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Osage Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Osage Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Osage site for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Osage pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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   Osage Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Osage"? What does it mean?
Osage is pronounced "oh-sage" in English, but in their own language, it is pronounced similar to "wah-zah-zhay." The pronunciation got changed so much because it was first written down by French speakers (who don't have any W in their language and pronounce soft g's like ZH, as in mirage), and then later the word was re-pronounced by English speakers.

Where do the Osages live?
The Osage Indians are original people of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas. Most Osage people live in Oklahoma today.

How is the Osage Indian nation organized?
The Osages live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Osage Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Osages are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Osage band was led by a chief who was chosen by a tribal council. Today, the Osage chief is elected by all the tribal members.

What language do the Osage Indians speak?
The Osage people speak English today. Only a few Osage people, mostly elders, still speak their native Osage language. But some young Osage Indians are working to learn their ancient language again. If you'd like to know an easy Osage word, "howa" (pronounced hoh-wah) is a friendly greeting.

What was Osage culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Osage Tribe. On their site you can find information about the Osage people in the past and today.

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How do Osage Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Osage children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Here is a picture of a hoop game played by Plains Indian kids. An Osage mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Osage tribe?
Osage men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Osage women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Only men became Osage chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Osage homes like in the past?
Most Osage Indians lived in settled villages of round earthen lodges. Osage lodges were made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. When the Osage tribe went on hunting trips, they used buffalo-hide tipis (or teepees) as temporary shelter, similar to camping tents. Here are some pictures of lodges, tipis, and other Indian houses.

Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for housing. Most Osages live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Osage clothing like? Did the Osages wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Osage women wore long deerskin dresses and leggings, which they decorated with fancy beadwork and ribbon applique. Osage men wore breechcloths with leather leggings. The Osages wore moccasins on their feet, and in cold weather, they wore long buffalo-hide robes. Later, Osage people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests. Here is a site with pictures of Osage ceremonial garments, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Osage Indian leaders sometimes wore the long Native American warbonnets that Plains Indians are famous for, but more often, they wore headbands or turban-like caps made of otter fur, with feathers sticking up in the back. Some Osage warriors shaved their heads except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair in back) and wore a porcupine roach on top. Other Osage men wore their hair long. Osage women wore their hair either loose or braided. Both men and women wore tribal tattoos, which were marks of honor that only distinguished warriors and their wives or daughters could earn. All Osages could paint their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Osage people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Osage transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
No--the Osage Indians didn't live near the ocean. When they traveled over land, the Osages used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.

What was Osage food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Osage Indians were big game hunters. They especially liked to hunt buffalo. Traditionally, Osage men hunted buffalo by driving them off cliffs, but once they acquired horses, the men hunted buffalo on horseback instead. Osage women worked together to raise crops of corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. Here is a website with more information about American Indian crops.

What were Osage weapons and tools like in the past?
Osage hunters used bows and arrows. The Osage were known for their especially well-made longbows. In war, Osage men fired their bows or fought with war clubs and spears. Here is a website with pictures and information about weapons of Native Americans.

What other Native Americans did the Osage tribe interact with?
The Osages traded regularly with other tribes of the Great Plains and the Western Plateau. Osage traders often delivered goods between southern tribes like the Comanches and northern tribes like the Sioux. These tribes usually communicated using the Plains Sign Language.

The Osages also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes treated war differently than European countries did. They didn't fight over territory but instead to prove their courage, and so Plains Indian war parties rarely fought to the death or destroyed each other's villages. Instead, their war customs included counting coup (touching an opponent in battle without harming him), stealing an enemy's weapon or horse, or forcing the other tribe's warriors to retreat. Some tribes the Osages frequently fought with included the Caddo and Kiowa.

What are Osage arts and crafts like?
Osage artists are famous for their woodcarving and beadwork. Here is a museum website with photographs of different Osage art forms.

What kinds of stories do the Osages tell?
There are lots of traditional Osage legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Osage Indian culture. Here is one story about how the spider became the symbol of the Osage tribe.

What about Osage religion?
Sorry, but we cannot help you with religious information. Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Osage religious beliefs or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy a biography of famous Osage dancer Maria Tallchief, such as Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina. If you want to know more about Osage culture and history, two good books for kids are North American Indians Today: Osage and Native Peoples: The Osage. A more advanced book for older kids is The Osage in Missouri. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Osage Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Osages

Osage Indian Tribe
An overview of the Osage people, their language and history.

Osage Language Resources
Osage language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Osage Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Osage tribe past and present.

Osage Words
Osage Indian vocabulary lists.

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