Volume VI, No. 3, Spring 1979




OSAGE INDIANS OF WYOTA VILLAGE

by Teresa Maddux, Drawings by Teresa Maddux and Patsy Watts


Many, many lifetimes ago, before the oldest chiefs of the Osage Indians could remember, the great mystery force, Wah-Kon-Tah, or Grandfather the Sun, decided to give some order to the earth people who were dirty, confused and lived in chaos. He sent to the Sacred One, the earth, a number of star people to give to the earth people the order of the universe and to teach them how to live. The star people floated down with their arms outstretched as eagles' wings. The earth welcomed them by dropping a shower of acorns which rattled on the oak leaves as they dropped through the trees. The star people made friends with the earth people and asked them to adopt their orderliness.

This is one legend of the origin of the mighty Osage Indians who once controlled a vast region west of the Mississippi River between the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers clear to the western prairies. However they originated, the tribe known as the Wazhazhe, or the Osage, which was the French corruption of the name, were in the area perhaps as early as Columbus. They were well in control when the first white men visited them in the late 1680's when it was reported there were seventeen villages. In 1805 they reportedly could raise a thousand warriors. Though the Osage roamed over the area for hundreds of years with no recorded history and few permanent villages, it is virtually impossible to find evidence of the villages before historic records, especially in Arkansas where most villages were hunting camps.

As with all other Indian tribes when the white man wanted their lands, the Indians became the loser, even the powerful Osages. From 1808 to 1825 there were several treaties with the United States government in which the Osage Indians ceded land and promised to be at peace with neighboring tribes and state militia.

The first treaty with the Osage was held in 1808 at Fort Osage on the Missouri River near Kansas city. This treaty came about as a result of several, raids by the Osage on the white settlers. The government felt that damage was extensive enough to demand the Osage cede some of their vast territory. It has been found, however, that many of the raids were justly exercised. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, many settlers moved into Osage domain and somehow provoked the Indians to raid. Regardless, the government could then ask for the treaty which would free the land east of Fort Osage between the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers for the white man to settle. The Osage ceded fifty million acres, receiving $60,000.00 or a payment of less than one-tenth of a cent per acre.

Also during this time the United States promised the land of the Osage to the Cherokee and other Indian tribes displaced from their lands east of the Mississippi. Conflicts with the eastern Indians and misunderstanding of the treaty caused more conflicts over territory.

The Osage virtually ignored the Treaty of 1808 for they did not realize they were giving up all privileges to the land forever. At the time all their permanent villages were west of the treaty line. They thought they were only allowing the white man to use it. So they continued to hunt there as usual up to about 1838 when further treaties and government actions restricted them to Indian lands.

In St. Louis in 1818 William Clark, governor of the Missouri territory acting in behalf of the United States government, signed a treaty with the Osage Nation in which the Osage ceded more territory north of the Arkansas River--a total of seven million acres for $4,000.00, or one-half cent an acre.

After the final treaty of June 2, 1825, which took away all lands in Missouri, the Osage moved west to Kansas and Oklahoma, though they still occasionally came to Missouri to hunt. In was in 1872 when the Osage Nation moved to their present location in Osage County, Oklahoma, which is made up of one and a half million acres of land they bought from the Cherokee Nation, who like them had been moved to Indian Territory.

When oil and gas were discovered on their land in the beginning of the 1900's, the land was divided into allotments, each person on the tribal roll receiving equal share of income from mineral rights on all lands. Owners of original head rights passed them on to their descendents. Today the Osage people are one of the richest communities in the world.

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A VISIT TO WYOTA

This is a fictional journal. Based on facts and first hand accounts, it could have happened.

"What a remarkable people these Osage Indians are, these 'Children of the Middle Waters' whose chiefs call themselves 'The Little Ones.' They live in a semi-permanent village called Wyota located on a high open plateau in the midst of the surrounding wooded hills. Moving closer through the early morning mist, my party and I could faintly hear them in their morning prayers. From our distance the sound was one of intense loneliness and longing."

The above is an excerpt from the journal of Franklin Watts in late summer of 1795. He and his two companions, Pierre Marriot and John Jeffries, traders and guides, visited the small Indian village of Wyota deep in Osage Indian territory at the site of present day Lebanon in south central Missouri.

