Osage Nation

𐓁𐓣 𐓂𐓤𐓘𐓯𐓤𐓘͘
Flag of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma.png
Flag of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma
Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States historically Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas, now only Oklahoma
English, Osage
Christianity, Traditional Spirituality
Related ethnic groups
Siouan peoples, Dhegihan peoples esp. Ponca, Otoe, Iowa
Osage Reservation
Osage Tribal Museum
Osage Tribal Museum
Flag of Osage Reservation
Official seal of Osage Reservation
Location in Oklahoma
Location in Oklahoma
TribeOsage Nation
CountryUnited States
 • Principal ChiefGeoffrey M. Standing Bear
 • Assistant Principal ChiefRaymond W. Red Corn III
 • Total47,350

The Osage Nation (/ OH-sayj) (Osage: 𐓁𐓣 𐓂𐓤𐓘𐓯𐓤𐓘͘ (Ni-u-kon-ska), "People of the Middle Waters") is a Midwestern Native American tribe of the Great Plains. The tribe developed in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys around 700 BC along with other groups of its language family. They migrated west of the Mississippi after the 17th century due to wars with Iroquois invading the Ohio Valley from New York and Pennsylvania in a search for new hunting grounds. The nations separated at that time, and the Osage settled near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The term "Osage" is a French version of the tribe's name, which can be roughly translated as "warlike". The Osage people refer to themselves in their indigenous Dhegihan Siouan language as 𐓏𐓘𐓻𐓘𐓻𐓟 (Wazhazhe), or "Mid-waters".[4]

At the height of their power in the early 19th century, the Osage had become the dominant power in the region, feared by neighboring tribes. The tribe controlled the area between the Missouri and Red rivers, the Ozarks to the east and the foothills of the Wichita Mountains to the south. They depended on nomadic buffalo hunting and agriculture.

The 19th-century painter George Catlin described the Osage as "the tallest race of men in North America, either red or white skins; there being ... many of them six and a half, and others seven feet."[5]

The missionary Isaac McCoy described the Osage as an "uncommonly fierce, courageous, warlike nation" and said they were the "finest looking Indians I have ever seen in the West".[6]

In the Ohio Valley, the Osage originally lived among speakers of the same Dhegihan language stock, such as the Kansa, Ponca, Omaha, and Quapaw. Researchers believe that the tribes likely became differentiated in languages and cultures after leaving the lower Ohio country. The Omaha and Ponca settled in what is now Nebraska, the Kansa in Kansas, and the Quapaw in Arkansas.

In the 19th century, the Osage were forced to remove from Kansas to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), and the majority of their descendants live in Oklahoma. In the early 20th century, oil was discovered on their land. Many Osage became wealthy through leasing fees generated by their headrights. However, during the 1920s, they suffered manipulation and numerous murders by whites eager to take over their wealth. In the 21st century, the federally recognized Osage Nation has ~20,000 enrolled members,[7] 6,780 of whom reside in the tribe's jurisdictional area. Members also live outside the nation's tribal land in Oklahoma and in other states around the country, including Kansas.


Map featuring traditional Osage lands by the late 17th century in the states of northwest Arkansas, southeast Kansas, southwest Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma
Map of traditional Osage lands by the late 17th century

The Osage are descendants of cultures of indigenous peoples who had been in North America for thousands of years. Studies of their traditions and language show that they were part of a group of Dhegian-Siouan speaking people who lived in the Ohio River valley area, extending into present-day Kentucky. According to their own stories (common to other Dhegian-Siouan tribes, such as the Ponca, Omaha, Kaw and Quapaw), they migrated west as a result of war with the Iroquois and/or to reach more game.

