Tag Archives: Osage

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.

Related articles – tag/osage

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The Bloody Benders of Labette County ~ a TRUE Ghost Story!


 I wrote this years ago for Halloween and I keep recycling it every year. This post also gets more views (from all over the world) than anything else I’ve ever written. I did quite a bit of research for this piece. I wish I had listed my sources at the time. Be assured that this story is as accurate as any you’ll find about the Benders. ~ sekanblogger

The old Bender property is haunted. A mere decade after the gruesome killings, nothing was left of the cabin and outbuildings on the property, the only thing that remained — an empty hole that had once been the cellar, has long been filled in. From these depths come the souls of those murdered on the site, wandering about the property and making moaning sounds that can be heard by any passersby. Of those most often reporting seeing glowing apparitions on the property are those who come to the site in search of some long lost souvenir of the grisly murders. Quickly, the scavengers are frightened away by the dead souls to spread their ghostly tales.

As the legend of the haunting continues, people say that Kate Bender, herself, returns to the property, doomed to roam the land where she had committed so many atrocities. Whether folklore or fact, many believe that the trapped souls of these century-old ghosts continue to lurk at the site today, looking for the cabin, well, and shallow graves they were left in. Of those who were mistaken for the Bender family, and murdered by vigilantes, they continue to roam Southeast Kansas, seeking revenge! The old Bender property is approximately 10 miles west of Parsons Kansas.

benders

 Through the Treaty of 1870, the Federal Government moved the Osage Indian tribe out of the state of Kansas completely and finally. The Osage defense of the best of their territory had become impossible, due to a flood of European immigrants. Prior to 1870, the immigrants were entirely illegal, but the State refused to accept that fact, while the Federal Government simply turned a blind eye. The Osage had been promised the land, literally “As long as the wind blows and the grass grows.” This was the actual wording in one of the treaties. However, the Osage saw the future, and had capitulated long before 1870, in heart and mind, if not in writing. One well used Osage trail led from Ft. Scott Kansas, to Independence Kansas. It was mid-point along this stretch of trail, near a mound that still bears the name “Bender’s Mound”, that our sordid story ensues.

The landmark known as "Bender's Mound"

At about the same time, and just a few miles from the now famous Ingalls family (Little House On The Prarie), a family of Germans, consisting of four persons – a man, his wife, son and daughter – moved into southeast Kansas, at Osage township. The man was known as William or John Bender, the son and daughter as John Jr. and Kate. In reality, none of them were named Bender, and the woman and daughter were the only ones actually related. Continue reading

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BLEEDING KANSAS and Murder on the MARAIS DES CYGNES


 For many years I’ve driven by Trading Post Kansas, near the Marais Des Cygnes river (and now reservoir and wildlife refuge) without paying much attention to why it was named Trading Post. This was a trading post that was established specifically to trade with the Osage Indians. I did stop one time to read a historical marker about some murders that took place there. Now I’m a bit more interested in the history of Kansas.  This incident is also known as the MARAIS DES CYGNES MASSACRE, and the whole incident is a part of the meme of this blog. 

 The bloodiest single incident in the Kansas-Missouri border struggles, 1854-1861, occurred May 19, 1858, when 25-30 Pro-slavery Missourians seized 11 Kansas ‘Free-State’ men near Trading Post and marched them to a creek-bed nearby. The eleven men were lined up ‘execution style’ and promptly shot, apparently for no other reason than occupying land in a Free State. Five were killed and five wounded.  Weeks afterward, John Brown arrived and built a two-story log “fort”, about 14 x 18 feet, which he occupied with a few men through that summer. John had other armed and fortified encampments near the border. Ossowatamie is one location, and some reporters referred to John as “Ossowatamie Brown”. That December he led a raid into Missouri and liberated 11 slaves, killing one white man in the process.

 A Brown follower , Charles C. Hadsall, bought this property in 1858. Later, at the site of the fort, he built a stone house which still stands there today. The building and grounds are now part of a State Historical Site. This area, and some residents, were also part of the famous “underground railway”.

 The following is one of Brown’s many letters, documenting the turmoil in “Bleeding” Kansas. This letter was addressed to the Lawrence Kansas newspaper, the Lawrence Republican.

Trading Post, Kansas, Jan., 1859

Gents:–You will greatly oblige a humble friend, by allowing the use of your columns, while I briefly state two parallels, in my poor way.