Watts and his party traveled to the area for the sole purpose of visiting these people and recording their way of life. One of the first few men to visit the Osage, he wrote, "Most of my life, I have in some way or other felt very close to those of the Indian race. I have looked upon them with much awe and wonder. Now, at last, I am able to venture out to meet these so-called savages and learn of their way of life." From Watts' journal we have a sympathetic and firsthand account of one of the most glorious tribes of the American Indians.

August 29, 1795:

As we continued our approach to the village, I had a sense of apprehension mingled with excitement. Very few white men had come in contact with this tribe. I was fortunate to have Pierre who has spent some time with them and can speak their language. He had told me of their war-like behavior when aroused, but since they had been visited only by traders such as he who had introduced metal and other comforts of our civilization to them and in no way threatened them, he believed that we would be welcomed as honored guests. Obviously, he was right, especially as we brought some iron axes, hoes and knives.

A small party of the older men and warriors met us and welcomed us in a most courteous manner. My first impression was of their startling and incredible size. They are quite possibly the largest people to ever walk on this continent. Their being dressed only in breech clout, deerskin leggings and moccasins seem to emphasize their stature. Several are seven feet tall and one old chief must weigh at least 300 pounds. They are well proportioned with rather narrow shoulders. Some are inclined to stoop, probably because of their great height. It seems so strange that the chiefs call themselves the "Little Old Men" because they are so big. But I suppose they call themselves that as a gesture of humility.

As we were escorted to the village, we saw an abundance of activity as everyone began the day's work. It was quite obvious that they too, had recently arrived at the village site, for the women with small children in tow were busily settling in and gathering their harvest. They live a nomadic life with villages, or camps, scattered over their immense domain. They have located here in a favorable location close to plentiful game and running water. Pierre said they have hunting camps over the area which they use during hunting seasons, but Wyota is their winter camp. Like most villages, it is on a high hill overlooking lower ground. When they return here from the summer hunt, it is a rather simple matter to cover the lodges, repair any damage and gather what has survived from the crops they had planted in the spring.

It is quite apparent that they are without a leader. Pierre found out that the Pawnee ambushed them during their move back. Several warriors were killed, among them the chief. Pierre said that an intense rivalry between these two tribes has existed for years. The Osage word for enemy is Pawnee.

I have been looking forward to this visit with the Osage Indians for a long time. Since we left St. Louis several days ago my anticipation has mounted. Pierre has told me many fantastic tales of the bravery and strength of the Osage Nation. The reputation of this tribe as being very fierce and warlike is true. However, they tend to fight only when they feel cornered or threatened.

Also of great interest to us is the expanse of territory these Indians control. Their authority extends from the Mississippi almost to the Rockies. Certainly they claim one of the largest areas held by any American Indian nation. We heard in St. Louis that they will stop at nothing to protect and hold it in their possession. We made it very clear at the first meeting that we wished only friendship. But nothing in a warlike nature has been evident since our arrival here at Wyota. We have been warmly received by every member of the tribe, greeted by the men and cared for by the women.

The Osage women, as with most other tribes, though they hold an inferior position to the men, carry a great responsibility in the well-being of the tribe. They do all the work of food production, preparation and preservation. The women and girls and squaw-men (those who have shown cowardice and therefore are not allowed to marry) do the gardening and gathering. They make the utensils and furnishing for the lodges and construct the house itself. They prepare the animal skins and make clothing and other essentials from them.

Walking freely through the village and watching the activities, I tried to ascertain their numbers. It is my guess that there are some one hundred people. I noticed three women in mourning for their husbands who were killed in the recent Pawnee raid. It is their custom for women in mourning to shear their hair. Since they look upon hair as an object of beauty, and much is done to preserve its length and beauty, it is fitting to sacrifice it for the dead.

Ko-ha-tun-ka, one of the escorts who is serving as a guide for our visit here, has been most gracious and asked us to spend our nights in his lodge. Accepting his hospitality, we followed him there. He told us of the drought the whole region has been experiencing, and of the effects it has had on the game. In fact, the wide spread drought is why they were so late in the season getting back to Wyota, since they were forced to go farther than usual out on the western prairies to find the buffalo.

