Manataka American Indian Council














The Osage: 

A Historical Sketch
November 1909

By George E. Tinker

Edited By: Angelic Saulsberry
Art Work Courtesy of Louis F. Burns


The word Osage was evolved through bad spelling and mispronunciation on the part of the early French settlers, and equally erratic interpretation by the English of the true name of the tribe - "Wa-Shah-She."  The French called them  "Wa-Sa-gee," and using the letters Ou to give the sound of W they wrote it Ouasages, which the English and Americans pronounced "Osages."

 The latter name has now been adopted by the American Bureau of Ethnology and by the Indian Bureau, and will be used in this history.  The Osages belong to the Dakota branch of the Sioux.  Some may take issue with this statement and claim the Sioux are a branch of the Dakotas, but from personal knowledge and from the evidence of men better acquainted with the subject we maintain that seniority of name is with the Sioux.

The Sioux were divided into three grand divisions, the Nahkotas, Lahkotas and Dakotas, those living east of the Mississippi, those living between that stream and the Missouri, and those west of the Missouri.  The three branches of the Sioux family were divided again into bands and tribes, their number reaching into scores, which dominated all the territory between the Great Lakes and the Black Hills of South Dakota, and as far south as the Arkansas river.

The Osages were the most southern branch west of the Mississippi, and stood guard for hundreds of years over the territory of the Sioux from that river west to the great plains.  The borderline between them and the Natchez and Tensas on the southeast and the Kiowa and Comanches and Caddos on the southwest was usually the Arkansas river.  Sometimes they warred with the Pawnees on the west and sometimes they were allies, but all territory lying between the Arkansas and Kaw rivers, and west from the Mississippi to the great plains was firmly held by the Osages against all others at the time of discovery by white men.

The first white men to set foot on the territory of the Osages were those under that intrepid Spaniard, Francisco de Coronado, in 1541, three hundred and sixty-eight years ago.[01]

In writing history one must often arrive at facts by deduction where they are incomplete.  This must be done in the present instance, as Coronado does not mention the Osages, but we have conclusive evidence that he was in their territory.  Coronado says that he went eastward of the Rio Grande river three hundred leagues through sandy plains and vast treeless tracts inhabited with a species of terrible wild cattle of which they killed four score the first day they met with them.  They continued their travels east by north, crossing shallow rivers with broad sand bars until they reached one where the trees grew luxuriantly and the soil was as rich as the best portions of Spain.  This river is conceded by all writers to have been either the Kaw or Missouri.  Some evidence that it was the latter was the finding of certain articles in the vicinity of Kansas City that undoubtedly belonged to Spanish people.  One was a halberd, a kind of spearhead with a small battle axe attached, which was found in 1898 in excavating a cellar in the heart of Kansas City.  It was several feet under the ground, and had been buried apparently for hundreds of years.  These relics of the days of knighthood have not been in use since the Sixteenth Century, and the Spanish armies were the only ones visiting the shores of North America that early, or that would likely have them.

There have been two halberds found in the United States, the other one in Southern Tennessee and is supposed to have been lost by De Soto.  Then we have the evidence that two of Coronado's men reached the main Osage village at or near the mouth of the Osage river.  These men became detached from the main columns and wandered on foot for over two years in the forest of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, before they reached the Spanish settlements in Mexico.  Coronado estimated their travels to have covered over 20,000 miles and their miraculous escape from wild beasts and savages forms one of the most romantic chapters in all history.

These two were the first white men the Osage ever saw and the story of their capture has been handed down by the Moh-Sho-O-li-kees (historians)[02] to the present time.

A band of Osages hunting near the head waters of the Osage river were very much startled one day by the discovery of the two strange beings crouched in the thickets under a low bluff on which the Osages stood.  The Osages had drawn their bows and arrows and were about to shoot when their leader motioned them to hold and whispered to them that the strangers were men.  But what strange men they were and what queer skins they wore.  The strangers were trying to start a fire and one of them took off his hat and fanned the flame with it and what a queer looking man he was with black beard all over his face with only his nose and eyes and forehead bare.  The Osages slipped away out of sight to consult and determine what to do.  They immediately decided to capture these strange beings and examine them farther, which they accomplished by crawling through the thickets and springing out upon them before they were discovered.  Great was the consternation of the poor Spaniards when they found themselves suddenly in the hands of these wild men, and no doubt they expected death but they were strong men and showed no fear even if they felt it.  And great was the wonder of the Osages when they examined the Spanish dress, its queer structure made of cloth, which they had never seen.  But the hats seemed strangest of all.  The Osages decided to carry them to their great village and let the head chief, Wah-Kon-tah, see them, which was several days’ travel.  When the head chief saw them he sent runners after all the bands of Osages, calling them in from far West and from the banks of Arkansas.  This took several weeks, but the great chief was determined to find if any of his people had ever seen any one like the Spaniards, and if any could be found who could converse with them, for so far they had not been able to get any information about who they were or where they came from.  When all the Osages had been called together the Spaniards were put in the center of a great council and questioned by the different chiefs, but none could make themselves understood or could understand what the captives said.  But finally one of the Spaniards seemed to realize what they wanted and motioning the Osages to follow, he led them down to the river and on a sand bar drew a picture of a large boat and showed them by signs that they had come across a great river in it.  Then Wah-Kon-tah, the great chief told them to go back the way they came and never to come into his country again.  And the Spaniards were glad to be allowed to depart, although they did not understand a word the chief said.

