Big Moniteau Rock Art Site (23BO476)

The Big Moniteau Rock Art Site is situated approximately 4 miles SW (downstream) of Rocheport along the KATY trail. Diaz-Granados and Duncan (2000:Figure 2.3) refer to the site as the Torbett Spring-Rocheport site. The first report of this site was published by Charles Teubner in 1881. He visited the site with landowner permission and talked to local informants who remember the pictographs dating back to the 1860s.

Digital telephoto images of the Big Moniteau Rock Art Site (23BO476) with exaggerated contrast and sharpening. The numbered pictographs are based upon Browlee's (1956:Figure 14) drawing of the pictograph panel and his drawing was based upon the published drawing by Teubner.

DStretch image using the YRE enhancement of the left hand panel at the Big Moniteau site. The DStretch plugin to the ImageJ program was written by Jon Harman for rock art researchers who wish to enhance images of pictographs.

Digital telephoto images of the Big Moniteau Rock Art Site (23BO476) with exaggerated contrast and sharpening. The numbered pictographs are based upon Browlee's (1956:Figure 14) drawing of the pictograph panel and his drawing was based upon the published drawing by Teubner.

DStretch image using the YRE enhancement of the right hand panel at the Big Moniteau site

Diaz-Granados and Duncan (2000: 10) report that Brownlee's drawings of the rock art panel was adapted "with a certain amount of artistic license" from Teubner's work. The left figure (Pictograph 2) is described by Brownlee as 13 inches (33 cm) tall. The crescent and circle (Pictograph 3) are described as 15 inches (38 cm) long and 1.5 inchs (4 cm) tall. The largest figure (Pictograph 4) measured 25 inches (63.5 cm) tall. The circle divided into four sections (Pictograph 5) measured 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter. The small figure on the right measured 6 inches (15 cm) tall.

Digital scan with enhancements (but not ochre coloration) of Teubner's original published drawing.

Teubner illustrated two panels "near" the Big Moniteau rock art site. Brownlee (1956) was not able to relocated these and I could not relocate them when I surveyed the bluff. If you find this panel, then please let me know by email.

Digital enchanced scan of a third panel near the Big Moniteau Bluff that Teubner illustrated. Brownlee (1956) was not able to relocate this panel and I could not relocated it when surveying the bluff. Teubner and Brownlee both interpret the Pictograph 13 to be the image of a turkey and that seems very reasonable. If you find this panel, then please email me.

Professor Michael Fuller standing at the mouth of the cave directly beneath the Big Moniteau Rock Art Site. A significant underground stream flows through the cave and issues as a spring that flows into the Missouri River. There is a deep echo when speaking into the cave. The cave is linked to a complex karst landform to the north which causes the cave stream/spring to significantly increase its flow with every rainstorm or snow melt. Entrance and exploration of the cave is strictly prohibited according to the sign posted at the entrance. The cave is also a natural habitat for bats.

A medium black snake warming itself in the sun, on the vertical face of the bluff near the Big Moniteau Rock Art site.

A crescent moon visible during the day at the Big Moniteau Rock Art site. At least 4 pairs of Turkey Vultures nest in the bluff immediately east of the rock art site.

INTERPRETATION: The safest answer to "What do the paintings mean" is that we can never discover the meanings that the ancient artist(s) were attempting to communicate with these paintings. If you like that answer then do not read any further.

The safe answer is not very satisfying. It is possible to see aspects of different Native American/Indian traditions in the Big Moniteau pictographs. Here is my interpretation: the panel relates to the sacred nature of the cave, celestial phenomenon, cycles of women's fertility, and serpents. These topics may seem unrelated to the modern mind, but were probably very interlinked in the worldview of the painter(s) of this panel.

Moniteau is a French spelling of a Native American word or phrase. The Chiwere language (spoken by the Missouri, Otoe and Ioway tribes) has several intriguing possibilities for this placename. Maha chi (cave) tun (be born, give birth, bear child) could be the sacred place name for the cave and spring if they were to be associated with a spirit being/goddess of fertility and birth.

The central focus of the panel is the largest figure (Pictograph 4) who faces the viewer with open, upraised arms. I interpret this figure as a young female spirit being with her face framed by projections at the level of the ear. Brownlee (1956:52) interpreted the large figure as a human "wearing ear spools." This is a plausible explanation as ear spools have been found at Mississippian sites (ca. AD 1000) sites in the Missouri River Valley of St. Louis County. Ear spools were not worn by all individuals, but served as a marker of elite status.

To the left of the largest figure is the representation of a smaller figure that can be interpreted as a pregnant woman. Associated with her are two crescent moon designs with associated symbolic "dots" that I interpret as a sign of female fertility and menstration. Brownlee (1956:52) felt that the two crescent and dot paintings "represent conventionalized moon and stars."

Pictographs 1, 2, 7 and 8 are no longer preserved on the face of the bluff. Maybe pictograph 8 was a stylized snake's head. Traces of pictographs 9 and 10 are still visible at the site. They could symbolically stand for a variety of messages, but my first impression is that they continue the discussion of sky spirits. Moon and sun are represented by pictographs 1 (no longer visible), 3, and 5. The two next significant celestial spirit beings in the Osage religion were Venus in the morning sky and Venus in the evening sky. My intrepretation of pictographs 9 and 10 is that they represent the planet Venus.

To the right of the largest figure is a circle (pictograph 5) divided into four sections that closely resembles a sun circle. The small figure to the right of the sun circle was interpreted by Brownlee as either a person with a walking staff or as a snake holder. The snake holder seems more plaubible considering two large black snakes that I saw in the site area during my visit.

Yes, I have an opinion of Panel 2 even though I can only study it from Teubner's drawings. Pictograph 11 seems a reasonble representation of the Spider Grandmother with a sun upon her back. This design shows up on various Mississippian shell gorgets and was utilized as a rite of passage design on the hand of Osage women during the 19th century.

Pictograph 12 on Panel 2 may distract you with what looks like a baseball cap. I see it as a rising or setting sun behind a small hill from which a single plant grows. The multiple small projections from the plant's stalk could represent sunflower heads (pre-modern sunflowers were multi-headed) or stylized gourds or squash. The figure has arms open and fingers open in a gesture similar to several pictograph and petroglyph panels in Missouri.

Special thanks to Candace Sall (Associate Curator of the Anthropology Museum at the University of Missouri - Columbia) and Brant Vollman (Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources) and for their assistance in researching this site. Warm thanks to Neathery Batsell Fuller for her insights into this site and for her help in the photography of the rock art panel. Many smiles to Ettus Hiatt for her help with text and content editing.

Brownlee, Richard S.
1956 The Big Moniteau Bluff Pictographs in Boone County, MO. Missouri Archaeologist 18(4): 49-54.

Diaz-Granados, Carol and James C. Duncan
2000 Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Missouri. Alabama University Press, Tuscaloosa.

Teubner, Charles
1881 Indian Pictographs in Missouri. Kansas City Review of Science and Industry 6(4):208-210.

Webpage constructed 31 May 2009

Webpage updated 7 September 2021