Histories of the tribes
the osages

Though they primarily resided in present-day southern Missouri, the Osages frequently made hunting forays into northern Arkansas and were fiercely defensive about protecting their land.

As was the case with the Quapaws, the Osage tribe was a member of the Siouan language family, acknowledged a spirit force called Wakondah, divided its population into Sky People and Earth People, and organized its society by clans through the father’s line. Their dwellings – long, rectangular structures with bark covering – were also similar to Quapaw longhouses.

The tribe was divided into five groups, organized in separate villages, overseen by a group of elders called the Little Old Men. The process of becoming one of these elders was arduous and long, with instruction beginning in childhood.

Hunting was an important ritual and sustaining activity, providing clothing, food and other valuable materials from the spoils. During the summer, Osage men, notable for the lone scalplock extending from their shaved heads, left their villages and ranged widely into Nebraska and Kansas to hunt buffalo. Women were responsible for gardening, gathering and storing nuts and plants, and providing utensils and furnishings for the home.

Once Euro-Americans began exploring areas where the Osages lived, the two groups began to engage in trade, and the tribe forged important alliances with the French and Spanish that allowed them to expand their sphere of influence. They supplied information about the land and other peoples to the Euro-Americans and in turn received goods, including horses and firearms, that allowed them to thrive militarily throughout the 18th century over other tribes. "While the Quapaws sought to accommodate and channel change,” writes historian Kathleen DuVal, "the Osages went looking for it." This led to conflicts with the Cherokees of such violence that the government established Fort Smith in 1817 to quell the warring, a story told at the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

Once the United States acquired the land of the Louisiana Purchase and sought further settlement rather than trade, Osage influence waned. In a series of treaties in the early 19th century, culminating in an 1825 pact, the Osages ceded their land to the government and moved to Oklahoma, though the tribe kept some Arkansas land north of the Arkansas River.

The latter part of the century saw the federal government pass measures to squelch Indian cultural heritage in general and restructure their societies more along Euro-American lines, and the Osages formed the Native American Church, a combination of Christian and traditional Native American beliefs.

The Osage Nation now has its government in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.