The History and Future
of the Osage People.
Osage, LLC is a division of the Osage Nation. We are a proud, resourceful and resilient people, proven by our history and heritage. Discover more about our past, and partner with us for a prosperous future.
“People of the Middle Waters.”
“Osage” is an English rendering of how the French pronounced our name. Our original name was Ni-u-Kon-ska, or “People of the Middle Waters.” According to one of our creation myths, the four winds gathered the flood waters of the earth, creating the great rivers we called the Middle Waters. Our paleolithic ancestors ranged from the fork of the Ohio River to the Mississippi and beyond, where we lived off the land and hunted for hundreds of years. In 1,200 AD, our people began their journey westward.
Proud and defiant.
Following the arrival of European settlers and the march of colonialism, our story became one of battles and broken promises, including bloody wars with other Native tribes such as the Iroqouis and Cherokee. During this time we continued to pass down our culture and traditions. We dressed in our traditional clothing, and built our homes as we had done for hundreds of years. Most importantly, we continued teaching our rituals to every new generation, just as our ancestors had always done.
Our largest band lived on a Kansas reservation for more than a hundred years. But when the U.S. government was pressured to open all Native lands to settlers, our Kansas reservation was sold. In 1872 we relocated to Indian Territory, in present-day Oklahoma. Neither the U.S. government nor our people could have possibly predicted the bounty the land had buried beneath, the wealth it would bring, or the horrors that would transpire.
Million Dollar Elm and The Osage Reign of Terror.
Oil was discovered on our reservation in the late 1800s. Starting in 1912, the world’s most powerful oilmen would come to Osage lands to bid on leases worth millions of dollars under the shade of a tree, which became known as the “Million Dollar Elm.” By the 1920s our people became the wealthiest per capita in the world. But while our wealth brought prosperity to our people, it also brought tragedy, greed and even murder.
Under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906, our tribe was paid mineral lease royalties by the U.S. government, with the money evenly distributed among allottees in the form of headrights. When the headright’s owner died it passed down to their immediate heir—even if that heir was not Osage. From 1920 to 1925 there were more than 60 mysterious or unsolved murders involving Osage headright holders. The murder victims’ headrights — and the considerable wealth they brought — fell into the hands of their non-Osage relatives or even court-appointed custodians, as the federal government believed the Osages were incapable of managing their own financial affairs.
The Reign of Terror finally ended with the arrest of the wealthy rancher William K. Hale, the self-proclaimed “King of the Osage Hills,” though the conspiracy went far beyond Hale. While Hale was sentenced to life in prison in 1929, he only served 18 years and was paroled in 1947. In 1925, the U.S. Congress passed a law prohibiting non-Osages from inheriting headrights from tribal members with more than one-half Osage blood.
From World War to the Modern World.
Our people were still not granted U.S. citizenship in the early 1900s. However, our brave men served in World War I in record numbers, making up the highest percentage of any ethnic group. We answered the call again during World War II and once more had the highest percentage of people from any ethnic group to serve.
While our people have been struck by tragedy, we have not been defined by it. Today, we hold more graduate degrees than ever before, and proudly share our culture through language and craft classes, museums and memorials. We are now 20,000 strong, with a diverse economy centered on gaming entertainment, construction, information technology, commercial enterprises, and more. As far as we have come, we believe we are just getting started.