Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Osage War

The so-called Osage War was a bloodless confrontation between Osage Indians and a company of Greene County (Missouri) militia under Colonel Charles Yancey in the winter of 1836-1837. The Osage had been removed to reservations in Kansas and Indian Territory through a series of treaties in the early 1800s, but some of them persisted in drifting back into their former homeland. Their presence in southwest Missouri, according to R.I. Holcombe's 1883 History of Greene County, was "distasteful to the settlers," and Governor Lilburn Boggs ordered them removed.
Yancey, who was also presiding judge of the county court, decided to go out and negotiate personally with the Indians and only call out his troops if it should prove necessary. Two other men, Chesley Cannefax and Henry Fulbright, accompanied him on his mission. Taking along a young black man, who had been raised among the Delaware and spoke several Indian dialects, as an interpreter, the trio set out to the south and southwest of Springfield and, after a couple of days travel, met a party of Osage Indians mounted on ponies near Flat Creek in what later became Stone County. Yancey was dressed in full military regalia, with plumes and epaulets, and the white men hoped that his "imposing appearance" would make a favorable impression on "the display-loving savages." The Indians were impressed enough to let out a shrill yell and gallop away without speaking a word.
Their fear somewhat aroused by the reaction of the Indians, the white men followed uneasily and soon came upon an Indian camp of about 100 men and an equal number of women and children. Apparently assuming Yancey was some sort of "great chief," the Indians met the white men with beads and other Indian finery as tokens of their goodwill, and the Osage chief, Nawpawiter, sat down with Yancey and his party to talk. Newpawiter agreed to remove from the area but asked, because of the inclement weather and the condition of some of his people, that he not have to do so until the weather got better. Yancey granted the request, issuing a written permission for the Indians to stay where they were for a few days until the weather improved, and then he and his small party continued on their way, looking for other Indians in the region.
About 35 miles south Springfield in Barry County, Yancey and his men came upon a large assemblage of Indians that they thought might be a war council, as one brave reportedly rode out brandishing a tomahawk and making indecent gestures toward the white men. Although Yancey and Fulbright thought they could parley with the Indians as they had done with Newpawiter and induce them to leave, Cannefax argued for a stronger course of action. His advice finally prevailed, and the white men returned to Springfield to call out the militia.
More than a hundred men were soon armed and mounted, and the militia met the Indians again in present-day Christian County, on the Finley River. The Indians greatly outnumbered the whites, but they were poorly armed, mainly with just bows and arrows. The Indians retreated, and Yancey pursued them to the west side of the James River, where the two sides drew up facing each other. The Indians at first refused Yancey's demand that they give up their arms and remove across the state line, but they soon acquiesced, although a few young braves continued to grumble as they laid down their weapons. According to Holcombe, some of the white men "behaved very rudely" toward the Indian women, but Yancey supposedly put a quick stop to the misbehavior. Over the next couple of days, which were bitterly cold, the militia escorted the Indians to the state line, where they were admonished not to come back into Missouri.
When the militia got back to Springfield, they found the townspeople almost in a panic because of rumors they had heard that a general Indian uprising had begun. No hostilities ensued, however, and thus ended the so-called Osage War.
As a footnote to this story, it might be interesting to mention that later in 1837 Judge Yancey killed a man on the square in Springfield. The first person to be put on trial for murder in Greene County, he was acquitted and later was appointed a circuit judge.

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