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What is the Osage Nation?

By D. Woods
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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The Osage Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe that is found throughout the United States. The tribe's main base, however, is in Osage County, Oklahoma. As of 2010, there were about 10,000 enrolled tribal members, with nearly half residing in the state of Oklahoma, where the tribe owns numerous casinos and other businesses. The Osage Nation is the only tribe in Oklahoma with a federally recognized reservation.

The tribe originated in the region around what is now known as Kentucky and lived there for thousands of years. Before Europeans arrived, the Osage Nation was considered one of North America's most powerful tribes. The Osage was widely considered to be the tallest Native American group. It was well respected in war by other regional tribes. By the middle of the 17th century, years of conflict between the Osage Nation and the Iroquois tribe caused the Osage to migrate west to land in present-day Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.

In 1673, the Osage began having encounters with Europeans. That year, the the land in the Mississippi River valley was claimed for France by the explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette. By the turn of the 18th century, the Osage Nation and the French were allies and trading partners.

The Osage Nation had a number of wars with other Native American tribes, including the Kickapoo, Choctaw, Sequoyah, Cherokee and Comanche tribes. Most notably, the Osage Nation and the Kiowa tribe had a conflict in 1833 in present-day Oklahoma. The Osage decapitated their Kiowa victims in the since-named Cutthroat Gap Massacre, during which no Osage warriors were killed. The incident sparked retaliation from the Kiowa and the Comanche, who had become allies.

The Osage Nation and the U.S. began making treaties in the beginning of the 19th century. The Osage Treaty, which was signed in 1808, marked the first case of Osage lands being ceded to the U.S. That same year, the tribe moved from its homeland in what became central Missouri to the western region of present-day Missouri.

By the 20th century, the Osage people had ceded land in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma and suffered even more hardship by a forced removal from Kansas. In 1907, the tribe negotiated to retain mineral rights on land in the reservation. This proved to be profitable for the Osage Nation's members, because large amounts of crude oil were found there. The Dawes General Allotment Act of 1887 provided a governing body for the Osage: the principal chief, an assistant chief and an eight-member tribal council.

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