Osage County

Osage Tribe

The Osage Nation is a tribe in the United States, which is mainly based in Osage County, Oklahoma, but can be found throughout America.

The Osage were originally known by Ni-U-Kon-Ska, which means meaning "Children of the Middle Waters." Today they call themselves Wah-Zhá-Zhi, which was translated by French explorers as Ouazhigi, which later became the English name Osage. Early settlers have said that the Osages were the largest Native people in North America, with the Osage men averaging over 6 feet tall. In war, they were feared by neighboring tribes.

The Osage language belongs to the Dhegihan branch of the Siouan stock of Native American languages, now spoken in Nebraska and Oklahoma. They originally lived among the Kansa, the Ponca, the Omaha, and the Quapaw in the Ohio Valley.

Many of the Osage had migrated to the Osage River in western Missouri by 1673, living near the Missouri River. Alongside the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache, they dominated western Oklahoma. They also lived with 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 out into the Great Plains to the west as well as hunt deer, rabbit, and other wild game in the central and eastern parts of their domain. They grew corn, squash, and other vegetables near their villages, and they harvested nuts and wild berries. So, in this sense, the Osage's lifestyle did not conform to either a strictly woodland Native American tribe nor a Great Plains people.
European encounters

The French encountered the tribe in Missouri during the late 17th century. As experienced warriors, the Osage allied with the French against the Illiniwek during the early 18th century.

Friendly relations with the Osage enabled French fur trader René Auguste Chouteau to extend his business, and he monopolized trade with the tribe from 1794 to 1802.

Lewis and Clark reported that in 1802, the tribe comprised the Great Osage on the Osage River, the Little Osage upstream, and the Arkansas band on the Vermillion River, a tributary of the Arkansas River. The tribe then numbered some 5,500.

Wealthy fur trader Jean Pierre Chouteau, a half-brother of René Auguste Chouteau, became the United States agent for the tribe in 1804. He founded the Saint Louis Missouri Fur Company in 1809 with a family member, Auguste Pierre Chouteau. The Spanish imprisoned Auguste in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1817 but released him after several months. He actively traded with the Osage and made his home at Salina, Oklahoma.

Osage Indian Wars

The Osage prohibited the Kickapoo from entering onto their Missouri reservation, keeping them in ceded lands in Illinois. Choctaw chief Pushmataha had a notable career as a warrior against the Osage tribe. The Five Civilized Tribes removed to the Indian Territory clashed briefly with the Osage after arriving on the Trail of Tears.

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. Not a single Osage died in this attack. Later, Kiowa warriors, allied with the Comanche, raided the Osage and others.

In 1867, because of their scouting expertise, excellent terrain knowledge, and military prowess, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer employed Osage scouts in his campaign against Chief Black Kettle and his band of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians in western Oklahoma near the Washita River. Chief Black Kettle and his band were taken by surprise in the early morning by Custer and his soldiers, believed to have been led there by Osage scouts. Chief Black Kettle was killed, along with others from both sides. This incident became known as the Battle of Washita River.
Treaties and Relocation

The Osage began treaty-making with the United States in 1808 with the first secession of lands in Missouri (Osage Treaty). The Osage moved from their homelands on the Osage River in 1808 and moved to western Missouri. The major part of the tribe had moved to the Three-forks region of what would become Oklahoma soon after the arrival of Lewis and Clark. Since this part of the tribe did not participate in the negotiations for the treaty of 1808, their assent was obtained in 1809.

Between that first treaty conducted in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase and 1825, the Osages ceded their traditional lands across Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. They were first moved onto a southeast Kansas reservation in the Cherokee Strip, on which the city of Independence, Kansas now sits. Subsequent treaties and laws through the 1860s further reduced the lands of the Osage.

An act of Congress on July 15, 1870 provided that the remainder of the Osage land in Kansas be sold and the tribe relocated to Indian Territory in the Cherokee Outlet, becoming the only American Indian nation to buy their own reservation. The reservation is conterminous with present day Osage County, Oklahoma in the north-central portion of the state between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Ponca City, Oklahoma.

It was many years before the Osage recovered from the hardship suffered during their last years in Kansas, and their enforced removal to their new home. Many adjustments to their new way of life had to be made. During this time, Indian Office reports show nearly a 50 percent decline in the Osage population. This was due to inadequate medical supplies and scarcity of food and clothing.

For agricultural purposes, their new land was the poorest in the Indian Territory. They existed by small farming, and later with stock raising. The growth of the cattle raising industry and the fact that their new lands were covered with the rich Bluestem grass, proved to be the best grazing in the entire country.

