Jefferson’s westward expansion impacts Osage

Photo by Roseanne McKee of Exhibit at St. Louis Museum


By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

In June during a visit to the Gateway Arch Museum in St. Louis, Mo., which opened July 3, 2018, I learned details of Thomas Jefferson’s desire for and efforts toward westward expansion in America. Jefferson’s endeavors had serious implications for indigenous people and African Americans.

He had a lifelong interest in the American West and knew much about the region based on personal study. Information in a museum panel stated that by 1803 Jefferson had one of the most extensive libraries on the subject and was very knowledgeable on American western geography. Jefferson’s father, Peter Jefferson, was one of the first farmers to move to western Virginia. He was one of those who surveyed the colony and created the Jefferson-Fry map published in London in 1755.

In 1749 Peter Jefferson, Dr. Thomas Walker, James Maury and Joshua Fry founded the “Loyal Land Company” to increase land purchases west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and send explorers all the way to the Pacific.

According to a panel at the museum, “Walker was the first non-Indian to cross the Blue Ridge into Kentucky.”

Jefferson compiled research on American Indian tribes in well-organized tables and charts. He listed quadrupeds, and their weights, that were in North America — listing bison, bear and red deer.

According to a panel at the museum, Jefferson authorized the Louisiana Purchase and developed the idea for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Before Jefferson became the third U.S. president, he asked four men to lead expeditions westward, but for various reasons none of these plans came to fruition. Time was of the essence to claim these lands because Alexander Mackenzie, from Montreal, was also seeking to explore the west to secure the Pacific Northwest for Great Britain.

This news prompted Jefferson, then president, to again organize an expedition. Meriwether Lewis, 29, a career army officer, agreed to lead a U.S. expedition to establish claim to western lands. Lewis, who was also Jefferson’s personal secretary, used Jefferson’s extensive library on the subject to prepare for his journey west. However, a museum panel stated that he “later discovered on his expedition with William Clark that much of what was written in these books was untrue.”

A panel at the museum stated that Jefferson was curious about the ancestry of indigenous people in North America. He gathered vocabulary lists of Indian words in 1780 and sought through comparative linguistics to determine their origins.

Jefferson wrote to John Adams June 11, 1812, ”[As a boy] I knew … the great Outasseté, the warrior and orator of the Cherokees … his sounding voice, distinct articulation, animated action, and the solemn silence of his people at their several fires, filled me with awe and veneration.”

In a June 7, 1785, letter to the Marquis de Chastellux, Jefferson wrote, “I am safe in affirming, that the proofs of genius given by the Indians of North America, place them on a level with whites.”

However, in later years, Jefferson became less positive about American Indians.

Another historical panel said, Jefferson wrote to Adams “that despite the progress of some tribes, like the Cherokee, many ‘will relapse in barbarism and misery, lose numbers by war and want, and we shall be obligated to drive them, with the beasts of the forest into the Stony mountains.’”

In another revealing passage, Jefferson wrote to Henry Dearborn the Secretary of War Aug. 13, 1802: ”[We obtain American Indian land] by letting them get in debt, which when too heavy to be paid, they are always willing to lop off by a cessation of land.”

Jefferson continued a practice begun by other European explorers to appease indigenous people — giving peace medals.

American Indian chiefs wore peace medals given by Jefferson while he was president.Per the official Monticello website, “the Jefferson Indian peace medal was designed and engraved by John Reich and was the first to bear the image of an American president. Thomas Jefferson was depicted in profile on the obverse side of the medal, with the inscription: “TH. JEFFERSON PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. A.D. 1801.” The inscription on the reverse, “PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP,” was symbolized by the image of clasped hands and a crossed tomahawk and peace pipe.

“Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, described the policy in 1793 as an ancient custom. He went on to write: ‘The medals are considered as complimentary things, as marks of friendship to those who come to see us, or who do us good offices, conciliatory of their good will towards us, and not designed to produce a contrary disposition towards others. They confer no power, and seem to have taken their origin in the European practice of giving medals or other marks of friendship to the negotiators of treaties, and other diplomatic characters, or visitors of distinction.’”

