Lands of the Osage Indians

Much concerning the early history of the Osages had already been told in the account of Pike’s expedition and the history of the Kansas. They called themselves Wa-zha-zhe. This name the French Traders corrupted to the present Osage. In historic times the tribe was divided into three bands:

  1. Pahatsi, or Great Osages
  2. Utsehta, or Little Osages
  3. Santsnkhdhi, or the Arkansas Band

There are different accounts as to how the tribe became separated into the two principal bands—Great and Little Osages. Some insist that the division occurred in primal times. The Osages then dwelt about a great mountain, an immense mound, or a big hill. One part of the tribe lived on the mountain, the remainder on the plain. Those on the elevation came to be called there the Great Osages, and those living in the plain were the Little Osages. It had been suggested that the names represented a social difference or some tribal distinction long forgotten by even the Osages themselves. In all probability there is no foundation for any of these explanations. Isaac McCoy, in his History of Baptist Indian Missions says the division was the result of some fault of the early traders among them. There were then two towns on the Missouri belonging to the Osages. The one above became known as the Upper town, and the people dwelling there as the Upper People. In like manner, those at the town below were the Lower People. Each town had its chief and separate local government. The white people, having an imperfect knowledge of the language and conditions of the Osages, supposed that the names of the towns signified that all the tall or large people of the tribe lived at the Upper settlement, and that all the short or small people lived in the Lower settlement. There came to be told among the white people in pioneer times the story that the tribe had made an arrangement whereby all the tall people should be in one band and live in one town, while all the short men should dwell together in another town. Intelligent travelers never did mention that there was any difference in the stature of the Great and Little Osages. The terms may not have originated as McCoy says. They may have grown out of the relative size of their two towns in early times. Or in some other way not now remembered by the Osages themselves.

The origin of the Arkansas Band is known. About 1796 Manuel Lisa secured from the then government of Louisiana a monopoly to trade with all the Indians on the waters of the Missouri River. This, of course, included the Osages. Previous to that time the trade went to traders in competition, among these the Chouteaus. The monopoly of Lisa cast out the Chouteaus. Pierre Chouteau had at one time enjoyed a monopoly of the Osage trade. When he was superseded as agent of the tribe by Lisa, he sought some means of continuing his profitable business relations with the tribe. He determined to divide it, and to settle a part of it beyond the jurisdiction of Lisa. He induced the best hunters of the tribe to go with him to the Lower Verdigris. This stream is a branch of the Arkansas River, none of the waters of which were included in the grant to Lisa. Chouteau took only young men and their families, and they were from both the Great and Little Osages. They built towns near the mouth of the Verdigris River. Later they went to the Arkansas and had towns both above and below the mouth of the Verdigris. By the French they were known as Osage des Chenes (Osage of the Oaks). Des Chenes was corrupted into a number of terms, of which Chancers was one. The date of the formation of this band and its migration to the Verdigris is given as about 1803 by Lewis and Clark, Dr. Sibley and Mr. Dunbar, in their report published in 1806. They say nearly one-half the Osage nation followed Chouteau. Also, that “The Little Osage formerly resided on the S. W. side of the Missouri, near the mouth of the Grand River; but being reduced by continual warfare with their neighbors, were compelled to seek the protection of the Great Osage, near whom they now reside.” Their village was set up, on their return, where Pike found it when he ascended the Osage on his way to the Pawnee country.

Fort Osage, afterwards Fort Clark, where Sibley, Mo., now is, was established in October, 1808, as a protection to the Osage Indians, as cited in the preamble of the treaty of November 10, 1808, with the tribe. But the Government dealt unfairly in that matter. The fort and trading post had been promised in 1804 and in 1806. In less than a month after it was built, Pierre Chouteau appeared at the fort with the treaty of the 10th of November already written out. It had been prepared without any consultation with a single Osage. Chouteau had the treaty read and explained to the assembled chiefs and warriors. Then he announced that those who signed it would be considered friends of the United States and treated accordingly, and those who refused to sign would be regarded as enemies. The chief, White Hair, protested, but acknowledged the helplessness of the Indians. He signed the treaty, and fear of being counted enemies of the United States caused all present to sign. This treaty exacted a large tract of land as the price of building Fort Osage. The land was thus described in the treaty:

Beginning at Fort Clark (Fort Osage) on the Missouri, five miles above Fire Prairie, and running thence a due south course to the river Arkansas and down the same to the Mississippi.

All the land east of that line was ceded to the United States. There was much dissatisfaction on the part of the Osages, and they never did understand why the concession was enacted.

The Osages began to move to the westward from their homes in what is now Vernon County, Mo., in 1815. Some of them may have gone before that date. They fixed their new towns on the Neosho. In the year 1817 the Cherokees destroyed the Osage town on the Verdigris. They also destroyed the crops and carried off as prisoners some fifty old people and children. The warriors were absent at the time, but they took up the hatchet upon their return. The Delawares assisted the Cherokees, and the war continued until 1822.

