Excerpt from: Osage Nation NAGPRA Claim for Human Remains Removed from the Clarksville Mound Group (23PI6), Pike County, Missouri by Andrea A. Hunter, James Munkres, and Barker Fariss, Osage Nation Historic Preservation Office, Pawhuska, OK (2013) pp. 1-60.


Ancestral Osage Geography

 by Dr. Andrea A. Hunter

            The following summary of Osage and ancestral Osage geography is derived from archaeological data, oral traditions, historical, and linguistic evidence provided in this report to prove a shared group identity between the Clarksville Mound Group inhabitants and the Osage Nation. The Osage are identified as a Dhegiha Siouan language speaking tribe along with the Omaha, Ponca, Kaw, and Quapaw. According to Osage and Dhegiha Siouan oral tradition, the origin of the Dhegiha Siouan tribes is in the Ohio River valley. During the Middle Woodland period, A.D. 200 to A.D. 400, the Dhegiha as a group, started migrating down the Ohio River valley to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. During the Late Woodland period, A.D. 400 to A.D. 500, the Dhegiha tribes (minus the Quapaw) migrated up the central Mississippi River valley settling in the St. Louis area as well as traveling outward from the valley following the various river drainages into the interior of what are now Missouri and Illinois. During the latter part of the Late Woodland (A.D. 900) and Emergent Mississippian, (A.D. 1000) periods, larger groups of the Dhegiha Siouan tribes focused their settlement strategy in the Cahokia/St. Louis area. At the onset of the Mississippian period, A.D. 1000, those who would later become the Omaha and Ponca tribes separated from the other two remaining Dhegiha Siouan tribes. At some point after the Omaha and Ponca departure, the Kaw separated and traveled up the Missouri River during the Middle Mississippian period, A.D. 1200-A.D. 1250. Those who would later become the Osage were the last remaining Dhegiha Siouan tribe in the Cahokia/St. Louis area. At the end of the Mississippian period, A.D. 1300, the Osage shifted their settlement pattern and moved westward to focus primarily within the central and western portions of the state of Missouri. At the onset of the historic period large groups of the Osage were located along the Missouri and Osage rivers.



by Dr. Andrea A. Hunter

            Linguistic evidence does not directly support the claim of affiliation to the Clarksville Mound Group human remains. However, recent linguistic research is provided to highlight Robert Rankin’s (2006) findings regarding Dhegiha Siouan language. Rankin’s conclusions directly support the Dhegiha Siouan oral traditions/historical evidence presented above regarding tribal origins and migrations that set the foundation for a determination of shared group identify through a Late Woodland to Mississippian/Cahokia to Osage ancestral line.

            In the past, linguistic analysis, through glottochronology, has not had a successful record providing a reliable tool to date language divergence by comparing basic vocabulary and estimated rates of retention. Rankin offers an improved linguistic comparative study by focusing on vocabulary for specific cultigens and technology and comparing their actual material appearance and frequencies in the archaeological record. The result is a much more reliable reconstruction of language groupings and divergence across the landscape. Rankin (2006:566) stated that the study is a work in progress and there is much potential for building on his initial comparisons.

            In 2006, Rankin published a comparative linguistic study focused on the terminology used by Siouan speakers for domesticated plants, agriculture, and the bow as a contribution to the understanding of Siouan tribal contacts and dispersion across the landscape. The linguistic analysis correlates established archaeological dates for the introduction of agriculture, specific cultigens, and the bow into prehistoric societies with vocabulary developments within Siouan language subdivisions. A result of such analysis is a better understanding of prehistoric Siouan, including Dhegiha, contacts and migrations through a comparison of innovated and diffused vocabularies for domesticates, plant processing, and bow technology.

            The Siouan language is divided into four major subgroups and each subgroup is further divided into 10 subdivisions. The Dhegiha Siouan language speakers along with the Chiwere, Ho-Chunk, and Dakotan compose one of the major subgroups. The Ofo, Biloxi, and Virginia Siouan make up the second subgroup, the Crow and Hidatsa the third, and the Mandan alone comprises the fourth subgroup. Rankin (2006:563) carefully examined Siouan vocabularies for corn, gourds, squash, pumpkins, beans, cultivation, plant processing, cooking preparations, and the bow. The following is a summary of Rankin’s conclusions that are relevant to the migrations of the Dhegiha Siouan tribes:

-The most probably location for the early Siouan language, Proto Siouan, population is the Ohio Valley, in between the Algonquian language speakers to the north and the Muskogean language speakers to the south. The Dhegiha Siouan most likely inhabited the Ohio Valley longer than any of the other Siouan language subdivisions (Rankin 2006:572).

