Osage Elk Hunt

Original Text


“THE OSAGE INDIANS. In the river valleys of Western Missouri and Southeastern Kansas the Osages built their villages, filled their garden patches, and hunted the abundant wild game. Their customs were similar to those of the Kansa people who were their northern neighbors and relatives. The Osages are described by early explorers as being a group of extremely tall people, living in wigwams of bark and reeds. Their main population, about five thousand, was clustered in villages along the Arkansas and Neosho rivers. Incessant warfare with their traditional enemies, the Comanches and the Pawnees, was often unprofitable for the Osages. They were finally removed by the government to a reservation at Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where oil discovered on their land has made them wealthy.”

“OSAGE ELK HUNT. In the eastern part of Kansas, methods of hunting differed from those used on the prairies. More nearly like the Woodland Indians of the east, the Osages were apt to stalk their game or to catch it in snares and traps. This diorama shows hunters anxiously awaiting the results of a shot at one of a pair of Wapiti, or American Elk, drinking from a pool in the stream. One hunter carries snared rabbits and a wild turkey, victims of their flint-tipped arrows, while three cautious bears are visible in the distance. The Wapiti, once widely distributed over our continent, is considered one of the finest of game animals because of its size and palatable meat. The black bear, also choice game, was quite abundant in this region, and the wild turkey was found far out on the prairies.”

A Modern View

The Osage inhabited parts of Kansas at the time of contact, although their main settlements were in western Missouri. Women cultivated crops and gathered wild plants, while men ventured onto the Plains to hunt bison, but also stalked woodlands game like elk, deer, and bear, as mentioned in the original text.

Osage villages, which bordered significant waterways, became important trade hubs by the eighteenth century. This made the Osage valuable allies for European fur traders. Although the Osage established a positive relationship with the French, their interactions with Europeans soured over time.

Following the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the United States began forcing eastern tribes westward. The Osage saw these removed peoples as invaders, which led to several violent clashes. The U.S. also coerced the Osage into multiple land cessions. In 1825, the tribe regrouped on the Osage Diminished Reserve in Kansas. There they faced new challenges from local tribes who viewed them as interlopers. As described in the original text, the Osage engaged in warfare with Plains peoples like the Comanche and Pawnee in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1870, Congress relocated the Osage to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Although the reservation initially seemed barren, prospectors discovered oil in 1897. As discussed in the original text, oil production made the Osage wealthy. Not mentioned in the text, however, is the way that White Americans profited from the tribe’s good fortune. A 1921 law required courts to appoint White “guardians” to oversee Osage assets. This law was based on the racist assumption that Indigenous people were incapable of managing their own affairs. Many local Whites exploited the ruling to seize Osage headrights; a series of unsolved murders in the early 1920s furthered this transfer of wealth. Ultimately, a federal investigation prompted Congress to prohibit non-Osage inheritance of headrights in 1925.

Today, the Osage Nation includes more than 20,000 enrolled citizens. In the early twenty-first century, the tribe sued the United States for mismanaging its mineral resources. This culminated in a 2011 settlement that provided the Osage with $380 million in compensation and a promise of improved protection for tribal assets.