The Osages are a Native American Tribe whose ancestral territory included much of Oklahoma. However, in Paleolithic times they ranged from the fork of the Ohio River to the Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas Rivers. This place where the rivers came together was called Ni-U-Kon-Ska and the Osages were known as Ni-U-Kon-Ska or Children of the Middle Waters.
The Osages were known for their hunting and trading skills. By the late 18th century, they controlled the trade between the French and the western American Indian Nations and also among the different European frontiers. In 1795, the French persuaded the Osages to resettle near the Arkansas River allowing for the easier exchange of trading.
In 1808, the United States began taking away their land and a reservation was formed for them. They were forced to move to what is now Southern Kansas in 1825.
In 1850, their population was estimated at 8,000. During the years from 1825 – 1860, the population dwindled to 3,500 as Osage villages were withered by black measles, typhoid fever, whooping cough, scurvy, yellow fever and smallpox. These diseases were brought in by the Europeans and the Osages had no immunity to these types of illnesses. Life for the Osage became very hard due to the decrease in population and the difficulty in securing game which had been driven far away as the settlers moved westward.
In 1873, relocation by the U.S. Government became inevitable again for the Osage people. An Act of the United States Congress provided for allocation from the proceeds of the sale of the Osage lands in Kansas to pay for the Osage lands in the Indian Territory which was owned by the Cherokees. The Osage paid the Cherokee the aggregate sum of $1,099,137.41 for what is now Osage County, Oklahoma.
In 1876, the Osage population was 2,700 and Pawhuska was established. The city was named for Osage Chief Paw-Hu-Skah meaning "white hair" and it became the Osage County Seat and capital of the Osage Nation. Today this same area, Osage Territory, is the capital of the Osage Nation.
In the early 20th century, oil was discovered on their land and the many Osages became wealthy through leasing fees generated by their headrights or shares from their mineral estate. In 1907, through the efforts of Principal Chief James Bigheart, they reached an agreement with the U.S. government which enabled them to retain communal mineral rights on their reservation lands.
During the 1920’s the Osages suffered manipulation and numerous murders by people who were eager to take over their wealth. These Osage murders caused the Federal Bureau of Investigation to form and were the FBI’s first homicide case. At that time, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs called them the richest people in the United States.
In the 21st century, the federally recognized Osage Nation has over 20,000 members nationwide and approximately 7,000 reside in the Nation’s jurisdictional area. The Osage people have thrived in various areas throughout the American Midwest. They have permeated their numerous forms of arts with strength and simplicity. They have balanced abundance with adversity and have produced a highly sophisticated artistic tradition rich in meaning and complex in its commitment to usefulness. Bead work, ribbon work, blankets, cradle boards, headdresses, fans, and wedding suits are just to name a few. Not included in this list are sketching, painting, sculpting, writing and dancing; much of which is on display at the Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska. At the time of its opening in 1938, it was the only museum in the world owned by an American Indian tribe and is the oldest tribally owned museum in the United States.
The Osages come together in the month of June for their ceremonial dances, the I’n-Lon-Schka. Their ceremonial dance builds community, and unites the Nation, strengtheing their sense of identity and provides a time to reflect on the previous year with gratitude and thanksgiving for their many blessings.. When they moved to Oklahoma, the Osage settled in three main areas corresponding to historical divisions of the tribe: Pawhuska, Hominy, and Gray Horse. Presently, the I'n-Lon-Schka, which is four days (Thursday-Sunday), takes place at each of these locations and ends with the last four days in Pawhuska.
A new vitality invigorates the Osage people since the turn of the 21st century. Osages hold advanced graduate degrees now more than ever before. Language and art classes are held throughout the year at several locations and infants to early elementary age students are taught the Osage language in their new school, Daposka Ahnkodapi which opened in 2015.
Due to revenue generated brought in by Osage Casinos and the Osage Tax Commission, the future looks bright for the Osage people as they work diligently to revitalize their language, retain their cultural identity, and and create a Health and Education system that is second to none. The Osage people have experienced a multitude of ups and downs throughout their history, but they have grown to believe today they are living out the prayers of their ancestors. They will continue to move forward in this modern world always reflecting on their past and continually expressing their gratitude for all their blessings. Osage County, this unique place they call their Territory, is one of their greatest blessings. They believe it is sacred ground for it is the place of their ancestors’ prayers, blood, sweat and tears.