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Native American Case Files, 1800-1848
These case files consist of 32 court actions that mention Native Americans. The cases primarily involve trade disputes that refer to various tribes living in or around the territory and later state of Missouri.
0.5 cubic feet
St. Louis Circuit Court, Office of the Circuit Clerk

The case files described in this finding aid were filed as civil, chancery (equity), or criminal proceedings in the St. Louis Court of Common Pleas of the St. Louis Circuit Court between 1800 and 1848. These case files remain part of the larger St. Louis Circuit Court Case File Records Series and are presented here as an artificial, subject-oriented records series to facilitate research in a distinctive area of national, regional, and local history.

All records were created in the course of business by the Circuit Court, its inferior courts, and predecessors as provided for by federal and state law. Upon the separation of St. Louis City and St. Louis County as provided for in the 1875 constitution, the city retained custody of all court records previously produced. These records have remained in the custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court since that time, both in the historic Old Courthouse, constructed 1839-1852, and the Civil Courts Building, constructed in 1930. The records are now housed in the Missouri State Archives-St. Louis.
Historical/Biographical Note
This series consists primarily of trade disputes in St. Louis, dating from 1800 through the mid-nineteenth century. The trade disputes themselves are common to the St. Louis Circuit Court; court records are filled with such cases dating from the territorial period through statehood, and beyond. What makes this particular set of records distinctive is the reference made to Native American tribes within the documents. Written records regarding Native Americans are extremely rare, even more so are court records mentioning tribes during the territorial period. These records provide a unique, personal glimpse at the interaction between the traders and settlers and Native Americans, creating an additional resource for understanding the often-difficult relationship between the original inhabitants of the place that became Missouri and the French and Spanish colonists and American pioneers who came to trade and settle the land. In addition, the database includes a handful of criminal cases involving native tribes, and at least one freedom suit based on Indian ancestry.

The colonial French were interested in furs and the lucrative fur trade; it was a major impetus behind the rapid development of St. Louis. Indians provided the furs, so it was advantageous to maintain good relations. Many French fur trappers lived among the native tribes and intermarried. The Spanish attempted to continue this friendly policy, viewing the Indians as an economic asset. Under Spanish authority, from roughly 1763 to 1800, local commandants annually expended large sums of money to maintain friendly relations and win tribal allegiance. In addition, the Spanish government passed laws to prevent native tribes from being exploited. It prohibited the practice of Indian slavery, common in the territory, and outlawed the trade of guns and alcohol to Indians. The Spanish government, however, was never able to afford and provide enough merchandise for Indian trade, forcing many tribes to ally with well-supplied British traders along the Mississippi River. This, in turn, made trade with Indians on the Missouri River increasingly important to traders in Upper Louisiana. Trade with these tribes is documented in this series of court cases.

There are many other cases, in addition to the ones selected in this database, that also deal with Indian trade; because those cases do not directly involve Native Americans, but rather reference interaction with various tribes, they are not included as part of this series.

The tribes referred to in the cases include many that lived along the lower Missouri River in the early nineteenth century, such as the Osage, Cherokee, Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Sac, and Fox tribes. The Spanish government, suspicious of British and American expansionist policies, encouraged several of those tribes, native to the land east of the Mississippi River, to relocate to the territory as a barrier to possible and inevitable westward movement. The Shawnee and Delaware tribes relocated to southeast Missouri as a result.
Scope and Content
These case files consist of approximately thirty-two court cases in which Native Americans are mentioned, either in relation to trade, trading expeditions, illegal sale of whiskey, or occasionally, as part of a criminal investigation.

Case files may include the following documents: promissory notes, assignment of notes and debts, petitions filed by attorneys, affidavits, writs, witness depositions, motions, orders, verdicts, and appeals.
Physical Description
Case files may consist of the following: hand-written documents or document fragments; preprinted summonses with handwritten entries; and newspaper clippings or advertisements. The contents of each tri-folded case file have been flattened and cleaned of dirt and coal dust that accumulated through the years. Items used to attach documents, such as straight pins, ribbons, wax, thread, and starch wafers, have been removed to allow for filming and scanning. Due to age, environment, use and paper type, many of the documents have sustained damage over the years and are very fragile. These documents have been placed in protective polyester sleeves. Selected documents will receive additional conservation treatment. All case files have been housed in archival folders and boxes.
All circuit court case files are arranged in chronological order by Year, Term of Court, and Case Number, as assigned by the clerk of court. Documents within each case file are arranged chronologically by date filed with the court. These case files retain their original placement within the Circuit Court Case file series. This artificial series was digitally scanned retaining that original order.
Separated Material
Oversized records have been removed from the case files to permit flattening, provide proper safe storage and handling, and access. References to the separated material have been placed in each folder from which documents have been removed.

The Missouri Historical Society has in its collection, some case files and other records from the St. Louis Circuit Court that may relate to these case files. (Box list, Saint Louis (Mo.). Circuit Court Records, 1804-1967, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.)

Any additional gaps that occur in the records series are due to misfile, loss or damage.
Finding Aids
The original court indexes provide direct access to plaintiffs, defendants, year, term and case file number.

The Missouri State Archives and the American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis have worked to produce an on-line, keyword searchable database to facilitate locating specific cases or subjects in the Native American case files.
Access Conditions
Original records remain in the legal custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court. Researchers may apply for access by contacting:

Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
Globe Building
710 North Tucker, Room 213
St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 588-1746
Fax (314) 588-9788

The Missouri State Archives-St. Louis determines policies and prices for copies of original documents.
Preferred Citation
The Missouri State Archives, the St. Louis Circuit Court Clerk's Office, and the American Culture Studies Program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis have created this digital collection for noncommercial, educational, and research purposes.  All references to the materials on this website should be cited as follows:

Plaintiff v. Defendant
Term of Court, Year
Case File Number
(Cite specific document if required)
Circuit Court Case Files
Office of the Circuit Clerk-St. Louis
Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
Office of the Secretary of State
[(Date Accessed),]
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