The next white men the Osages saw was but a few months later, and this time it was a company of cavalry.  A band of Osages far to the southward, it is told, heard a great noise passing through the forest.  At first they thought it was a large drove of game, but soon their ears heard strange sounds, such as they had never heard before.  They slipped quietly through the woods, keeping well behind trees and bushes till they came upon a sight that well nigh froze the blood in their veins.  Here again they saw the strange white men with the black beard on their faces and wearing the queer hats, but this time they sat upon strange animals, the like of which none had ever seen or heard tell of.  There was a great company of them and their coats that were made of iron, shone in the morning sun with dazzling and awful brightness and swinging from their girdles were long sharp knives.  Some of them carried these long knives in their hands and when they struck at little limbs that hung in their way, the limbs fell from the trees as if by magic.  The jingling of their spears and the rattle of the long knives against the stirrups produced the noise the Osages had heard.  Skulking in fear from this terrible scene, the Osages waited till the cavalcade had passed long out of sight ere they dared to venture out to examine the trail and inspect the tracks made by the strange animals.  This done, they departed rapidly to their home country to tell the great chief what they had seen.  When they arrived there their story was scarcely believed, but soon rumors began to come in from other tribes far to the south to the same effect.  So the great chief, Wah-Kon-tah, named these strangers "The Long Knives," and that is the name applied to white men to this day. 

That this story is not myth is proven by the fact that at no time in the history of this country has there been any except the Spaniards under De Soto[03] and Coronado wearing mail armor and long swords passing in a part of the world where the Osages would see them.  Whether this was part of Coronado's band or De Soto's is impossible to say, but it is more likely to have been De Soto's for he is known to have crossed the Mississippi near where Memphis now is into Arkansas the same year that Coronado was in Kansas, and the Osages living in the neighborhood of where Fort Smith, Arkansas, now is, would be likely to meet up with them.  After this it was may years before the Osages again saw white men, and again it was the Spaniard that came their way.

In the year 1625, Juan de Onata,[04] founder of Santa Fe, went as far north and east as the Pawnee village, near where the Republican river crosses the Kansas-Nebraska line.  From there he turned southeast and went as far as the mouth of the Kaw river.  After this there were frequent expeditions made by the Spaniards from Santa Fe for a number of years, and treaties of friendship with the Osages early established.  About the year 1650 one of these expeditions was violently attacked by a large war party of Wah-Sho-hres (now called the Missouris), and badly cut to pieces.  The cause of this unwarranted attack as given was the friendship of the Spaniards for the Osages.  The Missouris lived on the north bank of the Missouri river and were the implacable enemies of the Osages.  War between these two powerful tribes was incessant until the Missouris were almost utterly destroyed by smallpox, contracted from the French.

The Spaniards determined to chastise the Missouris, and sent out a strong company the following year to attack them.  The plan was to go to their friends, the Osages, and get their help.  Under Osage protection, they intended to cross the Missouri river and utterly destroy the villages of the Missouris.  Now the Missouris were also a branch of the Sioux and many of their words are similar, or the same as spoken by the Osages, and when the Spanish interpreter met a large body of Indians south of the Missouri river and addressed them in Osage, he was answered in the same language, and he had no doubt that he was talking to Osages.  He told the Indians what their mission was, and that his commander wanted them to assist in the destruction of their ancient enemies, the Missouris.  The Indians answered that they would hold council among themselves and let the Spaniards know in a short time what they would do.  It was a large party of Missouris they had met, and the sagacious chief of that tribe only retired to plan and make the destruction of the Spaniard more certain.  Upon their return they told the Spaniards that a large village of Missouris were camped on the south bank of the river under the bluffs not many miles farther on, and that they would have a guide to go with them to show them the trail while the Indian were to go below and strike the village from the far side.  It was to be a night attack and seemed so well planned that the unsuspecting Spaniards fell into a death trap from which no one except the priest escaped alive, and he was held prisoner.  Later he escaped and reached the Osages and was by them years afterward returned to his people in Santa Fe.

The battle must have been a veritable slaughter pen, the guide leading the Spaniards through a narrow canon that cut through the high bluffs down to the river, while hundreds of savages lay in ambush and attacked them, in the narrowest and most advantageous place.  The Spanish troops in America had met with a second "noche triste"  (night trials.) 

The scene of this massacre, as pointed out by the Osages, was in what is now Saline County, Missouri.  After this terrible disaster the Spaniards did not often visit the banks of the Missouri and the Osages did not see much of white men for many years.

The Spaniards still kept in touch with the Pawnees, for their flag was flying over the Pawnee village in 1806 when visited by General Pike.[05]  Pike induced the Pawnees to haul it down and replace it with the Stars and Stripes.  The Osages seemed to have retained their friendship for the Spaniards, and sometimes went to Santa Fe to trade, but their furs being little in demand and cloth and other Spanish goods scarce in Santa Fe, there was little to encourage these trips.

