From early tribal tradition, and from the research of archaeologists and historians, and the ancestors of the Osage, we know that this tribe of Indians was closely affiliated with the Siouan, or Dhegiha tribes, their dialect being much the same.
The name, Osage, is a corruption of the tribal name, Wa-Zha-Zhe, that the Indians used themselves, the meaning and derivation is not clear.
The first recorded note of the Osage was by Marquette in 1673. His writing placed them on the Osage River in present Vernon County, Missouri, where they were still established, nearly 100 years later in 1759.
The tribe was divided into two bands; the "Pahatsi" or Great Osage band lived near the mouth of the Marmaton River; and the "Utsehta" or Little Osage band lived a few miles away on the west side of the Little Osage River.
According to early writers, they were found near the Osage River untill 1759, but in their search for food and game, they were gradually moving westward. Late in that century, they encountered other tribes in their hunting expeditions and turned south toward the Arkansas River, and held the country between that stream and the Missouri River, until the immigration of the Cherokee tribe.
There is little known about the Osage from this time until the treaty at St. Louis in 1804. Here we find the explorers and French traders marrying into the Osage tribe. Almost from the beginning, trading with the Indians became a lucrative enterprise, for the white man and the spead of trade brought a large number of tribes into contact with the French, Spanish and English. All groups trying to make allies among the Indians.
Due to the rivalry in trade, the Osage split into two factions, and during this affair the Chouteau brothers, who were French traders of St. Louis, and who for a long time had been interested in the Osage tribe, having Osage wives and children, persuaded a large part of the tribe to locate permanently on the Arkansas River. This group included about half of the Great Osage and a smaller percentage of the Little Osage, and became known as the "Santsukhdhi", or Arkansas Band.
This move was made under the leadership of "Big Track". Villages of these bands were located on the Arkasas River, near the mouth of the Verdigris.
Near Claremore Mound in Rogers County, Oklahoma, was the village of the great hereditary Chief Clermont. This mound and also Claremore, Oklahoma, was named after this great Osage chief.
Before 1836, the United States government maintained a sub-agency for the Osage at the Chouteau trading post, which is now near Okay, Oklahoma, in Wagoner County.
The Osage, according to the historians, in the early days held high rank as hunters among the Great Plains tribes. They planted small crops of corn and squash around their permanent camps. They depended largely upon the buffalo for food and clothing. As the buffalo disappeared from the Mississippi valley, after the invasion of the traders and hide hunters, the Indians were forced to go farther west on hunting expeditions. Thereby, coming into conflict with the Plains Indians, they were called a strong predatory tribe, and were feared for their readiness to fight and their prowess in battle.
The Osage usually set out from their villages on foot, but returned well supplied with horses as spoils of war. During the summer months, entire villages, including women and children, would travel to the plains of western Kansas and northern Oklahoma to hunt. Such hunting expeditions were times of great enjoyment, especially if the buffalo meat was plentiful.
The tribal life of the Osage was largely ceremonial, consisting of religious rites, weddings, child naming and feasting. They were known for their generosity and hospitality, and many a historian speak of their gentleness to children.
Noticeably tall and dignified, they are reputed to have an arrogant, haughty manner due to their importance in American Indian History, from the earliest period of Spanish and French influence, and down to modern times of their great wealth, due to oil and gas on their allotted lands in Oklahoma.
From the first immigration of the Cherokee Tribe westward to Arkansas, the Osage looked upon them as intruders and carried on a war with them, during which Chief Clermont's village was wiped out by the Cherokee in the Battle of Claremore Mound, 1817.
The Osage were also generally at war with the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of the southern plains, the hostilities coming to an end after the territory bands were called together in council, and formed the Treaty of Friendship in 1835. This resulted in an agreement by the southern tribes, that all Indians should have equal hunting rights on the southern prairies as far as the western boundary of the United States, and all American citizens free passage through Indian hunting grounds. This treaty was never broken, although the Osage later served as United States Scouts against the allied plains tribes. Chief Clermont of the Osage signed this treaty. This delegation of the Osage also included the noted leader, Sho-to-ca-be or "Black Dog".
The Osage signed their first treaty with the United States in 1808, ceding to the Federal Government lands new comprising over half the state of Missouri and northern Arkansas, including their old village located on the Little Osage River. Some years later, after approval of this treaty, the Great Osage and the Little Osage moved west to the valley of the Neosho River in Kansas. Pahuska, 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.
The Osage settled here for nearly half a century. Their camps or villages lying in the eastern part of their reservation. This 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.
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 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.
When the Civil War started, members of the Great Osage Band served in the Confederate Army, while many warriors from the Little Osage fought with the Union Army, although provision had been made by treaty for the Little Osage men to fight for the Confederacy.
This division caused great distress among the tribe, and they suffered great property loss when their reservation was overrun by guerilla bands of white soldiers in teh Kansas border fighting. When the war was over, the government secured the cession of a large portion of the Osage land in Kansas.
The tribe soon faced intolerable conditions because the white settler was clamoring for more of the Indian land. An act of Congress on July 15, 1870 provided that the remainder of the Osage land in Kansas be sold for the benefit of the tribe. From the proceeds of this sale, a new reservation was purchased in the Indian Territory, the tract lying in the eastern end of the Cherokee Outlet and consisting of all present Osage County. By 1872, they were settled on their new reservation. Indian Agent, Isaac Gibson, established their new agency. The village that grew up around this agency was named Pawhuska, in honor of old Chief Pahuska (White Hair). 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. This created a demand for the leasing of the pasture land. Annually the Osage Council leased thousands of acres of this rich pasture land, the proceeds from the leases being divided on a per capita basis among the tribal members.
Just before the Civil War, plans for a tribal government, under a written constitution had been started. Nearly 20 years later, another constitution was adopted by the tribe in a convention held at Pawhuska. It provided for the election by the people of a legislative council and principal chief.
James Bigheart, a full-blood Osage, who served as president of the convention, was later elected as the first and most successful principal chief. Bigheart has been regularly referred to as either the "Moses of the Osages," or the "Joshua of the Osages," (depending on article/author) - he was also a veteran of the Civil War, serving in the 9th Kansas Cavalry, a banker, rancher, businessman, etc.
The United States Agent at Pawhuska at this time was Major Laban J. Miles, and along with his true friendship for the tribe and the Chief's shrewd management, the affairs of the Osage prospered.
Come visit us in Pawhuska, Oklahoma