Lower Concordia below Acme

AT THE TIME of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the rivers were the interstate highways. This juncture in lower Concordia below Acme was a busy place. Here, the Black (foreground) flows into the Red (the narrow stream above), which flowed into the Mississippi. (Concordia Sentinel photo)

“A Party of Caddo Indians lately returning from the Panis Nation were robed by a Party of Osages of 74 horses,” wrote John Sibley in 1807.

An Indian Agent, Sibley’s words were written in a letter sent to the U.S. Secretary of War.

The Panis lived in the northeastern panhandle of Texas on the upper banks of the Red River. The Caddo confederacy occupied a region along the Red between Natchitoches and Texarkana.

According to historian Julia Kathryn Garrett, the Caddo “were peaceable and friendly, practiced agriculture, and hunted on the western prairies.”

None of the Caddo men were hurt. They sent a runner to inform their chief of the attack. The chief then led “a Strong party of his own & some other Tribes to the relief of his people.”

While Sibley waited on word concerning the Caddo and Osage movements, the Caddo chief’s son accidently set afire the family’s large framed timber house that was “covered with Thatch upon Ribs of Cane.” Within moments the house was destroyed. The fire also consumed a corn shed filled with the entire crop.

In the meantime, at the salt works near Natchitoches, a white laborer, Samuel Watson, and a Creek Indian named Tom, had words. Watson shot and killed Tom reportedly because Tom “was Coming upon Watson with a Knife, & Watson shot him dead.” Watson then “made his escape.”

Sibley filled out a warrant for the white man’s arrest and invited the Indian’s family to Natchitoches to resolve the matter: “I shall do all I can to Pacify them & hope to prevent any attempt on their part to retaliate,” adding, “Tom that is Killed was considered a Bad Man by both white & Red people. I have been More than Once obliged to Imprisson him for his Outrageous Conduct at this place.”

Such matters Sibley dealt almost daily as the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 resulted in a wave of white settlers crossing the Mississippi River to the west, while Indian tribes – removed from their ancestral homes – found themselves wandering. Conflicts were bound to occur between the whites and Native Americans and between the Indians themselves.

As an example, Sibley noted that there “several rambling Tribes of Choctaws in this Territory who have no Lands” in the parishes of Ouachita and Catahoula, and along the Sabine at the Texas border. For all the tribes he could see only one answer – adapt to the ways of the white man.

‘PLANS FOR THEIR DESTRUCTION’

In the southern region of the Louisiana Purchase, the most feared tribe was the Osage. Captain Glass, a trader, informed Sibley in 1808 that when he left the Panis Nation “a party of Panis & Hietans to the number of about one Thousand Warriors had gone to War Against the Osages on the River Arkansas, with a determination to exterminate that Band of Robbers; who are Constantly stealing their Horses; a part of them stole from Capt. Glass 36 Valuable Horses from Near the Panis Village, and during the last year he believes they Stole from the Panis Near One Thousand Head. These Osage are regarded by all white & Red people in this quarter as a Common peste to mankind.”

In 1804 during the exploration of the Ouachita River up to the hot springs in Arkansas following the Louisiana Purchase, William Dunbar of Natchez noted that the Osages “plundered all the white hunters and traders upon the Arcansa river. All the old French hunters agree in accusing the Osages of being extremely faithless, particularly those on the Arcansa.” They “pretend to make peace & enter into terms of amity, but on the first favorable occasion, they rob, plunder and even kill without any hesitation; the other Indian tribes speak of them with great abhorrence, and say they are a barbarous uncivilized race. The different nations who hunt in their neighbourhood, have been concerting plans for their destruction.”

BUFFALO HUNTERS

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture notes that the “Osage lived in several villages located in southwest Missouri when Europeans began to explore and settle the lands west of the Mississippi River late in the seventeenth century. During this period, Osage hunters made frequent forays into northwest Arkansas, but more importantly, their role as key players in economic and political affairs before the modern era touched the lives of nearly everyone living in the region.”

“ … The mutually dependent relationships that sustained the Osage and their Euro-American allies ended with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The U.S. government was interested not in sustaining economic and political partnerships with Indian nations but rather removing Indians from lands both east and west of the Mississippi River now opened for white American settlement. This policy thrust the Osage into conflicts with neighboring tribes.”

For generations, the Osage cleared ground for farming. The women tended the crops and collected wild food, while the men hunted. After the crops were harvested, they hunted buffalo during the summer on the plains of Kansas and Nebraska: “Buffalo hunting was carefully organized under the command of experienced leaders, and each person – men, women and children, -- was assigned a specific role in an overall strategy executed with military precision.”