But in 1673 came Marquette,[06] the French missionary who had been told by the Peorias and other Indians along the upper Mississippi of the powerful tribe of Osages and its wonderful warriors.  Two years later, 1675, Marquette founded the mission and trading post at Kaskaskia, Illinois, and thus began that intimacy between the French and the Osages which was never broken.  In 1682 they were visited by La Salle,[07] and in 1719 Lieutenant Du Tissenet, another French explorer.[08]  In 1723 Etienne Venyard Du Bourgmont[09] visited the Osages on the Missouri and loaded the chiefs with presents and established a firm and lasting friendship between them and the French.  The policy of the French colonial authorities was to win the confidence and good will of all Indians they came in contact with so that commerce between the two might not be interrupted by quarrels.  In this, they differed from the English and Spanish, who had a bad habit of taking by force that, which could not be got otherwise.  The success of the French policy is a matter of history, for they never lacked for Indian allies in their wars against the English.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the wild horses had become plentiful and all plains Indians went to the buffalo grounds mounted on ponies and armed with long spears which very materially increased their capacity for killing the game and procuring meat.  This new era made a great change in the life of the Osages as they were far better provided with meat than before.  But it, no doubt, proved a bad thing in the end, for less attention was paid to the raising of corn, in which the Osage women are said to have excelled most all other Western tribes.  By the middle of the eighteenth century the French and Indian war with the English began to be felt as far west as the Mississippi, and when the French learned that General Braddock was preparing to attack Fort Du Quesne on the Ohio, they sent to Kaskaskia for help.[10]  The Osages, though living beyond the Mississippi from Kaskaski, were well known to the French settlers there and the reputation as bold and intrepid warriors induced them to send the French emissary on to the Osage country to secure if possible a great war party to go east and fight the English under General Braddock.  About one hundred and fifty Osages volunteered to go, although warned by their head chief, who was too old to go with them, that they were going into a far off country and would meet with an enemy that was a stranger to them and no doubt a bold and dangerous one.

When the Osages got to Fort Du Quesne they found a great many Indians there, some of them from tribes the Osages had never before met.  Perhaps, never again were there so many different tribes of Indians drawn together as congregated around the council fires at For Du Quesne early in July 1755.

See statement of Che-to-pa[11] to General Pike, in 1806.  Che-to-pa was with the Osages, though but twelve years of age.

The Indians, lured by the liberal reward offered by the French and the hope of plunder, were eager for the battle, and great was their anger and chagrin when on the near approach of General Braddock, the contemptible Contretour,[12] commander of Fort Du Quesne, announced that he would evacuate the fort.  It was then some of the Western tribes, including the Osages, appealed to Captain Bojeau,[13] the second in command, to stand and fight.  "You have led us here, far from our people, across great rivers and through the wilderness, to fight and not to run," they told him.  "You make us cowards in the eyes of the English as well as yourselves."  Captain Bojeau was more that willing to lead them and finally persuaded Contretour to let him at least make some show of resistance.  But many of the Indians had by this time become defected and about four hundred only assisted the small body of French under Captain Bojeau in the terrible massacre that followed.  The Osages were among these who fought, and came out of the battle, if it can be called a battle, laden with plunder and prisoners.

The cowardly Contretour, one can hardly write of him with calmness, permitted the savages to do what they pleased with their prisoners, and all through the pitiless, pitchy night their death cries echoed along wild Monongahela hills.

"So terrible were the screams of the tortured," said Colonel Smith, a prisoner of the French previous to battle, "that I sank into a sickening faint and prayed for death that I might be relived from listening to them.  How could a human being who had the power to stop it, like Contretour, sit calmly by, the livelong night and make no effort?"  But Contretour, who paid a bounty for the scalps of women and children, was capable of anything.  How he stole the fruits of victory from Captain Bojeau, and sent that brave young man to France in chains, is reserved for another article.  Many histories claim that Bojeau was killed in battle, but that was not true.  Far better for him if it had been.

The December number will contain the first treaty between the United States and the Osages, and describe the visit of General Pike to their village in 1806.


The Osage Magazine (December 1909)

After the battle of Ft. Duquesne the Osages, drunken with victory and besotted with spoil, returned homeward and reached there after an absence of seven months.  They left Ft. Duquesne short of much of the supplies that had been promised them and became so reduced for something to eat they had to kill some of the horses to live on.  This statement seems almost incredible when one contemplates the vast herd of game that must have swarmed through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois at that time, but it is the story of Che-to-pa, told after he became a chief of the little Osage and is probably true.  But they had increased their friendship with the French and were now known from New Orleans to Quebec.  The following from French explorers will give an accurate idea of the extent of their territory and influence:

In "Henri de Tonty's Memoirs," published in Paris in 1693,[14] he makes the following reference to the Osage Indians, in his trip down the Mississippi river to bring back the men of the ill-fated expedition of LaSalle.  He says: "We arrived on the 17th (October, 1689) at an Illinois village at the mouth of their river.  They had just come from fighting the Osages and had lost thirteen men, but they brought back 130 prisoners."

In Tonty's account of the route from Illinois, by Mississippi river, to the Gulf of Mexico, he says:  "The rivers of the Missouri come from the west, and, after traveling 300 leagues, arrive at a lake, which I believe to be that of the Apaches.  The villages of the Missounta, Otenta[15], and Osage are near one another, and are situated on the prairies 150 leagues from the mouth of the Missouri."

