History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


The Osage Indians of Kansas

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Osage WarriorOf the Indian nations living north of the Arkansas River and west of the Mississippi River, the Osage were best known to the French during the early years of their occupancy of Louisiana. Claiming lands extending east even to the banks of the Mississippi River, and maintaining friendly intercourse with the Illinois tribe, who dwelt on the opposite shore, the Osage were brought in frequent contact with the French adventurers of Kaskaskia, Natchez and New Orleans. Rumors of mines of silver and lead to the west of the Mississippi River brought, at a very early day, many explorers into that region, and the discovery of the "Mine of the Marameg" by Sieur de Lichens in 1719, followed by the arrival of a large company of the King's miners, under the superintendence of M. Renandiere, to construct furnaces and develop the mine, gave a fresh impetus to the prevailing spirit of extravagant expectation in regard to the mineral resources of the western portion of Louisiana.


At this time, the Osage had villages on the Missouri and Osage Rivers, the latter not very distant from the famous mine. Their country was thoroughly explored by parties in search of silver and lead, and to a comparatively late day the extensive "diggings' on the old Osage Trail near the Le Mine River bore the marks of the spade and pick of the early French explorers.


It was during the year that silver was discovered on the Marameg, and when the mining mania was at fever heat, that Du Tissenet was sent by Bienville, Governor of Louisiana, to explore the western part of the province, and, in the course of his investigations, visited and crossed from southeast to northwest to the present State of Kansas. M. Du Tissenet visited the village of the Osage Indians, five miles from the Osage River, at eighty leagues above its mouth, and describes the inhabitants as stout, well made and great warriors. He also mentions the lead mines that were found in their country.

Sixty-four Osage Indians formed a part of the escort of M. D. Bourgmont on his Pacific Mission to the Padoucas in 1724, but from that time there is no record of any organized French expedition visiting the region. The destruction of Fort Orleans, of which M. De Bourgmont was Commandant, and the massacre of entire garrison, effectually put a stop, for a long time, to any further attempts to extend French exploration toward the west, and, except the fact that the Osage, Kanza and Pawnee were engaged in continual war among themselves and with the more western tribes, little is known of them until the explorations of Lewis and Clark and Lieutenant Zebulon Pike furnished more definite knowledge of their locations, homes and habits of life.


As early as 1796, a division was effected in the Osage Nation. The Chaneers or Arkansa band, under the lead of Chief Cashesegra, or Clermont, removed to the Verdigris and formed several villages along its banks, that of Clermont being about sixty miles up the river. The Arkansa band was principally composed of the young men of the two tribes, and its formation was effected through the influence of Pierre Choteau, a St. Louis fur trader, who had hitherto enjoyed a monopoly of the trade with the Osage by the way of the river of the same name. Having been superseded as agent by Manuel de Liza, also an enterprising St. Louis trader, M. Choteau determined to plant a colony of young and vigorous Osage on one of the tributaries of the Arkansas River, and endeavor to draw the trade of his rival to the more southern river, in which financial scheme he was quite successful, the new settlement soon quite overshadowing the older.


About 1803, the Little Osage separated from the Grand Osage, and made a village on the Missouri River, near where Fort Clark, afterward called Fort Osage, was built. They; however, were soon attacked by the warlike tribes farther to the north and east, and forced to seek refuge and protection in the vicinity of the more numerous band of the Grand Osage, who dwelt near the headwaters of the Osage River, about fifteen miles east of the present Kansas line.




Zebulon PikeOne of the objects of Lieutenant Zebulon Pike's  expedition of 1806 and 1807 through the interior of Louisiana was to deliver at the village of Grand Osage several Osage captives, lately prisoners in the hands of the  Pottawatomie. Another was "the accomplishment of a permanent peace between the Osage and Kanza and a third was to endeavor to make peace between the Comanche and Osage.

In the accomplishment of these objects, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike had the opportunity to carefully observe the customs and noted the peculiarities of the Osage at that period. At the time of his arrival at the village of the Grand Osage, the Little Osage had already marched a war party against the Kanza, and the Grand Osage, a party against the Arkansas band. White Hair, chief of the Grand Osage, was unable to prevent it, although the expedition was contrary to his wishes. Schemers at St. Louis were constantly inciting trouble between the tribes, and turning their quarrels to their own advantage. The treaty of peace, which Lieutenant Pike was instrumental in bringing about, was faithfully observed by both Osage and Kanza.

At the time of this visit, the Grand Osage village on the Osage River numbered, by actual census -- men, 502; boys, 341; women and girls, 851; lodges, 214. Cheveau Blanc, or White Hair, was the chief. The Little Osage numbered 824, and Clermont's band, 1,500. The government was nominally vested in a small number of chiefs, but their power was limited, all measures which they proposed being submitted to a council of warriors and decided by a majority vote.

The tribe was divided into two classes; warriors and hunters composing the first, cooks and doctors the second. The doctors were also priests or magicians, possessing great influence, being supposed to have knowledge of deep mysteries, and to be wonderfully skilled in the use of medicines. The cooks were also of much importance, the class including all the warriors who, from age or other cause, were unable to join the war parties.


When received into an Osage village, a guest immediately presented himself at the lodge of the chief, where he was expected to eat his first meal, after which he was invited to a general feast, given by the most important warriors and great men. The cooks stood outside the lodge and gave the invitation by crying, in a loud voice: "Come and eat; such an one gives a feast." The feasts were repeated until all the more important members of the tribe had an opportunity to display their hospitality.