Scholars are divided as to whether they think the Osage and other groups left before the Beaver Wars of the Iroquois.[8] Some believe that the Osage started migrating west as early as 1200 CE and are descendants of the Mississippian culture in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. They attribute their style of government to effects of the long years of war with invading Iroquois. After resettling west of the Mississippi River, the Osage were sometimes allied with the Illiniwek and sometimes competing with them, as that tribe was also driven west of Illinois by warfare with the powerful Iroquois.[9]

Eventually the Osage and other Dhegian-Siouan peoples reached their historic lands, likely developing and splitting into the above tribes in the course of the migration to the Great Plains. By 1673, when they were recorded by the French, many of the Osage had settled near the Osage River in the western part of present-day Missouri. They were recorded in 1690 as having adopted the horse (a valuable resource often acquired through raids on other tribes.) The desire to acquire more horses contributed to their trading with the French.[8] They attacked and defeated indigenous Caddo tribes to establish dominance in the Plains region by 1750, with control "over half or more of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas," which they maintained for nearly 150 years.[9] They lived near the Missouri River. Together with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache, they dominated western Oklahoma. They also lived near the Quapaw and Caddo in Arkansas.

The Osage held high rank among the old hunting tribes of the Great Plains. From their traditional homes in the woodlands of present-day Missouri and Arkansas, the Osage would make semi-annual buffalo hunting forays into the Great Plains to the west. They also hunted deer, rabbit, and other wild game in the central and eastern parts of their domain. The women cultivated varieties of corn, squash, and other vegetables near their villages, which they processed for food. They also harvested and processed nuts and wild berries. In their years of transition, the Osage had cultural practices that had elements of the cultures of both Woodland Native Americans and the Great Plains peoples. The villages of the Osage were important hubs in the Great Plains trading network served by Kaw people as intermediaries.[10]

Early French encounters

In 1673 French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were among the first Europeans to encounter the Osage as they explored southward from present-day Canada in their expedition along the Mississippi River. Marquette and Joliet claimed all land in the Mississippi Valley for France. Marquette's 1673 map noted that the Kanza, Osage, and Pawnee tribes controlled much of modern-day Kansas.[11]

Shonka Sabe (Black Dog). Chief of the Hunkah division of the Osage tribe. Painted in 1834 by George Catlin

The Osage called the Europeans I'n-Shta-Heh (Heavy Eyebrows) because of their facial hair.[12] As experienced warriors, the Osage allied with the French, with whom they traded, against the Illiniwek during the early 18th century.

The first half of the 1720s was a time of more interaction between the Osage and French. Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont founded Fort Orleans in their territory; it was the first European fort on the Missouri River. Jesuit missionaries were assigned to French forts and established missions to the Osage, learning their language. In 1724, the Osage allied with the French rather than the Spanish in their fight for control of the Mississippi region.

In 1725, Bourgmont led a delegation of Osage and other tribal chiefs to Paris. The Native Americans were shown the wonders and power of France, including a visit to Versailles, Château de Marly and Fontainebleau. They hunted with Louis XV in the royal forest and saw an opera. During the French and Indian War (the North American front of the Seven Years' War in Europe), France was defeated by Great Britain and in 1763 ceded its lands east of the Mississippi River to that nation. France made a separate deal with Spain, which took nominal control of much of the Illinois Country west of the great river.

By the late 18th century, the Osage did extensive business with the French Creole fur trader René Auguste Chouteau, who was based in St. Louis; the city was part of territory under nominal Spanish control after the Seven Years' War but was dominated by French colonists. They were the de facto European power in St. Louis and other settlements along the Mississippi, building their wealth on the fur trade. In return for the Chouteau brothers' building a fort in the village of the Great Osage 350 miles (560 km) southwest of St. Louis, the Spanish regional government gave the Chouteaus a six-year monopoly on trade (1794–1802). The Chouteaus named the post Fort Carondelet after the Spanish governor. The Osage were pleased to have a fur trading post nearby, as it gave them access to manufactured goods and increased their prestige among the tribes.[13]

Osage warrior painted by George Catlin

Lewis and Clark reported in 1804 that the peoples were the Great Osage on the Osage River, the Little Osage upstream, and the Arkansas band on the Verdigris River, a tributary of the Arkansas River.[14] The Osage then numbered some 5,500.