The Osages had experience with the government and, through the efforts of Principle Chief James Bigheart, negotiated in 1907 to maintain mineral rights to their new reservation lands, which was later found to have great amounts of crude oil. They were unyielding and held up statehood for Oklahoma before signing an Allotment Act.

Natural Resources and Headrights

Unlike most other tribes, the Osage unexpectedly stumbled upon a valuable natural resource on their reservation lands that allowed them to financially prosper. In 1894 large quantities of oil was discovered to lie deep beneath the vast prairie the tribe owned. Because of his recent discoveries of oil in southern Kansas, Henry Foster, a petroleum developer, approached the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to request that they allow him exclusive privileges to explore the Osage reservation for oil and natural gas. The BIA granted his request in 1896, with the stipulation Foster was to pay the Osage tribe at that time a 10% royalty on all sales of petroleum produced on the reservation. The rise in production over the next 10 years prompted Congress to pass the Osage Allotment Act on June 28, 1906. This act states all persons listed on tribal rolls prior to January 1, 1906 or born before July 1907 would be allocated a share of the reservation's subsurface natural resources, regardless of blood quantum.

After mineral leases were auctioned by the tribe and explored, the oil business on the Osage reservation boomed. Overnight, Osage share holders became in the words of many the "richest people in the world". When royalties peaked in 1925, annual headright earnings were $13,000. A family of 4 who were all on the allotment role would earn $52,800, comparable to approximately $600,000 in today's economy. Although the Osage Allotment Act protected the tribe's petroleum interests, the surface land was sold freely by any adult of a sound mind. In the time between 1907 and 1923, thousands of acres of land that was formerly restricted was sold or leased to non-Indian persons. Many Osage at this time did not understand the intricacies or value of these contracts and were promptly swindled by greedy businessmen.

Another trick used by non-Indian Americans to cash in on the new found Osage wealth was to marry in to a family that had headrights. This tactic took a shocking and heinous turn in 1921 when a white man Ernest Burkhart married into an Alottee family and with the help of his uncle and brother plotted to murder those that would inherit the headrights. This became known as the Osage Indian Murders and went so far as to receive attention from Federal law enforcement. This violence finally caused Congress to pass legislation limiting inheritance of headrights to only those with Osage Indian blood and required those with no degree of Osage Indian blood to sell their shares to the tribe. Today, headrights have become split up among the Osage descendants of those who originally possessed them, although it is estimated that 25% of headrights are owned by non Osage people.The social consequences of the oil boom for the Osage Nation have been depicted in John Joseph Mathews' semi-autobiographical novel Sundown (1934).


Today, the Osage Nation claims more than 10,000 members. The Osage Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, the oldest extant tribal museum in the country, documents their history. (Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

An Osage Murder Trial
At a payment of annuities to the Osages on their reservation in 1873, a trial for murder was held according to Indian forms, which presented many interesting and novel incidents. About a month previous, great excitement had been created among the tribes inhabiting the Indian Territory, by the discovery of the headless body of Essaddowa, an enlightened and progressive Wichita chief, who had been set upon, when engaged in a buffalo chase, by some Osages, and there barbarously murdered.

This cowardly and causeless assassination of their chief, by a tribe with whom they were living on terms of amity, filled the minds of the Wichitas with just indignation, and they immediately set about the work of taking revenge for the outrage. The Osages number three thousand persons, and are a powerful, robust people, although by no means warlike in their habits. Their women have the credit of chastity and cleanliness, but the men are regarded as treacherous and predatory, and their buccaneering exploits on the cattle trail, have brought them into general disrepute. The Wichitas are one of the wasted tribes, which are confederated with the Caddoes, Delawares, Kechies, Towacconies and other Indians, the whole confederation not exceeding 1,500 in number. Previous to going to war with the Osages, who outnumbered the Wichitas ten to one the latter tribe strengthened their alliance with the other confederated bands, by entering into defensive and offensive relations with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, who can send 600 doughty warriors into the field.

But before any warlike operations were entered into, Agent Richards, of the Wichita agency, sent official notification of the murder of the Wichita chief to Indian Superintendent Hoag, asking the arrest and punishment of the murderers, and demanding that proper satisfaction be rendered for the outrage committed upon the tribe. The latter official forbade all warlike preparations and promised at the approaching payment of the Osages to cause ample justice to be done. The Osages were notified of the demand that would be made upon them, and were admonished to give up the offenders to avoid further trouble. When Assistant Superintendent Beede visited the Osages at their agency, before the payment was made, he demanded of the Osage governor, Joseph Pahnipasha, what satisfaction they were willing to render the Wichitas. He replied that he was willing to have the offenders tried according to Osage forms, and that he had engaged two Cherokee attorneys as counsel.

