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.