BY RACHEL CAROLINE EATON
This story is a composite of many sources. The wrap is authentic history based on the written records and on the hill which stands as the immutable background of this tragic encounter; the woof is fashioned of legends, traditions and fireside tales passed by word of mouth from generation to generation of each of the tribes that took part in the engagement; but the fabric woven of these elements is shot through with the memory was embroidered with the imagery of one whose childhood was spent under the shadow of the historic hill, the grassy slopes and rock-rimmed summit of which furnished a marvelous playground where romantic youth seeking adventure could salvage, with eager interest, such relics of a vanished culture as arrow heads, battered tomahawks, and bits of colored beads; could gather gorgeous wild flowers to lay with childish reverence on the grave of the great chief who gave his name to the Mound where he is said to have fallen fighting; or garner great handfuls of fragrant blood-red berries that ripened in such profusion on the site of the village of Pasuga in the time of the Strawberry Moon.
The battle of Claremore Mound was fought between the Osages and the Cherokees in the spring of 1818 during the season of wild strawberries called by the Indians "Strawberry Moon." This bloody engagement was the culmination of a long-standing feud between the two tribes of different stock and cultural background, which, to some extent, may account for its savage fierceness.
The Osages were among the most impressive and picturesque of the wild tribes living west of the Father of Waters.
On November 10, 1808, by a treaty with the United States concluded at Fort Clark, Kansas, near Kansas City, Missouri, the Osages ceded to the United States all their lands east of a line running due south from Fort Clark to Arkan-
sas river, and also all of their lands west of Missouri river, the whole comprising the larger part of what is now the state of Missouri and the northern part of Arkansas. The territory remaining to them, all of the present state of Oklahoma north of Canadian and Arkansas rivers, was still further reduced by the provisions of treaties at Saint Louis, June 2, 1825; Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, January 11, 1839; and Canville, Kansas, September 29, 1865; and the limits of their reservation were established by Acts of Congress of July 15, 1870. This consisted (1906) of 1,470,058 acres.
The tribe numbered something like five thousand when, about 1800, the main body migrated to the valleys of the Grand and Verdigris in what is now eastern Oklahoma. Their two main villages in this region were Pasona or Black Dog's Town, near the present site of Claremore, and Pasuga at the foot of Claremore Mound where lived the hereditary war chief of the tribe called by the French and Osages Claremont and pronounced by the English Claremore.
The Osages were hunters, living in the barbarous stage of development. While their village-sites were more or less permanent, their houses, built of a framework of poles covered with bark and rushes, were frail structures requiring repairs and restoration after each return from the buffalo hunt to which, at stated seasons of the year, big, little, old and young betook themselves, leaving their lodges deserted for weeks at a time.
They were people of fine physique, tall, straight, and of commanding appearance. According to the artist Catlin, who visited their villages in the early thirties of the nineteenth century and painted portraits of some of their chiefs, they ranged from six to seven feet in stature, and were well proportioned in body. Their dress was simple, consisting of leggings and moccasins; the body from the waist up was unclothed except for the buffalo-robe thrown over the shoulders to protect them from the most rigorous weather of winter.
The scalp clean shaven, and the bare body were painted with some degree of artistic taste. Long strands of beads and elk's teeth hung around the neck, bracelets decorated the arms, and a peculiar style of head-dress completed their costume.
With these giants of the prairie the French had been
on the most friendly terms for many years; had established trading posts in their country to which the Indians brought furs to exchange for supplies of beads, silver ornaments of various kind, kettles, knives and firearms. As early as 1798 Pierre Chouteau of St. Louis had set up a trading post on the Grande River, which long remained a center of barter with the western Indians. A survival of this French influence is still to be found in such names as Chouteau, Salina, Sallisaw, Poteau and Verdigris.
Unlike the French, the Cherokees were not held in high regard by the Osages but were considered intruders, aliens, if not apostates whose strange ways and mediocre stature furnished targets for the pungent wit and dry sarcasm for which the "Big People" were noted.
A fragment of the most powerful and progressive mountain tribe of the Appalachian Highland was known as the Cherokee Nation; these western Cherokees had left home for various reasons and for more than a quarter of a century had drifted in by families or by groups of kin and located in settlements along the streams of the Arkansas and White Rivers until in 1817 they numbered between two and three thousand souls. In the east the Cherokees were a sedentary, agricultural people, hunting being only secondary. These families had brought with them from the east, some of the essential elements of civilization and their gardens, orchards and grain fields, together with their horses, hogs and cattle furnished them an abundant and assured subsistence.
Nor were they illiterate. Had not their great Sequoyah given them an alphabet, himself teaching them its use in order that they might communicate with one another and with friends and kin in Georgia and Tennessee?
