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Osage - Traditional Hunting and Diet

Many aspects of Osage culture revolved around the importance of hunting. Most of the tribe’s conflicts with outsiders were over hunting territory. Although the tribe was highly protective of its hunting territory, there are accounts of the tribe permitting outsiders to hunt in its territory in times of need, provided the outsiders asked for permission first. Even if the Osage had ample reason to dislike the outsiders, granting permission to people in need of food was considered honorable. The Osage had been enemies with the Wichita for hundreds of years, but the Osage granted the Wichita permission to seek food in Osage lands during the Civil War. Although the two tribes were enemies, the Osage did not harm or insult the Wichita, who were facing starvation. When the crisis ended and the Wichita returned to their territory, the adversarial relationship resumed.

Hunting was an activity that involved every member of the tribe who was physically capable of going on the hunt. Osage women participated in hunts, but only the men actually hunted. The women butchered, smoked, and dried the meats and prepared the skins. Women were also responsible for gathering and horticultural activities. The women grew squash, some beans, and corn near rivers and streams. They processed the corn into meal, which could be taken on hunts. The women gathered various nuts, edible roots, and fruits. Although the tribe had a varied diet, the diet revolved around meat, and, therefore, men’s work was awarded more prestige.

The Osage had a special class of men who served as the tribe’s chefs. This class was comprised of primarily aged warriors who needed income. This class devoted most of its time to culinary pursuits. They made preparations for and ran formal feasts. This class also served as messengers for the tribe. The French referred to these old men as marmitons, which translates roughly to chef’s assistants.

The Osage dried meats, sometimes braiding strips together and saturated them in fat before storage in rawhide. Properly prepared meat could last as long as three years using these methods. Marrow and fat were used in various cooking processes. Fry bread was made in boiling bison or bear fat. The Osage made two varieties of sausage. They washed and inverted the intestines of a bison and stuffed them with strips of meat with added water. This sausage was cooked over charcoal embers. The other type of sausage was pemmican. The tribe made pemmican by tightly filling a deer skin bag with smashed bison meat, marrow, suet, nuts, and berries. Pemmican could last for a few years and was consumed as either a raw or cooked meal. Wild persimmons were also a part of the Osage diet and were sometimes prepared as stanica, dried fruit leather that was cut into strips and braided.

Traditional Religion

The Osage religion emphasized balance and harmony. The belief in a need for balance had a profound impact on Osage culture. If the Osage were to rob another individual or group, it would be an act of disharmony. Disharmonious acts upset the unity of the environment. When the environmental balance was broken by a disharmonious act, regret and sadness were expressed to restore balance. Life, both animate and inanimate, was part of the balance of nature. Any killing was a severe act of disharmony. This is why the Osage, though known for their skill in war, preferred not to take a life. Osage warriors had to mourn before and after battles for the enemies that they had slain. Even hunting, which was central to the tribe’s life, could cause disharmony.

The Osage had a ceremony that is referred to as “Striking the Earth.” The ceremony was performed to thank the Great Creator for uniting the sky and earth, which made all life possible. A respected warrior might recite his honors as part of the ceremony. The ceremony involved using an old war club to strike the ground to form the symbol of the sun. Straight lines were made radiating from the sun to the east and west, symbolizing the solar path. Curved lines were drawn radiating from the sun to the north and south to represent the sun’s rays, which gave many benefits. The ceremony was a promise to the creator that the Osage would protect the land.

Traditional Marriage and Divorce

This Osage couple was photographed in front of a lodge during the 1880s.Marriages were traditionally arranged by parents. All Osage marriages were exogamous so that different clans were united by blood bonds. When French men married Osage women, bonds were formed linking the Osage and the French. The Osage were a patrilineal society; children belonged to their father’s clan. This system became more complicated through intermarriage with the French. The prospective husband had to pay bride wealth to the bride’s father as part of the arrangements. Polygyny was permitted in some circumstances. A man had the right to marry his wife’s sisters. It was not uncommon for a widower to marry his sister-in-law. If a husband died, the widow might marry the oldest brother of the deceased husband.

Divorce was permissible and could be initiated by either spouse. If a man wanted to divorce his wife, he moved out of the lodge with his clothing and hunting equipment. If the wife wanted to divorce her husband, she threw his clothing and hunting equipment out of the lodge. In any case the lodge belonged to the wife, who had the majority of the domestic responsibilities. The husband owned only his clothes and hunting gear after a divorce. All children stayed with their mother. A maternal uncle typically served as the children’s male mentor unless the mother remarried. In the case of remarriage, the new husband was called “father” by the children and called the children his sons or daughters.

Entry: Osage - Traditional Hunting and Diet

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.