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Upon entering his lodge, we were greeted by Ko-ha-tun-ka's wife and two young children. The oldest child, a tall fine-looking youngster contains many of his father's physical features. The little girl smiled at us briefly and played quietly in a corner out of her mother's way.

I was very interested in the lodge itself. The floor is covered with woven mats to sit on though I noticed some of the other lodges had skins on the floor. Being visitors, we were given cushions. The inside walls are also covered with reed mats. There are two blackened holes in the ground for fires. When fires are not needed in the warm weather, as today the holes are covered by the mats. It was really quite comfortable inside, as well as clean and orderly.

Parfleches, containers made of rawhide soaked in lye, rest to the side of the lodge. Many contain dried meat, along with some valuables. Small box-shaped articles made of dried and hardened rawhide capture my attention. I am told these are of great value, for kept in these are the sacred ornaments of the warriors, clothing worn on special occasions by the women, and red and verdigris body paint. On the wall opposite me are Ko-ha-tun-ka's shields and quiver. Hung beside these is the warrior's favorite bow.

Out of reach of the numerous and always hungry dogs are skins hung from the frame of the lodge. The day's harvest of pumpkins and squash, cut into long strips, are hung overhead to dry as are the dried meats. All this gives an unusual odor--not objectionable, but, perhaps earthy is the word to describe it.

The lodges themselves are round or oval, resembling an arc from the side. Earlier today I watched the construction of two new lodges. Two young braves have recently taken wives who are busily preparing a home. They selected young green saplings. Cutting off all limbs, they sharpened both ends of the poles and forming an arch, drove the ends into the ground. They crossed additional poles over these in the same manner and tied them together at the top with strips of buffalo hide. This framework is strengthened with smaller horizontal poles woven through the supports. Over this skeleton they spread buffalo hides which had been previously prepared since they had so many just from the hunt. Some lodges had overlapping woven mats to keep out the rain and cold. Each has a small hole in the top to let out the smoke.

As a good hostess would do anywhere, one of the first things to provide a guest is food. Ko-ha-tun-ka's squaw is as gracious as any St. Louis lady. Meals consist of the plentiful buffalo meat and vegetables like corn, beans, squash and pumpkin. Corn is a quite common part of their meals. The women plant corn and other vegetables in the spring before the whole village leaves for their annual hunt. When they return in late summer, as now, the women harvest what survives. Because of the drought and inroads of wild animals, this year's crop is light. Later on this winter Ko-ha-tun-ka tells me they will be short of grain, but today the women are busily preparing it for winter storage. They were boiling and roasting this corn on the cob in roasting ear stage and hanging it up to dry after cooking. When dried they shell it and pound it into a fine meal. They also have parched corn and hominy from matured corn.

I was especially interested in watching the women working over the fires preparing the day's meals. Their main dish is meat. They prefer the flesh of the bigger animals such as buffalo and deer, but they also use smaller game such as rabbit and squirrel when larger prey is scarce. Pierre said when food is scarce sometimes they kill and eat their dogs to survive.

Women scraped and stretched hides before smoking them over a slow-burning fire.

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But just back from the summer hunt of buffalo and other game, there is an abundance of meat. The women roast much of the flesh on a stick over an open fire. They also make a sort of stew which they serve in one vessel. Everyone gathers around and eats either using spoons of shells or bone, or fingers. The busy squaw doesn't do much dishwashing. Delicacies in their diet include tongue, liver, and when present, the fetus, whose taste, they think is matched only by that of roasted bone marrow.

In addition to the wide variety of meats, the squaws and children search the nearby forest and plains for walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, plums, blackberries, grapes, wild cherries, persimmons, greens, herbs and many other wild edible plants.

An intriguing dessert they make is a cake called staninca which somewhat resembles gingerbread. This staninca, I am told is made from the pulp of the persimmon, mixed with proper proportions of pounded corn.

This first day has passed quickly. Though everyone was busy, Pierre, John and I had many opportunities to talk with people. We moved about to observe and learned a great deal about their religion and their way of life. I was especially interested in their belief about their relationship with the earth. They believe that all things come from and return to the earth, the Sacred One. This fact is proven by the pregnant women who eat of the fruits from the soil. Because of this food, the child is the product of the earth, and throughout his life he partakes of the earth again and again, getting nourishment from the earth that produced it. Therefore, the Indian has no real fear of death, only an anticipation of returning to the one who was responsible for him.