The naturalist, Thomas Nuttall, who visited this band in 1819, found them living in houses of logs or lumber, comfortable and furnished with a degree of good taste beyond that of most pioneer white settlers of the time. This he tells us in his "Journals of Travel in the Arkansas Territory."
These Cherokees for years were settlers without title to their homes, however, a status which had begun to disturb them greatly as time went on.
Not only did the Osages despise these Cherokees, but they looked upon them as intruders. Nor was the heavy hand
of the "Big People" long in descending upon the hapless heads of the "alien people," as the Cherokees were considered by the wild plainsmen who made forays into the Cherokee settlement, stealing horses, carrying off captives and murdering in cold blood. The Cherokees retaliated in kind, even invading Osage territory. This border warfare continued for several years, making life hideous for all concerned.
Such was the state of affairs when in 1817 word reached the Osages that a treaty was pending between the United States Government and the Western Cherokees. The great Indian fighter, Andrew Jackson, representing the Federal Government, had charge of the negotiations and was pressing the Cherokees for a cession of land in Georgia in exchange for a tract* between the Arkansas and White Rivers in the Arkansas Territory, land which the Osages had ceded to the United States, but which they still claimed because, they said, the treaty had never been ratified in Washington. Regardless of all opposition the treaty was concluded July 8, 1817, which changed the status of the Arkansas band of Cherokee from settlers without title to their homes to that of the Cherokee Nation West.
The Osages, furious over the culmination of affairs, began a series of depredations calculated to show to all concerned what they thought of it.
A pathetic letter sent to the Governor of the Missouri Territory in 1817 by the old chief Tah-lun-tees-ky is the source of this information. It was written in Cherokee and translated by an interpreter. "We wish you to pity us, for the Osages are deaf to all we can say or do. They have stolen two of our best horses and killed two of our young men," he wrote, adding that the Cherokees had stood about all of this sort of thing they could endure. Something must be done about it. The rivers were running red with blood of the Cherokees. They, the Cherokees were going to the Osage country and get their horses, and while there would "do mischief" to those Indians. Would the Governor, when he heard of it, be pleased to remember "the piling up" of their provocations and not be too hard on the Cherokees?
But week after week passed and still the Cherokees failed to make good their threat. On the other hand Osage raids into Cherokee country continued on a small scale through the
fall and winter. The big coup, however, was being reserved for spring, when grass was plentiful and the corn-fed horses of the Cherokee would be turned out to graze at night. Moreover, a foray depriving the Cherokees of their horses at a critical period of their crops would desolate the country, prostrate the tribe, and drive them back to Georgia, leaving the Osages to recover their lost territory.
So the great drive was made. A hundred warriors are reported to have participated in it. Viewed by the Osages it was a huge success, a raid of unprecedented magnitude. While the Cherokees, weary from their farm work, slept the sleep of the just, the Osages collected and drove off all their best horses. It was done so deftly, with such silent precision, that not even the dogs were disturbed to give warning. The horses vanished between suns as if by magic, forty from one small neighborhood alone, leaving only a few of the poorer sort to be used in pursuit.
And so without let or hindrance the wily marauders drove their booty in triumph across the Six Bulls or Grand River and thence to safe pasturage in the vicinity of their own towns.
But, this once, the bold prairie warriors had overshot their mark, had reckoned without their host in relying upon the supine helplessness of their enemies. The Cherokees had their backs to the wall.
On awakening to the realization of their loss, the Cherokees determined on a prompt course of action. Too-an-tuh, their war chief, called a council of war and plans were laid for the long promised punitive expedition into the country of the marauders to recover their horses and chastise the enemy.
Preparations began without delay; guns and ammunition were made ready, hunting knives were sharpened, and a sufficient number of horses borrowed as mounts for the warriors from white renters who had not been molested and a strong coalition was formed with several other tribes unfriendly to the Osages.
To the women of the tribe fell the task of provisioning the little army. It was a simple task to prepare a sufficient quantity of kewees-tah, ancient war ration of the tribe and a diet admirably suited to such an undertaking. This was made by first parching grains of maize or corn in the ashes
until they were brown and crisp, and then pounding them into meal in a mortar. Eaten dry by the handful or mixed with a little water it was a palatable, nutritious, and wholesome food.
