Osage Tribe

Osage Indians, Osage Nation (corruption by French traders of Wazhazhe, their own name). The most important southern Siouan tribe of the western division. Dorsey classed them, under the name Dhegiha, in one group with the Omaha, Ponca, Kansa, and Quapaw, with whom they are supposed to have originally constituted a single body living along the lower course of the Ohio river.

Geographically speaking, the tribe consists of three bands: the Pahatsi or Great Osage, Utsehta or Little Osage, and Santsukhdhi or Arkansas band. These appear to be comparatively modern, however, and the Osage recognize three more closely amalgamated divisions which seem, from the traditional account of them, to represent as many formerly independent tribes. According to this account, as gathered by J. O. Dorsey, the beings which ultimately became men originated in the lowest of the four upper worlds which Osage cosmology postulates and ascended to the highest where they obtained souls. Then they descended until they came to a red-oak tree on which the lowest world rests and by its branches reached our earth. They were divided into two sections, the Tsishu, or peace people, who kept to the left, living on roots, etc.; and the Wazhazhe (true Osage), or war people, who kept to the right and killed animals for their food. Later these two divisions exchanged commodities, and after some time the Tsishu people came into possession of four kinds of corn and four kinds of pumpkins, which fell from the left hind legs of as many different buffaloes. Still later the tribe came upon a very warlike people called Hangka-utadhantse, who lived on animals, and after a time the Tsishu people succeeded in making peace with them, when they were taken into the nation on the war side. Originally there were seven Tsishu gentes, seven Wazhazhe gentes, and seven Hangka gentes, but, in order to maintain an equilibrium between the war and peace sides after adopting the Hangka, the number of their gentes was reduced to five and the number of Wazhazhe gentes to two. In camping the Tsishu gentes are on the left or north side of the camping circle, and the Hangka or Wazhazhe gentes on the right or south side, the entrance to the circle being eastward. Beginning at this entrance the arrangement of gentes is as follows:

Tsishu gentes (from east to west):

  1. Tsishusintsakdhe
  2. Tsedtukaindtse
  3. Minkin
  4. Tsishuwashtake
  5. Haninihkashina
  6. Tsetduka
  7. Kdhun

Hangka gentes (from east to west):

  1. Washashewanun
  2. Hangkautadhantsi
  3. Panhkawashtake
  4. Ilangkaahutun
  5. Wasapetun
  6. Cpkhan
  7. Kanse

The gentile organization appears to have been very similar to that of the Omaha and other southern tribes of this division, involving paternal descent, prohibition of marriage in the gentes of both father and mother, and probably gentile taboos. The functions of the various gentes were also differentiated to a certain extent. Matters connected with war were usually undertaken by the war gentes and peace-making by the peace gentes, while it was the duty of the chief of the Tsishuwashtake gens to defend any foeman who might slip into the camp-circle and appeal to him for protection. The Tsishu gentes are also said to have had the care and naming of children. Heralds were chosen. from certain special gentes, and certain others monopolized the manufacture of moccasins, war standards, and war pipes. On the death of a head-chief the leading man called a council and named four candidates, from whom the final selection was made. Seven appears as a sacred number in the social organization of the Osage, but from the war and other customs of the tribe it appears that the sacred ceremonial number was usually four 1.