The Osage and Quapaw suffered extensive losses due to smallpox in 1801-1802. Historians estimate up to 2,000 Osage died in the epidemic.[15]

In 1804 after the United States made the Louisiana Purchase, they appointed the wealthy French fur trader Jean Pierre Chouteau, a half-brother of René Auguste Chouteau, as the US Indian agent assigned to the Osage. In 1809 he founded the Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company with his son Auguste Pierre Chouteau and other prominent men of St. Louis, most of whom were of French-Creole descent, born in North America. Having lived with the Osage for many years and learned their language, Jean Pierre Chouteau traded with them and made his home at present-day Salina, Oklahoma, in the western part of their territory.

Osage wars with other tribes

The Choctaw chief Pushmataha, based in Mississippi, made his early reputation in battles against the Osage tribe in the area of southern Arkansas and their borderlands.[16][17][18]

In the early 19th century, some Cherokee, such as Sequoyah, voluntarily removed from the Southeast to the Arkansas River valley under pressure from European-American settlement in their traditional territory. They clashed there with the Osage, who controlled this area. The Osage regarded the Cherokee as invaders. They began raiding Cherokee towns, stealing horses, carrying off captives (usually women and children), and killing others, trying to drive out the Cherokee with a campaign of violence and fear. The Cherokee were not effective in stopping the Osage raids, and worked to gain support from related tribes as well as whites. The peoples confronted each other in the "Battle of Claremore Mound," in which 38 Osage warriors were killed and 104 were taken captive by the Cherokee and their allies. As a result of the battle, the United States constructed Fort Smith in present-day Arkansas. It was intended to prevent armed confrontations between the Osage and other tribes. The US compelled the Osage to cede additional land to the federal government in the treaty referred to as Lovely's Purchase.[19]

War on the plains. Comanche (right) trying to lance Osage warrior. Painting by George Catlin, 1834

In 1833, the Osage clashed with the Kiowa near the Wichita Mountains in modern-day south-central Oklahoma, in an incident known as the Cutthroat Gap Massacre. The Osage cut off the heads of their victims and arranged them in rows of brass cooking buckets.[20]:33 Not a single Osage died in this attack. Later, Kiowa warriors, allied with the Comanche, raided the Osage and others. In 1836, the Osage prohibited the Kickapoo from entering their Missouri reservation, pushing them back to ceded lands in Illinois.

U.S. interaction with Osage

After the US acquired the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the government became interested in relations with the various tribal nations of the territory. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to survey the territory and report on its peoples, plants and animals, at the same time that it sought a route via the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. It encountered the Osage in their territory along the Osage River.

The major part of the tribe moved to the Three-Forks region of what would become Oklahoma soon after the encounter with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, wanting to maintain distance from European Americans. They were buffered for a period from interaction with the United States settlers and representatives. This part of the tribe did not participate in negotiations for the treaty of 1808, but their assent was obtained in 1809.[citation needed]

After the expedition was completed in 1806, Jefferson appointed Meriwether Lewis as Indian Agent for the territory of Missouri and the region. There were continuing confrontations between the Osage and other tribes in this area. Lewis anticipated that the US would have to go to war with the Osage, because of their raids on eastern Natives and European-American settlements. However, the U.S. lacked sufficient military strength to coerce Osage bands into ceasing their raids. It decided to supply other tribes with weapons and ammunition, provided they attack the Osage to the point they "cut them off completely or drive them from their country." [21]

For instance, in September 1807, Lewis persuaded the Potawatomie and Sac and Fox to attack an Osage village; three Osage warriors were killed. The Osage blamed the Americans for the attack. One of the Chouteau traders intervened, and persuaded the Osage to conduct a buffalo hunt rather than seek retaliation by attacking Americans.[22]

Lewis tried to control the Osage also by separating the friendly members from the hostile. In a letter dated Aug. 21, 1808 that President Jefferson sent to Lewis, he says that he approves of the measures Lewis has taken in regards to making allies of the friendly Osage from those deemed as hostile. Jefferson writes, "we may go further, & as the principal obstacle to the Indians acting in large bodies is the want of provisions, we might supply that want, & ammunition also if they need it."[21]

