For many years, the dominant tribe of Indians in the MOzarks were the Osage. The Osage tribe lived in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys as far back as 700 B.C. and in the 1500s they migrated to the west and, for the next three centuries, occupied at least half of the area that would become Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Many of them lived along the Missouri River and also along the river in Missouri that bears their name. By 1690, they were known to have acquired horses — probably by stealing them from other tribes. Twice a year they would make forays into the Great Plains to hunt buffalo.
Their lands ranged from the Missouri River to the north, the Red River to the south, to the eastern border of the Ozarks and to the western edge of the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and they defended their lands vigorously against the encroachment of other tribes.
The Osages were described in the 1800s by painter George Catlin as “the tallest race of men in North America … many of them six and a half, and others seven feet.” They were noted for being “uncommonly fierce, courageous” and “warlike.”
After the Louisiana Purchase, St. Louis began to grow into the center of the fur trade in the newly-acquired territory. The Osage signed their first treaty with the U.S. in 1808 and ceded 52,480,000 acres in present-day Missouri to the government.
When the U.S. government began moving eastern tribes like the Delawares and the Kickapoos into southwest Missouri in the early 1800s, those tribes were in constant conflict with the Osage. The same was true for the Cherokee who were moved into Osage lands in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma.
The Osage lost more land to the U.S. government with signing of treaties in 1818 and 1825. They were relocated to a reservation in southeast Kansas and then, in 1865, they were relocated to Oklahoma where they purchased the land the government chose for their reservation. Consisting of 1,470,000 acres, it encompasses present-day Osage County in Oklahoma and lies between Tulsa and Ponca City.
There, the three major bands of the tribe each created their own town — Pawhuska, Fairfax and Hominy. In addition to owning their reservation lands, they also retained the mineral rights to those lands.
While the land on which the tribe had been relocated was of poor-quality and not conducive to growing crops — which the U.S. government obviously considered when moving the Osage there — in 1894 it proved more valuable for what lay beneath it. In what can only be considered an ironic twist of fate, oil was discovered beneath the infertile soil of the Osage reservation.
The Osages were able to charge a 10 percent royalty on the sale of all petroleum pumped from their oil fields. This money was divided among all the tribe members listed on the tribal rolls. Each of them had a “headright,” which was an equal share of the communal wealth produced from the sale of their oil.
In 1906, there were 2,228 members on the Osage tribal rolls. Each held a headright and thus a share of the tribal wealth. Additional oil fields were discovered on their lands and they too began producing. The tribe earned $30 million in royalties in 1923. And that $30 million would be equivalent to $400 million in today’s dollars.
Suddenly the Osage, per capita — which means the total wealth of their race divided by the members of their race — were the richest people on the planet. By 1926, the per capita wealth of the Osage nation was $22,674. In contrast, the per capital wealth of the U.S. was only $34.
In the decade and a half before 1926, the Osages were getting rich. They built fine homes, bought expensive motorcars and even hired servants to live in their big homes.
In 1926, newspaper reports claimed that the homes of the Osage in Oklahoma had a total value of $3 million and that they owned $1.2 million worth of motorcars.
Many of the Osage tribal members were not wise in the ways of the “white man’s world,” while a few were. To rectify this situation, the parents began sending their children out to various educational institutions so they could learn to live with their new wealth.
Two such Osage girls were Mary Ware and Opal Revard. According to information from the Crescent College History Project, they both attended Crescent College for Women in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Opal was three years older than Mary, so they started at different times but were still there at the same time in the 1917-1918 school year.
Crescent College was a preparatory school for young ladies and was operated in the Crescent Hotel. Construction on that magnificent edifice was begun in 1884 and it opened in 1886. At that time, Eureka Springs was a booming town of “medicinal springs.” The railroad spur line from Seligman, Missouri to Eureka was completed two years later and visitors flocked to the town.
In 1908, the Crescent College opened in the hotel during the winter months when the hotel had few people staying there. The college was in operation until 1934.
According to information from the Crescent College History Project, Mary and Opal were both from Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and the oil money paid for their education at Crescent College. In 1917, Mary was 17 and in her first year there as a freshman. Opal was 20 years old and a senior and she was president of her class.
Both girls that school year belonged to the Hiking Club, the Riding Club, the Oklahoma Club, and the Indian Club. Opal was a councilperson of the Indian Club and belonged to the Bowling Club — there was a bowling alley in the basement of the Crescent — and to the Glee Club.
Mary was an officer of the Tennis Club and played the mandolin for the college orchestra.
A 1917 newspaper article revealed that Mary and her two brothers each received an annual income at that time of $18,000. Which would be the equivalent in 2017 of more than $200,000. While Mary and Opal seemed to be enjoying the advantages of their wealth, it would not prove to be the same for all the Osage tribal members.
Next week: Immense wealth brings a new set of problems and tragedies to the Osage.