Osage Tribe Settlement

The first historical notice of the Osage appears to be on Marquette’s autograph map of 1673, which locates them apparently on Osage river, and there they are placed by all subsequent writers until their removal westward in the 19th century. Douay (1686) assigns them 17 villages, but these must have been nothing more than hunting camps, for Father Jacques Gravier, in a letter written in 1694 from the Illinois mission, speaks of but one, and later writers agree with his statement, though it must be understood as applying only to the Great Osage. Gravier interviewed two Osage and two Missouri chiefs who had come to make an alliance with the Illinois, and says of them: “The Osage and Missouri do not appear to be so quick witted as the Illinois; their language does not seem very difficult. The former do not open their lips and the latter speak still more from the throat than they” 2. Iberville in 1701 3 mentions a tribe of 1,200 to 1,500 families living in the region of Arkansas river, near the Kansa and the Missouri, and, like these, speaking a language that he took to be Quapaw. The name of this tribe through errors in copying and printing became Crevas, but the description indicates the Osage. In 1714 they assisted the French in defeating the Foxes at Detroit. Although visits of traders were evidently quite common before 1719, the first official French visit appears to have been in that year by Du Tisné, who learned that their village on Osage river then contained 100 cabins and 200 warriors. The village of the Missouri was higher up, and a short distance south west of the latter was another Osage village which from later maps is shown to have been occupied by the Little Osage. Then, as always, the tribe was at war with most of the surrounding peoples, and La Harpe witnesses to the terror in which they were held by the Caddoan tribes. The Illinois were also inveterate enemies, though at one time, when driven west of the Mississippi by the Iroquois, they fled to the Osage for protection. Charlevoix met a party of Osage at the Kaskaskia village on Oct. 20, 1721. Regarding them he wrote: “They depute some of their people once or twice every year to sing the calumet among the Kaskasquias, and they are now actually here at present.” The French officer Bossu met some Osage at Cahokia in 1756. About 1802, according to Lewis and Clark, nearly half of the Great Osage under a chief named Big-track migrated to Arkansas river, thus constituting the Arkansas band. The salve explorers (1804) found the Great Osage, numbering about 500 warriors, in a village on the south bank of Osage river, the Little Osage, nearly half as numerous, 6 miles distant, and the Arkansas band, numbering 600 warriors, on Vermilion river, a branch of the Arkansas.

On Nov. 10, 1808, by a treaty with the United States concluded at Ft Clark, Kansas, near Kansas City, Missouri, the Osage ceded to the United States all their lands east of a line running due south from Ft Clark to Arkansas river, and also all of their lands west of Missouri river, the whole comprising the larger part of what is now the state of Missouri and the north part of Arkansas. The territory remaining to them, all of the present state of Oklahoma north of Canadian and Arkansas rivers, was still further reduced by the provisions of treaties at St Louis, June 2, 1825; Ft Gibson, Indian Territory, Jan. 11, 1839; and Canville, Kansas, Sept. 29, 1865; and the limits of their present reservation were established by act of Congress of July 15, 1870. This consisted (1906) of 1,470,058 acres, and in addition the tribe possessed funds in the Treasury of the United States amounting to $8,562,690, including a school fund of $119,911, the whole yielding an annual income of $428,134. Their income from pasturage leases amounted to $98,376 in the same year, and their total annual income was therefore about $265 per capita, making this tribe the richest in the entire United States. By act of June 28, 1906, an equal division of the lands and funds of the Osage was provided for.

Estimates of Osage population later than that of Lewis and Clark are the following: Sibley, 1,250 men (including 400 Great Osage, 250 Little Osage, and 600 of the Arkansas band); Morse (1821), 5,200 (including 4,200 Great Osage and 1,000 Little Osage) ; Porter (1829), 5,000; U.S. Indian Office (1843), 4,102; Schoolcraft (1853), 3,758 (exclusive of an important division known as Black Dog’s band). According to the Indian Office census of 1877, they numbered 3,001; in 1884, 1,547; 1886, 1,582; 1906 (after the division of the tribal lands and trust funds had been provided for), 1,994.

The following villages were occupied by the Osage at different time:

  • Big Chief
  • Black Dog
  • Heakdhetanwan
  • Intapupshe
  • Khdhasiukdhin
  • Little Osage Village
  • Manhukdhintanwan
  • Nanzewaspe
  • Nikhdhitanwan
  • Paghuukdhinpe
  • Pasnkdhin
  • Santsepasu
  • Santsukdhin
  • Takdheskautsiupshe
  • Tanwakanwakaghe
  • Tanwanshinka
  • Wakhakukdhin
  • White Hair Village

The following bands and divisions have not been identified:

  • Shapeinihkashina
  • Petkhaninihkashina
  • Tatseinihkashina


  1. Dorsey in Am. Nat., Feb. 1884[]
  2. Jes. Rel., lxiv, 171, 1900[]
  3. Margry, Dec., iv, 599, 1880[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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