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SIOUX CITY | Nine hundred years ago, Native Americans of the Mill Creek culture lived along the Big Sioux and Little Sioux rivers and their tributaries.
They farmed and hunted the area until around 1200 A.D. Then they moved west, leaving behind two large archaeological sites north of Sioux City.
Those sites – called Broken Kettle and Kimball – contain the remnants of homes and villages. The Kimball site is north of Stone State Park between the Big Sioux River and the Loess Hills.
Mill Creek villagers fished, farmed and hunted a wide variety of wild game, including bison. They grew traditional crops such as corn, squash and pumpkins but also less common grains such as pigweed. They made tools of bone and stone.
The Mandan and Hidatsa tribes in North Dakota are descendants of the Mill Creek culture.
Several Mill Creek archaeological sites have been identified on the Iowa side of the Big Sioux. None is currently being excavated. Broken Kettle and Kimball are on private property.
However, the Sioux City Public Museum has a display of artifacts from the culture thanks to a long-term loan from the University of Iowa. The items provide an exciting glimpse into the region’s past, said Theresa Weaver-Basye, the museum's curator of education.
“I like to show the artifacts to students just so they understand sort of our place in history,” she said. “We weren’t the first people here. They grew more crops than we do, and they utilized the land in some ways similar to us, but in some ways very different.”
After the Mill Creek people moved west, one of the next significant Native cultures to move into the area was the Oneota. South Dakota's Good Earth State Park at Blood Run was established at the site of a large Oneota encampment along the Big Sioux River between Sioux Falls and Larchwood, S.D.
The park, dedicated in 2013, is part of the Blood Run National Historic Landmark in South Dakota and Iowa.
The Ponca and Omaha tribes in Northeast Nebraska are believed to be descendants of the Oneota.