The medals were very useful in diplomatic situations.

In fact Lewis and Clark gave peace medals to Indian chiefs on their expedition, carrying a large supply with them.

A museum panel said, “Missouri chiefs who visited the city of Washington in the winter of 1805-1806 wore their Jefferson peace medals on their chests, and were given silver chains to suspend them by the governor of Massachusetts.”

So great was Jefferson’s influence on westward expansion, that this period came to be known by historians as the Jeffersonian period — tied to the Doctrine of Discovery — a time when American settlers and bureaucrats used this doctrine to justify taking lands of the west.

A panel at the museum said, that the doctrine had its roots in international law, which gave Europeans who “discovered” a region the first right of purchase from the occupiers of the land (instead of outright conquest). Ownership was to come from purchasing the land from the original inhabitants. This is why treaties were made with American Indian tribes, the panel explained.

The Osage were the most powerful tribe in the lower Midwest in the late 1700s because of its established relationships with French fur traders and Spanish government officials in St. Louis, which enabled them to trade for firearms. Intermarriage between the French fur traders and the Osage women also strengthened those alliances.

“The United States, unlike the French and the Spanish, had little desire to partner with the Osages in the deer hide trade. By 1830 the Osages were the first western tribe dispossessed of their ancestral homelands as new settlers searched for available land in Missouri.”

Another panel stated that by the 1830s, [shortly after Jefferson’s death in 1826], the U.S. government abandoned the Doctrine of Discovery and began dispossessing eastern tribes from their lands.

Over time, the Osage fell out of favor with white men.

One historical museum panel stated: “Although the Osages were key to the early commercial success of St. Louis, in 1808 Gov. Meriwether Lewis suddenly suspended trade with them accusing them of killing white settlers. Threatening to send their many Indian enemies against them in a war, Lewis forced several Osage chiefs to sign the Treaty of Fort Osage, which ceded over 52 million acres of land. By one of the provisions of the treaty, a government trading post, called a factory, was established at Fort Osage.“The United States, unlike the French and the Spanish, had little desire to partner with the Osages in the deer hide trade. By 1830 the Osages were the first western tribe dispossessed of their ancestral homelands as new settlers searched for available land in Missouri.”

One more aspect of Jefferson’s westward expansion efforts was a place for African Americans.

According to a museum panel, “Jefferson believed that slavery was unnatural and degrading for the enslaved as well as the enslavers. He wished for an end to slavery, yet he also thought that free blacks should not live along whites, and they should not be citizens. …

“Jefferson’s Ordinance of 1784 called for a ban on slavery in the west, not necessarily as a beneficial measure for blacks, but as an attempt to set geographical limits on the institution. Although his proposal was rejected, it was later adopted by Congress for territories north of the Ohio River in the Ordinance of 1787. This measure created tensions between slave states and free states tested many years later with the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Dred and Harriett Scott decision of 1857.”

Cahokia Mounds reflect ancient Osage life

A Birger figurine (shown left) was found in the Cahokia area near St. Louis, carved from Missouri flintclay depicting a kneeling woman hoeing into a snake, symbolic of fertility, life forces and the lower world. Photo by Roseanne McKee

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Recently, I visited the Cahokia Mounds near St. Louis, the largest earthen monument in the Americas, with links to the Osage people, whose sovereign nation is headquartered in Pawhuska.

According to an article “Osage Cultural History” by Dr. Andrea Hunter, published on the Osage Nation website, “[d]uring the latter part of the Late Woodland (A.D. 900) and Emergent Mississippian, (A.D. 1000) periods, larger groups of the Dhegiha Siouan tribes focused their settlement strategy in the Cahokia/St. Louis area. … Those who would later become the Osage were the last remaining Dhegiha Siouan tribe in the Cahokia/St. Louis area.”

A panel about the late Charles Arthur Pratt (1944-2015) was on display at the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center and Museum. The panel included a photo of Charles Pratt, an Osage Elder, wearing regalia. The panel stated that Pratt had been the Hominy Drum Keeper in the Osage Hominy Village during the 1960s, and he never forgot his obligations to his people. Pratt was a college graduate and scholar of both Dhegihan language and culture.

