The Osage of Kansas

This nation having been at profound peace with the Osages since the year 1806, have intermarried freely with them, so that in stature, features, and customs, they are more and more closely approaching that people. They are large, and symmetrically well formed, with the usual high cheek-bones, the nose more or less aquiline, color reddish coppery, the hair black and straight. The women are usually homely with broad faces. We saw but a single squaw in the village who had any pretensions to beauty. She was recently married to an enterprising warrior, who invited us to a feast, apparently in order to exhibit his prize to us. The ordinary dress of the men is breech-cloth of blue or red cloth, secured in its place by a girdle; a pair of leggings made of dressed deer-skin, concealing the leg, excepting a small portion of the upper part of the thigh; a pair of mockasins, made of dressed deer, elk, or bison skin, not ornamented, and a blanket to cover the upper part of the body, often thrown over one arm in hot weather, leaving that part naked; or it is even entirely thrown aside. The outer cartilage of the ear is cut through in three places, and upon the rims thus separated various ornaments are suspended, such as wampum, string-beads, silver or tin trinkets, etc. The hair of most of their chiefs and warriors is scrupulously removed from the head, being careful, however, to leave enough, as in honor they are bound to do, to supply their enemy with a scalp in case they should be vanquished. This residuum consists of a portion on the back of the head of about the breadth of the hand, round at its upper termination, near the top of the head, the sides rectilinear, and nearly parallel, though slightly approaching each other towards the origin of the neck, where it abruptly terminates; on the exterior margin, the hair is somewhat longer, and erect. This strip of hair is variously decorated; it is sometimes colored on the margin with vermilion; sometimes a tail-feather of the war-eagle is attached transversely with respect to the head; this feather is white at base, and black at tip; but the principal ornament, which appears to be worn by some of their chief warriors, and which is at the same time by far the most handsome, is the tail of the common deer; this is attached by the base near to the top of the patch of hair, the back of it resting on the hair, and the tip secured near the termination of the patch; the bristly hair of the tail is dyed red by a beautiful permanent color, and parted longitudinally in the middle by a broad silver plate, which is attached at the top, and suffered to hang loose. Many of them are tattooed on different parts of the body. The young boys are entirely naked, with the exception of a girdle, generally of cloth, round their protruding abdomen. This part of the body in the children of this nation is remarkably prominent; it is more particularly so when they are young, but gradually subsides as they advance in age. In hot weather the men, whilst in the village, generally use fans with which they cool themselves, when in the shade, and protect their heads from the sun whilst walking out; they are made of the wing or tail of the turkey. The women rarely use them. The dress of the female is composed of a pair of mockasins, leggins of blue or red cloth, with a broad projecting border on the outside, and covering the leg to the knees or a little above; many, however, and perhaps almost a majority of them, do not in common wear this part of the dress. Around the waist, secured by a belt or cestus, is wrapped a piece of blue cloth, the sides of which meet, or come nearly in contact on the outside of the right thigh, and the whole extends downward as far as the knee, or to the mid-leg; around the left shoulder is a similar piece of cloth, which is attached by two of the corners, at the axilla of the right arm, and extends downward as far as the waist. This garment is often laid aside, when the body from the waist upwards is entirely exposed. Their hair is suffered to grow long; it is parted longitudinally on the top of the head, and flows over the shoulders, the line of separation being colored with vermilion. The females like those of other aborigines, cultivate the maize, beans, pumpkins and watermelons, gather and prepare the two former, when ripe, and pack them away in skins, or in mats for keeping; prepare the flesh of the bison, by drying, for preservation; attend to all the cooking; bring wood and water; and in other respects manage domestic concerns, and appear to have over them absolute sway. These duties, as far as we could observe, they not only willingly performed as a mere matter of duty, but they exhibited in their deportment a degree of pride and ambition to acquit themselves well; in this respect resembling a good housewife among the civilized fair. Many of them are tattooed.

Both sexes, of all ages, bathe frequently, and enter the water indiscriminately. The infant is washed in cold water soon after its birth, and the ablution is frequently repeated; the mother also bathes with the same fluid soon after delivery. The infant is tied down to a board, after the manner of many of the Indian tribes.

