Member of an American Indian people who originally inhabited the Ohio River Valley, but had migrated to western Missouri by the 17th century. Their language, almost extinct, belongs to the Siouan family. One of the fiercest of the Plains Indians, the seminomadic Osage practised agriculture and buffalo hunting. Their complex institutions and culture reflected Osage understanding of the cosmos; for example, clans were divided into ‘earth people’ and ‘sky people’, with different ceremonial responsibilities. In the mid-19th century they were relocated to Kansas and finally Oklahoma, where most remain although many live and work throughout the USA. Most are now Christian. They number about 7,700 (2000).
Traditionally the Osage lived in semi-permanent villages consisting of rectangular framed and skin-, bark-, or thatch-covered longhouses arranged to the north and south of an open space that was used for council meetings and religious ceremonies. Maize (corn) farming was supplemented by hunting buffalo, deer, bear, and beaver. When buffalo hunting they lived in circular tepees. The tribe consisted of patrilineal clans (membership passing through the father's line) organized into two groups which represented the earth and the sky. Earth clans, the Tsizho, were responsible for ceremonies concerning food and war; sky clans, the Hunka, were in charge of securing the aid of the spirits. Most men shaved their heads, leaving a scalp-lock from the forehead to the back of the neck that distinguished clan membership. The sky clans lived on the north side of the village, the earth clans on the south. The Osage recited the history of creation to each newborn infant. The majority are now Christian, but a declining number belong to the Native American Church, which uses the hallucinogenic peyote cactus in its rituals. Few Osage still speak the native language.
The Osage are believed to have originated in the Ohio River Valley, but some time before European contact they migrated to western Missouri where they lived until 1825 when they ceded their lands to the USA in exchange for a reservation in Kansas. Most had moved onto the reservation by 1839. Here they continued to hunt buffalo and formed military alliances with other Plains Indian tribes. They also rejected white culture and continued to dress in skins.
Increasing pressure by white settlers after 1850 forced them to sell part of their reservation, and in 1868 they were forced to sell their remaining land in Kansas to a railway company. They used proceeds to purchase land in Indian Territory. In the late 19th century oil was discovered on the Osage reservation and when they were forced to accept allotment of their lands to individuals in 1906 they managed to retain all mineral rights on the reservation. Royalties are divided per capita, making the Osage uniquely wealthy. In 1925 each Osage was receiving $13,200 per year. Not surprisingly the number of American Indians claiming Osage ancestry increased eight-fold between 1920 and 1970.