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Osage - Epidemics

Due to the United States’ policy of removal, the Osage had been confined to limited areas of the plains along with several emigrant tribes. As Euro-Americans continued to push farther west, an epidemiological crisis was forming. Euro-American epidemic illnesses spread rapidly in the 1850s due to crowding, Euro-American and emigrant tribe migrations, and a lack of immunity among Native Americans. It is estimated that one quarter of the Osage died from epidemics of influenza, cholera, and smallpox between 1829 and 1843. Scurvy, measles, and typhoid epidemics in 1852 killed more than half of the Osage children and many adults. Another smallpox epidemic killed 400 Osage in 1855, and tuberculosis outbreaks spread through the Osage population in 1856.

There were approximately 10,000 Osage in 1830, but after the epidemics the Osage numbered only around 3,500 in 1860. Although this threat to Osage survival was biological, it was the result of institutional policies of American colonialism that created the structures that allowed the epidemics to spread. The Osage were not abandoned by the Catholic missionaries during these years. The Jesuits were the strongest source of aid to the Osage during the epidemics. Father John Bax was called “Father Who is All Heart” by the Osage because he cared for the sick Osage during the epidemics of 1852. Bax eventually died from the epidemic, but he had continued to nurse others while ailing.

The Jesuits finished construction on St. Francis Hall in St. Paul, Kansas in 1869. The structure was first used as a library and then as a parochial school. After the Osage were removed starting after 1870, non-Indian children started to attend the school.

Entry: Osage - Epidemics

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.