Again, he says of his downward voyage:  "We descended the river (Mississippi), and found six leagues below, on the right a great river (Missouri), which come from the west, on which are numerous nations.  We slept at its mouth."

Jean Francois de St. Cosme, a priest of the Seminary of Quebeck, left Canada in the summer of 1698 and descended the Mississippi river by way of Green Bay and the Wisconsin river. He went as a missionary to Cahokia and later to Natchez and has left the following account of the Missouri river:

"On the 16th of December, 1699, we embarked on the Mississippi river and after making about 600 leagues  (1650 miles), we found the river of the Missourites, which comes from the west and which is so muddy that it spoils the water of the Mississippi, which, down to this, is clear.  It is said that up this river are a great number of Indians."

In another place he mentions meeting with the Arkansas Indians.  "We told them," he says, "we were going further down the river among their neighbors and friends, and that they would see us often; that it would be well to assemble all together, so as more easily to resist their enemies.  They agreed to all of this and promised to try to make the Osages join them, who had left the river of the Missourites and were now on the upper waters of their own river.

As the foregoing pages contain the first references to the Osage Indians preserved in history, the statements of the different writers may be worth a comparison.

Father Membre[16] says that in 1682 the greater part of the seventeen Illinois villages were driven across the Mississippi by the Iroquois, who pursued them until they took refuge with the Osages.  Father Douay,[17] in 1687, says that the Osages had seventeen villages on the Osage river, and that the Arkansas Indians, who had formerly lived in that section, had been driven out by the Iroquois some years before, and with some Osages had settled on the Arkansas.  Henri de Tonty states that the Osages, in 1693, were then in the prairies 150 leagues from the mouth of the Missouri.  This would be about 400 miles, which is very near the distance by the river route to where the prairies on the Osage set in, or between Osceola, in St. Clare county, and Papinsville, in Bates county, Missouri.  This is the locality in which, as will hereafter appear, Du Tisne found them twenty-six years afterwards, 1719, and where they remained until they began their gradual removal to the Indian Territory in 1796.  Father St. Cosme, in 1689, confirms the statement made by Douay, for he says the Osages had left the river of the Missourites and were on the upper waters of their own river.  The map of Delisle published in 1703, which gives the location of many of the western tribes, lays down four villages of the Osages on their river.  Three are high up on the river, apparently near Osceola; the other is located about where the town of Warsaw stands.  There are none laid down nearer the mouth of the river.

From this testimony left us by the early explorers, which must be reliable, as it comes from so many different sources, it appears that the Osage Indians, at some time previous to 1682, dwelt near the mouth of the Osage river, either on the banks of that stream or on the Missouri.  There is no question that about that time the lower Missouri tribes were attacked by the wild men from the East, the cruel and blood thirsty Iroquois, who, as they were armed with British muskets and the Missouri tribes had only the primitive bow and arrow, drove the Osages higher up their river, and the Missourites to the mouth of the grand river.  The beautiful country near the mouth of the Missouri was thus early abandoned by the red men.

The following letter, written by Du Tisne after his return from his last expedition, to Bienville,[18] the commandant at New Orleans, throws much light on the different Indian tribes then inhabiting the Missouri Valley.  It was written at the old French village of Kaskaskia, which was located near the east bank of the Mississippi, on the Kaskaskia, about fifty miles below the present city of St. Louis:

Kaskaskia, Nov. 22, 1719

"Sir-* * * You know, sir that I have been obliged to leave the Missourites[19], as they did not wish me to go to the Panioussas[20]; hence I was compelled to return to the Illinois to offer to M. de Boisbriant (commander of the post) to make the journey across the country, and he granted me permission to do so.  The journey was attended with much trouble, as my men fell sick on the way; my own health keeps well.  I send you with this a little account of my trip.

"I went to the Osages and was well received by them.  Having explained your intentions to them, they answered me satisfactorily in regard to themselves; but when I spoke of going to the Panis (Pawnees) they all opposed it, and would not assent to the reason I gave them.  When I learned they did not intend to let me take my goods I had brought, I proposed to them to let me take three guns for myself and my interpreter, telling them, with decision, if they did not consent to this I would be very angry, and you indignant; they then consented.  Knowing the character of the savages I did not tarry long, but set out at once; and in four days I reached the Panis, where I was badly received, owing to the fact that the Osages made them believe that our intention was to entrap them and make slaves of them.  On that account they twice raised the tomahawk above me; but when they learned the falsehood of the Osages, and saw my bravery when they threatened me, brutal as these people are, they consented to make an alliance and treated me well.  I traded them my three guns, some powder, pick axes and some knives for two horses and a mule marked with a Spanish brand.

"I proposed to them to let me pass through to the Padoucas (Comaches).  To this they would not consent at all, being mortal enemies to them.  Seeing their opposition, I questioned them in regard to the Spanish; they said they had formerly been to their village, but now the Padoucas prevented them.  They traded me a very old silver cup, and told me it would take more than a month to go to the Spanish.  It seems to me that we could succeed in making peace between this tribe and the Padoucas, and thereby open a route to the Spanish (in Mexico); it could be done by giving them back their slaves and making them presents.  I have told them that you desired that they be friends.  We might also attempt a passage by the Missouri, going to the Panimahas[21] and carrying them presents.  I offered M. de Boisbriant to go there myself, and if you desire it I am ready to execute it, so as to merit your protection.

