Category Archives: Oklahoma

Customs Of The Osage People


An Osage Village

An Osage Village

 I am writing this from the Osage point of view, written by memory from the writings of an Osage descendant, Louis F. Burns. I have found his book to be the most comprehensive. If you are a student or researcher, please consider Mr. Burns as my main reference here. While searching the internet, I have found several inaccurate sources with widely varying information.

This brief overview generally deals with the Osage nation prior to the “Louisiana Purchase” of 1803. After 1803, everything changed for the Osage people at such a quick pace that they were unable to adapt and survive as the proud nation that I write here about.

Osage Territory (1700's)

 For centuries, the Osage possessed the most prime real estate on the continent. The four-state area that they claimed during their height of power is a humid, temperate climate, encompassing just about every type of geography; wetlands, mountains, and bluegrass plains of the buffalo. Their enviable position in the center of the nation fashioned their customs and religious practices.

 The Osage style of government is thought to have been used by our founding fathers as a model for our present American style of government. The Osage had developed a special relationship with the French, and a group of the natives were taken to France a full half-century before our war of independence. A famous French treatise on this style of government was written shortly after this event and this treatise was indeed part of the model for our present constitution. Although no written proof of credit to the Osage is found, the similarities are beyond coincidence. Not the least of these is the concept of “inalienable rights” of each individual.

 At the top of the Osage government there was a powerful group of elderly ‘wise men’, who were referred to as “The Little Old Men”. The Little Old Men shared power and were made up of men from varied factions of the nation. It was their job to make judicious decisions based on petitioning from various counsels of “Grand Chiefs”. These Grand Counsels were specific to areas of tribal life. For instance, a Grand Counsel on war-making and another one meant just to lobby for peace.  At the more local, or “band” level, there was also some allowance for their own government. There were Chiefs and Councils at all levels. Sound familiar? This system was known to be in effect as early as the 1500′s.

 The government reflected the Osage personality. Slow to action and deliberate in all things, the system eventually became so top-heavy that it was cumbersome and had to be modified to meet the changing times. As such, The Little Old Men had a decreasing power as they approached 1800.

 The Osage had no concept of individual land ownership. The land was claimed by the entire nation. As a nation of hunters, these claims of territory were fiercely defended by warriors whose full time job was policing their claims. These small ‘war parties’ were not without rules.

Intruders were generally watched from a distance without them knowing they were observed. They were subsequently categorized and then dealt with. Although the whites considered these Osage people cruel savages, the punishments usually were comparable to the white’s justice.  

Three classes of intruders were considered. First was the traveller. If you were observed to be just passing through, and you took only what game and resources you needed to survive your journey, you would probably not even know you were watched. Minding you manners would save your life. Second was the hunter/trapper. These intruders were considered the worst, and were just common poachers as far as the Osage were concerned. White men would promptly hang a cattle rustler, and Osage warriors took it one step further. Poachers were beheaded and the heads displayed as a warning to any others with the same ideas. Third consisted of two different types of offenders who were treated similarly; settlers and traders. If traders were not poachers, they were not killed. If they were not trading directly with the Osage, they were however, robbed of their trade goods and sent on their way. The message was clear; Osage controlled the early merchants. Approved traders (mostly French) were encouraged.  Unapproved traders were harassed out of the area. Any trade with other native nations was not approved, as the Osage were constantly at war with them on all sides. Agricultural settlers, white or native, were treated much the same. Since the Osage were primarily concerned with hunting, and hunting territory, small groups of settlers were tolerated on their eastern border, along the Mississippi river. They were subject to some harassment though, and stealing their horses was fairly common. If they were not inter-married with the Osage, they were usually harassed until they left the area.

 At the time of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the Osage Indians lived in most of Missouri, northern Arkansas, eastern Kansas and northeast Oklahoma. They were thought to have descended from one branch of the Omaha Sioux and migrated from the lower Ohio River Valley. They were divided into three clans: the Great Osage, Little Osage, and Arkansas Osage. Their first experiences with Euro-Americans came in the mid 1600′s when French trappers and traders encountered them. Early records from the Trading Post that was to become St. Louis indicate that early Americans traded with the Osage at nearly twice the rate of all the other Native Americans combined.