“Charles epitomized the Hominy community. After all, they were the full bloods. … they were always eager to save their great heritage as well as being generous in sharing with others,” the panel said.

I was fortunate to have met Pratt at a traditional Osage dinner at his own camp, during the Hominy In-Lonshka dances in 2014, a year before he passed. My friend Mark Simms, a retired Osage congressman, and his wife, Linda Simms, took me to the dinner.

What I learned at the museum in St. Louis was that up to 20,000 people lived at the more than 2,200-acre Cahokia settlement.

While the settlement originally began more than 12,000 years ago — 1,000 years ago the culture evolved into what is known as the Mississippians. At that time, residents built various types of mounds, plazas and a unique wooden sundial, now called Woodhenge. Regarding the mounds themselves, some were flat-top — where temples and other structures were built. Others, called ridge-top mounds, marked the community’s boundaries. There were also burial mounds.

However, the tallest, most prominent mound was the location of the chief’s home, where a sacred fire was kept burning, the narrator said.

It is interesting to note that the practice of keeping a sacred fire burning was continued by the Osage.

In the book “Osage Life & Legends” by Robert Liebert, he wrote, “the fireplace served as light, warmth, and … any time that the People were gathered around the fireplace was a time of communion; for the fire was symbolic of the divine spark of life and the power that resided within the Sun. In the lodges of the Grand Chiefs [sacred fires] burned eternally, as they had in the temples of the Ancient Ones that erected the great earthen mounds.”

According to the video presentation at the center in St. Louis, the chief was said to have ruled the earth and spoke to the sky.

The chief’s “wealth was immeasurable, his wisdom profound, his authority unquestionable. The chief was responsible for maintaining balance between the spiritual forces of the upper world and the low world. … and for maintaining order and harmony among the people,” the video narrator said.

“Service rendered to him was as to the gods. With his wisest advisors, the chief directed construction of the great mound, the site of his temple. For the thousands of laborers, building the mound was an act of loyalty on faith. Building it in stages, they dug the earth with stone hoes and carried [the earth] in woven baskets 50-60 pounds at a time, 15 million times over a 300-year period,” the narrator said.

The community was “the seat of power, vitality, wealth and security. It prevailed for several hundred years. … Each area had a function. There were enormous plazas for games, ceremonies and great gatherings. There were miles of stockade wall protecting the central ceremonial area,” the narrator said.

The community was so large that individuals specialized in tasks such as toolmaking, farming and basket weaving. Goods and services were exchanged and the population became interdependent.

The people were able to grow a surplus of corn so it could be saved for years when crops were poor, the narrator explained. “With a steady food supply, great numbers of people could make Cahokia their permanent home.”

This surplus in crops allowed the chief to engage in trade with other tribes.

“The leader of the community could trade corn for rare goods such as copper or sea shells. Mississippian communities traded in this way over a network that spanned thousands of miles from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico — from the Atlantic ocean to the Ozarks,” the narrator said.

History: Oklahoma takes shape


By Roseanne McKee

Reprinted with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

A month ago today, May 2, was a significant day in Oklahoma history. It was the day that an Act took effect that provided the initial framework for the land in Oklahoma to be governed.

In the book “Oklahoma’s Governors, 1890-1907” guest editor LeRoy H. Fischer wrote that “on May 2, 1890, Congress passed the Oklahoma Territory Organic Act, which provided for the organization of Oklahoma Territory; from it the present state government of Oklahoma evolved.”

The Organic Act authorized the appointment by President Harrison of a governor, a supreme court consisting of three judges (who also served as district court judges), a legislature with a 26-member House of Representatives, a 13-member Council and a voter-elected delegate to Congress, Fischer said. The laws of Nebraska applied until laws were enacted.

The Act provided that all reservations in Oklahoma territory, when opened to settlement, became part of Oklahoma Territory.

The Act named Guthrie as the territorial capital, Fischer said.