"I have written to the chief of the Cadodaquious[22], and have asked him to give you advice of it.  A Mento[23] chief had charge of the letters.  I had seen him among the Osages and he had sold some slaves for me to the Natchitoches.  It is from him that I learned of the arrival of M. de La Harpe[24] with the large boats at the Nassonites.[25]  He tells me that in a month he will return to the Natchitoches and, by the direction he has shown me, the route to the Osages is south a quarter southwest.  The villages of the Mentos are seven day's journey from the Osages toward the southwest.  He has promised me to come to the Illinois and bring some horses, as have also the Panis, who ought to come next spring.

"The Osages not wishing to give me a guide to return to the Illinois, I was obliged to come by means of my compass, with fourteen horses and my mule.  I had the misfortune to lose six of them and a colt, which is a loss of more than 900 lives to me.  I refer you to M. de Boisbraint for the many difficulties I have passed through.  I hope, sir, since being one of the oldest lieutenants of the country, you will do me the favor to procure me a company.  I shall try to meet your kindness by my faithfulness to the service.  I am, with profound respect, etc.,

DU TISNE.     

"To M. de Bienville, New Orleans."

The following is an extract from Le Harpe's relation of Du Tisne's journey among the Missouris, in 1719, translated from Margy's Memoirs, by Mr. E. A. Kilian,[26] secretary of the Quivira Historical Society:

"From the village of Kaskaskia to the Missouri is 32 leagues (75 miles).  The Missouri is very turbid and full of obstacles from driftwood and extensive shallows and a strong current.   It flows from the Missouries (the village) north-northwest, although it makes many times a complete circumvolution of the compass.  It is well wooded with walnut, sycamore, and oak trees.  Very fine soil and some rocky hills are seen.  At intervals on the west side of the stream two fine rivers flow into it.  The first is the Blue river (the Gasconade), which is not great in importance.  The second is the river of the Osages, whose village is 80 leagues (about 200 miles) above to the southwest.  A pirogue[27] can go 20 leagues (55 miles) above that village.

"The river of the Osages is 10 leagues (25 miles) above the mouth of the Blue river and 40 leagues (110 miles) above the mouth of the Missouri.  In the vicinity of the Osages there are lead mines in abundance, and it is also believed there are silver mines.

"The distance is 80 leagues from the mouth of the river Missouri to the village of that name.  The prairie begins 10 leagues (27 miles) beyond their village.  This would be a good place to make an establishment; the Missouries are jealous because the French go to other nations.  They are people who stay only at their village in the springtime.  One league southwest of them is a village of the Osages, which is 30 leagues (82 miles) from their great village.  (The writer is now referring to the village of the Little Osages, on the Missouri river, near the mouth of the Grand river).  By the Missouri one can go to the Panimahas, to other nations called Ahauches,[28] and from them to the Padoucas.

"* * * * The village of the Osages is situated on an elevation a league and a half (about 4 miles) from their river to the northwest.  This village is composed of 100 lodges and 200 warriors.  They stayed in the village like the Missourites, and pass the winter in chasing the buffalo, which are very abundant in these parts.  Horses, which they steal from the Panis, can be bought of them; also deer skins and buffalo robes.  They are a well built people, and deceitful; they have many chiefs of bands, but few have absolute authority; in general, they are treacherous and break their word easily.  There is a lead mine 12 leagues from here, but they do not know what use to make thereof.

"From the Osages to the Panis is 40 leagues (110 miles) to the southwest, and the whole route is over prairies and hills abounding is cattle.  The land is fine and well wooded.  There are four rivers from the Osages to the Panis, which have to be crossed.  The most considerable is the Atcansas, which has its source toward the northwest a quarter north.  Du Tisne crossed it. * * * This river of the Atcansas is 12 leagues (33 miles) east of the Pani's village.  It is situated on the bank of a creek, on a hill, surrounded by elevated prairies. *  *  *One league to the northwest, on the same stream, is another village, as large as the first one.  There are in these two villages 300 horses, which they value so much that they do not like to part with them.  This nation is very brutal, but it would be easy to subdue them by making them presents of guns, of which they have much need; they have only six among them all.  There are many other Pani's villages to the west and northwest, but they are not known to us.

"According to the reports, it is fifteen days' journey to the Padoucas, but they encounter them frequently in six days' journey.  They have a cruel war now between them, so that they nearly eat one another up.  When they go to war they harness their horses in a cuirass of tanned leather.  They are clever with the bow and arrow, and also use a lance, which is like the end of a sword inserted in a handle of wood.  Two days' journey to the west a quarter southwest is a salt mine, which is very beautiful and pure.  Every time they give food to a stranger the chief cuts the meat into pieces and puts them into the mouth of those they regale.  Le Sieur Du Tisne planted a white flag the 27th of September, 1719, in the middle of their village, which they received with great pleasure."

The location of the village of the Great Osages on the Osage river, when visited by Du Tisne, is not easily determined.  When Pike came up the Osage in 1806 they were seated on the Little Osage river in the northern part of Vernon county, Missouri, a beautiful prairie country, which extends far westward.  Du Tisne's description would fix the location near Osceola, in St. Clair county, which was probably the true location of the village in 1719.  The Osages, like all other tribes, were migratory, and may have moved their village higher up the river, or there may have been more that one village.