 The Osage had a special relationship with the French from the very first encounters. This has been attributed to the temperament and manners of the French explorers, more than anything else. The official French government policy was to subdue the Osage and make them proper colonial subjects. The actual practice was nothing like this. Several French were married to Osage women, and are now the ancestors of many thousands of Osage people. Apparently the Spanish and English did not have the good sense to treat the Osage as equals, and subsequently were nearly completely shut out of the lucrative fur trading, unless done by proxy through the French. Osage warriors were known to attack British soldiers on sight.

Osage girls married immediately upon reaching puberty, unlike boys, who married in their late teens. When the oldest daughter in a family married, her husband also got marriage rights to all of her younger sisters if he so chose. However, this did not happen often; polygamy was rare. A distinction was always made between the first born daughter and those that came after. Marriages were arranged by the girls parents, and though inter-marrying with other clans, tribes and even whites was done, it was not the norm. When a daughter was married away into other clans, it was a political advantage and the family ties were never forgotten. The marriage to a first-born daughter was the highest honor. When a baby was born, the town would have a naming ceremony to make it a “real” person. As the children grew up, girls were educated mainly by their mothers in domestic arts, horticulture, and gathering. Children of native and white mix were considered “real” people as long as they followed Osage traditions. If they did not adhere to Osage customs, they were allowed to move about the clans and villages as they pleased, but they were not “real”, as such, they were not spoken to, or spoken of at all. Usually these ignored offspring would live with their French relatives.

The Osage were not an agricultural society, but the women did keep gardens at semi-permanent villages. They grew maize, squash, pumpkins, gourds, and beans, as well as gathering wild fruit, berries, acorns, and nuts. In autumn they would harvest the crops and preserve them for winter. Families lived in lodges made of wood and reeds, or of tall poles covered with animal hides. The lodges were thirty to forty feet in length, with two doorways and an opening at the top for venting campfire smoke. They were permanent, yet villages were regularly moved just short distance when conditions warranted, such as sanitation, gardening, flooding and draught. Osage warriors left them twice a year, once in the summer and once in the fall, when they headed west to hunt buffalo. Although some women travelled with the buffalo hunt, the main job of women in the villages was to grow crops and gather food, as well as raise children and take care of the home. The only time the Osage used “Teepee” style shelter was when they hunted far out on the plains, away from woodlands.

There were ceremonies in all seasons for naming, mourning, peace, planning, and harvesting, where women would dance in the rituals, but singing, priesthood and religous ritual and authority were only the dominion of men. Women commonly got tattoos, especially to remember their husbands, if their husbands were killed. If a man committed a notable act of bravery he earned the right to tattoo his wife and daughters. Mothers taught their children well-defined rules of behavior. They raised their kids gently, disciplining them using ridicule and rewards, never physical punishment. Osage women carried their babies on boards on their backs, because it was convenient. As a result of this the babies’ heads were flattened in the back and stayed that way for life.

 The mode of burial among the Osages was to place the corpse in a sitting posture on the ground, at most only in a slight excavation, and pile around it a heap of stones for its protection. When the early settlers came here many such graves were seen in which the skeleton was remaining intact, and in some instances the flesh scarcely yet having entirely disappeared.

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ELVIS SIGHTING!


This photo is proof that someone not too far from here is a GENUINE REDNECK!

The picture was taken near Welch Oklahoma. Oklahoma is, of course, just Baja Kansas.

Notice the cowboy boot nailed to the porch. What is the license plate for? To keep the rain out of the boot?

Hmmm….most peculiar. Okay Elvis, start the guitar!

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Chief Black Dog – The Builder


Chief Black Dog with Wife

Chief Black Dog-II with Wife

Although there have been many Osage Chiefs over the history of the people, I will probably continue to return to Chief Black Dog and his band of Osage, as he was paramount to the local history in this area where Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma meet.