Everyone gathered around the central bowl using fingers or bone or shell spoons.

During the walk about the camp, Ko-ha-ton-ka told me that the arrangement of lodges here at Wyota is not the formal arrangement used in the more permanent villages. Here the lodges are arranged in what appears somewhat of a circular design. The plan of the permanent villages have a very formal organization.

A permanent village is divided into two sections, one for the sky people and the other for the earth people. The sky people, or the Tzi-Sho, always occupy the north division, while the earth people, or the Hunkah, occupy the south division. Supposedly each division has seven rows of lodges running from east to west and seven rows running from north to south. Between these two divisions runs an east-west avenue dividing the earth from the sky. Two main chiefs, the Tzi-Sho and Hunkah, rule their respective divisions.

Although the village plans of these people change from town to town, one detail remains consistent. This is the habit of placing the door of each lodge facing east to welcome Wah-Kon-Tah, or Grandfather the Sun, their almighty ruler of the earth. In devotion to him they rise from their lodges just as Grandfather the Sun begins his long trek of the day. I've learned that these people rise very early in the morning to wail their prayers to this god. I hope to watch that ceremony better tomorrow morning than we could see from our distance this morning.

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It is now getting late and too dark to write. The hospitality of these people is something to experience. I wish I could spend more time, but I will close for now, anticipating the next few days.

August 30:

I awakened very early this morning before light by the clamor of the morning prayers. The first sounds came from the women who stayed close to or inside the lodges praying, because the men left the lodges for their ceremony. I quickly went outside to listen. The sound was like nothing I've ever heard. This "dawn chant" was in a high sing-song, progressing lower and lower until the worshippers were out of breath. They chanted over and over, sometimes getting into an emotional prostration. All this was made more unreal by the howling of the dogs. Pierre came upon one of the warriors who immediately discontinued his chanting until Pierre left. Their chants are very sacred, known only to their own people and between the person and his god.

The family unit is very important to the Osages. Within Wyota there are several young families with numerous children in the village. The family size is less than that of the white men, containing usually three, and seldom as many as four children. The old men and women are looked upon with a great deal of respect by the others.

Another interesting custom of these people is the taking of wives. By no means are they bonded together for life, unless this is what both parties desire. If either or both sides are not happy with the marriage union, they have a form of divorce. But marriage is very important and much ceremony accompanies a wedding, for this is future of their tribe and only worthy members are privileged to marry.

It is amazing that the older members of the tribe seem to retain all their mental powers. Their memory is astonishing. When I compare the older folks of the Osage to those of my race, I wonder if their uncivilized culture causes them to possess traits that we in our so-called civilized society seem to lack. Though the number of old women in a village tends to get rather large, there are comparatively few men who live to an old age. This disproportion of aged ones is only logical, since the women are not exposed to warfare, one of the largest claims on a warrior's life. The men are also exposed to more elements of nature and many times death takes its toll when the warriors are away from their people and food on scouting, warring or hunting expeditions.

Here I would like to mention the Osages' appearance. The women seem to be less favored than the men. They are short and stout, and to my notion, somewhat ugly. Their hair is kept long. Young girls wear theirs braided with the part painted red to represent long life, or the path of the sun across the sky. The men pluck the hair of their head, leaving only a small tuft to cover the crown. I've read that because of their lack of hair Indians have a different biological makeup from other races. The truth is however that in this respect the Indians are no different from us. Hair, I am told, if it were permitted to grow would do so. They pluck it out wherever it appears for they consider it dirty. I wonder what they must think of me and my companions with our full beards and long hair. I am sure they must think us uncouth, but they are courteous enough to not show it.

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Their low foreheads are set at a rather flat angle. The nose is long and prominent. Their small, black eyes are set fairly deep in their sockets. The high cheekbones are full and broad.

This afternoon we skirted the village to visit the outlying area. There was much activity in the individual garden plots. The village is the center of a fairly large open space. So outside the village there is space for growing crops or gardens. It seems each family has an area of about one half acre. As would be expected with no tending since spring, the plots are weedy and overgrown with the grass which grows so abundantly in the open areas. But surprisingly enough, corn, beans and other vegetables are ready to gather.