The first election in the territory was held Aug. 5, 1890. Fourteen Republicans, eight Democrats and four People’s Party Alliance members were elected to serve in the House of Representatives. The Council had six Republicans, five Democrats and two People’s Party Alliance members.

Then, on Nov. 4, 1890, an election was held to choose the first territorial delegate to Congress — David A. Harvey.

The Act also “authorized President Harrison to appoint a commission to negotiate with the tribes of western Indian Territory to open their surplus lands for settlement,” Fischer wrote.

The Jerome Commission, as it was called, consisted of David H. Jerome, chair (also the former Michigan governor) Warren G. Sayre of Indiana and Alfred M. Wilson of Arkansas.

Over the next five years, the Commission negotiated with each tribe such that an individual allotment became privately owned by each man, woman and child on the official tribal rolls.

Once that had been accomplished, the surplus land was purchased by the U.S. government to be homesteaded.

A series of land runs followed — Sept. 22, 1891, creating Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, April 19, 1892, creating six counties (Blaine, Dewey, Day, Roger Mills, Custer and Washita, but Dewey was later abolished by Constitutional Convention) and the largest land run Sept. 16, 1893 of what was known as the Cherokee Outlet, creating seven counties Kay, Pawnee, Noble, Grant, Garfield, Woods and Woodward (with others added later by Constitutional Convention).
Additionally, land was reserved for higher education institutions, and public buildings in section 13.

“In 1895, the surplus Kickapoo lands were opened to homeseekers, but so little land was available that the Kickapoos received allotments of only eighty acres each,” Fischer said.

Sooners were becoming an increasingly big problem and so an alternate lottery method was used when Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, Wichita and Caddo surplus lands of more than 2,000,000 acres were opened in August 1901. A one-half section of land in each township was reserved to provide income for public purposes with additional sections in each township set aside for special purposes, Fisher said.

Land located between two rivers was given to Oklahoma Territory by the 1906 Constitutional Convention that had been part of Texas. This added 1,400,000 acres which became Greer, Harmon, Jackson and part of Beckham counties.

Smaller pieces of land became available when Congress dissolved the Ponca, Otoe, Missouria and Kaw reservations.

“The Big Pasture Reserve, made up of land in both Comanche and Tillman counties, was finally sold at auction by sealed bids in 1906,” Fischer wrote. “That same year the Osage Nation was dissolved by Congress, with each tribal member receiving over 500 acres of land.”
At that point, “all reservations west of Indian Territory — the home of the Five Civilized Tribes — became part of Oklahoma Territory by the eve of Oklahoma statehood,” said Fischer.
Those settling in Oklahoma Territory had to find ways to make a living and find enough food, and it wasn’t always easy.
Settlers bartered for basics and sold cut cedar posts to ranchers or followed the wheat harvest north.
Sod homes were common, Fischer explained.
An article by Eric Standridge on the website hubpages.com entitled “Oklahoma History: Pioneer Life in Early Oklahoma” stated that the “settlers’ first homes were very crude one-room houses build out of raw timber.” Later, they build two-story log homes, but most homes had no screens at the door. he said.
“Windows were square places left in the logs and covered with greased paper,” Standridge said, or settlers chose not to have windows at all.

The wild game settlers hunted were — wild turkey, quail and prairie chicken; wild sand plums were plentiful and so became popular for canning and drying, Fischer said.

Standridge added that settlers usually brought enough grain with them to plant crops and at wild turkeys, geese, deer and elk. Prairie chickens were also abundant, Standridge said.

According to the book “Taste of the States: A Food History of America,” pioneer women in Oklahoma invented a stew of rabbit, turnips, and flour gravy, and something called Oklahoma stew made from hard Spanish wheat and beef.

“Wild pecans were used in pie fillings, and Pioneer Pecan Pie became famous all over the states.

“Pickles and preserves were made from watermelon rinds. Watermelons originally grew on Indian farms and were later raised by settlers.”

Smoking and salting meats was essential in those days and cooking was done over an open fire in iron kettles, Standridge said. The kettles were set on tri-cornered iron holders.