The war-party of six hundred fighting men and scouts that finally started on the march up the Arkansas to the Osage country was composed not only of Cherokees but of Choctaws, Shawnees, and warriors of other tribes which had suffered at the hands of the marauders. With them were eleven white men who also cherished grievances against the Osages. The trail of the Osages was easy to follow. "There was such a large herd of the stolen horses that a road was made as they went along," so well beaten out that there was small danger of losing it or of being misled by any strategy of the marauders. Approaching the villages of the Osages, the Cherokees had need of the utmost caution. Halting in the hollow of a little creek, they rested and waited for darkness to conceal their movements. Scouts returning reported that "all was clear." Resuming the advance they arrived by midnight at Black Dogs creek on the western bank of which stood the village of Pasona. Here all was silent and deserted. The Indians had gone on a buffalo-hunt.
Again taking up the trail of the horses which led northwestward and following it under cover of darkness the silent but determined Cherokees and their allies advanced toward Pasuga where the great warchief, Clermont, with his four wives and thirty-seven children, together with the rest of the village, slept on, all unconscious of the approaching disaster. A halt was called in the shelter of a grove of trees while scouts went forward to reconnoiter. Returning almost immediately, they reported that the horses were grazing just beyond the grove; herded by a few sleepy Osages. A sudden impetuous attack on the part of the Cherokees took these herdsmen utterly unaware, who, leaving their horses, took to their heels, running in mad haste toward the village to warn the sleeping inhabitants that the "foul fiends" were upon them. One, braver than the rest, stayed to try conclusions with the foe. Mounting his pony, at a single bound he dashed full-speed into the thick of the enemy, killing one man as he went. The next instant he fell mortally wounded, shouting
the tribal war-cry with his last breath. So die brave warriors of every clime and creed and race.
Thus began the bloody massacre. Revenge was sweet to the suffering Cherokees whose blood was up at last. The sun, glancing over the eastern rim of the prairie, beheld a strange sight. The peaceful village of yesterday had become a shambles. The motley group of silent, serene, civilized red men who so calmly followed the trail the day before had been transformed into a mad melee of furies.
Through the panic-stricken herd of horses the avenging host charged, stampeding them in every direction to increase the disorder. On toward the village they swept where now reigned confusion worse confounded. The surprise was so complete as to demoralize the Osages from the start, causing them to give way at the approach of the Cherokees. Men, women and children fled in the greatest disorder, the latter hiding behind boulders, trees or underbrush while the warriors retreated up the hill where the rock-rimmed summit formed a natural rampart and the steep slopes gave every advantage for defensive fighting.
Armed with bows and arrows and with guns, and occupying a strategic position, with the Cherokees exposed to their open fire, the Osages should have won the encounter by every token of Indian warfare. But this they failed to do. For the Cherokees, long accustomed to the use of firearms, were skilled marksmen, aiming their muskets with deadly precision, picking off any unwary Osage who exposed himself to their fire. Moreover, exasperated by continued loss of property, smarting from taunts of their inferiority, remembering friends and kinsmen murdered in cold blood, at last they found themselves worked up to a pitch of passion little short of madness.
Gone beserk with revenge and excitement, they charged madly up the slope, driving the Osages from every cover, until they had gained a foothold on the very summit and could thus come to a death-grip with the enemy. The Osages, stricken helpless with fear, threw away their empty guns, rushed headlong down the further slope, and plunged blindly into the seething current of the river, swollen from the spring rains and filled with floating driftwood. The weak and wounded perished. Those who reached the farther bank
continued their flight to hide in the rocky ravines or in the scanty underbrush of the neighboring streams.
For a part of two days the Cherokees pursued the fugitives and, rejecting all overtures of peace, slew without mercy, or captured all who were overtaken. Scores of men, women, and children thus perished from the relentless fury of the foe, victims of one of the bloodiest Indian massacres of modern history.
Satisfied at last that their work was well done, the victorious Cherokees rounded up their horses and, driving them before them and leading their captives beside them, turned their faces homeward. Moving in triumphal procession, the battle-stained cavalcade followed the well-trodden trail of the stolen horses back to the Six Bulls and beyond to the settlement on the Arkansas and White Rivers, where a joyous welcome awaited them from anxious wives and children.
After the Cherokees were well on their way homeward, the remnant of the beaten Osages returned to repair their homes, reorganize the band and take up life again on the scene of the great disaster. One of their first acts was to bury their great and beloved war-chief who in the early part of the conflict fell mortally wounded near the southern rim of the hill. Here a shallow grave was made after the custom of the tribe and the body of the warrior laid reverently to rest near the place where he fell, after the ritual and according to the ceremonies of his people.
A cairn of white limestone, heaped above his body, rose as a fitting monument to the war leader of the great Osages, one of the most distinguished and picturesque of America's oboriginal peoples.
American State Paper, Claims Vol. 1.
Nuttall, Thomas, Journals of Travel in the Arkansas Territory, 1919.
1. Benedict, John D., History of Muskogee.