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Osage - Europeans and the Missouri Fur Trade

This photograph of Peter Perrier, chief judge of the Osage, was taken during the 1880s. Perrier was half Osage and half French. The marriages between the Osage and French resulted in a number of tribal members with French ancestry and names. Europeans interested in fur trading had to establish relations with the Osage due to the tribe’s strength and their strategic location along navigable rivers that were critical to the development of trade routes. Osage relations with the French started in the early 1700s. Osage and French relations in Missouri were good prior to 1725, but the relationship was strained when the French attempted to pass through Osage territory to reach Spanish territories to the west for trade without Osage permission or escort. Despite minor tensions, the Osage were intensely loyal to the French. The Osage fought along with the French during the French and Indian or Seven Years War. The French introduced European trade to the Osage, giving them access to European technologies that provided an advantage over other tribes. French men also intermarried with Osage women, thereby establishing blood ties. The Osage were not friendly with the Spaniards or British, who made no attempts at understanding or respecting the Osage and their culture the way the French had. Europeans involved in trade were forced to deal with the Osage, who were the dominant tribe involved in the fur trade along the Missouri River, or suffer economically. Nearly half of all trade along the Missouri River from 1775 to 1776 was with the Osage.

Exodus from Missouri

From 1785 to 1870 a few key Osage villages were clustered along the Neosho-Grand River in present-day Kansas. This area formed an anchor point for the approaching shift in Osage territory. The Osage in Missouri faced problems with Euro-Americans intruding in their territory by 1808. Some of the Missouri Osage moved to present-day Kansas, while others moved to present-day Oklahoma between 1808 and 1820. A massive movement of Osage from Vernon County, Missouri, to present-day Neosho County, Kansas, occurred between 1820 and 1825.

The treaty of 1825 between the Osage and the United States provided a buffer zone 25 miles wide by 50 miles long between Osage villages and the Missouri border. This zone was referred to as the Osage Neutral Lands but was later given to the Cherokee and renamed the Cherokee Neutral Lands. The goal of the neutral land strip was to maintain Osage and Euro-American relations as Euro-Americans settled farther west. The neutral land concept failed because Euro-Americans settled in the neutral lands illegally without consequence from the United States government. The Osage had mostly been driven from their home territory in Missouri by 1825.

Louisiana Purchase and the Osage-Cherokee Wars

This is a portrait of William Clark who served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Louisiana Territory from 1809 to 1812 and as governor of Missouri Territory from 1813 to 1820. He was an important leader in as Euro-Americans started to settle and eastern tribes were pushed into Osage territory.The Louisiana Purchase brought a new threat to the Osage. They occupied a significant portion of the southeast quarter of the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, which interfered with the United States’ ambitions for the area. Thomas Jefferson first proposed Indian removal as a policy in 1803, which initiated a series of events that would plague the Osage. The tribe was frustrated by Indians that were being forced westward and encroaching on their eastern hunting grounds. Sac and Fox, Kickapoo, Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, Chippewa, Munsee, Ottawa, Illinois, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, Wyandot, and other tribes were removed into Osage lands. The Cherokee moved into Osage territory in present-day Arkansas from Tennessee and Georgia around 1808, triggering the Osage-Cherokee Wars.

The Osage-Cherokee Wars were the direct result of the United States government’s policy of Indian removal. The Osage village of Pasuga at the foot of Claremore’s Mound in present-day Oklahoma was the scene of one of the bloodiest Native American massacres in modern history. The Massacre at Claremore’s Mound occurred in the fall of 1817. The Cherokee allied with Choctaw, Shawnee, Delaware, Caddo, Tankawa, Comanche, Coushatta, and some Euro-Americans to invade Osage camps, while all able-bodied Osage men, women, and older children left to hunt on the plains. A Cherokee runner was sent to request negotiations with the Osage. An elderly Osage chief accepted an offer of food and drink but was killed by the Cherokee. This act violated Osage customs regarding the rules of war. Fourteen elderly Osage men and 69 elderly Osage women and young children were killed when Pasuga was attacked. More than 100 Osage children were taken captive; only a few were ever returned to the Osage. The extreme violence of the Osage-Cherokee Wars is an example of the extremely bitter conflicts that result from the displacement of ethnic groups by the state.

Entry: Osage - Europeans and the Missouri Fur Trade

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.