“Skillets, pots and tin pans were also used and every family had a huge brass kettle in which they made their soap, apple butter, maple syrup, and rendered out the lard,” Standridge wrote.

Tallow candles made by the family provided light and garments were handmade, he said.

Oklahomans have come a long way since those early days. They stand on the shoulders of their ancestors.

The Oklahoma motto translated from Latin means “labor conquers all things” and as I reflect on Oklahoma’s past, I think it has.

Osage marriage customs of the past

By: Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Historically, Osage people had a very different approach to marriage than they do today. Marriages were arranged through a formal, negotiation process between the families over four days.

Author Robert Liebert describes the process in his book “Osage Life & Legends.”
He states that young men could not interact with young women. Instead, “young men could only express their love and frustration as they sat at some distant point on moonlit nights and played a melancholy tune on a flute made of cedar,” Liebert said.

According to author Francis La Flesche, marriageable age was reached shortly after puberty.

“If a boy was interested in a certain maiden, his maternal uncle went to the girl’s side of the village and spoke with her uncle; uncles took a special interest in the care of their nephews and nieces. If the girl’s uncle did not refuse the offer, it showed that he was open to the arrangement. The boy’s relatives prepared a great feast of buffalo, elk, deer, turkey, fish, corn, nuts and other delicacies, and came in a procession to the girl’s lodge. After the feast, the girl’s relations would wash the utensils and return them, showing that they accepted the boy as a suitable husband. On the next day a number of horses and other gifts were sent to the girl’s relatives, and if the gifts were thought worthy of the bride, there would be another feast, and the utensils would once more be washed and returned.”

The University of Oklahoma’s Western History Library has historic photos showing this negotiation process during the early 20th century.

Dr. Daniel Swan, a University of Oklahoma professor, collected over 100 Osage wedding photos over five years for an exhibit at the Osage Nation Museum in 2015. At a presentation for the exhibit’s opening, he said, “[o]ne of the things we learned was that each day the family would eat the food and put the dishes out at the end of the driveway and if those dishes were put back out washed, that meant that the negotiations were still open and they would expect for food to be brought again the next day. If those dishes were put out at the end of the driveway and they weren’t cleaned, it was over. Everybody packed up and went home. The negotiations had broken down.”

If the negotiation process proceeded with clean dishes on all three days, the couple would finally get to see one another and marry on the fourth day, Liebert wrote.

“The girl and her bridesmaids then stepped out of the lodge and her relatives would place piles of gifts at their feet. The boy relatives would line up, and at a signal would race toward the gifts. … the girl’s relatives would apportion out the gifts to the winners … until everyone had received something. There was a large wedding feast, and the groom was finally called to take his place beside the bride. The boy went back to his lodge, where his bride was carried to him on a robe, and they were left alone.”

The groom presented the bride with a sacred burden strap — something used by women to carry wood and items for hunting, Liebert said.

The sacred burden strap was made by the groom and his relatives for the bride and represented the groom’s respect for his bride and all of the hard work she would do as his wife. This one was not used, but was hung in the lodge above the doorway.

The formalities seemed to have changed over time. The Osage wedding exhibit shown in 2015 indicates slightly different customs, which are described in an article by the Osage News published on their website Feb. 20, 2015 by Shannon Shaw-Duty entitled, “Museum collaboration to showcase Osage weddings in exhibition.”

In her article Shaw-Duty describes a transfer of clothing worn by the women in the wedding party to the women in the groom’s family. This was followed by a gathering under the arbor or a tent with food and the marriage ceremony. Once the marriage had taken place a new family was formed.

By the 20th century, the clothing worn by brides had become military jackets and hats, originally given to the Osage by U.S. dignitaries from Washington, D.C.
Swan shared that Romaine Shackelford, had conducted research of government documents on microfilm at the Osage Nation Museum, and made a significant discovery.

“Low and behold, he turns up a letter from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs writing the Superintendent of the Osage Nation, the agency, in which he said, ‘we received your letter requesting a chief’s coat for 17 Osage chiefs. We’ve received their measurements and on our next visit, we’ll bring them.’ This shows this continuous process of using these coats as symbols of authority and respect — that there was this continual supply coming in to them,” Swan explained.