-Between 500 and 200 B.C., the four major language subgroups of Siouan speakers (Mississippi Valley Siouan, Ohio Valley Siouan, Missouri River Siouan, and Mandan) become distinct populations. There also appears to be evidence of some splitting between the Dakotan- Chiwere-Ho-Chunk and the Dhegiha populations. These dates were established based on the vocabulary for edible forms of squash and pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) (Rankin 2006:566-567). Edible forms of squash and pumpkin appear in the archaeological record after 1000 B.C. and increase to frequencies that indicate sustained dietary use between 500 and 200 B.C. The earliest evidence for the domesticated squash comes from sites in Kentucky in the Ohio River valley (Cowen 1985:237-238; Yarnell 1969:51).

-From the time A.D. 200 to 600 and most likely before A.D. 500-600, the Dhegiha subgroup is a distinct people as a result of the Chiwere, Ho-Chunk, and Dakotan Siouan subgroups splitting off and physically moving north and west from the Ohio Valley area. These dates are established based on the appearance and spread of corn (Zea mays) (Rankin 2006:567-571, 573). Corn first appears in the archaeological record around A.D. 200 in Kentucky and at sites in the central Mississippi Valley (Asch and Sidell 1992:271-274; Smith 1989:1569-1570, 1995). During the A.D. 200 to 600 period, Rankin (2006:573) states that the Dhegiha tribes appear to still be unified and clarifies that by unified he means they were “at the least, still clearly in close contact with one another, if not a single group speaking a single language.”

-In addition to the vocabulary associated with domesticates, Rankin also examined the terms for the bow and saw the same evidence for the split of the Chiwere, Ho-Chunk, and Dakotan Siouan subgroups from the Dhegiha subgroup occurring approximately A.D. 400 to 600. With the bow terminology there also appears to be evidence of the earliest splits within the Dhegiha tribes well before A.D. 700 (Rankin 2006:571).

-Based on corn vocabulary, the internal split of the Dhegiha tribes most likely came after A.D. 600. This conclusion is based on the variety of terms associated with corn and when corn becomes significant in Midwest archaeological sites (Rankin 2006:573). The increase in reliance on corn is slow, perhaps not being utilized as a staple until after A.D. 600, but certainly corn is widespread by the Emergent Mississippian period at A.D. 1000 (Wagner 1991).

-From the analysis of bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) vocabulary, Rankin (2006:573) highlighted the difference in terminology of the Omaha and Ponca and stated that this would indicate a physical split of these two tribes from the other Dhegiha tribes at approximately A.D. 1000. The Southwest groups were the first to cultivate the non-indigenous bean species and from the archaeological and linguistic evidence this domesticate was the last to arrive in the Midwest to form the highly successful triad of corn, beans, and squash (Smith 1995:184-200).

-From the comparative study on squash and corn terms among the Dhegiha, Chiwere, Ho-Chunk and Dakota Siouan peoples, Rankin concluded that it is now clear that the Dhegiha speaking tribes do not have an ancestral affiliation with the Oneota culture to the north. Any similarities in late prehistoric material culture between the Dhegiha tribes and the Oneota are a result of diffusion from the north of these artifact styles and forms. The Dhegiha did not migrate down from one of the northern Oneota culture centers (Rankin 2006:573).

            Rankin’s findings regarding the Siouan language family, specifically the Dhegiha Siouan, and their divergence in relation to archaeological time periods is summarized as follows. The Siouan language family has a time depth of approximately 4000 years, which would place the Proto-Siouan in the Late Archaic period and according to Rankin, their location was most likely the Ohio River valley (Rankin 2006:572, 574). In the Early Woodland period, 500-200 B.C., four major subgroups of the Proto-Siouan are distinct. The Dhegiha language group is identified as a distinct subdivision during the Middle to Late Woodland period, A.D. 200-600. During the Late Woodland, well before A.D. 700 there is evidence of some splitting within the Dhegiha subdivision. With the transition from the Late Woodland to the Mississippian period, at A.D. 1000, the Omaha and Ponca split from the Dhegiha. Approximately A.D. 1200 to A.D. 1250, during the Middle Mississippian period, the Kaw split off from the Osage.

Oral Tradition and Historical Evidence

by Dr. Andrea A. Hunter

            Several ethnologists and historians have interpreted and published tribal oral histories relating to the migrations of the Osage and other Dhegiha Sioux tribes (Burns 2004:3-22; Dorsey 1886:214-222; Gallatin 1973 [1836]:127; LaFlesche 1917:459-462; Nuttall 1966 [1821]:82-83). The following summarizes Osage migrations according to oral histories as related by Dhegiha tribal members to James Dorsey (1886) in the latter half of the nineteenth century and according to Osage oral traditions that are recounted today. Historical references of Dhegiha Siouan tribes’ geographic locations are also included.