I was intrigued by a big natural dish-shaped depression, or sinkhole, located about a mile west of the village which has some interesting customs dealing with it. The lower part of this hollow is used for prayers, dancing and courting. The young men come here to play their courting flutes made of reed and cedar, sending their love signals to the young maidens in the village who come to the sinkhole. If the girl who comes is not the one the young brave desires, he shoos her away. While we watched, a maiden appeared. She was a very pretty girl compared to most of the Osage women. At the young man's beckoning, the maiden continued her walk toward the brave. They joined hands and began a walk along a "Lovers' Walk" back to the village where she retired to her lodge.

We walked around the camp to the lookout point located southeast from the village. They call it "The Hill that Sees Fire." Reaching the point and climbing the tallest tree, I found a breathtaking view. The Osages obviously knew what they were doing to put their village near such a lookout. They can see everything for miles. At night we are told they can see the council fires in the next Osage village about fifty miles southwest.

The Osages are tremendous hunters and warriors. One primary reason for this is their incredible horsemanship. We witnessed some young men practicing. Galloping at full speed and using their horses as added protection, they are able to hide themselves behind their horses. They are so expert at this, that with the exception of one foot, they are totally concealed. Some youths were also teaching very small boys, almost babies, to ride. Seldom do they fall while on horseback.

Bereaved squaws cut their hair in honor of the dead.

Horses are of great value to the Indians. The more a warrior owns, the more respect and higher position he holds. For this reason, the horses are well-kept and fed. Our host had several horses.

We just got word that there will be a council meeting to choose the new chief tonight. The chief that was killed had no son, so they must choose from the eligible warriors. These meetings are usually very private and strangers are rarely admitted, but we hope our host will tell us about it.

While there is still light enough, I'll put down some more bits of information I picked up. Periods of prayer seem to have no particular order to them with the exception of the daily prayers to Grandfather the Sun. This god is the one who created all life, including the first red man and woman. These first two red people were very large in build and had lived to a great old age. Wah-Kon-Tah taught them how to survive and how to grow and cultivate the land.

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They also worship a "Bad Spirit," who they believe opposes the good spirit. Though the bad spirit has a great deal of power, it does not match that of the good spirit. The powers of the evil spirit deal mainly with the bringing of bad events and with instances of punishment.

One outstanding feature of these people is their interesting tatooing. The traditional tattoo design used widely is V-shaped. Osage women are almost totally tattooed with intersecting blue lines on the neck, arms, on the backs of the hands, the chest, stomach, the back and the lower portion of the thighs. The tattooing begins when the child is in puberty with a red hot iron and some charcoal. As one might expect, it often results in some serious burns, many times leaving individuals scarred for life.

Just as I am writing this, my host tells me that my interpreter and I will be allowed to sit in on the council to choose a new chief. They are allowing this exception to their private meeting in the hopes that it will be recorded in history. I suppose my habit of writing in my journal each evening has impressed them. I shall do the best I can to repay their hospitality.

August 31:

I feel very proud to be able to write this account of the meeting last night. I'm penning this early this morning for we have to leave today, but before we go, I want to give my account of the meeting. Pierre and I were seated in the circle of Little Old Men. Since we were strangers, the men passed around the pipe for us to demonstrate our desire to bring no harm or false information to the Osage Nation. The oldest man filled and lighted it. Since I am the leader of our party, he passed it first to me. I drew in the smoke proving that I will not bring false glory or facts. Then I gave it to Pierre. If we had not participated in this ceremony, they would have looked upon us as liars.

The oldest man motioned to begin. Meanwhile several warriors had lined up outside the lodge. One by one they entered to tell their outstanding deeds and accomplishments and to show their prized possessions such as war scars and hunting and battle trophies. These warriors also told why they should be the one chosen to lead this tribe. They gave their word to the council to protect the people and to see that they always have means to survive. Among these fine braves was Ko-ha-ton-ka. To my mind he is the best choice, for he has gained more recognition on the battlefield and has provided much meat for his people.