“It’s clear that eventually that supply of old military coats exceeded the demands of the community and that people up here started to make these coats. These are stories that we’re working on right now — the different mechanisms that Osage people have employed to build their inventory of coats.

“Lastly, we’ve undertaken a series of interviews about more modern times and the construction of coats and their use in paying for the drum,” Swan said.
Osage military-style wedding regalia are on display at both the Osage Nation Museum and the Osage County Historical Society Museum in Pawhuska.

Recordings of interviews of Osages interviewing other Osages about the wedding arrangement process are at the Osage Nation’s Wahzhazhe Cultural Center in Pawhuska.

Osage mark months with moon references

By: Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Calendar months for the Osage were marked by references to the moon. For example, the month of February was “Light of Day Returns Moon,” according to the book “Osage Life & Legends” by Robert Liebert.

After the winter, in February Osage people resumed food gathering. The men when to hunt deer, elk and bear, whose fur was sleeker at this time, Liebert said.
March was the “Whimsical Moon,” when women gathered new greens to add to soups and stews, he said. Wild onions are still gathered in the spring and are served with scrambled eggs and ham at wild onion dinners held by the Osage and other tribes.

April, when the Osage began their new year, was referred to as “Deer Giving Birth Moon” and “Planting Moon,” said Liebert.

Sweat baths were taken at the year’s start — to purify the mind and body, he said. Also at this time the two grand chiefs would go to “the lodge of a man who owned a shrine” to pray for peace and health in the tribe.

April was a time of planting seeds. Corn, a staple crop, was planted in a very particular way.

Liebert wrote, “it was the planting of corn that kept them anchored to their villages rather than being continual nomads, as were some of their relatives out in the plains.”

The planting was done by women, but men could help under their direction, because it was the women who were considered wise to the ways of earth and in tune with Grandmother Earth, Liebert said.

“There was a class of men who, usually in response to a potent dream or vision, … excelled at gardening. … They were called mi-xu-ga, which translates “instructed by the moon,” said Liebert.

Family gardens were located in bottomlands along rivers and were about one-half acre in size, he said.

When they planted, the women would paint the part of their hair red, something the women did when they came of age, and painted blue lines down their faces to signify the sun and the rain, Liebert explained.

Corn, saved from special, sacred ears of corn, was planted in seven hills. As the women planted they sang and kept time with their planting sticks. The song told of the sacred act of planting and the significance of her tamping the soil.
“Poking a hole into the south side of the hill, she planted a seed and tamped the earth with her foot. She then placed two kernels in the second hill, three in the third and so on,” Liebert wrote.

After the sacred corn was planted, the women went on to plant the rest of the field with hills for squash between the corn hills. They also planted beans, which climbed the corn stalks. Later, pumpkins, gourds, sunflowers and melons were planted, Liebert said.

This planting method reminds me of the method being used by Osage tribal member Scott Lohah who grows Osage corn specially for the In Lonshka Dances held each June in all three Osage Villages — Hominy, Grayhorse and Pawhuska. Lohah is from Hominy.

Lohah plants more than one seed in one hole. This is called clump farming. He shared an article with me from the Sept. 2011 issue of Progressive Farmer Magazine, which bears out the advantages of this planting method.

Although the article doesn’t credit the Osage, this is the way they have planted the corn for generations, Lohah said. The article states that experiments conducted in 2003 at the USDA ARS conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas, showed that the grain yields for both corn and sorghum were 70 percent, to more than 100 percent greater, when clump-seeding was used compared to the single-seed planting method.

Liebert’s account seems to agree — “Osage corn was famous among many tribes, for it often grew ten feet tall and could have as many as eight or nine ears to the hill.”

After planting, the focus shifted to bison hunting.

The month of May was referred to by the Osage as “Little Flower-Killer Moon,” because this is when “little flowers that poked up from the forest floor and brightened the prairies disappeared as the trees leafed out and the grasses grew,” Liebert wrote.

