purchases on the conveyer belt; attached to its side was a sign cautioning patrons from leaving coupons on it lest they be swallowed in the mechanism.

Something was amiss with this picture. Questions surfaced: Who was this man? Why was he working here? Perhaps an addict in recovery? Who or what awaited his return home with a paycheck: a sickly spouse, grandchildren? And what about his health: Long hours standing in one place, stooped posture, repetitive shoulder movements, bagging groceries, bathroom/nutritional needs? When he handed the receipt to my sister, sorrowed pain tinged his pale eyes.

It was four o’clock, an overcast chilly afternoon, the pavement slick with moisture from an earlier sprinkle as we left the store pushing the shopping cart. Cars and vans filled lanes of the parking lot like kindergarten cubicles stuffed with the day’s essentials.

“Wouldn’t you like to know Kenneth’s story?” I asked my sister on the way home.

 

 

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