The chastity of the young females is guarded by the mother with the most scrupulous watchfulness, and a violation of it is a rare occurrence, as it renders the individual unfit for the wife of a chief, a brave warrior, or good hunter. To wed her daughter to one of these, each mother is solicitous; as these qualifications offer the same attractions to the Indian mother as family and fortune exhibit to the civilized parent. In the nation, however, are several courtesans; and during our evening walks we were sure to meet with respectable Indians who thought pimping no disgrace. Sodomy is a crime not uncommonly committed; many of the subjects of it are publicly known, and do not appear to be despised, or to excite disgust; one of them was pointed out to us; he had submitted himself to it, in consequence of a vow he had made to his mystic medicine, which obliged him to change his dress for that of a squaw, to do their work, and to permit his hair to grow. The men carefully pluck from their chins, axilla of the arms, eyebrows, and pubis, every hair or beard that presents itself; this done with a spiral wire, which, when used, is placed with the side upon the part, and the ends are pressed towards each other so as to close upon the hairs, which can then be readily drawn out.

Rev. J. Owen Dorsey found that the soul of a Kansas went at death to that spirit village nearest him at the time. These spirit villages changed location with the Kansas migrations. The last ones begin at Council Grove. Then there are spirit villages along the Kansas River at the sites of the old towns where they had dwelt on that stream. And on the Missouri their old village-sites from Independence Creek to the mouth of the Osage are now spirit villages to which the souls of the Kansa go to live after death.

Search Military Records - Fold3

The orthography of the word Kansa, or Kansas, has passed through many modifications. This has not been caused by any change in the word itself, for the word is very little different in sound from what it was in prehistoric times. The Siouans generally pronounced the word as indicated by our manner of writing it— Kansa, or Kä-sa. The Kansas tribe so spoke it. The American has changed the a in the first syllable from the Italian to the short a. The Indian form of pronunciation was sometimes distorted by the early traders, especially the French traders. They made the a to have the sound of au or aw as in haul or in awl. From this corruption came the Kau in the later spellings. The word has been also variously written, and the early explorers were apt to begin with a C rather than with a K. Indeed, it was sometimes commenced with Qu. So, it is found as Kansa, Kansas, Kantha, Kances, Kansies, Kanzas, Konza, Kausa, Kausas, Kauza, Kauzas, Causa, Cansas, Cances, Canceys, and in perhaps a hundred other forms. The form Kau, or Kaw, was an abbreviation of the name, originating with the French traders and spreading abroad to all having dealings with the tribe. Pike wrote the name Kans. This was not intended by him for an abbreviation, and it is the belief of this author that an examination of his original manuscript would reveal the fact that he actually wrote it Kaus. The mistake was made by the printer.

In pronouncing his own name— that is, the name of his own tribe— the Kansas Indian did not distinctly sound the n in the first syllable. As in many others of his words, and even in words in many tribes of different linguistic families, the n was not a separate sound, but rather a nasalized prolonged termination of the syllable. This form of terminating a syllable is common to many Indian languages. This nasalized termination is the merest approximation of the n sound. It is often written (and printed in the works of scholars) as in a coefficient term in mathematics—as Kan-sz. And the Kansas Indian usually pronounced the word Kä-za, or Kau-za, with the modification above noted. In many of the old books it is printed Kau-zau, following closely the native form of pronunciation. But, as said, there is the approximation to the n sound, and it is fortunate that the sound was retained [p.205] and strengthened to an equality with the other sounds in the word. Kansas, as now accepted, written, and spoken, is one of the most beautiful Indian words adapted to use in the English tongue. As a name for a state it is unequaled.

The earliest map locating the Kansas Indians is that of Marquette, in 1673. Marquette did not visit the Missouri River country, but made his maps from information drawn from Indians, or perhaps adventurers who had wandered far from the feeble settlements. This map shows the Kansas tribe west of the Missouri, very nearly where it was then in fact located. All the early maps of the interior of North America are necessarily erroneous. Their locations of physical features and Indian tribes are invariably wrong. But their approximations are valuable. 1

On previous pages of this work will be found much concerning the early location and history of the Kansas Indians. For that reason it is not deemed necessary here to write an exhaustive review of the tribe in its earliest connection with white men. In the time of Coronado the Kansas probably lived near the mouth of the Kansas River. There may have been villages of the tribe below and above the Kansas, and even on the east side of the Missouri in that vicinity. There is a very ancient village site on the farm of William Malott, a mile or perhaps a little more, northeast of White Church in Wyandotte County. George U. S. Hovey made a collection of several hundred arrowheads, and other weapons and implements from that site. The village was evidently a large one, and occupied for a long period. It was most probably an old Kansas town.

