Osage-Cherokee War

The arrival of white-dominated American civilization did not inaugurate encroachment upon and conquering of Native lands in the American Southwest—or elsewhere on the North American continent. Long before, the tribes themselves threatened, feuded with, stole from, conquered, enslaved, and slaughtered one another. Over a span of centuries, the Osages migrated all the way from the Ohio Valley to Oklahoma, attacking and displacing other tribes as they went. In Oklahoma, they violently forced two of the area’s earliest inhabitants—the Wichitas and Caddos—south, across Red River.


The Cherokees, meanwhile—at first offered inducements by the U.S. government to migrate from the Southeast—began, without permission, to hunt lands taken from other tribes by the Osages in northern Arkansas Territory and northeastern present Oklahoma. That hunting led to the harvesting of game for food, furs, and sale the Osages might otherwise have garnered for themselves. The Cherokees hunted Osage lands, then the Osages attacked and attempted to slaughter the hunting parties.


In 1816, the United States government brought the warring tribes together near present Muskogee to make peace. The terms of the government’s Lovely Purchase—so named for Indian subagent and Major William L. Lovely—called for the Osages to cede seven million acres of territory they controlled in northeastern present Oklahoma to the U.S., in return for lands in Kansas Territory, cash, and forgiveness of debts. The federal government intended the Cherokees to receive the land promptly, hoping the majority of the tribe remaining in the southeast would migrate to it.


With the treaty signed, everyone went home—and the intertribal violence continued to escalate. In 1817, vengeance-seeking Cherokees, enraged over continued Osage raids, murder, and plunder, and accompanied by Shawnees and Delawares, ambushed an Osage village near present Claremore in the Battle of Claremore Mound. Most of the village’s warriors had gone out hunting for food and the Cherokees decimated it, in the words of Thomas Nuttall, “forgetting the claims of civilization.” They killed around 100 people and took over 100 women and children captive, while losing one Delaware warrior.


The Osages had likely never suffered such a devastating blow from another Indigenous tribe. The sanguinary feud threatened to engulf American settlers along the Missouri-Arkansas border. This led by the end of the year to the United States establishing Fort Smith, the first American stronghold in the Southwest, at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, nearly astride the modern boundary of Oklahoma and Arkansas.


Osages Relent


Fort Smith, a series of U.S. government-guided treaties—including an 1818 reaffirmation of Lovely’s Purchase—payoffs to both tribes, and the 1824 construction of Fort Gibson, a new federal outpost farther west and in the midst of the disputed land, stymied the Osage-Cherokee violence. Still, bloodshed continued to spike periodically into the mid-1820s. By then, the growing population of Western Cherokees had pushed the Osages westward into the prairie country of modern Osage County (the largest county in the state of Oklahoma), with the Cherokees residing just to the east and south in northeastern Indian Territory and northern and western Arkansas Territory.


Battered by the Cherokees, shrinking in numbers, beset with debts to other tribes, and aware a tidal wave of white settlers now loomed to the east in Arkansas and north in Missouri, the Osages in 1825 formally relinquished all claims to Indian Territory land. They retained only a 50-mile-wide strip across part of southern Kansas Territory.


Despite this lamentable train of inter-tribal warfare, John Jolly, Western Cherokee Principal Chief through most of the period, opposed the eye-for-an-eye philosophy against the Osages advocated by his “dauntless” War Chief Tatatoka and The Bowl. Jolly’s views perhaps stemmed from his championing both the spiritual and educational efforts of Presbyterian Cephas Washburn and other American Christian missionaries. The majority of the Western Cherokees supported Jolly’s advocacy of diplomacy with the Osages, and they outlawed the traditional practice of clan revenge.

 

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Oklahomans Vol 2 :

Ancient-Statehood

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