The small hill to your right was once the site of an Osage Indian village. More than 300 years ago, this site would have been covered with large, rectangular homes for a tribe of people who have become a symbol of history on the prairie.
This site is the earliest known Osage village site in western Missouri. It is located within a small area of about 12 miles by 10 miles, where almost all of the Osage sites and early European sites relating to the Osage in Missouri are found.
Much of the history of the Osage Indians before the arrival of Europeans remains a mystery. The Osage may have developed from other groups already living in the area or split off from another group such as the Kansa. They spoke the same language as other Indians in the area, including the Kansa, Omaha, and Ponca. Many of the items they made, such as pottery, appear similar to those made by these tribes. When first encountered by Europeans, they had not been living in western Missouri more than 50 years.
The Osage often made their homes near major streams on the margin of the prairie. The Osage way of life centered on hunting, although they also cultivated some crops.
Osage houses were made from poles that were bent and fastened to posts in the ground. The framework was covered with woven mats and hides. Houses were rectangular, measuring 30 to 50 feet long and 15 to 20 feet wide. Doorways were on the long side of the house and always faced east.
House interiors probably appeared cluttered, with mats, skins, and baskets covering much of the floor. Shallow pits in the floor were used for fireplaces while deeper pits were used for storage. Common items in the houses included pottery cooking vessels, wooden serving bowls, shell or bone spoons, and gourds for water containers.
Food and other items that needed to be kept away from the dogs were hung from posts and rafters or in skin bags. Strings of cooked dry corn, water-lily roots, persimmon cakes, and dried squash and pumpkin often were hung from posts.
Outside the houses, racks were set up for drying meat and vegetables to eat, and for plants to be woven into mats. Some were dried in the sun, while others had small, slow-burning fires below them to hasten the drying process.
Skins of animals were staked on the ground or hung from wooden trusses. Women worked the skins into a usable state or processed them for trading. The first step was to remove the flesh on the inside of the skin by scraping it. If the hide was to be used as a robe, the hair was left attached. If the skin was used for clothing, it was stretched by spreading it over a log and rubbing it with a bone. It was then softened by pulling it through a small hole in a log.
Gardening was done by the women of the village. Corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins were planted in April. Using a bison scapula hoe, the soil was hilled into a mound. A hole was then punched with a digging stick and the seed planted.
The gardens were usually left unattended because most of the village went hunting in the summer. They returned in August so the women could harvest the crops. Squash and pumpkins were peeled, then cut in strips to dry. Corn was stored in all forms - on the cob, kerneled, and ground.
Hunting was an important part of the Osage way of life. The hunting cycle began in February or March when they began to hunt bear and beaver. They returned to the village in April to plant gardens. In May, the summer hunt for bison and deer began. They returned to the village in August to harvest the crops. The fall hunt for bison and deer began in September and lasted until December.
Although the men did the hunting, the women were along to butcher the animals, dry the meat, and prepare the skins. They also gathered food, such as persimmons and nuts, as well as medicinal plants.