Historian Frank F. Finney writes that after the Louisiana Purchase, “President Jefferson at once took steps to become better acquainted with the country and its inhabitants, and to make treaties with them. Chief White Hair, the First, through the influence of Pierre Chouteau of St. Louis, French Indian trader and agent for the Osages, accepted the invitation of the President to visit him and, accompanied by Chouteau and about a dozen Osage chiefs and warriors, made the trip to Washington.”

The group also visited Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York where they were entertained and honored. The Osage performed dances. White Hair, known as the “King,” “was described in a New York newspaper as upward of six feet in stature, proportionally well made with a Roman nose and dignified port, the article stating that perhaps no one brought up in savage life has ever been known to unite the same ease, politeness and nobleness of manners.”

The New York Gazette and General Advertiser, reported: “The King’s deportment was majestic and easy; he was dressed in a laced blue coat, and corresponding under vestments, wore a cocked hat, and a handsome sword by his side … But it was the singular and savage appearance of the other Indians naked and painted that excited principle attention. They were eight or nine in number. Excepting a piece of cloth fastened around the waist, in which tomahawks were stuck, they were all in a state of nudity … these men were savage and ferocious.”

At Washington, the Osage saw frigates anchored in the Navy Yard as a music and “a salute from guns greeted them … Undoubtedly Jefferson desired to impress the influential chief and his followers with the power of the United States, and it was also believed that he wanted them as hostages until the safe return of Lewis and Clerk, whom he had sent to explore the Missouri River to its source.”

SCHISM AMONG THE 0SAGE

While the Osage leader was in Washington, William Dunbar was in southern Arkansas on the Ouachita River Expedition he passed the encampment of Pierre LeFevre, a French hunter. LeFevre owned a thousand acres of land and a big house with fine furnishings at the Arkansas Post, located on the lower Arkansas River near its juncture with the Mississippi. The post was the first European settlement in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, established in 1686 as a French trading post.

Dunbar noted of LeFevre: “This was an intelligent man, a native of Illinois, now residing at the Arcansas. He is come here with Delaware & other Indians whom he has fitted out with goods & receives the peltry, fur {etc.} at a stipulated price, as it is brought in by the hunters. This gentleman informs us that a considerable party of the Osages from the Arcansas river have made an excursion round by the prairie towards” the Red River and down the Little Missouri to the Antoine River where

“meeting with a small party of Cherokees, are supposed to have killed four of their number and others are missing; Three American and ten Chickasaws went a hunting into that quarter who may also have been in danger; those Osages are no respecters of persons.”

Dunbar also wrote that the Osage tribe under White Hair’s command “plundered all the white hunters and traders upon” the Arkansas River. “All the old French hunters agree in accusing the Osages of being extremely faithless, particularly those on the Arcansa … the others pretend to make peace & enter into terms of amity, but on the first favorable occasion, they rob, plunder and even kill without any hesitation; the other Indian tribes speak of them with great abhorrence, and say they are a barbarous uncivilized race. The different nations who hunt in their neighborhood have been concerting plans for their destruction.”

While the Osage chief and a handful of warriors enjoyed Jefferson’s hospitality, the President wrote Dunbar in Natchez noting a split within the Osage Nation. Jefferson said the chief, White Hair, confided that the lesser Osage chief Great Track had gone out on his own with 400 warriors.

OIL & BLOOD

According to the historian Finney, “Members of no other tribe manifested more grief for their dead” than the Osage. “It was customary for the Osages to mourn at daybreak with doleful cries and lamentation for months and even years for some departed relative.” It was also their practice to send out mourning scalping parties to pay tribute to a dead warrior by killing a person outside the tribe.

Finney related that in Kansas a “party of Osages,” which included a man named Bill Conner, “a mixed blood who was their leader, met Es-ad-da-ua, head chief of the Wichita tribe who had become separated from his companions while hunting buffalo near the Salt Plains. Professing to believe that it was the will of the Great Spirit that the Wichita should provide the sacrifice, they killed him and returned with his scalp and also his head.” Afterward, the “customary dance was held.”

Soon, 38 Wichita Indians “demanded the heads of the leaders who perpetrated the deed, and were particularly desirous of securing Conner who prudently hid out.” After tense meetings, a peace was achieved with the Osage making reparations.

The Osage were ultimately removed to eastern Oklahoma following treaties in 1808, 1818 and 1825. The reduction of the buffalo herds and a loss of reservation land left the Osage economically devastated until the discovery of oil on their tribal land brought them riches. But the riches also cost them lives in the early 20th century. An FBI investigation revealed that the murders of a number of the Osage Indians was committed at the direction of a white man, William King Hale, who stole their oil royalties.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the “Osage identity is preserved today through participation in language and cultural preservation activities, museum programs, the E-Lon-schka dances, and other community ceremonies. Established in 1938, the Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is the oldest tribally owned museum in the United States.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.