            It is told that in the distance past, all five Dhegiha tribes were once one nation that lived east of the Mississippi River in the vicinity of the Ohio River. The Illini or Iliniwek tribes (Illinois Confederacy tribes) that came down from the upper Mississippi valley later in time, referred to the earlier Dhegiha occupants as the Arkansa. The Illinois and the Miami tribes referred to the Ohio as the river of the Akansea because they were the earlier inhabitants of the Ohio River valley (Shea 1861:120). The Dhegiha Siouan people migrated together down toward the mouth of the Ohio River valley until they reached the Mississippi River. Here, the first segregation occurred with some of the people choosing to travel down the Mississippi, while the others chose to travel up river. The people descending the river were known as the U-ga¢-qpa or Quapaw, meaning “the down-stream people.” Those ascending the central Mississippi River valley were known as the U-man¢-han or Omaha, meaning “those going against the wind or current” (Dorsey 1886:215-216; Featherstonhaugh 1844:287-288). The ancient Omaha, composed of the Omaha, Osage, Kaw, and Ponca, traveled up river until they reached the mouth of the Missouri. The people dwelled at this location near present day St. Louis for some time. According to oral traditions that Dorsey (1886:216) collected, the next migration was westward up the Missouri River to a location described as “an extensive peninsula on the river, having a high mountain as a landmark.” Again, they remained for a period of time at this settlement, before the groups moved further west and established themselves near the mouth of the Osage River. As with many oral traditions regarding migrations, Dorsey noted two versions of timing and location of separation of the Omaha and Ponca from the Osage and Kaw. One version has the Omaha and Ponca separating and traveling up the Mississippi River valley until reaching the Des Moines River, then headed west and north. Another version has the Omaha and Ponca crossing over the Missouri River and continuing their travels northward via the Chariton River valley. Featherstonhaugh (1844:288) and McGee (1897:191) also recount the migration version that after the Dhegiha Siouan reached St. Louis the second separation took place with large bands continuing on up the Mississippi River to the north. The Kaw and Osage were the last Dhegiha groups to separate. The oral traditions state that the Kaw separated from the Osage and continued their westward movement up the Missouri River. The Osage, whose own name for themselves was Ni-U-Ko¢n-Ska or “Children of the Middle Waters” (Burns 1984:xi; Mathews 1960:7), maintained settlements on the Missouri River and eventually moved southward ascending the Osage River. With the Osages located in southwest and south-central Missouri, the historical record begins. On the 1673 Marquette and Jolliet maps, the Osage are located south of the Missouri River in the general location of the Osage River (Tucker 1942:Plates IV-V).

            Scholars have long contemplated the history and identity of the Osage beginning as early as the 1920s. Initial interpretations of ancestral Osage were based on similarities in material cultural, particularly ceramics from southeastern Plains/Midwest archaeological sites and early historic Osage village sites (Baerreis 1941:126; Chapman 1946:26; 1952:146; Griffin 1937; 1946:84; Harrington 1924:17-20). In the early 1990s, Susan Vehik (1993) and Dale Henning (1993), separately undertook critical, thorough reassessments of Dhegiha origins studies. In light of more current archaeological data and critical scrutiny of all lines of evidence presented to determine Dhegiha origins, in 1993 Vehik concluded that even though so many anthropologists have discounted oral histories, the archaeologists have failed to offer a more plausible account for the area of Dhegiha tribal origins. Vehik noted that even given some differences between the Dhegiha tribes’ migration stories, “all of the available oral histories from the Dhegihan Sioux center on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers” (Vehik 1993:232). According to Vehik’s (1993:246) comprehensive investigation, a Dhegiha origin from the Ohio Valley would account for the wide-ranging similarities between the Dhegiha tribes and the Mississippi Valley Siouan, Algonkin, and southeastern groups. 

            Likewise in 1993, Henning came to a similar interpretation. Henning, like Vehik (1993), believed that the logical course of analysis should be to let the Dhegiha tribes speak for themselves by means of the recorded legends and ethnohistoric records (Henning 1993:253). He offered clear words of advice to archaeologists that adhere to a direct historical approach that relies primarily on archaeological materials and on material culture retention. Henning (1993:262) warns that archaeologists may misinterpret history by not considering all lines of evidence available. The Dhegiha Sioux offer a prime case in point due to the adaptive patterning exhibited by these tribes. By relying on the tribes’ own migration legends, linguistic analyses, their history, and ethnohistory, Henning (1993:260-262) concluded that an ancestral Dhegiha locus is most likely in the Ohio River valley with the tribes migrating west of the Mississippi River and splitting into their tribes just prior to European contact. Henning explained that during the late prehistoric period Dhegiha social and religious traditions were strongly retained while the tribes quickly adapted to the new environments they moved into. What did change quickly, as they moved west of the Mississippi River and diffused into separate tribes, was their subsistence and technological traditions. Therefore, their material culture more strongly reflects their quick adaptation when encountering groups that moved into the Missouri region. For the Osage, this accounts for the earlier archaeologists mistakenly associating the Osage with the archaeological assemblages of the late prehistoric Neosho focus in the four corners area of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The research and interpretations by more recent scholars certainly provides evidence to the contrary.