The Kaws And Osages
Source: Legends Of The Kaw
The Dakotas were strongly represented in the Kaw Valley and vicinity by
the Kansas or Kaw Indians and the Osages. In some respects there was a
similarity of manners and customs between these branches and the
original stock, in others a radical difference was noted.
The practice of shaving all of the head except a small place around the
crown--the scalp lock, which was reserved for the enemy, should he be
able to secure it--was adhered to by the Kaws and the Osages, while the
old Sioux law seems to have sanctioned scalping the entire head.
However, when compelled to hurry, they took a small section from any
part of the head. For the purpose of decorating themselves, many of the
Kansas cut the upper and outer edge of each ear, drawing it down so as
to form a large ring, reaching to the shoulder. To this circle
ornaments were attached. The tribe retained savage proclivities long
after their neighbors had become partially or altogether reconciled to
the habits of the pale-face; and were tall of stature and physically
well developed, but decidedly inferior in mind and morals, being a
constant source of annoyance to both the white citizens and more
One day a golden-haired girl stood by the side of her father, at the
door of their home in Kansas City, Kansas, (then Wyandotte) when a
number of Kaws filed through the gate and up to the house. Their chief,
through an interpreter, formally tendered a horse and several fine
blankets in exchange for the "squaw with the hair like the rising sun."
Receiving an indignant refusal, he emitted a disappointed "Ugh! ugh!"
and turning slowly, rode down the street with his warriors.
A lady who resided at Westport when it was a hamlet of not more than
eight or ten houses, was surprised, on entering her kitchen one morning,
to see, standing before the stove warming himself, a huge Kaw, entirely
nude save for the blanket extended across his outspread arms. Almost in
terror, the woman gasped out, "Puck-a-chee! puck-a-chee!" (go away).
Deliberately, and with evident amusement at her fright, the savage took
The main village of the Kaws, that of American Chief, was situated two
miles east of Manhattan, Kansas. It was composed of one hundred and
twenty dirt lodges, of good size. A large portion of the tribe was
located, with Fool Chief, on the north bank of the Kansas River, in and
near Topeka. Later, by a treaty with the United States, this land, with
the exception of a few hundred acres reserved and divided among those in
whom white blood predominated, was ceded to the Government. The majority
of the people removed, first, to Council Grove, and then to the Indian
They delighted, for many years, to talk of
THE VICTORY WHICH MADE WA-HON-GA-SHEE A FAMOUS CHIEF.
There had been frequent, hard-fought battles with the Pawnees, who,
being superior in numbers, had usually obtained the victory. However,
the Great Spirit punished them when, at last, a small band was
discovered, just at nightfall, by a strong party of Kaws.
Revenge, always sweet to the barbarian, was now assured. Surrounding the
foe under cover of darkness, the Kaws, commanded by Wa-hon-ga-shee (No
Fool), waited patiently for daylight.
Twenty-four hours before going on the war-path a council had been held
in the celebrated grove from which the present city takes its name, and
every warrior who had joined the preliminary dance, had fasted from that
time until the moment of departure. Their leader, together with the
medicine men, had long abstained from food, in anticipation of the
event. Other matters having been arranged, the line of men rode out
of the village, carrying many an anxious good-speed from wives and
mothers. Children, half-clothed, huddled together in awe-stricken
groups, or sought maternal protection. Old men and maidens gazed with
hopeful pride on sons and sweethearts.
Over the plains passed the braves, almost from view, when, by some
mischance, their chief slipped and fell. Quickly recognizing an
unfavorable omen, he gave the signal for return, and the entire
community joined in incantations to dispel future disaster. Again the
war party went forth, coming upon the Pawnees, who, all unconscious of
approaching danger, lay encamped for the night. Guards had been
stationed at proper intervals, and the ponies corralled, in order that
they might not wander away.
All seemed quiet until near morning. Faintly the sounds of awakening
Nature broke the silence of the prairie. The Kaws began to close in upon
the enemy, crawling stealthily through the grass. Gray dawn appeared;
then a red streak became visible in the east. The assailants rose with
a terrible war-whoop and rushed upon their sleeping victims. Even the
guards were surprised. Reports of rifles and fierce shouts from
infuriated men mingled with the shrieks of the wounded and dying. Knives
struck pitilessly into the breasts of the Pawnees, who, stupefied by the
sudden attack, were easily overcome. Blood flowed freely. Deftly a small
circle was described upon the head of each one, the scalp torn off, and
the reeking trophy attached to the belt of the slayer. Then, when
destruction was complete, and death had swept the camp, leaving not a
member of the little band alive, the victors gathered up the spoils and
journeyed home in triumph. Ninety dead bodies, mutilated examples of the
effects of savage warfare, were scattered over the field of battle.
Now, preparations for the dance were in progress. Musicians brought
forth flutes and tom-toms--rude drums made from powder kegs with
raw-hides stretched over the ends--while the women busied themselves in
making ready and cooking meat and cereals for the feast.
The warriors, in a circle, commenced the celebration with low
ejaculations and slow movements not unlike a march, gradually increasing
speed, and changing step until it became a wild rush of many feet,
accompanied by howls of exultation. Then all was still for a moment, and
two beautiful girls, dressed in almost Oriental costume, and carrying
red fringed umbrellas, broke into the center of the ring and danced with
the utmost grace and abandon. Next followed the process of paying debts.