Not one year ago, eleven quiet citizens of this neighborhood, viz.: Wm. Robertson, Wm. Colpetzer, Amos Hall, Austin Hall, John Campbell, Asa Snyder, Thos. Stilwell, Wm. Hairgrove, Asa Hairgrove, Patrick Ross, and B.L. Reed, were gathered up from their work and their homes, by an armed forced (sic) under one Hamilton, and without trial or opportunity to speak in their own defence, were formed into a line, and all but one shot–five killed and five wounded. One fell unharmed, pretending to be dead. All were left for dead. The only crime charged against them was that of being Free-State men. Now, I inquire, what action has ever, since the occurrence in May last, been taken by either the President of the United States, the Governor of Missouri, the Governor of Kansas, or any of their tools, or by any pro-slavery or Administration man, to ferret out and punish the perpetrators of this crime?

Now for the other parallel. On Sunday, the 19th of December, a Negro man called Jim, came over to the Osage settlement, from Missouri, and stated that he, together with his wife, two children, and another Negro man were to be sold within a day or two, and begged for help to get away. On Monday (the following) night, two small companies were made up to go to Missouri and forcibly liberate the five slaves, together with other slaves. One of these companies I assumed to direct. We proceeded to the place, surrounded the buildings, liberated the slaves, and also took certain property supposed to belong to the estate.

We however learned, before leaving, that a portion of the articles we had taken belonged to a man living on the plantation as a tenant, and who was supposed to have no interest in the estate. We promptly returned to him all we had taken. We then went to another plantation, where we freed five more slaves, took some property, and two white men. We moved all slowly away into the Territory for some distance, and then sent the white men back, telling them to follow us as soon as they chose to do so. The other company freed one female slave, took some property, and, as I am informed, killed one white man (the master) who fought against the liberation.

Now for a comparison. Eleven persons are forcibly restored to their natural and inalienable rights, with but one man killed, and all “hell is stirred, from beneath.” It is currently reported that the Governor of Missouri has made a requisition upon the Governor of Kansas for the delivery of all such as were concerned in the last named “dreadful outrage.” The Marshal of Kansas is said to be collecting a posse of Missouri (not Kansas) men, at West Point, in Missouri, a little town about ten miles distant, to “enforce the laws.” All pro-slavery, conservative Free-State and doughface men , and Administration tools, are filled with holy horror.

Consider the two cases, and the action of the Administration party.

Respectfully Yours,

John Brown

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The Osage in the Four States


BLACK_DOG

BLACK DOG II

 If you live in the Four-States area you are in the heart of the former Osage Indian Nation. Maybe not the most famous tribe, but arguably the most signicant in American history. Their geographical location in North America was so significant that it halted westward expansion for 125 years! Being in possesion of the major waterways of the Arkansas and Missouri rivers, along with the ancient overland route that passed through southest Kansas, it was the equivelant of possesing the crossroads of the Asian ‘Silk Road’. In fact, many historians say that had these natives not held the Spanish and French at bay, the United States probably would not exist today.

 The Osage were a highly organized people who’s government structure was more than likely the model for modern western civilization’s present governments. They certainly (indirectly) brought the notion of  “Inalienable Rights” to Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.

  A fierce and proud people, they were primarily hunters/warriors. They were a kind and loving Nation who valued life of all forms. Even though they were ‘civilized’, they were far from being pacifist. Any native or white man who failed to understand their rules and traditions could possibly pay with his life. Any hunting in their territory without permission would end with your head on a stake, warning poachers to follow the rules! Of course, white men saw this as savage, while at the same time hanging poachers and cattle rustlers.

Politeness to each other was paramount, and traditions were followed to the tee. The Osage saw the first white explorers as extremely rude. (Look how they spoke to each other!) They also complained that the whites smelled bad and rarely bathed. Worst of all was their common trait, GREED. One Chief was quoted as saying; “They faithfully keep the sabbath, and anything else they get their hands on!”

 The Osage was not a nomadic tribe of hunters, however they did move their villages and camps as needs arose. Being in firm possession of this land made them arguably the most powerful tribe in the first 100 years of American history.

 If you live in southeast Kansas, you live on, or near their village sites, which were all over the Neosho and Verdigris rivers as well as the smaller tributaries such as Labette creek. Black Dog’s clan inhabited much of SEK. In fact, towns like Chanute and Oswego, Independence and Coffeyville are on the very spots that were their villages. In the extreme southest corner, Baxter Springs was a large Indian village long before it was the first cowtown in Kansas. The trails established by the Osage eventually became the white man’s cattle trails.

 Hopefully I will have time to cover more Osage history. There is so much that is not at all what we were taught in school, if any of this was mentioned at all. Seeing history from the native inhabitant’s point of view is a new experience for me.     -For other similar posts; click the TAG – Osage. OR choose the category Native American, under SEGREGATIONS on the right side-bar.

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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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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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