A friendly talk ensued in which it was explained that the Wichita had met his death not to gratify the spite of any treacherous assassin, but in obedience to divine inspiration. A small party of Osages had been out in the performance of some religious rite, and while the communication between their devotees and the Great Spirit were in progress, on of the party during a sleep received an revelation to issue out and slay the first person that crossed his path. Sallying out in obedience to this dead command, he had chanced to meet the Chief Esaddowa, while separated from his followers, and the Osage warrior had immolated him as a victim, believing that the behests of the Great Spirit were paramount over all mere human considerations.

While the matter was being discussed, the brother of the fallen chief rode suddenly and unexpectedly into camp, attended by a delegation of 50 warriors from the Wichita agency. He announced that he was delegated by the Wichita tribe to demand satisfaction of the Osages for the murdered chief, and if that was refused him, to declare war against the tribe, and denounce them as traitors and assassins; and in proof of his delegated powers, the impetuous chief produced various papers bearing the signatures of the principal chiefs of the tribes in alliance with the Wichitas, wherein they bound themselves to enforce reparation from the Osages, or that being denied them to dig up the hatchet and proceed against them viet armis. The Osage governor received the party courteously, set refreshments before them and assured them of his desire to have ample justice done.

The next day the trial was proceeded with. As the petition was against the Osage nation, the murderer was not produced in court. The court was held in a grove and fully 1,000 Osages were present. The Osage nation was represented by the governor, and his two principal chiefs, Chetopa and Hard Rope, with the Cherokee counselors, Cols. Adair and Vann. Esaddowa’s brother, with two or three other chiefs, entrusted with power plenipotentiary, argues the demands of the Wichita nation. Assistant Superintendent Beede was present on the part of the government, to see that justice was done and to prevent any resort to violence by the parties in litigation.

The brother of the murdered chief opened the case. He said he saw the Osages were prepared to make a long disputation over the matter. He had not come to argue the point, to establish any proofs; there was no need for this. The outrage committed upon the Wichitas was known to all, and it was equally well known that some members of the Osage nation were the offenders. Here was proof enough. His simple business was to demand the punishment of the criminals, one or more, and an indemnity for the evil perpetrated.

The Osage chief, Chetopa, set up a defense, that in as much as the offense had been committed at the command of the Great Spirit, the offender could not be justly held as a criminal, and he was amenable to no punishment. A war party of the Wichitas had invaded the Osage camp, and delivered a haughty message, but he wished them to understand that the Osages were not to be scared with big words. Let them first prove that any offense had been committed by the Osages, then would be time enough to talk about paying an indemnity.

The Wichita chief replied that he was prepared to prove nothing. It was known to all that Esaddowa had been murdered by a small party of Osages, whose names could be ascertained. If the Osage governor chose to deny it – to show a forked tongue – well and good. His mission was ended. If the Osages refused to do justice to the Wichitas, the latter had the means to enforce it, and were prepared to take ample revenge.

A long conference between the Osage chiefs and their Cherokee counsel followed this address. Col. Adair then said the Osages were willing to yield everything to justice, but they were to be bullied into no concessions. The Wichitas might send their young men to the Osages with insolent demands, but they expended their breath to no purpose. Something was due, perhaps, to the feelings of the Wichita chief, whose brother had been slain by the direction of the Great Spirit, as if he had been withered with the lightning’s breathe. But it was certainly absurd to come to a great and just nation like the Osages, and demand reparation for crimes committed, when he was provided with no means to establish the fact that the Osages were the guilty parties.

Seeing that the Wichita envoy was bout to retire in dudgeon, Gov. Joseph requested to be heard. He said: “The Wichitas are but few people, but they are firmly treading the road of our white brothers. They are good friends to the Osages. The fallen chief has many times eaten bread with me; and we have sent up the incense of smoke to the Great Spirit together. The Osages would not be guilty of denying justice to the shade of the fallen chief. His widow and orphans appeal to us for support, and it is not be said that they have appealed in vain.” Murmurs of applause from both sides followed this magnanimous and pacificatory speech from the Osage governor, and the good feelings his sentiments had created were further cultivated by a general fumigatory process and hand shaking all around.

