The Osage Indians

This beautiful spot in the Ozarks with its scenic hills and beautiful valleys has always attracted people down through the pages of history. Crooked Creek flows down through the middle of this territory being one of the few streams that is larger at this point than at is at its mouth where it flows into the White River. Also George's Creek and Johnnie Creek come across from the north and Greasy Creek flows in from the south. With all the crystal clear springs and rich, fertile soil along its banks, this is truly paradise. I can remember when I was a boy people thought nothing about drinking the clean water out of Crooked Creek. But now it is polluted so I would hesitate to take a bath in it let alone drink from it.

As far back as we have any recorded history the Osage Indians were the first to be attracted to this area. They were living here in 1541 when DeSoto, a Spanish explorer, and his party came into this part of northern Arkansas. At this time the Osage Indian Nation extended to the Arkansas River on the south to the Mississippi River on the east and into Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma on the north and west as stated in The History of the North American Indian.

The Osage Indian was not as tall as some of the other Indians being five feet, six inches tall on the average. They were a well developed people that prided themselves in their looks. Being a peace loving people they wouldn't fight unless they were mistreated or attacked by other tribes or other people. When having to fight they were fierce fighters.

I believe thay [sic] had villages all along Crooked Creek and other streams. Arrowheads are found all around here that were probably made by them. They hunted and killed game and caught fish for food. I feel this area supplied their needs in a bountiful way. The Osage also farmed and probably raised the first corn in these parts. It seems thay [sic] built larger wigwams or houses than most Indians at that time. Their buildings were made by using long, slim poles, putting the big end into the ground in a round circle and pulling the tops together. Some wigwams would be 25 feet across with others being in an oblong design. Covering them with bark, animal skins and grass made them almost completely airtight to keep out the rain, snow and cold. A hole was left in the top for the smoke to escape. Similar buildings were also built to store their corn and other things they grew.

As near as I can determine they did more farming tham many of the other tribes and were also great hunters. In talking to Irene's grandmother she thought her parents were born here and lived all their lives here. As a girl she could remember them raising corn and all kinds of vegetables. Her parents didn't move when the other Osage Indians left here. After she married a white trapper they continued to live here and farmed, hunted, trapped and fished in Crooked Creek. They fit in with the early, white settlers and also the other Indian tribes that moved here when they were pushed out by white men in the East. These tribes were mostly the Cherokee and Shawnee. Irene's grandmother said the Shawnee had a settlement or village where Yellville is now located and it was called "Old Shawnee Town". "Little Shawnee Town" was located just south of where the present U.S. Highway 62 crosses Crooked Creek near Pyatt. With each passing year more and more Indians and white settlers moved in. In 1808 the Osage Indian nation made a treaty or agreement with the U.S. Government stating they were to move into Oklahoma and establish their permanent home there.

Irene's Father remembered going with his mother to wash their clothes in the creek. They took his younger brother in a baby carrier on her back. When they reached the creek they hung the baby on a tree limb while his mother went about the task of washing the clothes. This was the way most of the early white settlers washed their clothes.

Irene's grandmother remembered when an Indian baby was born the mother would go to the creek and wash herself and the baby. She would then carry the baby back to the village without any assistance in most cases.

To have a successful hunt, first the rider or hunter had to be a good rider, have a well trained horse and have a good bow and well made arrows. For this reason arrow making was one of the Indian's highest skills for it had to shoot true and straight if they hit their target. The buffalo furnished a lot of their meat supply. Some would be cut into strips and dried in the sun for future use. It also supplied a lot of their clothing, such as robes, leggings, coats, caps and moccasins. Buffalos were also a source for making their buildings, bedding, tools, weapons and utensils. The Indian found a use for almost all of the buffalo and only killed what they needed for food, clothing, etc. However, as the white man moved westward they just about destroyed the buffalo as they went.

A large number of Indians would take part in one of their hunts with the best trained horses and riders being used. Despite the buffalo's heavy, awkward movement they could move at a remarkable speed across the ground. The horses were trained so the rider directed them by the pressure of his knees or weight without using his reins. He would come along side the buffalo at a high speed so the bowman could place the arrow just behind the foreleg at the heart. When the arrow left the bow the rider would place another arrow in his bow as the horse swerved away then on the run come in close again for another shot, doing this until the buffalo was brought down.

My grandfather told about attending some kind of big celebration. The early, white settlers made up enough money to buy a cow to give to the Indians if they would show them how they killed a buffalo. The Indians jumped on their ponies and started the cow to running. One of them came along side of the cow shooting an arrow about all the way through her with a little of the arrow sticking out on the other side. Grandfather said they made short work of it.

In the wagon train bringing some of my ancestors to this area, they had an Indian scout who my grandfather went with and helped along the way. They would ride ahead looking out for campsites, killing enough wild game (deer, turkey) for food and having the camp all set up for the wagon train when it arrived. Some of the families had Negro slaves that traveled with them. Grandfather told about one of the slaves helping them out sometimes. On one accasion he shot a deer with the bullet just creasing it, knocking it down and out for a short time. The slave didn't have time to reload his muzzle loading gun so he just ran over to hold the deer down while he tried to cut its throat. When the deer was coming out of it he was too much of a match for him and it got away. The deer's sharp hoofs tore every stitch of clothing off of him and scratched him all over. Upon arriving back at camp he was a sight for sore eyes.

Grandfather said when he arrived here there were a lot fewer trees than at present and a lot of the country was covered with grass, mostly prairie grass. The early, white hunters with the help of the Indians had about slaughtered all the buffalo for their hides and sold them. However, there were lots of deer and wild turkeys. Also there was a plentiful supply of smaller wild game like squirrel, rabbit and quail. One could grow about anything for food for the ground was very fertile. This is not to say anything about the streams being full of all kinds of fish. This section of northern Arkansas was truly a paradise along with all of its beauty -- a hunter's and trapper's dream come true.

Following are pictures of part of the arrowhead and other Indian artifact collection of Floyd and Irene Burleson. Most of this collection was found on Crooked Creek near where we now live on our farm. I think they were made by the Osage Indians because they were still using them when some of the white settlers came here. Eura Lee, Marie, and Pam, our daughters, helped us find them. It is a collection of darts and spear points, small arrowheads or bird points, awls, scrapers, hoes, axes, celts, digging tools and other things.This village is a four or five acre knoll across the creek from Comal Hill. It must have been a large village from the amount of artifacts that have been found. I believe it was an Osage village.

Picured is my Grandson, Doug Markle, and me visiting with two Cherokee Chiefs at Cherokee village near the town of Cherokee, N.C. The Great Smokey Mountain National Park is nearby.

I must add this little note here I found out about the Osage Indians, it seems they seldom intermaried with other Indian tribes. It has been reported that the mother would hide her daughters, which were very beautiful, when a visitor came from another tribe for fear a romance and marriage would develop. So you see I married one of their descendents who I think is very beautiful.

Grandmother Keeter was a Christian and said her people believed in a Supreme Being and maybe they were more Christian than a lot of religious people today. They also believed that after death they would live again, in other words, they believed in a resurrection. Their belief was strong enough that they buried some of the belongings with them to be used when they arrived in what they called the Happy Hunting Ground. That is why she said her grandparents accepted the Christian faith when they first heard about it from the missionaries who came here.

Reprinted with permission from Treasured Memories of a Beautiful Place in the North Arkansas Ozark Hills by Floyd Burleson, copyright 1989.