Osage - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The early Osage economy was based on horticulture, hunting, and the collection of wild food plants. Maize, beans, and squash were the most important crops. Although bison were the most Important game animals, elk, deer, and bear were also significant. Persimmons, prairie potatoes, and water lily roots were staples in their diet. During the eighteenth century, the fur trade and Indian slave trade became important aspects of their economy. Horses, first adopted by the Osage in the late seventeenth century, facilitated bison hunting, which became the dominant feature of the Osage economy in the mid-nineteenth century. The last Osage bison hunt took place in 1875. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, they were dependent upon per capita payments from interest paid on the Kansas land sale money in the federal Treasury. This income and other properties made the Osage the "richest People per capita in the world." Oil income from the 1897 discovery peaked in 1924. In 1906 each of the 2,229 allotees had received a headright, which entitled its owner to 1/2229th of the income from tribal mineral rights. Individuals born after the roll was closed could acquire a headright only by Inheritance or purchase. Headlights can be divided, but today only a minority own any part of one, though a few individuals own multiple headlights. Most of the wealthier individuals today are older women. The present economy is based on oil income and wage labor.

Industrial Arts. Historic crafts included leatherwork, beading, finger weaving, ribbonwork, and some metalwork using German silver. Today a limited amount of weaving, ribbonwork, and beading is produced for domestic use.

Trade. From the late seventeenth until the late nineteenth centuries, trade was a critical part of their economy. During the first half of the eighteenth century, they were a major supplier of Indian slaves to the French. Starting in the last half of the eighteenth century, the trade shifted to horses, beaver pelts, and deer and bear skins. By the mid-nineteenth Century, they were trading primarily in bison robes and hides.

Division of Labor. Farming, collection of wild food plants, and their preparation and storage were primarily the work of women. Women were also primarily responsible for hide work, making clothes, cooking, and raising children. Hunting was a male activity, and politics, warfare, and ritual activities were dominated by men. Important ritual positions are still limited to males, and few women have held tribal political offices.

Land Tenure. Aboriginally, each of the five bands appears to have had its own hunting territory. At least within their band's territory, individuals had rights to hunt where they wished. Farmland was owned by the family who cleared the land. In 1906 tribal reservation land was allotted to Individuals, with each man, woman, and child receiving 658 acres. The tribe reserved three 160-acre "Indian villages" where any member of the tribe could claim an unoccupied lot and build a house. Individual trust land amounts to about 200,000 acres today.

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