It is stated by Du Tisne that he traveled four days in a southwesterly direction in going from the Osage village to the Pawnees.  He estimates the distance at 110 miles.  He also says the Pawnee villages were twelve leagues, or thirty-three miles, west of the river he calls Atcansas.  He undoubtedly meant the Neosho, a branch of the Arkansas.  The locations of these villages are unknown, but from the distance traveled, the course and the distance from the Neosho river, they were probably situated on one of the cabin creeks, in what is now Cherokee county, Oklahoma near Vinita.

After Du Tisne had visited the Great Osages and the Pawnees, he returned to the Illinois country, where he arrived about the 1st of November, 1719.

Extracts from a letter written at "Kaskasquias" October 20, 1721, by Father Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix,[29] who was the most intelligent and reliable of all the early French explorers and historians.  He says; "  *  *  *After we had gone five leagues on the Mississippi we arrived at the mouth of the Missouri, which is north-northwest and south-southwest.  I believe this is the finest confluence in the world.  The two rivers are much of the same breadth, each about half a league; but the Missouri is by far the most rapid, and seems to enter the Mississippi like a conqueror, through which it carries its white waters to the opposite shore without mixing them; afterwards it gives its color to the Mississippi, which it never loses again, but carries it quite down to the sea.

"The Osages, a pretty numerous nation settled on the side of a river that bears their name and which runs into the Missouri about 40 leagues (110 miles) from its junction with the Mississippi, send once or twice a year to sing the calumet amongst the Kaskasquias, and are actually there at the present.  I have also just now seen a Missourite woman, who told me her nation is the first met with going up the Missouri, from which she has the name we have given her, for want of knowing her true name.  It is situated 80 leagues (220 miles) from the confluence of that river with the Mississippi.

*   *   *This woman has confirmed to me what I had heard from the Sioux, that the Missouri rises out of some naked mountains, very high, behind which there is a great river, which probably rises from them also, and which runs to the west.  This testimony carries some weight, because of all the savages which we know none travel farther than the Missourites."

Delisle's map of Louisiana and Mississippi, in the second volume of French's Louisiana,[30] shows a village of the Omahas on the eastern bank of the Missouri, far above the mouth of the Platte, and near it three villages of the Iowas (Aiaouez), while opposite the mouth of the Platte (River des Panis), and east of the Missouri river, is situated the Otoes (Octotata) village.  Another "Iowa" village is placed some distance east of the Missouri river and of the "Canses" villages, at the mouth of Independence creek.  French quotes Le Suer's spelling of these names "Ayavois," "Octotata," and "Maha."

 "According to the tribal traditions collected by Dorsey, the ancestors of he Omaha, Ponka, Kwapa, Osage and Kansa were originally one people dwelling on Ohio and Wabash rivers, but gradually working westward.  The first separation took place at that mouth of the Ohio, when those who went down the Mississippi became the Kwapa or down-stream people, while those who ascended the great river became the Omaha or the up-stream people.  This separation must have occurred at least as early as 1500, since it preceded De Soto's discovery of the Mississippi. *  *  *The Omaha group (from whom the Osages, Kansa and Ponka were not yet separated) ascended the Mississippi to the mouth of the Missouri, where they remained for some time, though war and hunting parties explored the country north westward, and the body of the tribe gradually followed these pioneers, though the Osage and Kansa were successively left behind.

In many respects the Osages were the most remarkable of all the western tribes.  They, with the Missouri, are the first of which we have any data.  They were distinguished by Marquette in 1673 as the "Ouchage" and "Autrechaha" and by Penicaut[31] in 1719 as the "Huzzau," "Ous," and "Wawha."  They were one of the largest and most powerful tribes west of the Mississippi, and they have remained longer in the same locality; they have been the most peaceable of all the Western tribes and have given the government less trouble; they are the tallest and best-proportioned Indians in America, few being less than six feet.

The tribe was evidently a numerous one when first visited by the French, for Douay says in 1687 that they occupied seventeen villages.  Like all our aborigines, contact with civilization rapidly diminished their numbers, for by 1804 they had decreased to 2300 warriors.

At the time, Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike visited the tribe, in 1806, it was separated into three bands.  The history of this division he gives as follows:

"The Osage nation is divided into three villages and in a few years you may say nations, viz: The Grand Osage and those of the Arkansaw.

"The Little Osage separated form the Big Osage about 100 years since, when their chiefs, on obtaining permission to lead forth a colony from the great council of the nation, moved on to the Missouri; but after some years, finding themselves too hard pressed by their enemies, they again obtained permission to return, put themselves under the protection of the Grand village and settled down about six miles off.

"The Arkansaw schism was effected by Mr. Pierre Choteau,[32] ten or twelve years ago, as a revenge on Mr. Manuel De Sezei (Liza or Lisa),[33] who had obtained from the Spanish government the exclusive trade of the Osage nation, by the way of the Osage river, after it had been in the hands of Mr. Choteau for nearly twenty years.  The latter, having the trade of the Arkansaw thereby nearly rendered abortive the exclusive privilege of his rival."

