Hugging the northern border of the traditional Osage Indian lands and built largely on the main migratory trail of the native people used as they tracked the Bison herds over the plains, the foundations of Route 66 are obviously much older than the day it was officially conceived as a Federal US byway in 1926 .
Derived from the French word that means “calm water”, the Osage are from an ancient people whose dominance once covered the majority of modern-day Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri.
With deep roots to the land and a culture that stretches back thousands of years, we wanted to take some time to offer up a brief history to the Osage Tribe as well as some insight as to what their tribe is doing now and planning for in the future.
In The Beginning…
At the time, around 700BC, they had set up a settlement around the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys and they relied on gathering, nomadic buffalo hunting, agriculture, and trade for sustenance. In the late 1800s, grazing became particularly important economically.
As time went on, they established themselves quite well and in the 19th century became the most powerful tribe of all their neighbors. They ruled over the territory and were renowned as relentless, fierce, and extremely courageous people.
The commissioner of Indian affairs at the time called them ‘the richest people on earth’ since they were flourishing from grazing leases.
Highs And Lows Of U.S. Federal Rule
Unfortunately, the end of the 19th century brought bad news, when they were forced by the United States Government to move from their territories and occupy Indian land, which is present-day Oklahoma.
What they didn’t know, is that this was a blessing in disguise. In the 20th century, oil was discovered on their lands and since they had conserved communal mineral rights during land issuance, many became rich as they leased their lands to head rights. This is because they had originally installed regulations to support grass leasing, and with the discovery of oil, it was easy to turn grass leasing into oil leasing.
Land allotment had also established an Osage Estate Trust, which accumulated a lot of wealth from land sales, treaty settlements, and interest held in trust by the federal government. Each member of the Osage community benefited from returns that were distributed equally.
Nevertheless, this joy was also short-lived as other people, particularly whites, became envious of what they possessed. By the 1920s, the Osage were tortured, manipulated, and worst of all, murdered by white people who wanted their oil lands. This period was referred to as the Reign Of Terror.
In 1930, their story turned over again, during the economic depression, when they again, become poor. Though it was a tough time economically, they were no longer killed and tortured which made them contented. The story of their wealth and murders, however, took away other parts of their community, which is why Osage literature is centered around their wealth and homicide cases. People should know however that the community remains a strong, albeit small highly educated people, who provide the nation with beef.
Some notable members of the community include Bacon Rind, Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, Gen. Clarence Tinker, and John Joseph Mathews.
The 21st Century And Beyond
In 2000, they began to push for what was rightfully theirs, and though the process was exceedingly slow and tiresome, 11 years later, their efforts bore fruit. In 2011, the federal government gave them a settlement following the long mismanagement of Osage oil funds. They also formed a federally-recognized Native American government known as the Osage Nation. It is Headquartered in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and has about 20,000 members, with around 7,000 who reside in the Osage jurisdiction. Others live remotely, all over the country, a major destination being Kansas.
Currently, the Osage community residence is neighbored by Oklahoma and Kaw Nation to the west, the Pawnee Nation and the Muscogee Nation to the south, and the Cherokee Nation to the east. Since most of the Osages have died, the new generation reigns, and people can learn Osage craft and language form the White Hair Memorial, an Oklahoma Historical Society facility near Ralston, or at the Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska.
They may have reduced in number but they remain a notable surviving Native American community!