Before the white man arrived in our neighborhood, this was Osage Territory, the largest of the prairie tribes, and they controlled much of today’s Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. As East Coast Americans continually pushed the eastern native tribes inland those various tribes came in conflict with the Osage. While the Osage fought all the eastern tribe intrusions, the most powerful group they had to contend with was the Cherokee.

The Cherokee came from the mountains of Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas and began appearing in the forests along the lower Arkansas River as early as 1786. As conditions became crowded and inhospitable back east, those Cherokee who wanted to continue their hunting life moved along the Arkansas, St. Francis and White Rivers, and by 1806 there were about 600 Cherokee taking fur-bearing animals along the edges of the Missouri-Arkansas Ozarks. These people were also joined by some Choctaw, Shawnee and Delaware and they were settling on Osage controlled hunting grounds. So naturally the Osage rose to meet this intrusion by attacking and robbing any Indians they encountered.

The migration of southeastern Indians in the area, however, continued to grow, and by 1816 nearly 6,000 Cherokee had settled in the area. These Cherokee intruders of Osage country were well armed and skilled hunters. When the two groups happened to meet on hunting expedition’s, violence always ensued as both tribes struggled for control of the territory.

The cultural demands for retribution were different among the Osage and the Cherokee. The Osage would accept payment instead of blood revenge. A murderer could ‘cover the dead’ with gifts and this was culturally acceptable to the Osage. To the Cherokee however, payment was never sufficient compensation for murder, they demanded blood. A single Cherokee killed by an outsider could cause an unending war. So, their differences were impossible to settle.

In 1816, the Cherokee went to St. Louis to complain to Gov. William Clark about Osage thefts and attacks, hoping to arrange a peace treaty. However, peace didn’t last long and the competition continued to escalate between the two tribes.

The Cherokee finally had enough and decided to exact revenge, apparently because the Osage had stolen all of their best horses leaving them afoot. They waited until October, knowing that most of the Osage men would be out on the plains for the fall hunt, and moved against an Osage village filled with food for the winter, which was protected only by old men, women and children.

Five hundred Cherokee, joined by Choctaw, Chickasaw, and several whites, converged outside the village. They sent a messenger in urging them to send out a few Osage for a powwow. Since all of the chiefs were off hunting, they sent only one old former leader. The Cherokee immediately hacked him to death, and then sure that the warriors were all gone, destroyed the village. They killed 38 Osage and captured more than 100 as slaves. The raiders stole what they could carry away, and destroyed the rest of the food caches, before setting fire to the village. This would become known as the “Claremore Mound Massacre.”

When the Osage returned they were furious and began plans for retaliation. The Osage invited several old enemies to come and meet with them. Members of the Shawnee, Delaware, Creek, Quapaw, Kansa and Mesquakie were offered more than 100 fine horses to assist in the raid on the Cherokee. The Indians all accepted the horses, but only the Mesquakie promised any help.

The government, in hopes of staving off the retaliatory attack, called for peace and quickly established Fort Smith and demanded the Osage turn over lands to the Cherokee in hopes of ending their war. But, I doubt that worked very well either.

Reference: “The Osage” by Willard H. Rollings.

Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.

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