Black Dog was a huge man, even by today’s standards. He stood 7 feet tall and was well over 300 pounds by all accounts. I will not attempt to go into a personal history of the Chief at this time. Native American history can be confusing at best. Each person may have been known by several names, for instance, an ‘honor name’ which is something to be earned in battle or hunting. (War and hunting were practically the same for their purposes). Besides having multiple names, there are generations carrying the same name. At this time I am speaking of Black Dog I and his accomplishments in primitive civil engineering. There are 3 main feats to mention.

THE BLACK DOG TRAIL:
Although Black Dog’s Band lived in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, the Black Dog Trail extended across southern Kansas.  It went from Baxter Springs to Cedar Vale, to Hooser, up to Dexter, to Silver Creek, near Winfield and across to the Arkansas River north of Oxford. An 1895 map supports this account and today’s US highway 166 runs on the same route in many places. This major trail also had many alternate routes, as do all of the ancient Osage trails. The main trail was completely cleared of rocks and plants. One account says that in most places the trail was “eight horses wide”. Black Dog I is correctly credited with creating the very first improved roads in both Kansas and Oklahoma.
THE CLAREMORE RACETRACK:
 Black Dog’s band were sometimes mistaken for Cheif Claremore’s band. One large Black Dog camp was at Claremore’s village, the present Claremore Oklahoma. The Black Dog camp was actually located at the site of today’s Woodlawn Cemetery at Claremore. Black Dog was notoriously shy of whites, and authority of any kind. As such, accounts of this racecourse are rare. Please mention any accounts you may find!
THE CLAREMORE CAVE:
 At Claremore (Oklahoma), Black Dog had constructed a completely concealed cave. It was not just a place for a Chief to hide, but was built large enough to hold the almost 500 members of his band, along with an entire year’s supply of food. This cave proved to be the Black Dog Band’s saviour.
 In 1817, a group of white men, along with bands of Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Comanche, Delaware, Kowasati and Tonkawa fell upon the Claremore village. The village was empty of all the able warriors, who were on a buffalo hunt at the time. They subsequently killed or captured all of the Osage they found. This became known as the ‘Battle of Claremore mound.” None of Black Dog’s people were harmed, as any that were present hid out in the cave, but their empty village was looted and burned.
 In all fairness, I must mention at this point, that this Osage band was not innocent themselves. It was Scouts from this band that led a raid by Custer’s soldiers on a helpless village at the Washita river. The same scene is now immortalized in the movie “Little Big Man”.

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The Breeze by JJ Cale


J.J. Cale is from Tulsa Oklahoma, and this is his song, not a Lynyrd Skynyrd song,

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OSAGE WARRIORS


Osage Warriors One famous Indian artist, George Catlin, stated: “The Osages have been formerly, and until quite recently, a powerful and warlike tribe: carrying all their arms fearlessly through to all these realms; and ready to cope with foes of any kind that they were liable to meet.”  And Catlin adds that he believes them “to be the tallest race of men in North America, either red or white skins; there being few indeed of the men at their full growth, who are less than six feet in stature, and very many of them six and a half, and others seven feet.”  (1834)

 In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson sent for a delegation of Chiefs from the Osage Nation. Meeting with Jefferson on July 12 were twelve Chiefs and two boys who had been escorted to Washington D.C. by the military. Jefferson later wrote to the Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith; “They were the finest men he had seen” and the most gigantic men I have ever seen.” 

 Osage men carefully pulled the hairs from their faces, even their eyebrows, and shave their heads, leaving on the top a tuft of hair, which terminates in back in a pigtail. Their ears were slit by knives and grew to be large and hung rather low under the weight of large ornaments, made from beads and bones. They also tattooed their bodies, as well as wearing bracelets and neckalaces. Warriors were equipped with a lance, a shield, a bow and quiver, knife and a small axe known as a tomahawk. Is it any wonder that these huge warriors were widely feared by those first Europeans and Americans?