But the goal foremost pursued by the US was to push the Osage out of areas being settled by European Americans, who began to enter the Louisiana Territory after the US acquired it. The lucrative fur trade stimulated the growth of St. Louis and attracted settlers there. The US and Osage signed their first treaty on November 10, 1808, by which the Osage made a major cession of land in present-day Missouri. Under the Osage Treaty, they ceded 52,480,000 acres (212,400 km2) to the federal government.[23] This treaty created a buffer line between the Osage and new European-American settlers in the Missouri Territory. It also established the requirement that the U.S. President had to approve all future land sales and cessions by the Osage.[24]

The Treaty of Ft. Osage states the U.S. would "protect" the Osage tribe "from the insults and injuries of other tribes of Indians, situated near the settlements of white people....".[25] As was common in Native American relations with the federal government, the Osage found that the US did not carry through on this commitment.

The Osage also occupied land in present-day Kansas and in Indian Territory. In the 1830s the US government promised some of this land to the Cherokee and four other southeastern tribes under Indian Removal. When the Cherokee arrived to find that the land was already occupied, many conflicts arose with the Osage over territory and resources.[citation needed]

Reservations and missionaries

Between the first treaty with the US and 1825, the Osages ceded their traditional lands across Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma in the treaties of 1818 and 1825. In exchange they were to receive reservation lands and supplies to help them adapt to farming and a more settled culture.[citation needed]

They were first relocated to a southeast Kansas reservation called the Osage Diminished Reserve. The city of Independence later developed here. The first Osage reservation was a 50 by 150-mile (240 km) strip. The United Foreign Missionary Society sent clergy to them, supported by the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and Associate Reformed churches. They established the Union, Harmony, and Hopefield missions.[26] Cultural differences often led to conflicts, as the Protestants tried to impose their culture.[27] The Catholic Church also sent missionaries. The Osage were attracted to their sense of mystery and ritual, but felt the Catholics did not fully embrace the Osage sense of the spiritual incarnate in nature.[26]

During this period in Kansas, the tribe suffered from the widespread smallpox pandemic of 1837–1838, which caused devastating losses among Native Americans from Canada to New Mexico.[28] All clergy except the Catholics abandoned the Osage during the crisis. Most survivors of the epidemic had received vaccinations against the disease.[29] The Osage believed that the loyalty of Catholic priests, who stayed with them and also died in the epidemic, created a special covenant between the tribe and the Catholic Church, but they did not convert in great number.

Honoring this special relationship, as well as Catholic sisters who taught their children on reservations, in 2014 numerous Osage elders went to St. Louis to celebrate the city's 250th anniversary of the European founding. They participated in a mass partially conducted in Osage at St. Francis Xavier (College) Catholic Church of St. Louis University on April 2, 2014, as part of planned activities.[30] One of the con-celebrants was Todd Nance, the first Osage ordained as a Catholic priest.[31][30]

In 1843 the Osage asked the federal government to send "Black Robes", Jesuit missionaries to educate their children; the Osage considered the Jesuits better able to work with their culture than the Protestant missionaries. The Jesuits also established a girls' school operated by the Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky.[27] During a 35-year period, most of the missionaries were new recruits from Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. They taught, established more than 100 mission stations, built churches, and created the longest-running school system in Kansas.[32]

White squatters continued to be a frequent problem for the Osage, but they recovered from population losses, regaining a total of 5,000 members by 1850.[33] The Kansas–Nebraska Act resulted in numerous settlers arriving in Kansas; both abolitionists and pro-slavery groups were represented among those trying to establish residency in order to vote on whether the territory would have slavery. The Osage lands became overrun with European-American settlers. In 1855, the Osage suffered another epidemic of smallpox, because a generation had grown up without getting vaccinated.[29]

Subsequent US treaties and laws through the 1860s further reduced the lands of the Osage in Kansas. During the years of the Civil War, they were buffeted by both sides, as they were located between Union forts in the North, and Confederate forces and allies to the South. While the Osage tried to stay neutral, both sides raided their territory, taking horses and food stores.[34] They struggled simply to survive through famine and the war. During the war, many Caddoan and Creek refugees from Indian Territory came to Osage country in Kansas, which further strained their resources.[citation needed]

