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Prison site contested by Native Americans

November 10, 1998
By: Najeeb Hasan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If the Missouri State Administration has their way, the inhabitants of the dilapidated Jefferson City Correctional Center - a maximum security prison rooming some of the state's most frightening felons and thugs - could soon be residing adjacent to historic burial remains of Native Americans.

The proposed site for a new maximum security prison is near the existing medium security Algoa Correctional Center, just three miles east of Jefferson City. Though a final site has not been selected, a site evaluation study prepared by the Division of Design and Construction determined the characteristics of the Algoa area were most satisfactory for prison construction.

"We are very sensitive to the issue," said Chris Sifford, a spokesperson for the governor. "We've done a thorough review of the site and made the determination that the land in question is still suitable for construction and Indian burial ground would not be adversely affected."

To pursue construction near the Algoa vicinity, the state must purchase land owned by Jim and Marilyn Hofmann. A Hofmann neighbor, however, has reservations.

William Norton, a friend of the Hofmanns and a landowner whose property is situated 500 yards east of the Hoffman site, says the erection of a state-of-the-art prison would desecrate 400 to 500 year old burial grounds of the Osage Tribe. Norton's property, encompassing designated Osage burial sites, was identified as the Gay Archaeological Site on the National Register of Historical Places in 1971.

"The land that the state is trying to buy has as many features as the land I own," Norton said. "The governor's office say they will do a study after they obtain the land. They're doing it backwards, they ought to determine what's there before they buy the land."

Normally, Osage burials are positioned on the south side of a hill or bluff and face eastward. If the Hofmann property is purchased, the state would gain possession of bluffs that are characteristic to burial grounds, but would construct the prison further south on flatter ground, said an official from the Division of Design and Construction.

"We will not build on archaeological sites," said Randall Allen, director of the Division of Design and Construction. "If there have been burial grounds in the flatter area they've been destroyed by farming. This property has been farmed for years."

Allen said his department has made ready a three step recipe for determining the feasibility of construction if the Hofmann land is purchased.

*Phase I would entail a preliminary study to determine if the area is host to significant Native American remains. The state has already examined government-owned land bordering the site and has determined any remains found were insignificant.

*Phase II would initiate actual digging by surveyors if results from the first phase recommend further investigation.

*Phase III would further scrutinize the site if remains were found and either excavate and catalog the artifacts or recommend the state avoid construction.

Sue Holst, an information officer from the Department of Natural Resources, said that under the state Unmarked Human Burial Law, development is not necessarily forgoed if archaeological sites are found. Projects can continue if measures for mitigation - like excavation - are taken on the site, she said.

"I'm not sure that anybody could stop the process of construction," Holst said. "We have acknowledged that there is high potential of archaeological remains in that general area ... but you can mitigate the site."

The Osage Tribal Council, headquartered in Oklahoma, has authorized a review to be conducted of the Hofmann site. Everett Waller, a council member whose lineage can be traced to the Algoa area between the Missouri and Osage Rivers, has already examined Norton's property and plans to review the Hofmann site later this month.

"There's a good possibility that there are some graves on the bottom of the hill," Waller said. "People have found artifacts. This is a family graveyard of my relations, I just want them to leave it alone."

Waller, along with other Native American groups like MU's From the Four Directions, is disturbed by a Missouri administration professing sensitivity toward Native American concerns.

Travis Willimgham, president of From the Four Directions, said the construction of a maximum security facility just yards from Native American burial remains would not properly honor the deceased.

"I haven't thought about that," Allen said. "But I don't think that would be necessarily disrespectful.