The Osage lodges were usually constructed by driving into the ground upright posts, about twenty feet high, with crotched tops as a rest for the ridge pole, over which were bent small poles, fastened to stakes about four feet high.


The ends of the lodge were formed by broad slabs, and the whole covered with rush matting. There was generally a door on each side, the fire being in the center, with a hole in the roof for the escape of the smoke. A raised platform, covered with skins, at one end, served to display the household treasures of the host, and as a place of honor for the guests. The lodges varied in length from thirty-six to one hundred feet.

Physically, the Osage were the finest specimens of Western Indians -- tall, erect and dignified. The average height of the men was over six feet.

On November 10, 1808, a few years subsequent to the acquisition of Louisiana by the United States, a treaty was made at Fort Clark, then recently built, on the Missouri River, between the United States and the Osage Nation.


Osage Camp

Osage Camp, by O. Drum, 1906.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.


Article 1 of the treaty reads as follows:


"The United States, being anxious to promote peace, friendship and intercourse with the Osage tribes, to afford them every assistance in their power, and to protect them from the insults and injuries of other tribes of Indians situated near the settlements of the white people, have thought proper to build a fort on the right bank of the Missouri, a few miles above the fire prairie, and do agree to garrison the same with as many regular troops as the President of United States may, from time to time, deem necessary for the protection of all orderly, friendly and well disposed Indians of the Great and Little Osage Nations who reside at this place, and who do strictly conform to and pursue the counsels or admonitions of the President of the United States through his subordinate officers."


At Fort Clark the United States agreed "to establish and permanently to continue, at all seasons of the year, a well-assorted store of goods, "for the purpose of bartering with the Osage, on moderate terms, for their peltries and furs; also "to furnish at this place, for the use of the Osage Nations, a blacksmith, and tools to mend their arms and utensils of husbandry, and engage to build them a horse-mill, or water-mill; also to furnish them with plows, and to build for the great chief of the Great Osage, and for the great chief of the Little Osage, a strong blockhouse in each of their towns, which are to be established near this fort."


There was also, by the terms of the treaty, to be delivered annually to the Great Osage Nation, merchandise to the value of $1,000, and to the Little Osage Nation merchandise to the value of $500, and in addition there was to be paid, at or before the signature of the treaty, to the Great Osage Nation, the sum of $800, and to the Little Osage Nation the sum of $400.


Article 6 of treaty reads as follows:

"And in consideration of the advantages which we derive from the stipulations contained in the foregoing article, we, the chiefs and warriors of the Great and Little Osage, for ourselves and our nation respectively, covenant and agree with the United States, that the boundary line between our nations and the United States shall be as follows, to wit: Beginning at Fort Clark, on the Missouri River, five miles above Fire Prairie, and running thence a due south course to the river Arkansas and down the same to the Mississippi, hereby ceding and relinquishing forever to the United States all the lands which lie east of the said line, and north of the southwardly bank of the said river Arkansas and all lands situated northwardly of the Missouri River. And we do further cede and relinquish to the United States forever, a tract of two leagues square, to embrace Fort Clark, and to be laid off in such manner as the President of United States shall think proper."


Fort Clark, Missouri by Karl BodmerAccording to his report, in 1804, President Jefferson promised the Osage chiefs, then on a visit to Washington, to establish a trading post for the benefit of their nation, this promise being repeated in 1806. The fort was built in October, 1808, and the following month, November 8, 1808, Pierre Choteau, United States Agent for the Osage, arrived at Fort Clark, prepared to execute the treaty which Governor Lewis, of Missouri had deputized him to offer the nation. The chiefs and warriors of the Great and Little Osage assembled on the 10th, and, upon learning that the trading post, which was supposed by them to have been established as a favor and mark of friendship, was in fact a part of the price paid for their lands, and that, unless they accepted the provisions of the treaty, they virtually forfeited the protection of the United States, they reluctantly signed it, protesting that "they had no choice; they must either sign the treaty, or be declared the enemies of the United States."


This treaty was not ratified by the Senate until 1810, and the Indians did not receive the first annuity until September, 1811, three years after the treaty was made. The blockhouse which was promised for the defense of the Osage towns on the Osage River was useful only to the traders, being detached from the agency, and no competent person having charge. A mill was built and a blacksmith sent to the town of the Great Osage.


By the terms of the treaty of 1808, the Osage title to all land in Missouri was extinguished, excepting a strip twenty-four miles wide lying eastward from the western boundary of the State, and extending from the Missouri River south into the Territory of Arkansas. The eastern line extended a few miles east of Fort Clark, which was situated on a bluff on the Missouri River, near the present site of the town of Sibley. The principal village of the Osage was due south from the fort, on the Osage River, and it was this that Captain Zebulon Pike visited and described in 1806.

George Sibley, former commandant at Fort Clark, in his report, commended the Osage for their uniform and constant faithfulness to the French and Americans. They offered their services to him when in command of Fort Clark, when British emissaries attempted to engage them in their service, and declared their determination "never to desert their American father as long as he was faithful to them." He says that "of all the Missouri Indians, they were the least accessible to British influence."

At about the time of this report, a portion of the Osage Nation moved from the old location on the forks of the Osage River, and settled on the bank of the Neosho River in the present county of Labette.

In 1817, the Cherokee attacked the Osage village on the Verdigris River during the absence of Clermont and his warriors, fired the town, destroyed the crops, and took prisoners, which included 50-60 old men, women and children who were left there. This assault was followed by mutual acts of recrimination between the hostile tribes, eventuating in war, which lasted several years, the Delaware joining the Cherokee as allies. A treaty of peace between the contending nations was concluded at Belle Point in 1822.



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