Although the Osage favored the Union by a five to one ratio, they made a treaty with the Confederacy to try to buy some peace. As a result, after the war, they were forced to make a new treaty with the US during Reconstruction. They were forced to give up more territory in Kansas to European-American settlers. By a treaty in 1865, they ceded another 4 million acres (16,000 km2) to the United States and were facing the issue of eventual removal from Kansas to Indian Territory.[35]

In 1867, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer chose Osage scouts in his campaign against Chief Black Kettle and his band of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in western Oklahoma. He knew the Osage for because of their scouting expertise, excellent terrain knowledge, and military prowess. Custer and his soldiers took Chief Black Kettle and his peaceful band by surprise in the early morning near the Washita River on November 27, 1868. They killed Chief Black Kettle, and the ambush resulted in additional deaths on both sides. This incident became known as the Battle of Washita River, or, better, as the Washita massacre, an ignominious part of the United States' Indian Wars.

Removal to Indian Territory

Following the American Civil War and victory of the Union, the Drum Creek Treaty was passed by Congress July 15, 1870 during the Reconstruction era and ratified by the Osage at a meeting in Montgomery County, Kansas, on September 10, 1870. It provided that the remainder of Osage land in Kansas be sold and the proceeds used to relocate the tribe to Indian Territory in the Cherokee Outlet. By delaying agreement with removal, the Osage benefited by a change in administration. They sold their lands to the "peace" administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, for which they received more money: $1.25 an acre rather than the 19 cents previously offered to them by the US.

Oklahoma and Indian Territory map, circa 1890s, created using Census Bureau Data.

The Osage were one of the few American Indian nations to buy their own reservation. As a result, they retained more rights to the land and sovereignty.[36] The reservation, of 1,470,000 acres (5,900 km2),[37] is coterminous with present-day Osage County, Oklahoma in the north-central portion of the state between Tulsa and Ponca City. The Osage established three towns: Pawhuska, Hominy and Fairfax. Each was dominated by one of the major bands at the time of removal. The Osage continued their relationship with the Catholic Church, which established schools operated by two orders of nuns, as well as mission churches.

It was many years before the Osage recovered from the hardship suffered during their last years in Kansas and their early years on the reservation in Indian Territory. For nearly five years during the depression of the 1870s, the Osage did not receive their full annuity in cash. Like other Native Americans, they suffered from the government's failure to provide full or satisfactory rations and goods as part of their annuities during this period. Middlemen made profits by shorting supplies to the Indians or giving them poor-quality food. Some people starved. Many adjustments had to be made to their new way of life.[38]

Four Osage men with U.S president Calvin Coolidge after signing the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted Indians across the country full citizenship for the first time.

During this time, Indian Office reports showed nearly a 50 percent decline in the Osage population.[38] This resulted from the failure of the US government to provide adequate medical supplies, food and clothing. The people suffered greatly during the winters. While the government failed to supply them, outlaws often smuggled whiskey to the Osage and the Pawnee.

In 1879, an Osage delegation went to Washington, DC and gained agreement to have all their annuities paid in cash; they hoped to avoid being continually shortchanged in supplies, or by being given supplies of inferior quality - spoiled food and inappropriate goods. They were the first Native American nation to gain full cash payment of annuities. They gradually began to build up their tribe again, but suffered encroachment by white outlaws, vagabonds, and thieves.[39]

By the start of the 20th century, the federal government and progressives were continuing to press for Native American assimilation, believing this was the best policy for them. Congress passed the Curtis Act and Dawes Act, legislation requiring the dismantling of other reservations. They allotted communal lands in 160-acre portions to individual households, declaring the remainder as "surplus" and selling it to non-natives.

Other Languages
العربية: أمة الاوساج
беларуская: Осэйдж
català: Osages
Deutsch: Osage
español: Osage
français: Osages
hrvatski: Osage Indijanci
italiano: Nazione Osage
lietuvių: Oseidžai
português: Osage
русский: Осейджи
Simple English: Osage Nation
suomi: Osaget
svenska: Osage
Tsetsêhestâhese: Oo'kóhtâxétaneo'o
Türkçe: Osageler
中文: 奧塞奇族