The council's opinion agreed with mine, for it took little time to decide on Ko-ha-ton-ka as the new chief. He was then shown all sacred records of tribal history and public property. The breaking up of the council was a signal to the women to begin the feast for the new chief. The remainder of the night was spent in great merriment and cheer. Villagers were constantly bringing him gifts.

I regret having to leave these people. During the past few days I have developed a great respect for them. But a messenger arrived today that I am to return as soon as possible to St. Louis. Though I must go, I leave with the promise of doing a great service for both our societies. By publishing the information which I have gathered and recorded, I hope to be able to bring a greater understanding of these people and thereby, a recognition among my countrymen that the society of the red man is worthy. Instead of destroying them, we, as civilized people, should be able to find a way to live together.

There is so much space here in this wild land west of the Mississippi River. Surely we can leave these marvelous Indians alone and not drive off and kill them as we have the Eastern tribes. I can not conceive how there could ever be enough white men to interfere with the Indian occupancy of these hills and prairies.

One thing, however, is very evident in my mind, that some day, I will return and spend more time with Ko-ha-tun-ha's family which I have grown to respect and care for as if they were my own. But I must stop writing and ready myself to leave.

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LEGENDS OF WYOTA

by Samuel James Bradford

Sam Bradford, a native of Laclede County Missouri who resided in Oklahoma during high school years, spent many hours listening and talking with the Osage Indians there. Because of his interest in the area and his natural storytelling ability, he became a favorite in Lebanon where he retired in the late 1960's. Through him some of the many Osage legends that might have eventually faded away have been saved. Here in his own words are a few of those legends about Wyota village.

The Indian mind must have a reason and an explanation for everything, so a legend came to be of the beginning of these Ozark hills.

Now, those great people were not expert in geology. They did not know that the Ozark hills had been formed by successive lowering of this area to be--low a sea to form layers of limestone by microscopic sea creatures and layer upon layer of sand washed into those sea beds to flooding gush of water from the higher land. They only saw the Ozark plateau of hills and valleys cut out by streams that had drained away the rain and melting snow for those millions of years.

They saw these hills as a great mound builded of layered stone which any person may see wherever streams have cut their channels past towering bluffs or where road machinery has cut through to level grades for speeding travel. They saw the layers of gray limestone. They saw the sandstone laid in layers between the great layers of limestone, and this is how they explained it.

"Grandfather the Sun searched the earth for a homeland for the Star People he planned to send down to earth to restore order. As he traveled daily across the dome of his sky lodge, he saw the great prairies with their herds of buffalo and hot dry winds of summertime. The buffalo would make a source of meat for the Indians' cook pots and the wind would dry the strips of meat to jerky for winter's supply.

"But, the coldness of winter and the blizzards that swept down from the north land of ice and snow would scatter the herds in wintertime. North winds would pierce lodges and the People of the Stars would die.

"Grandfather the Sun saw the rich bottom land of the rivers with plenty of shelter and wood for winter fires. Game was plentiful there in wintertime and the trees that bore nuts and berries grew there in abundance. But, when the return of Grandfather the Sun to a higher place in the sky lodge drove the snows away and rain fell, the flooding rivers would drive the Osage people from their lodges and destroy the gardens they had planted. "So, Grandfather the Sun decided he must build a homeland for the People of the Stars himself.

"He reached to the western prairies and drew great heaps of sand. He spread that sand in layers. He then reached to the gray hills of the west and drew layer after layer of gray soil until the mound that is the Ozarks was formed as an Indian woman would bake thin cakes of ground corn and lay them one atop the other as shining eyes of hungry children watched and chattered.

"Then Grandfather the Sun reached to the hills he knew and drew soil and stone to cover the great mound he had made. He did not forget to mix the flint for the People of the Stars would need sharp stones for arrowheads and scrapers."

Permanent Osage villages were divided into the lodges of the sky and earth people. A chief of each ruled over seven rows of seven lodges.

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GHOST DRUMS IN THE OLD SINK HOLE

It was from the Indians of the Wyota village of the Osages that the old story tellers learned the story of the "Sacred Hollow of the Earth's Hand." That spot is now the old sink hole in Lebanon, a huge natural depression formed centuries ago by the collapse of the roof of a great underground cave.