This Osage reference to the month of May became the inspiration for the title of David Grann’s bestselling book about the Osage Murders entitled “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Next week’s column will focus on Osage courting and arranged marriage customs.

A Rare Look at Osage Before First Contact

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Nicholas with an elder at Archie Mason’s camp during In’Lonshka at Grayhorse Village. Photo by Roseanne McKee


By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Before Europeans arrived in North America, the Osage people were organized into a complex society with well-formed traditions. However, the Osage elders decided not to speak of the time before first contact and that is why little is known about it.

The former Osage Nation Museum Director, Hallie Winter, told me during an interview that the journey of the Osage to Oklahoma greatly diminished their numbers, and the Osage elders decided it was best not to speak of the way things had been because they could no longer be.

Osage Ballet Director Randy Tinker Smith, who consulted with elders when creating her ballet about the Osage people, said in traditional Osage society every clan had a specific role, but once the once the population diminished, there were not enough people to maintain their previous way of life.

The population decreased when the Osage left Kansas to move to the Oklahoma territory. There were about 8,000 Osage at the start of their journey, said former Osage Nation Museum Interim Director Lou Brock.

In the 1850s “sickness hit the Osage and everybody that was in the area and probably scattered throughout [with] scrofula, black measles, and just everything under the sun,” Brock explained. When the Osage finalized the deal to purchase land from the Cherokee, their population had dwindled to just 2,229.

A book once sold at the Osage County Historical Society Museum, “Osage Life and Legends,” written by Robert Liebert, published by Naturegraph Publishers (1987) provides a window into the little-known world before first contact. In the next few columns, I will share some of what the book said about Osage life before first contact.

The Osage refer to themselves as “the Little Ones” to show humility toward the Great Spirit, Wah-Kon-Dah. They also have a name for Mother Earth, the Sacred One, HunKah, according to Liebert.

The tribe is organized into two groups the sky people, called Tzizho, and the earth people, called HunKah.

Having interviewed several Osages, I have been told that traditionally Osages only married into the other group, not their own group, and marriages were arranged.

There were grand chiefs for both groups, Liebert said, and the Osage lived in one main village with smaller villages nearby.
In the layout of the main village, the Osage sought to echo the natural order of the universe, as they did in all aspects of their lives, he said. The Tzizho occupied the north part and the HunKah lived in the south part of the village.

Dwellings were in groups of seven with broad streets between them. At the center of the village were the homes of the Tzizho chief and the HunKah chief. Their doors opened to the east and west and a fire always burned inside each home.

The Osage homes, called lodges, were “built by setting center poles in the ground with a ridge pole laid across and long hickory poles bent over. Wall posts were set along the sides, and cross-poles attached to the framework,” Liebert wrote.

The homes were covered in woven rush mats overlapped to prevent water leaks. The slender rush (probably horsetail or spikerush) were a vital part of Osage homes. The mats were also used as beds, which were covered in bison hides. These sleeping mats were arranged around the fireplace in cold weather and along the walls in warmer weather.

“The fireplace was always at the center of the lodge, the symbolic center of the universe of which the lodge was a microcosm. The fireplace served as light, warmth, and was used to cook their meals,” Liebert said. “The fire was symbolic of the divine spark of life and the power that resided within the Sun. At any important council and in all ceremonies the sacred fire was lit. … Before every meal, the Little Ones spoke a prayer of thanksgiving and a portion of food was placed in the fire as an offering.”

Inside the homes there were small fire pits, covered with deer and bison hides to dry and smoke food.

Storage places were dug into the floor of the homes to store food and hides.

The walls had mats, utensils, bows, quivers, strings of dried roots, ears of corn and medicine bags.

Each person had one wooden bowl from which to eat. Hands and a knife were used to eat food.

Wooden spoons were used to serve the food. Cooking pots “were made of clay tempered with shell and fired in pits.”

During the winter, the Osage visited and feasted, Liebert said. A crier would invite guests to someone’s home. When guests arrived, they would smoke, eat and play guessing gambling games. “Sometimes the betting would be quite heavy, and spectators would place robes and other valuables beside their favorite player,” Liebert wrote.