Osage Warriors2 In warfare, they preferred to not resort to killing, or even violence, unless necessary. When they did kill, they showed remorse for taking life, much to the surprise of early explorers who generally misunderstood their laws and customs. When killing did happen, they often remembered the place where the incident happened with an “honor name”, such as “The place of killing ten Pawnee warriors”. A deeply religous people, they prayed several times a day faithfully, and believed in living in harmony with people and the earth. Before battles, or even before planned robberies of intruders, they would mourn the disharmony they were about to create. The mourning continued after the disharmonious events also. To avoid these events, they commonly practiced what is known as “Bluff Wars”.

 A bluff war was just that, bluffing! If another tribe was thought to be encroaching on their territory, or the Osage wished to expand their own claims, they would surround the other’s village or fortifications and hurl insults, both by yelling the insults and making particularly rude hand gestures! Politeness in all things was paramount to the Osage people, and rudeness was an extremely inflammatory act. The objects of their bluffs would do well to “hunker down” and ignore these insults, as any who left the safety of their people and took the challenges, would be killed. Some tribes were completely subdued by the Osage without ever having an actual battle.

 The Osage, as well as all the tribes that bordered them, knew warfare as a way of life. They were always in a state of war with each other, and this condition persisted until the early 1900′s, despite the new American government’s protests and laws against this. As eastern tribes were relocated by the Americans, they were moved onto Osage lands. I don’t wish to cover that period right now, so I’ll try to stay with the pre-American warriors and wars.

 The Osage warrior was the most feared in the entire mid-west. Although in the “Western” movies, you usually hear about the dreaded Comanchees and the ruthless Souix, the truth is that those tribes were mild compared to the troubles and wars that happened in connection with the Osage. The Osage warrior was the bravest of the brave, with absolutely no regard for his own life in a battle.

An eyewitness account of the Osage warrior’s attitude and abilities comes from a Spanish “Governor”, Cruzat. During the time that the Spanish “owned” the Louisiana territory, one Osage Chief, known as “The Scar”, was lured to the Spanish Post of St. Louis. I say lured, due to the fact that they intended to arrest him, but brought him there under a flag of truce. Cruzat writes of; “The fury, wrath, and blind animosity with which he opposed his arrest.” He goes on to tell of an attempted escape by The Scar, forty days into his captivity, “Various inhabitants bear witness to his furious delerium. It became impossible to to lay hold of him without injuring him because he was like a mad dog foaming at the mouth. With the greatest barbarity he attacked any who came near to him, like a desperate person who looks not to his life.” Apparently, shortly after this he committed suicide, preferring death to imprisonment. Keep in mind that this was only one Osage man, unarmed. It took the ENTIRE garrison at St. Louis to subdue this one unarmed warrior!

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HAIL from HELL!


These photos are all from the May 10th deadly storm that swept through Norman Oklahoma.

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The Osage In The Neosho Valley, pre-Civil War


 When the European explorers first encountered the Osage Indians (Wa-Zha-Zhe), in the mid 1600′s the Osage were the most powerful nation in North America, and had been so for centuries. In an 1808 treaty, the Osage ceded most of their land in Missouri and all in northern Arkansas. They were subsequently moved to the new “Indian territory”, Kansas.

 Pahuska (White Hair), descendant of the old Chief Pahuska, established the Great Osage Village near the present town of Shaw in Neosho County, while the Little Osage made their village just west of Chanute, Kansas. In the early Kansas days, there was no Neosho or Labette county. These two counties were one, known as Dorn county, named after a government Indian “Agent”. The official reservation in Kansas was 50 miles wide, bordering present Oklahoma on the north, and extending west to the 100th meridian from a north-south line, 25 miles west of the Missouri line. All of their villages existed in the eastern part of this reservation, primarily along the banks of the Neosho and Verdigris rivers.

