History and Significance
Van Meter State Park, located in the Loess Hills of northern Saline County, preserves the homeland of the Missouri Indians who inhabited a sizeable village here until the early 1700s. It is this tribe of Indians from which the name of this state and its principal river has originated. In 1673, two French explorers, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, after talking with the Illinois Indians, made the first historical reference to the Missouri Indians by marking the location and the name of the tribe ("oemessourit") on their map. Shortly after their expedition, the Missouri River was being referred to as "the River of the Missouris." In 1821, Missouri was named and admitted to the Union as the 24th state.
At the time of European contact, the two principal Indian groups within present-day state boundaries were the Osage and the Missouri. The Missouri were affected quite early by European contact, apparently quickly ravaged by disease, especially smallpox. By the time fur trade records were kept, the Missouri had been greatly reduced in numbers by disease and warfare. In the interest of self-preservation, the Missouri moved to live with their closest relatives, the Oto, in Nebraska. However, their efforts failed as not a single Missouri Indian remains alive today.
Abraham and Elizabeth Van Meter resettled the land in 1834. With the help of slaves, the Van Meters farmed the land. Their sons became successful cattle breeders, and the family occupied the land for nearly a century. In 1932, Annie Van Meter deeded 366 acres to the state of Missouri.
Archaeological digs and studies were conducted in the park during the 1960s and 1970s. This research was done at the Missouri Indian village site, which is referred to as the Utz site, after the previous landowner. The Utz site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The Old Fort and the Mound Field are two archaeological features within the park that are being preserved and interpreted. The Old Fort is significant in that it is an earthworks constructed by the Missouri Indians, believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes. The Old Fort was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The Mound Field consists of three burial mounds from the Woodland Indian period, suggesting that this site had been utilized throughout historic and pre-historic times.
Also of historical significance is the establishment and occupation of Company 1714 of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). CCC members occupied their camp at Van Meter State Park from 1934 through 1935 and were instrumental in the park's early development. Two picnic shelters remain, and were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The Loess Hills are one of the North America's gems, possessing natural features rarely duplicated elsewhere on the planet. They consist of exceptionally large, homogeneous piles of fine-grained, cohesive quartz silt, often exceeding depths of 40 feet. While lands on all sides have been converted to cropland, the Loess Hills have remained in woodland, a community that contains rich and unusual mixtures of native species. A portion of these woodlands, 114 acres, have been designated a natural area.
The park has 230 of its 983 acres within the Missouri River alluvial floodplain basin. Of these 230 acres, 186 encompass a special ecological management area, the marsh seep complex. Within the marsh is a 3-acre fen. The Nature Conservancy in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources ranked the marsh as S-2, an imperiled site. The site may soon be upgraded to S-1, endangered site. Four rare or endangered species occur in the marsh: the marsh pond snail, Brown Creeper, Tufted Loosestrife and Adder's-tongue fern.
Today, the significant recreational opportunities include picnicking, camping, hiking the nearly four miles of trails, fishing in Lake Wooldridge and exploring the interpretive exhibits at the visitor center.
Mission The mission of Van Meter State Park is to preserve and interpret the Missouri Indian culture, to preserve and interpret the site's unique natural features, and provide compatible recreational opportunities.
Douglas K. Eiken, Director, Division of State Parks, 12/07/99
Larence W. Larson, District Supervisor, Missouri River District, 12/07/99
Wesley M. Johnson, Park Superintendent, Van Meter State Park, 12/15/99