Native History: Osage Forced to Abandon Lands in Missouri and Arkansas
This Date in Native history: On November 10, 1808, the Osage Indians, the largest tribe of the Southern Sioux, agreed to abandon their lands in Missouri and Arkansas in exchange for minimal compensation and a smaller land base.
The agreement, known as the Osage Treaty of 1808, was the first treaty forged between the Osage Nation and the United States, said Andrew Gray, an Osage historian and professor of American Indian Studies at Pawnee Nation College. The tribe signed nine more treaties with the government before 1865, ceding their land in exchange for reservations first in Kansas and later in Oklahoma.
“It was all basically a way for the government to get land from the Osage in Missouri and Arkansas,” Gray said. “It wasn’t something the Osage wanted to do. It was something they were forced to do.”
The Osage Nation, which comprised two bands—the Great Osage and the Little Osage—had a population of about 5,500 in the early 19th century, according to tribal data. Prior to the treaty, the Osage Nation had a power base along the Missouri River and its tributary, the Osage River, where they traded with the French. They also made semi-annual buffalo-hunting trips into the Great Plains.
The Treaty of 1808 changed much of that, Gray said. It was the first secession of land in Missouri.
Signed at Fort Clark, on the bank of the Missouri River, the treaty was forged because the government was “anxious to promote peace, friendship and intercourse with the Osage tribes, to afford them every assistance in their power and to protect them from the insults and injuries of other tribes of Indians.”
Yet the government was the cause of contention from other tribes, Gray said.
“By 1803 or so, there was encroachment from other tribes who were being forced west,” he said. “The Osage had to move so other tribes could have some territory. Because of the movement of other tribes, there were a couple of wars and all the tribes were weakened. It was all converging on us, and we were having some problems dealing with it.”
The treaty forced the Osage Nation to cede 52.5 million acres of land in Arkansas and Missouri. In exchange, the Osage received $1,200 in cash and $1,500 in merchandise. Another treaty, signed 10 years later, forced the tribe to cede its remaining 1.8 million acres in Arkansas and Oklahoma, with no compensation.
A third treaty, signed in 1825, forced the Osage to cede all remaining land and move to a reservation along the Kansas border. The tribe ceded a total of 96.8 million acres in the three treaties, for a total compensation of $166,000.
Yet the Osage Nation recovered its wealth when it was forced to move from Kansas to Oklahoma. Under the Drum Creek Treaty of 1868, the tribe received $7 million, which enabled it to purchase 1.5 million acres of land from the Cherokee. Meanwhile, however, the population of the tribe dwindled. According to Census numbers, the population decreased from nearly 5,000 people in 1870 to 1,500 in 1890, probably because of inadequate medical supplies and scarcity of food.
The tribe made a comeback when, in 1894, large quantities of oil were discovered beneath the land and the tribe became known as the “richest people in the world.” According to 2010 Census numbers, more than 15,000 people claim Osage heritage.