 When the Osage signed the treaty of 1825 at St. Louis, they ceded all their lands to the United States, all of Oklahoma north of the Arkasas and Canadian Rivers, northwestern Arkansas, western Missouri and nearly half of Kansas.

The Osage at this time became part of the history of Kansas. It was during this period that father John Shoemaker (Schonmaker) established the Osage Mission, at the present site of St. Paul, Kansas in Neosho County. It became one of the most influential Roman Catholic Schools in the west. It was attended by many Osage boys and girls as well as children from other Indian tribes. There were also villages at Oswego (Heart Stays), Chetopa (Four Lodges), Baxter Springs, Coffeyville and Independence, as well as all along the Big Hill creek. In fact The Big Hills are one of the traditional 12 Osage bands, or clans.

 As the “War in Kansas”, as the pre-Civil War era was characterized began, all of southeast Kansas was embroiled in the border wars. The Osage suffered greatly as intruders invaded the area in preparation for the pro or anti-slavery settlers invaded by the thousands and fought each other. When the Civil War started, both the Big Osage and Little Osage signed treaties with the Confederacy, due to the fact that the U.S. government never offered any treaty of war with the Osage. In actual practice, more of the Osage fought with, and assisted the North.

 Southeast Kansas during the Civil War was of vital importance to both sides. The Confederacy hoped to use this area as a corridor to the north, and deployed spies and other agents to that end. This fact is best illustrated by an incident from May, 1863.

 In 1863, the Claremore ‘Big Hills’ and the Little Osage Bands were all settled on the Verdigris near present day Independence Kansas, then known as Hay Town. There was an illegal settlement of 40 white settlers who lived in grass houses. This is also the area settled by a group of Quakers, as well as the original “little house on the prarie”, now immortalized by the Laura Ingalls book.

 The incident mentioned above happened on May 15, when ‘Hard Rope’ and 8 of his men had left the Big Hill village after a visit. They intended to travel to the mission of Father Schonmaker, but encountered a group of 22 white men, near Drum Creek, south of Independence. Hard Rope approached the men, inquiring who they might be. The men told the Indian group that they were a detachment of Union soldiers from Fort Humboldt, on the upper Neosho. Hard rope replied that he knew every one of the Union soldiers from that fort, and he did not recognize any of them! Hard Rope then requested that they go to Fort Humboldt (now Humboldt, Kansas) to be identified. They ignored the request, and a shooting match ensued, killing one Osage.

 Wisely, Hard Rope retreated and sent a runner to the nearby Big Hill village to request more warriors. When the reinforcements arrived, a running battle ensued. Had the white men known enough about Indian warfare to stay out on the open prarie, they may have survived this battle. Not knowing any better, they retreated to the woodlands lining the Verdigris, thus sealing their fate. Forced out onto a gravel bar, they were picked off, one at a time, while the Osage attacked from the shelter of the woods.

 Twenty bodies of the white intruders were recovered, apparently two wounded men had escaped. The twenty bodies were soon beheaded and the heads proudly displayed on wooden poles. A search of the bodies discovered their intentions. They were actually Confederates who were sent to travel to the northern Kansas tribes (Kaw, Pawnee), to incite war against the United States. Thus, the Osage had most likely saved many white settlers in the northern parts  of Kansas.  Later in the War, 5 Osage scouts tracked and killed 2 Confederate soldiers in Southeastern Colorado on the very same type of mission.

Colonel John Ritchie

Colonel John Ritchie

 One Battalion of Osage did serve the Confederacy under Stand Watie. Far more Osage served the U.S. under Colonel John Ritchie’s Second Indian Regiment in Kansas. Ritchie was an Abolitionist, woman’s rights supporter, teetotaler and general advocate for reform, who looked “eagerly and earnestly for the ultimate redemption of mankind from all oppressions, abuses and vices, of whatever nature and kind.” He was actively engaged in the cause of the Union throughout the Civil War, holding commands in both the Fifth Kansas Cavalry and the Indian “Home Guard”.

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