The history of Vernon county, Missouri, 1887 says that a number of young men from both the Big and Little Osages, influenced by French traders, removed about 1796 under Cashesegra or Big Track, to the Verdegris.

While the Osages were a brave and warlike nation, and were frequently at war with the Kansas, Pawnees, Iowas, Sacs, and Foxes, and other tribes, they always maintained peaceable relations with the whites.  This was, no doubt, through the influence of the French traders, who, as early as 1693, began trading with them, and, frequently intermarrying, acquired a wonderful influence over them.

The Osages in their hunting excursions roamed over all the vast territory from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, and a good story is told by General Rozier,[34] in his History of the Mississippi Valley, of an occurrence that took place at an early day near Ste. Genevieve, where General Rozier was born, and where he lived and died:

"In 1797 a wedding party of young people consisting of a proposed bride and groom and a half dozen other couples, left their home on Big river to go to Ste. Genevieve to be married, there being no priest nearer.  On arriving at Terre-Beau creek, near Farmington, they encountered a roving band of Osage Indians, who were out on a prairie horse-racing.  The party was soon discovered by the Indians and followed.  On being captured, they were stripped of all their clothing, both men and women, and turned loose on the prairie, as naked as they came into the world.  No violence was offered as the Indians considered it only a good joke; but they kept their clothing, and the young people were compelled to return home in this terrible plight.  The wedding was postponed for a year, but the young couple finally married, and their descendants are yet living in St. Francois county."

After the fall of Quebec, September 13,1759, France decided she could not hold any of her possessions in America, and four years later, 1763, she sold Louisiana to Spain, and her old Indian allies had nothing to show for the part they had taken in her wars against the English.  This led to much uneasiness among the Indians along the Ohio and Tennessee, and in 1768 a grand council was called by the Cherokees to meet on the northern bank of the Ohio for the purpose of organizing all the Indians against the English.  The Osages were present at this council, but refused to have anything to do with further wars against the white people.

This brought on a quarrel between the Cherokees, Iroquois, and Potawatomies against the Osages that lasted for many years and would eventually have wiped the Osages off the map but for the friendship of their French neighbors in Cahokia, Kaskaskia and St. Louis, the latter a new trading post on the west bank of the Mississippi.  Hostilities between the Osages and Cherokees began in 1785 upon the advent of the first Cherokee west of the Mississippi and lasted many years.  This body of Cherokees settled on the White and St. Francis rivers in Arkansas and sought to drive out the Quapaws, who were under Osage protection.  The Cherokees were armed with rifles, while the Osages had only a few of these weapons which they had received at Ft. Chartress[35] on their way to Ft. Duquesne, and were unable to drive the Cherokees out of their country.  Neither could the Cherokees dislodge the Osages from their stronghold at the mouth of the Verdigris or between that and the Grand river.  Previous to the founding of St. Louis, 1765, the Osages had succeeded in driving the last village of Missouries across the Missouri river, and a few years later they were decimated with small pox and no longer able to fight the Osages.  The Osages also suffered from the disease, but not as heavily as the Missouries.

The ceding of Louisiana by Spain back to France and its sale by France to America occupied less than three years.  Thus while the Nations were playing football with an empire its citizens hardly knew from day to day who their over lords were.  Upon acquiring the territory President Jefferson immediately set about occupying it and exploring its furthermost boundary.  He sent Lewis and Clark up the Missouri river in 1804, and two years later he sent General Pike to explore the country between the Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains.  Pike was ordered by General Wilkinson[36] to visit the Osages and to return to them some forty prisoners taken from that tribe by the Pottowattomies and which had been taken away from the Pottowattomies by General Anthony Wayne.[37]  Wayne had sent them as far as Vincenes[38] on the Wabash where Pike found them waiting, for they did not dare cross the prairie of Illinois without escort, for fear of falling into the hands of the Iroquois.

Pike left St. Louis July 15, 1806, and reached the Osage river four weeks later.  He was much disappointed at the attitude of the Osages and charged them with being ungrateful for what his government had done in restoring their prisoners.  He does not seem to have taken into consideration the fact the Osages were friends of the French and looked with natural distrust upon any other white people.  Pike was instructed to take the variation of the latitude needle and get the latitude with exactness.  On August 28, 1806, he wrote as follows:  "Camp Independence, near the Osage town.  Since our arrival here I have taken several observations and find the latitude to be 37 deg., 26 minutes, 17 seconds north.  In this western traverse of Louisiana the following general observations may be made.  From the Missouri to the head of the Osage river, a distance of 300 miles, the country will admit of a numerous extensive and compact population.  From thence to the Arkansas, Kiowa, and La Platte rivers and their branches only a limited population seems possible.  The inhabitants would find to their advantage to pay most attention to their raising of cattle, horses and sheep, all of which they can raise in great abundance, the earth producing spontaneously sufficient for their support both winter and summer, by which means their herds might become numerous; but the wood now in the country would not be sufficient for a moderate population for more than fifteen years, and then it would be out of the question to think of using it in manufacturies, consequently houses would be built of mud brick like those in New Spain; but possibly time may make a discovery of coal mines, which would render the country habitable."