In 1820 the Great Osages had one village on the Neosho, and the Little Osages had three on the same stream. Of these Colonel Sibley reported in that year:

The Great Osages of the Osage River. — They live in one village on the Osage river 78 miles (measured) due south of Fort Osage. They hunt over a very great extent of country, comprising the Osage, Gasconade, and Neeozho rivers and their numerous branches. They also hunt on the heads of the St. Francois and White rivers, and on the Arkansas. I rate them at about 1,200 souls, 350 of whom are warriors or hunters, 50 or 60 are superannuated, and the rest are women and children.

The Great Osages of the Neeozho. — They have one village on the Neeozho river, about 130 or 140 miles southwest of Ft. Osage. They hunt pretty much in common with the tribe of the Osage river, from whom they separated six or eight year ago. This village contains about four hundred souls, of whom about 100 are warriors, and hunters, some 10 or 15 are aged persons, and the rest are women and children. Papuisea, or White Hair, is principal chief.

The Little Osage. — Three villages on the Necozho river, about 130 or 140 miles southeast of this place (Ft. Osage). This tribe, comprising all three villages and comprehending about twenty families of Missouries that are intermarried with them, I rate about 1,000 souls, about 300 of whom are hunters and warriors, twenty or thirty superannuated and the rest are women and children. They hunt pretty much in common with the other tribes of Osages mentioned, and frequently on the headwaters of the Kansas, some of the branches of which interlock with those of the Neeozho. Nechoumani, or Walking Rain, principal chief. [Called “Nezuma, or Rain that Walks” by Pike and Wilkinson.]

Of the Chaneers, or Arkansas tribes of Osages, I say nothing, because they do not resort here to trade. I have always rated that tribe at about an equal half of all the Osages. They hunt chiefly on the Arkansas and White rivers, and their waters.

From this time until after the Civil War the Osages lived principally in Kansas. One post in Kansas resulted from trade with the Osages while they lived yet in Missouri. The Missouri Fur Company had a trading post near their towns before 1812. It was abandoned that year. When other posts were established is not now known, but the founders of Harmony Mission, who came out in 1821, found several traders seated in the country along the Osage River. One was where Papinville, Vernon County, Mo., was afterwards laid out. Another was at the Collen Ford, on the Osage. The founders of these posts are not now known. About 1831 Michael Gireau and Melicourt Papin had stores at Collin Ford. Papin had another at the site of Papinville. There were half a dozen French families at Gireau’s store, as well as some half-breed families. They were probably hunters and petty traders. In 1839 Gireau moved his store and established himself further up the Marais des Cygnes, in what is now Linn County, Kansas. The place was later known as Trading Post, a name it still bears. About 1842 this post was sold to one of the Chouteaus, probably Gabriel Chouteau, and it was then called Chouteau’s Trading Post. It bore a part in the Territorial history of Kansas.

The site of White Hair’s village had long been a matter of both doubt and controversy. In later years it had been supposed to have been near Oswego, Labette County. The correct location was determined by this author from measurements made on an old manuscript map (and other maps) in the Library of the Kansas State Historical Society, and the consultation of various authorities and treaties. The White Hair who founded this first town of the Great Osages on the Neosho was a descendant of Old White Hair, the great chief of the Big Osages, about the time of Pike’s visit. This first White Hair died in what is now Vernon County, Mo. It seems that all the chiefs named White Hair had the Osage name Pahusca, pronounced Pawhoos-ka. They had a council name—Papuisea. Also a war name, Cahagatongo. The Neosho River was named by the Osages. The name is composed of two words—ne, water; and osho, bowl or basin. It was so named from the fact that it had innumerable deep places—bowls or basins of water. It means a river having many deep places.

The one village of the Great Osages on the Neosho mentioned by Colonel Sibley was that of White Hair. It was established about the year 1815, as noted before. In 1796 when the Arkansas band was induced to settle on the Lower Verdigris by Chouteau a trail from these Lower Towns to the old home on the Little Osages, in Vernon County, Mo., where Pike had found the Osage Nation, was marked, and thenceforth used by traders and Indians alike. This trail followed up the Marmaton, in what is now Bourbon County, Kansas. It crossed over to the waters of the Neosho near the southeast corner of the present Allen County, bearing all the time to the southwest. The Neosho River was reached and crossed just above the present town of Shaw, in Neosho County, Kansas. In migrating to the Neosho River, White Hair and his band followed this old trail. The Great Osage town was fixed at the crossing of the Neosho, and on the west side of the river. When the Government survey of Kansas was made the site of White Hair’s village fell within the bounds of section sixteen (16), township twenty-eight (28) range nineteen (19).1

The missionaries came down from their establishments in the old Osage country to proclaim the Gospel to Osages on the Neosho. The Presbyterians set up a mission there as early as 1824, with Rev. Benson Pixley in charge. What this effort accomplished is not fully known. In March, 1830, Rev. Nathaniel B. Dodge, was sent from Independence, Mo., where he had gone after strenuous labors at Harmony Mission, to take up the work with the Osages, on the Neosho. There he established what was known as the “Boudinot” Mission. It was on the east bank of the river opposite the town of White Hair. He remained at that charge until 1835, when he returned to the Little Osage River, in Vernon County, Mo., settling near Balltown, where he died in 1848. His departure from the Neosho was the end of the Presbyterian Mission there.