When the trial was resumed in the afternoon, Col. Adair opened the proceedings by declaring that the Osages were willing to admit having caused the death of Esaddowa. They assumed it as a national offense and as a nation offered to make reparation. The demand for the punishment of the Osage warrior at whose hands the Wichita chief had fallen, could not be listened to. The man had slain the chief from no criminal motive, but at the command of the Great Spirit. If his religious frenzy had led him to mistake the divine inspiration, that made the whole affair the more unfortunate, but it by no means fastened criminality upon him. The Osages would make reparation in money and horses, and it only remained for the Wichitas to say what sum of money would be a just indemnity.

The proposition seemed acceptable to the Wichitas. The chief negotiator solemnly lighted his pipe, and then seated himself in the midst of his company to decide upon the amount of the indemnity. A long conference was held, but no satisfactory result arrived at. Mr. Cyrus Beede was then called into the council, and his opinion asked in setting a deodand upon the slain. It was amusing to see how the grief of the Wichitas for their murdered chief was mixed with the desire to make as much profit as possible out of his death. At length a verdict was obtained and announced to the court in the following terms:

“The Wichitas wish to remain friends with their brothers, the Osages. The Wichitas are treading the white man’s road, and have buried the hatchet so many grasses ago that it has now grown rusty. They prefer to teach their young men to plant corn, to split fence rails and to follow the peaceful industries of the pale faces, rather than to re-kindle the flames of war which, like a fire applied to the dry prairie, travels fast and far, and involves all in one common ruin. They will not insist upon the punishment of Esaddowa’s murderer. The shade of the fallen chief will mourn that it is not accompanied to the happy hunting ground by the dreary shade of the Osage warrior at whose hands he fell. But we will intercede with the Great Spirit to receive it. We have now to deal with the living. The widow and orphans left by the murdered chief require the means of support, and the Wichitas demand reparation in being deprived of his wise counsels. The Wichitas have counseled with their friends upon the demand they should make upon the Osages to repair their loss, and they have fixed the amount at $1,000 in money, 20 good, serviceable ponies, and $500 in annuity goods.”

Gov. Pahnipasha inquired how the Wichitas required to have the indemnity paid them. The Wichita chief said the money must be paid into his hands by the assistant superintendent. But a general murmur from the Osages, men and women, showed that this arrangement was disapproved. Hard Rope proposed that the annuities and hard money should be paid to the Osages, and then the sum to be paid the Wichitas should be made up by assessment. But this the Wichitas would not listen to, they well knowing that if the per capita fund had been disbursed in full to the Osages, there would have been such a rapid disappearance of the recipients, that the indemnity fund of the Wichitas would make a very meager showing. At length on the proposition of Mr. Beede, it was arranged that in order to make up the money payment, $2 should be deducted from each head of family, and paid into the hands of the man selected by the Wichitas to act as their fiduciary agent. Some cavil then ensued upon the number of ponies and the amount of annuity goods to be paid, and after some little time spent in bantering, the number of ponies to be forfeited was reduced to six, and the forfeit in annuity goods was fixed at $300.

Judging from the exclamations made by the various Osages, as the mullet was deducted from their individuals quotas, the next member of that tribe who feels himself called upon to immolate a victim to the Great Spirit, will have an interesting time in procuring his fellow tribesmen to condone for his offense. Mr. Beede, as if to enforce a due sense of the penalty upon each Osage beneficiary, would mention the amount handed to each person, and then add, “and two dollars for the Wichitas.” They writhed at this. “This is the last money I will pay for any crazy fool,” they would murmur “who considers himself an avenging instrument of the Great Spirit.”

When the money payment was over, the selection of annuity goods for the Wichitas was made under the direction of Agent Gibson. The ponies were contributed by the Osage chief. The Wichitas set apart $300 for the use of Esaddowa’s widow, the remainder of the payment would be applied for the benefit of the tribe. An amicable settlement having been thus made, the Wichitas ate their parting meal, indulging in fumigatory exercises, and then departed for their distant homes, with protestations of unswerving fealty to their friends, the Osages. –
From "Aboriginal Fragments, A Collection of Anecdotes Exhibiting The Manner, Customs, Traits, and Amusements of the American Indians. With Descriptions Of Their Domestic Relations and Religious Ceremonies, Sketches of Adventures, Historical and Mythological Legends, Incidents of Warfare, Etc." by, W. W. Beach, at the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, reprinted in The Bucks County Gazette, Bristol, Bucks County, PA, Thursday, September 9, 1875 Page 1 – Contributed by Nancy Piper


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