History, Osage,


  1. The editors of Volume X, Kansas Historical Collections, made a compilation of the old maps showing the locations of the Kansas Indians. The work was carefully done, and it was printed as a footnote on pages 344, 345 of that work. It is set out below: “The earliest map pointing out the location of the Kansa nation was that of Marquctte, 1673, and described locations as found by that intrepid missionary explorer and his companion, Joliet. On it the Kansa were placed west of the Osages and Southwest of the Panis. Marquette did not visit them, nor any tribe west of the Mississippi, but had information from well-informed Indians who stood by while he made the map. At this time the Kansa were probably on the Missouri river in about the location where visited Bourgmont fifty years later. “Parkman’s map No. 5, in Harvard College Library. ‘La Manitoumie, 1672-73,’ shows the Kanissi south of the Missouri river and between the Missouri and Paniassa. (Winsor’s Narrative History of America, vol. 4, p. 221.) “Joliet’s map 1674, shows the Kansa southeast of the Osages and Pani. (Thwaites’ Jesuit Relations, vol. 59, p. 86.) “Franquelin’s map of Louisiana, 1679-1682, shows the Cansa on the Emissourittes river above the mouth of the Kansa river. (Margry, vol. 3; Thwaites’ Jesuit Relations, vol. 63, p. 1.) “Thevenot’s map of Louisiana, 1681, locates the Kemissi south of the Missouri and northwest of the Autre Chaha (Osage) and toward the Panissi. “De ‘Lisle’s map of Louisiana, 1718, shows the Grande Rivere des Cansez and a village far out on that stream at the mouth of the second large tributary from the northwest, near the country of the Padoucas. It also shows a village of Les Cansez on the Missouri river, south side, near the mouth of a creek (Independence). (In French’s Louisiana, part 2.) “D’Anville’s map of Louisiana, 1732, locates the Kanza village at the month of Petite river des Kansez. This was the Grand village at the mouth of Independence creek. This map also shows the River des Padoucas et Kansez and a village of the Paniouassas on a northern branch. (Photo map.) “Bellin’s map of Louisiana, 1744, marks the Pays des Canses (country of the Kansa) extending from the Missouri river almost to the mountains, being quite a part of the present states of Missouri, Kansas and southern Nebraska. The Canses village is placed at the mouth of the second large tributary of the Kansas river from its junction with the Missouri. It shows also the Petite river des Canses (the Little River of the Kansa). (Shea’s Charlevoix History of New France, vol. 6, p. 11.) “Sieur le Rouge’s map, 1746, shows River des Canses correctly, and the Canses villages on the Kansas river, quite a way from its mouth. “Vangundy’s map of North America, 1798, gives Les Canses on their river, and gives the Pays des Canses as extensive as that of other great Indian nations, or from the mountains to the Missouri river, over most of the present state of Kansas. (Winsor’s Miss. Basin, p. 205.) “Le Page Du Pratz’s map of Louisiana, 1757, with course of the Mississippi and tributaries, shows the river of the Cansez with the location of a Cansez village up that stream about sixty or seventy miles. It also shows the Grand village Cansez on the Missouri river quite a distance above the mouth of the Cansez river. This shows that they were again living on both streams, with permanent villages, as shown by De ‘Lisle’s map of 1718. (Photo map.) “Dunn’s map, 1774. Source of Mississippi river, shows Kanzes at mouth of a tributary to the Missouri river. This was doubtless the old Grand village at the mouth of Independence creek. This copy of Dunn’s map does not show the whole course of the Kansas river, omitting a village at the mouth of the Blue and would indicate that as late as 1774 they were still occupying the above-described Grand village. (Winsor’s Westward Movement, page 214.) “Carver’s map of North America, 1778, shows Kansez on the south side of the Missouri, northwest of the Osages. This is about the last map showing them lingering by the Missouri river. After this they seem to have entirely established themselves on their own old river, the Kansas. (Winsor’s Westward Movement, page 104.) “French map of date prior to 1800, used by Lewis and Clark, 1804, marks the junction of Kances river, upon which the Kansa nation lived at that time. (Map No. 1, Thwaites’ Lewis and Clark.) “Spanish map about 1800, used by Lewis and Clark, Map No. 2, shows Kansez river with a village of Kansez Indians on its north bank east of the junction with the Blue. “Pike’s map, 1806, gives Kanses on the river of that name. (Coues’ edition.) “Long’s map of the West, 1819, shows Konzas village at the mouth of Blue Earth river, near the bank of the Konzas river. It also shows the site of the Old Konzas village on the Missouri river at the mouth of Independence creek, which had been abandoned by the nation many years before. []

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top