Pike erred in more ways than in his judgment of the country.  He said the Pawnee language was more like the Sioux than the Osages, when in fact it is not at all like the Sioux.  He said the Osages were excelled by most other tribes in the quality of their ponies, when in fact the Osages exceed all other tribes except the Nez Perce in fine horses and that they knew how to capture the wild horses of the plains is proven by all the travelers of that day, like Washington Irving[39] and Col. Boone.[40]  Pike got horses from the Osages and guides to go on to the Pawnee, whose villages, known as the Pawnee Republic, were near the mouth of Whiterock creek on the Republican river, a few miles below the Kansas-Nebraska line.

In 1804 the government took steps to stop the bloody war against the Osages, that war being waged by the Sac and Fox and other tribes.  The first treaty entered into with the Osages was the treaty of Fort Clark, afterward known as Fort Osage.  Fort Clark was about thirty miles east of where Kansas City now is.


[1] Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, mid-sixteenth-century Spanish provincial governor and explorer in present-day southwestern United States.

[2] That is, Osage historians.

[3] Hernando de Soto, Spanish explorer in Central and South America before his four-year expedition through the present-day southeastern United States.

[4] Juan de Onata, Spanish governor of New Mexico, explored throughout Osage country in the early years of the seventeenth century.

[5] Zebulon M. Pike, US army officer and explorer of the western United States in the early 19th century

[6] Jacques Marquette, S. J., French missionary who, along with Louis Jolliet, explored the Mississippi Valley in the seventeenth century.

[8] C. C. Du Tisne, a trader among the Pawnee, Osage, and Arapaho nations in the early 18th century.

[9] Bourgmont traded among the same peoples as Du Tisne around the same time.

[10] Fort Duquesne, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio (present-day Pittsburgh) had great strategic importance.  During the Seven-Years War, or the French and Indian War, the British Commander Edward Braddock campaigned against the French garrisoned there.

[11] Chetopah was an Osage leader in the nineteenth century.

[12] Sieur de Contrecoeur.

[13] H. M. L. de Beaujeu.

[14] Henri de Tonty, a native Italian who served in the French army in Europe and later as LaSalle’s lieutenant in the New World.

[15] Probably the Missouris and Otoes.

[16] Zenobie Membre, S. J., a missionary who traveled with La Salle.

[17] Anastase Douay, S. J., a missionary who traveled with La Salle and Sieur d’Iberville.

[18] Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, originally from Quebec, commanded the French settlement at New Orleans.

[19] Missouris.

[20] A Pawnee band.

[21] A Pawnee band.

[22] Caddoes.

[23] Wichita.

[24] Bernard La Harpe, trader and explorer, established a post on the Arkansas River.

[25] Nassonites, a French fort, Le Poste des Nassonites, located northwest of present-day Texarkana, Texas, also known as Le Poste des Cadodaquious.

[26] Pierre Margry, De’couvertes et Etablissements des Français dans l’Ouest et dans le Sud l’Amerique Septentrionale (1614-1754).  Memoires et Documents Originaux.  Paris:  D. Jouaust, 1875.  Quivera is the name of Wichita homelands on the Arkansas River between present day Great Bend and Wichita, Kansas.

[27] A small, canoe-like craft.

[28] Caddo name for certain Pawnee bands.  In 1854, Henry R. Schoolcraft identified the Ahachaes as "a band of Osages."  The Padoucas were the Comanches.

[29] Journal Historique, transl. In Wisconsin Historical Collections, XVI.

[30] Guillaume Delisle, prominent eighteen-century French cartographer.  B. F. French, Historical Collections of Louisiana and Florida; Including Translations of Original Manuscripts Relating to Their Discovery and Settlement and Biographical Notes.  New York:  Albert Mason, 1875.

[31] Andre Joseph Penicaut, French adventurer and writer.

[32] Jean Pierre Chouteau, son of Marie Therese Bourgeois Chouteau and Pierre Laclede, an early trader in St. Louis.  Choteau worked with his father and eventually established a fur-trading empire.  His family continued in the tradition, and the Chouteau company became a power in Indian affairs, trade, and land dealings in the southern plains area.

[33] See an account of this affair below.   Manuel Lisa was a trader among the Osages who competed with Chouteau.

[34] Firmin A. Rozier, 150th Celebration of the founding of Ste. Genevieve; Address of Hon. Fermin A. Rozier, Historian and Orator Selected for the Occasion, Giving a Full History of Ste. Genevieve, the First Permanent Settlement in the U. S. West of the Mississippi River.  Delivered at the City of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., July 21, 1885.  St. Louis:  G. A Pierrot, 1885.

[35] That is, Fort Chartres, a French settlement near present-day Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County, Illinois.

[36] James Wilkinson, soldier, trader, adventurer, was Anthony Wayne’s aide during battles against Indian forces in the 1790s.

[37] General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a hero of the American Revolutionary War, who later led troops against Indians in the Ohio Valley and Northwest Territory.

[38] Vincennes, Indiana.

[39] American fiction and travel writer.

[40] Nathan Boone, son of Daniel Boone, was an active military officer on the frontier in the 1820s and 1830s and was an early developer of Missouri.  He reached the rank of Colonel, and was stationed at Fort Gibson about the time it was opened.   With his dragoons, Boone patrolled the territory between the Osages on the Grand and Verdigris and the Cherokees in Arkansas.




Sequoyah Research Center, American Native Press Archives