Long ago--so long ago that the oldest Indian living when the white men came could only tell it as a story--it was that long ago that the sound of drums began beneath the depths of the floor of the old sinkhole.

Early settlers explained the sounds as of cascading water of an underground stream as it leaped from the floor of one cavern to that of a cave below. The settlers knew the sounds could be heard, if, in the silence of a night, they pressed an ear to the soil in the sinkhole's depth and listened, but they did not believe the old, old story.

"Long ago, when the Osage people had just recently come down from among the stars to care for the Sacred One, the earth, when these hills and valleys were shadowed thick with great trees which reached their roots deep to draw life from the soil of the Sacred One and reached up their branches in gratitude to Grandfather the Sun who gave warmth and light that they might live--in that long ago, a strange happening befell young warriors of our people.

"In that day, there was peace in our land.

"The Missouri Indian people had not yet come to live on the shores of the Smoky Waters (the Missouri River). The Indians from the land where Grandfather the Sun arises from his night lodge had not yet begun to cross the Big Waters (the Mississippi River), so there were no wars to occupy the energies of our young men.

"The trumpet voice of the bull wapiti, the elk, was heard with every break of day as he called his cows to pasture. Timid deer grazed among the trees where grass was sweet and tender. The ground often trembled with the thunder of many hooves as herds of buffalo marched along the slopes to pasture ground.

"Our four-colored sacred corn grew tall, and its grain weighed down the stalks as its ears ripened. Our squash and pumpkins grew large and their meat was good. Wild honey made our children glad for its sweetness. Wild nuts were gathered by our women as squirrels quarreled at them and raced to gather their own portion.

"Dried meats hanged in plenty in every lodge. Buffalo skins did not lack to cover every lodge. Warm skins of our brother the bear made warm beds when winter cold would come.

"So it was then that our young men turned to play. They forgot the need for hardness of muscle and spirit to make a man. They forgot the practice of battle to harden them for war. They forgot the running to make legs strong and swift on the trail. They did not practice with their bows to make arms strong and eyes keen. They did not wrestle to learn the art of fighting should an enemy find the lodges of our village.

"The young men wandered in the forest. They played at games which made no strength for the body or sharpness for the eye. They had eyes for the young women, and they sang love songs and forgot the songs of battle and of war.

"Wah-Kon-Tan, the Great Mystery Force of the land of stars, was angry. Grandfather the Sun looked down from the vaulted dome of the sky lodge and thought to send other stars to replace the careless ones. The Sacred One, the earth felt the tread of idle feet on its soil and was angry.

"In those days, a dark cavern opened from the wall of the old sink hole through a narrow doorway into a mighty room whose walls were so far away that the light of a torch showed only blackness.

"The young men, weary of idleness in the sunlight, turned to the darkness of the cave. They made torches of pine knots and explored room after room of that dark earth world. They carried food and blankets to the darkness.

"When the sun shone hot, and young men should have run or wrestled to sweat away the evil from their bodies, they left the heat and sunlight and loitered in the cool, moist shelter of the darkness.

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"The wise old men were fearful. They recalled how the Osage people had come down from the stars with feet outstretched to waiting branches of the great oak trees, their arms spread wide like eagles' wings. They remembered the gladness of the people as they saw the good land to which they had been sent.

"They were fearful that their young men had so soon forgotten the purpose of their coming, and that idleness and weakness would not please Wah-Kon-Tah.

"The Little Old Men wailed their prayers to Grandfather the Sun when he came from his night lodge. The young men mocked with wailing prayers to the Moon Woman.

"The Little Old Men danced with outstretched arms as eagles' wings, with reaching feet and with rattling pebbles in dry gourds to make the sound of falling acorns. The young men mocked with dances of their own.

"The drums of the wise old men beat the rhythm of the beating heart. The drummers sang, and the women wailed prayers as for the dance of sorrow when warriors would return and some of their number would not appear.

"The young men beat drums in mockery with the rhythm of a galloping horse. They wailed in high pitched voices. They sang songs which made the young women close their ears and hurry to their fathers' lodges.

"Laughing and wailing, they carried their drums to the depth of the old sink hole and marched, singing, into the darkness of the cavern. The echoes of their drums rolled from the doorway cave, and their voices were harsh in their mocking.

