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History lesson: Depot presents Sikeston fourth graders with living history of their community

Posted Date: 09/18/2017

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Credit: Standard Democrat

For thousands of years, Mississippian Native Americans lived in this place we call home. In the middle of a hostile swamp environment, the Indians built mud mounds, made arrowheads for tools and planted small gardens. Among the snakes which lived in the swamp, there was an abundance of deer, raccoon and beaver which provided meat and clothes to those who made a home where we now make a home. This is part of each of us because it is a small part of our history.

The Sikeston Depot Museum and Missouri Arts Council presented its annual program on the history of Sikeston to 300 fourth graders Tuesday through Thursday at the Sikeston Depot.

“The Sikeston Depot Museum is home to interesting history and artifacts of our city and and the region which will complement and expand the fourth grade unit of study,” said Janice Matthews, program committee member. “This is our third year that the Sikeston Depot Museum has presented the program as an outreach and enrichment to this community,” said Matthews.

The history comes alive with enactors to portray a person from each era, sharing important historical facts about our home. “European trappers came to the region in the 1500s finding a wealth of beaver to trap and send by the Mississippi River through New Orleans to the European market for expensive hats that were popular in that era,” said Lloyd Smith, dressed as a European trapper or woodsman. “Those first European trappers found no Indians in the swamp when they arrived,” said Smith.

“Whatever happened to the Indians that lived here is a great mystery to anthropologists with theories ranging from disease to starvation,” said Jeremiah Dunmyer, in native American style face paint and feather head dress. Remnants of the thriving native American culture continue to be found with each arrowhead discovered in the fields around our town.

“The Big Prairie or the Sikeston Ridge was the dry elevated land in the middle of the swamp where early settlers made a home,” said Smith. “The swamp was dense with cypress trees which became big business for the region as lumber men removed those old growth trees and shipped them out for building material,” said Smith.

The cypress trees and forbidding swamp held a secret, which was the rich ground that was beneath the murky snake-infested waters. “In 1903, a group met in Cape Girardeau to discuss draining the swamp to open up the rich farm land,” said Lewis Watkins, dressed in overalls as an American Farmer. “The Little River Drainage District was born.”

“An earth moving project bigger than the Panama Canal started in 1916, as ditches were dredged with large drag lines pulled by teams of mules. Water receded and farms were built which are the back bone of our local economy to this day,” said Watkins. “Rich soil and abundant water make the region’s farmland some of the world’s best, which helps to feed and cloth the world,” said Watkins.

The school children sat attentively for each presenter who shared a piece of our heritage.

In addition to Matthews, the committee responsible for the program includes: Connie Thompson, Dr. Larry Bohannon and Dr. Sharon Gunn. Other enactors included: Lee Brown as Sikeston founder and namesake, John Sikes; Dorothy Brown as Catherine Sikes; Rick Sherman as a World War 2 spokesman; and Carolyn Harris, community room spokesperson.