The Baptists made no efforts to establish a mission among the Osages on the Neosho. McCoy says the Osages were much to be pitied at that time, but does not explain why the Baptists were unable to help them.

The Roman Catholic Mission was founded at the point where the town of Osage Mission was afterwards located. The town was the result of the mission. In 1822 the Bishop of New Orleans appointed Rev. Father Charles de La Croix missionary to the Osages on the Neosho. He reached the field of his labors in May of that year. On the 5th of that month he baptized Antone Chouteau, who was born in 1817, and whose baptism is the first recorded in Kansas. This missionary succumbed to the hardships of pioneer life, dying at St. Louis. He was succeeded by Rev. Charles Van Quickenborn, who appeared on the Neosho in 1827. In 1828 he performed the ceremony of marriage between Francis D. Agbeau, a half-breed, and an Osage woman named Mary. There is no record of an earlier marriage ceremony in Kansas. The progress of the mission was slow. Rev: Father John Schoenmakers, S. J., arrived at the mission April 28, 1847, accompanied by Fathers Bax and Colleton. They were accorded possession of two buildings then being erected by the Indian Department. In these buildings were started two schools—one for girls and one for boys. In October a number of Sisters of Loretto arrived from Kentucky. Father Paul Ponziglioni came to the mission in 1851. The work went forward with energy from that time. Additions were made to the buildings, and attendance increased. The Civil War scattered the Osages, but Father Ponziglioni followed from village to village to minister to them.

The Osages disposed of their vast domain in Kansas in 1825. In June of that year they made a treaty with the United States by which they ceded all the land of the State of Kansas south of the land ceded by the Kansas. The Osages and Kansas were, in fact, in St. Louis together to conclude these treaties. That with the Osages was made on the second of June, and that with the Kansas the following day. The south limit of the Kansas cession had been already noted. The Osage cession extended from that line south into Oklahoma and west as far as the Kansas had claimed. It was an imperial domain, and the Osages had no good title to any great portion of it. The Government could take title from the Osages; none could ever dispute this title with the United States. That is why it was accepted from the Osages.

In this same treaty a new reservation was cut from the ceded lands for the Osages. Its bounds were to be arrived at in much the same manner as in the new reservation for the Kansas. This new Osage reservation was thus defined:

“Beginning at a point due east of White Hair’s village and 25 miles West of the western boundary line of the State of Missouri, fronting on a North and South Line so as to leave 10 miles North and 40 miles South of the point of said beginning, and extending West with a width of 50 miles to the western boundary of the lands hereby ceded and relinquished.”

All this reservation was disposed of under the terms of a treaty made with the Osages at the Canville Trading Post, near Shaw, in Neosho County, September 29, 1865. By this treaty the Ceded Lands were cut from the east end of the reservation to be sold to create a fund for the benefit of the Osages. This tract was twenty-eight miles in width—east and west—by fifty miles north and south. Another cession made by the treaty was a tract twenty miles wide off the north side of the reservation as it remained after taking off the Ceded Lands. This tract was to he held in trust for the tribe and sold for its benefit at a stipulated sum. It was provided also that if the Osages should determine to move to the Indian Territory to lands secured for them there, the diminished reservation in Kansas might be sold by the Government for their benefit. They did so determine, and by an act of Congress of July 15, 1870, the remainder of the Osage lands in Kansas passed to the Government to be disposed of for their use. The Osages left Kansas in 1870. They settled on land bought from the Cherokee, east and north of the Arkansas River, where they yet live.


1. The exact date of the settlement of the Great Osages in this village on the Neosho is not known. It was about 1815, as said before. Colonel Sibley, writing in October, 1820, says it was “Six or eight years ago.” The Little Osages must have settled on the Neosho, in the great bottom about the present town of Chanute. Or they may have been on the east bank of the Neosho, opposite the town of the Great Osages. The Little Osages on the Noosho were more numerous than the Great Osages. In their three towns there were about one thousand souls, including some twenty families of Missouris, intermarried with them.

1 thought on “Lands of the Osage Indians”

  1. Hello, as I was reading this article I read that maps from Kansas State and other sources were used to help locate specific land marks were Kansas Indians once settled.

    “The Neosho River was reached and crossed just above the present town of Shaw, in Neosho County, Kansas. In migrating to the Neosho River, White Hair and his band followed this old trail. The Great Osage town was fixed at the crossing of the Neosho, and on the west side of the river. When the Government survey of Kansas was made the site of White Hair’s village fell within the bounds of section sixteen (16), township twenty-eight (28) range nineteen (19).1”

    I was wondering if you had any maps or resources showing the location around Shaw Ks that these Indians would have once settled, as stated “within the bounds of section sixteen (16), township twenty-eight (28) range nineteen (19).1”

    Any info would be helpful.

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