"Above, Grandfather the Sun hid his face. Dark clouds swept over the vaulted dome of the bright sky lodge. A cold wind swept from the land of snows and chilled the limbs of fearful, wondering Osage people.

"The Sacred One, the earth, trembled beneath their feet, and the people felt the crash of grinding stones. They heard deep rumblings from the soil itself.

"Then, all was still. The clouds moved away. Grandfather the Sun shined again. The wind turned to blow from the land of summer. The Osage people stood about in silent, fearful groupings. From the cavern the sound had died away. Some of the women, with timid feet, crept to the doorway of the cavern. There was no sound.

"It was a long time later, when one of the wise old men lay resting on the ground in the floor of that old sink hole that the drums were first heard. Far distant they were, but they were there, beating the rhythm of a heart beat.

"That was many lifetimes ago, and the young men never returned.

"But, when the night is still and the Moon Woman is bright in the sky lodge, the drums can be heard by the careful listener--sounding from the cavern below the soil where mocking young men, in darkness forever, have changed the rhythm of their beating."

THE LEGEND OF BENNETT SPRING

The apparent convulsion of nature that turned a quiet pool into a flowing river had to be explained. The Little Old Men told and retold the stories until facts and fantasies blended to legends, and this was their answer to the creation of what we know now as Bennett Spring.

The People of the Middle Waters, the Osage Indian people, had, their legends said, been sent down from the stars to care for the Sacred one, the earth. Being of the stars and brothers of the stars, their responsibility was heavy. If they grew proud and disobedient and failed in their trust to care for the Sacred One, the earth would weep, and a new people would be sent to care for the Sacred one. Their land would be given to those new sent ones.

Beside the small stream, which white men call Spring Creek, was a round pool of quiet water from which flowed a trickle of water. That round pool, so deep that the best of Indian divers could never reach bottom, lay quiet and deep.

In the daytime, the pool reflected back the glint of sunlight like the first bright rays when Grandfather the Sun lifted himself above the eastern horizon and began his daily journey across the vault of the sky lodge.

[15]

Above--Present day Bennett Spring. About a hundred yard north of the present spring is the dried up bed where ages ago the spring once flowed (right). (by Gala Morrow)

At night, the pool lay so quiet that it reflected back the stars like the eyes of a woman who does not sleep.

It was many lifetimes ago when that round pool, the eye of the Sacred One, began to flow with tears.

If the wise men of the tribe had known when the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock, they might have related that date with the time when Grandfather the Sun saw the disobedience and pride of the Osage people and gave their land to another people.

Not knowing that day, they knew only of their pride and disobedience, and that the Sacred One wept because their care of the Sacred One was to be taken away.

The people of the Osages had neglected their morning chant to Grandfather the Sun. They had grown fat and lazy with the plenty provided by the Sacred One. They had failed to live in the orderliness of the heavens and had allowed their villages to become disorderly and littered with refuse. They had forgotten that Wah-Kon-Tah, would punish for disobedience. They were proud of themselves.

The warriors of the nation had wandered far to the prairie on the war movement. They had traveled far westward in the pathway of Grandfather the Sun. They had not chanted their prayers to Grandfather the Sun. They had not consulted their sacred things. They had not sung their Wah-Hopeh songs. They had killed their kinsmen, the Konsas.

Their warriors had moved proudly. They were happy that others were afraid. They had strutted before strange warriors they had met. They had boasted. They had killed when other tribesmen only intended to count coup. They had killed captives who were brave and did not flinch from the fire or from the knife. They had taken scalps of cowards who had run from the fighting or had begged for their life.

Now, the warriors were returning with scalps of which they were ashamed. They traveled at night to hide from Grandfather the Sun. They came to the valley where the eye of the Sacred One lay placid in the moonlight. Stars reflected from the surface like from the eyes of a woman who does not sleep.

It was in that night that the Sacred One trembled with the wrath of Wah-Kon-Tah. The earth heaved beneath the feet of the warriors. Trees toppled on slopes of the narrow valley.

As the earth's convulsion ceased, the Indians arose from the ground to behold the ruin about them. The stream which white men call Spring Creek had ceased its flowing, and while the Warriors watched, the quiet pool became a boiling spring as the stream of tears flowed from the eye of the Sacred One.






Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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