The way the author described the game, it sounded similar what I know as Osage Hand Games, which involve guessing the location of a small object.

There is an article on the Osage News website dated Feb. 18, 2015, by the late Charles Red Corn, which describes Hand Games in detail.

According to Liebert, sometimes the host would have an elder storyteller attend to entertain the guests. Storytelling happened in winter when snakes were asleep. It was considered unwise to tell stories in the warmer seasons because snakes were considered by the Osage as guardians of the truth — taking revenge if an untrue tale were told, the author said. Kathryn Red Corn, retired former Osage Nation Museum director, and her daughter have also told me this. There is actually a word in Osage for women to tell tales out of season —something considered very unwise.

At these gatherings in old times guests, invited or not, were given the seat of honor and given food, a smoke and could remain as long as they wished, Liebert said.

My son and I were invited to visit the camp of Osage Congressman Archie Mason at Grayhorse Village, near Fairfax, during the InLonshka Dances in June 2012, and we were indeed honored.
We dressed in church attire for the occasion as had been recommended to us because the InLonshka Dances are not like a powwow, rather they are more spiritual in nature.

Following the prayer, we were instructed to go through the food line first. We were welcomed and had a great day at their camp watching the women cook over an open fire in the traditional way and visiting with Moira Red Corn as she did meticulous beadwork for an eagle fan.

My son, Nicholas, who was about seven at the time, played at the feet of one female elder in the kitchen and got to know the children at the camp. I was very humbled by the experience, and it is a cherished memory.

The Osage Nation, based in Pawhuska, Okla., continues the traditions by having two regular sessions of the Osage Congress — Hunkah Session in the spring (late March) and Tzizho Session in early September, as per the 2006 Osage Constitution. And, every Congressional session, committee meeting and every meal still begins with a prayer spoken in Osage, if an Osage speaker is present, and in English.

Roanhorse delivers on gallery experience

By Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

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Addie Roanhorse at Bartlesville Art Association’s ArtNight, February 2019.

A few months before the P.W. Mercantile opened, Osage artist Addie Roanhorse purchased a two-story, 105 year-old building in downtown Pawhuska with a business partner.

Roanhorse converted the first floor into event space called “Partake,” which she used to create a youth art event in 2018. The second floor is an Airbnb called “The Little Rainsong Loft.”

Roanhorse decided to use the space to have an exhibit featuring the work of children and on the second night an art auction of work by her artist friends to raise money for teachers.

Roanhorse delivered 100 12-by-12 canvases to the elementary and high school students and said, “get these back to me in the next four weeks, and we’re going to have a gallery showing with every one of you.

“We called it the gallery experience,” Roanhorse said.

Because so many wanted to participate in the elementary school, the teachers suggested having the students write paragraphs about why they would like to participate. She received 68 paragraphs from fourth- to sixth-graders.

On the second night they held the art auction. The Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce director, who is also an auctioneer, auctioned the pieces. “It lasted 18 minutes, and we raised $1,875,” she said.

With the funds raised, Roanhorse gave Amazon gift cards to the 57 teachers at the public schools in the area.

“We don’t have art in our schools, and I think that’s a big reason why kids have anxiety. They have stresses in those paragraphs. I started crying when I read them. … you have football and then, you have basketball. But, what about the kids that don’t get that stress reliever out of that or are not very good at it. I know I was terrible. I think it’s important for our kids. Our society is producing very one-sided kids. We can’t send them out into the world and say ‘be successful’ with one-side of your brains.

“But, again, I grew up in this environment where I just, I don’t want to say I took it for granted, but I just didn’t realize. When I had a kid say, ‘well, where do you paint?’ At my studio. ‘Well, what’s a studio?’ ‘What’s this?’ ‘It’s a paint brush.’ ‘Well, where do you get this?’ They really didn’t know. So, just slowly kind of trying to spread the event where we can.

“We’re definitely doing the event again this year,” Roanhorse said with a smile.