Kristie Wolferman’s narrative of the Missouri Osage is a light read originally meant specifically for “adult new readers”. It is written in easy to understand, non-academic language, but is detailed enough to give a good overview of the history of the Osage from the time of first contact to their ultimate end in Indian Territory.
The Osage were a semi-nomadic prairie people whose territory covered most of the Ozarks, from the Missouri and Osage Rivers in northern Missouri down to the Arkansas River in central Arkansas. The origin of the Osage is still debated among archaeologists and other scholars, but they are believed to have become a distinct people around 1500. With no writing system of their own, their history begins with European contact around 1700.
The Osage were by all accounts a handsome group, with the men usually topping six feet tall. This height was to their advantage as they were a warlike people who fought with every Native American group they had contact with and stubbornly resisted peacemaking attempts by the Europeans who wanted to conduct trade with all the natives. Deeming death in battle the ultimate honor, the Osage did not understand the Europeans desire for peace any more than they understand the repeated change of leadership among the white men attempting to control their people and their territory. As European influence in the Louisiana Territory changed from France to Spain, then back to France again and finally to America, the survival of the Osage and their culture became increasingly in doubt.
Lewis and Clark’s “Corps of Discovery” opened up Missouri to a multitude of new settlers who invaded Osage lands. Compounding the problem for the Osage were Native Americans from the eastern United States who were being forced into Missouri and Arkansas, thus reducing the Osage territory even further. Though Indian Agent William Clark promised the Osage their own lands forever and assured them that Americans were “strictly forbidden to disturb…their nation” (57), this was a promise he found impossible to keep. Along with many of the eastern Native Americans, the Osage would eventually face life on a reservation in Indian Territory.
The Osage in Missouri is quick and easy to read and provides a good vantage point for further study for students of Native American history. It may be read quickly and easily by readers not looking for a detailed history of the Osage and the Ozarks. The most details provided in the book are about the journey of Lewis and Clark and are mostly unnecessary to the story of the Osage. Nonetheless, The Osage in Missouri is certainly worth the short time it will take to read and learn a little about the history of Native American life in Missouri.