It was the custom for creditors to allow debtors the privilege of paying
off old scores, at a dance of triumph, by standing in the center of the
circle and submitting to sound beatings, at one dollar a blow.
An old squaw had tried in vain to collect the sum of twelve dollars from
a young man. Desiring to end her importunities for money, he advanced
and stood, the object of all eyes, in stoical forbearance, while she
administered, to the full extent of her power, the requisite amount of
As usual, the Kaws had buried their most valuable goods previous to
undertaking the foregoing expedition. First, a large cavity had been
made in the ground and the articles placed inside. These were covered
with sticks and branches, earth being piled on top and stamped down. In
a violent effort to bestow the last blow effectively, the old woman
caused this structure to give way and sank into the chasm, to the great
diversion of spectators--for the Indians, among themselves, on such a
day, were prone to cast dignity to the winds.
Frequently, Osages and Kaws were employed to perform special police
duty. It gave them a sense of responsibility that had a tendency to
prevent mischief. Even in this capacity, they were governed by
superstition. At night, when ready to give place to another watchman,
each brave, before going home, went to the fire, gathered a handful of
ashes and rubbed it on his head to keep away the witches.
Death was mourned, not only by relatives, but by professionals, hired
for a period of two weeks. Pasting the hair on top of the head with mud,
they united in a series of groans and wails, dismal beyond description.
These strange songs had words, probably recounting the virtues and
wonderful deeds of the dead. Wrapped in his blanket and provided with
food and drink, trinkets and valuables, with all that he considered most
desirable, the warrior was lowered to his last resting-place, a favorite
horse having been killed that the spirit might ride to the Happy Hunting
The Osages were once the most powerful people west of the Mississippi
River. They owned a vast territory and had remained in possession over
three hundred years; but were forced eventually to cede the greater
portion to the Government. Nevertheless they are the wealthiest of the
Indians. The tribe was divided originally into three bands, the Little
Osages, the Grand and the Black Dog Band. They were tall and
fine-looking, the young, able-bodied men being hunters and warriors,
while the old men were doctors and cooks. Upon entering a village, a
stranger was expected to present himself first at the lodge of the
chief, and there partake of food. A general feast followed. The cook
stood outside and called, in a loud voice:
"Come and eat. White Hair (or whomsoever it might be) gives a feast."
When traveling, the Osages made lodges in the shape of wagon-tops, of
bent trees covered with skins or blankets.
A native orator, speaking of the good qualities of his people, said:
"Are we brave and valiant? Behold Dakota scalps drying in the smoke of
our cabins. Are we strong? Here is the bow of an Osage boy--bend it. Are
our women beautiful? Look at them and be convinced."
Despite the fact that civilization has penetrated even remote portions
of the United States, and its effects are felt in a greater or less
degree by every savage nation, the Osages in the Indian Territory have
returned to many of the old barbarous customs. They had a unique
creation story. Old people used to talk of a man, the first of the race,
who came out of a shell. They said:
"The father of our nation was a snail, who passed a quiet, happy
existence on the banks of our own river. His wants were few and well
supplied. He seldom hunted, going out only when driven by hunger to seek
food, and taking whatever could be most easily obtained. Thus lived our
great forefather, the snail."
According to the tradition, there was a storm and the river burst over
its banks and swept everything before it. The snail, seated on a log,
was carried along down the stream and deposited at last upon a bed of
slime. He was contented and had enjoyed the travel, since it had
required no exertion. Now, he found himself in a strange country. It was
very warm and the sun came out and baked the earth in which he was
embedded. It was impossible to move. Then, feeling a change, he began
to grow and developed into a man, tall, strong and perfect. At first,
the new being was stupefied; but with returning memory, he realized that
he had once been a snail, and immediately set out for his former home.
Arrived on the banks of the Osage River, he became faint from hunger.
Game was plenty, but he knew not how to catch it. There were birds and
fish, but no means of reaching them. He lay down to die. A soft voice
broke the silence. The man looked up and saw, mounted on a noble,
snow-white animal, a being like nothing seen on earth. It was tall and
mighty, having eyes like stars. The Osage trembled. The gentle voice
"Why does he who is the kernel of the snail look terrified? Why is he
faint and weary?"
"I tremble because I fear thy power and quail before the lightning of
thine eye. I am faint because I lack food."
Then said the Great Spirit: "Be composed. The Master of Breath punishes
not till sin is committed. Thou hast not sinned; be calm. But art thou
"I have eaten nothing since I ceased to be a snail."
The Great Spirit drew from under his robe a bow and arrows, and taught
the man to shoot. He killed a deer and was told to cover himself with
its skin. The Great Spirit made fire and told him to use it for cooking
One day, when hunting, the man went to a river to drink, and saw, in the
water, a beaver hut, on which the chief of the family was sitting. The
animal asked who he was and what he was looking for; and was informed
that the Osage had no home and came to the river to quench his thirst.
The beaver said:
"You seem to be a reasonable man. You may come and live with me. My
family is large and there are many daughters. Should any of them be
pleasing in your sight, you may marry." The Indian accepted the offer
and married one of the beaver's daughters. They had many children, from
whom the Osage people are descended. To this day, the members of the
tribe refrain from killing the beaver, which is regarded as sacred.
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