Cahokia Mounds


IMG_4859Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

8 miles from St. Louis and along Route 40 sits an archaeological treasure- just outside of Collinsville, Illinois. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and as a World Heritage Site in 1982. Yet this site gets about 250,000 visitors a year compared to the 4 million that visit the St. Louis arch.

When I told St. Louis natives that I had taken the kids there to visit and it was pretty spectacular- I was met with a real curiosity- most had never even heard of it, much less visited. As a recovering student of archaeology (participating in a dig remains on my bucket list!), I am fascinated with ancient cultures, especially Latin American ones and how they lived and died. I realize I am not the norm. But still- the whole place retains a real air of mystery.

Here’s a little bit about this sacred place and if you ever get the chance to visit St. Louis or Illinois- GO! You won’t regret it.

Sitting across from the Mississippi River, Cahokia Mounds covers 2,000 acres and is considered the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico. It was occupied primarily during the Mississippian period (800–1400). Primary features at the site include the 3.5 square mile Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the IMG_4856Americas. Its base covers over 14 acres and rises in 4 terraces to a height of 20.5 meters. The modern day stairs are built in the same way as the ancient peoples would have walked up the mound. It is believed that this mound was built in stages over a 200-300 year period. It is called Monks Mound because in the early 1800’s, Trappist monks lived across the road and had planned to build a monastery on top of the mound. They planted gardens and fruit trees but their plans were derailed and they were forced to return to France.

The ancient peoples of Cahokia Mounds were known as the Mound Builders and their original population was thought to have been only about 1,000 until about the 11th century when it expanded to tens of thousands. As with many other ancient structures, how these people built such complicated mounds is a mystery butIMG_4851 here’s what we do know. The mounds were made primarily of earth. The soil was dug with tools made of stone, wood or shell and transported on people’s backs in baskets to the construction site. There were about 120 mounds but the locations of only 109 have been recorded. Most of the mounds were used for ceremonies but some were also used for burial purposes.


Stockades were found at this site and they have been reconstructed so we can imagine what it was like. There were four stockades built around the center of the city. There’s also a presence of bastions which indicates a defensive function as well- an interior line of defense. Bastions were like guard towers with raised platforms inside where warriors could stand to launch arrows against attackers. They would have had to use rope lashings and other posts to support the platform. It’s estimated that about 15-20,000 logs were used to build each stockade. They would have had to cut, trim, transport and erect the logs.

IMG_4840They built houses in rows around open plazas. They had agricultural fields and were known to have traded with tribes in Minnesota. They used plants for food, dyes, medicines, clothing, and roof thatching. No one knows the name of the real city and the name Cahokia is that of an unrelated tribe that was living in the area when the first French explorers arrived in the late 17th century. During excavation, the bodies of nearly 300 people- most of them young women were discovered. They are thought to have been human sacrifices.

After 1200 A.D. there was a decline in the population and gradually the entire site was abandoned. Theories for that decline are the ones we are all familiar with- climate change, war, disease, drought but the truth is unknown.

Here’s the real mystery. Despite what we know today of its significance as a cultural and economic center and powerhouse in the middle of America, there is no mention of the city in Native American folklore or stories among the Osage, Omaha, Ponca and Quapaw tribes.  Archaeologists believe that something truly terrible happened at this site- something that all tribes wish to forget. What exactly that is- we shall never know.


World Chess Hall of Fame

June30-July 20 063Last week we visited the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood. As you may recall from past posts- we love the Central West End– it was one of the first places we visited when we arrived a year ago.

June30-July 20 060We made an afternoon out of it- visiting the historic building it’s in- all 3 floors of it. The first floor houses the gift shop and the current exhibition of Tom Hackney: Corresponding Squares: Painting the Chess Games of Marcel Duchamp. Excellent photography and art exhibit with a few nude photos so parents beware of the kids- my boys looked, snickered and ran away. A nice conversation around nudity as an art form followed to which they struggled to comprehend.

We spent the majority of our time on the second floor with the Kings, Queens & Castles interactive family exhibit. There is a giant medieval castle, life-size chessboard, large scale chess pieces and art-making stations. June30-July 20 048June30-July 20 047June30-July 20 046June30-July 20 043June30-July 20 042

The third floor houses the permanent exhibits. There are historic and artistic chess sets housed behind glass. This floor was too delicate for my rambunctious bunch of kids and so we spent very little time here.

We ate lunch across the street at KingSide Diner. Terrible, slow service- make sure you have 2 hours to kill at minimum but while you wait the kids can play in the adjoining room with chess sets at every table. June30-July 20 064

We wrapped up our day with a visit to Left Bank bookstore to peruse the used book section in the basement downstairs. A perfect way to end the day.


Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Missouri

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We road-tripped to Hannibal, Missouri which is 100 miles northwest of St. Louis over Memorial Day weekend. Our goal was to visit the Mark Twain boyhood home and museum and spend the day exploring the town and maybe squeeze in a cave tour. We were lucky and able to experience all three things!

We took a scenic route up there that took us along Highway 79 and through historic Clarksville, Missouri. This town is also one of the largest migrating areas for the Bald Eagle. This charming town is filled with lots of antique shops and provides an up-close view of the Mississippi River.

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The river town of Hannibal, Missouri was the inspiration for Mark Twain’s novels- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We were able to secure a nice discount to Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home and Interpretive Center on Groupon so be sure to check that out before heading over. The tour gives you access to all the main places- Mark Twain’s boyhood home, Becky Thatcher’s house, Huckleberry Finn’s house, and the Museum Gallery which features 15 original Norman Rockwell paintings. We spent considerable time viewing all the buildings and experiencing all the interactive features.

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During the last six weeks, Team Jackson has been all over Missouri and Illinois and I mean all over. We also had friends and family visit. That was so nice and I get choked up thinking about what their visit meant to us.  It was everything. So if you are inspired to come and visit please do! Little House in Missouri is waiting for you.

stcharles2Historic town of St. Charles, MO– We were lured here under false pretenses to attend an Oktoberfest with new friends and actually ended up enjoying most just walking the main street of this quaint old town. It was like out of a movie. The highlights of the day were eating ice cream and watching home made fudge being made.




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