Ft. Osage Treaty Anniversary


By Fred L. Lee, The Kansas City Star, November 8, 1968

Soon after the sunrise on the morning of August 12, 1808, six keelboats pushed out into the muddy Missouri river just above St. Charles. Capt. Eli B. Clemson was in charge of this unusually large flotilla. Under his command were 81 men assigned to the 1st regiment, United States infantry. Also on board was a 26 year old former North Carolinian, George C. Sibley.

Their destination was a high bluff overlooking the Missouri river some 300 or so miles up stream, the future site of Ft. Osage, Mo. Clemson and his men had been designated to build and garrison the newly created frontier outpost. Sibley had been appointed as the fort’s chief factor, or Indian trader.

The party reached the river bluff on September 3. The next day they rendezvoused at nearby Fire Prairie with Gen. William Clark, superintendent of Indian affairs of the Missouri territory, and another 81 men known as the St. Charles Dragoons, who had made the journey overland to the fort site. On the morning of the 5th they began building a fortification on the bluff overlooking the eddy there.

Invitations to Indians

Clark sent Capt. Nathan Boone, leader of the Dragoons, and Paul Loese, an Osage Indian interpreter, south to the Osage villages to tell the Indians of Clark’s arrival at “the eddy” and to issue an invitation to them to come and take up residence near the fortification.

A few days later a vanguard of two Osage chiefs and 75 followers brought word that all of the villages of the Osage were on the move with everything they possessed. Shortly thereafter, according to Captain Clemson, the Little Osage “ in number say, 1,500 in toto” and the Big Osage (amounting) to upwards of 2,000 including children and women, began arriving in the area making their homes there.

On September 14 General Clark called the Indians together in council and negotiated a treaty with them in an effort to gain government control of all Osage-claimed lands west of the Mississippi river.

Clark took the signed treaty back to St. Louis with him. He handed it to his friend, Meriwether Lewis, governor of the Missouri territory, Lewis kept it in his desk a few days, expecting eventually to get the Arkansas band of the Osage to sign it. Once done, he would send the document to Washington for ratification.

Treaty Declared Invalid

Before this could be accomplished, however, several Osage chiefs visited Clark and, in turn, Lewis, complaining that because they weren’t present at the September treaty signing at Ft. Osage, they considered the document signed by their fellow tribesmen that date was invalid. They wanted another council to be held so that they, too, could have a saying in its signing.

In order to avoid trouble over the matter Lewis and Clark decided to go along with the disgruntled Osages’ wish. Lewis then wrote another treaty. He gave orders to Pierre Chouteau, to take the amended document to Ft. Osage for signing.

Chouteau reached the fort site on November 8. Two days later he called the Indians together in council and explained the substance of the new treaty to them.

He said that basically it was the same treaty the Osages had signed before, except that it gave the United States title to all their lands north as well as south of the Missouri river (land now occupied by the states of Iowa, Missouri and Arkansas). The Osage were to live and hunt, without molestation,” on a tract of land west of Ft. Osage. Another tract two leagues square was to be laid off by the government surveyors for Ft. Osage proper (thence the present-day “Six Mile Country” name given to the northeastern corner of Jackson County).

For their land the Indians were guaranteed protection from various Indian tribes committing depredations against them. They were also granted privileges at the fort. In addition they were promised an annuity of $1,000 for the Big Osage and $500 for the Little Osage, this annuity to be given to them once a year at Ft. Osage by George Sibley. As an added bonus they were to be provided with a blacksmith shop, a blacksmith, a mill, “some ploughs, and a house for each of their great chiefs.”

To Be Friend or Foe

After explaining the substance, of the new treaty to the Indians, Chouteau told them, “You have heard this treaty explained to you: Those who come forward and sign it shall be considered the friends of the United states and treated accordingly. Those who refuse to come forward and sign it shall be considered the enemies of the United States and treated accordingly.”

Chouteau’s polite threat didn’t set too well with the Indians. Sensing trouble, Sibley tactfully explained the importance of the treaty as Chouteau had outlined it, and more specifically, how they, the Osage, would benefit from it. The Osage talked the matter over and one of their leaders, Ca-ha-ton-ga, a chief bearing Chouteau’s threat and Sibley’s explanation in mind, told his people that if their great American father wanted a part of their land, he should have it. It was obvious that the government could take it if they wished but the white man had been decent enough to come and negotiate with the Osage for it, he said. The chief’s words of weight with his people bore weight with his people. In turn each nodded his head in agreement, deciding it would be best to go along with what Choueau had in mind.

THE “FACTORY” (Indian Trading House)

George C. Sibley, appointed United States factor, or trader, at Fort Osage in 1808, floated his trade goods down the Ohio River in a keel boat to Fort Bellefontaine on the Mississippi and accompanied the Fort Osage garrison up the Missouri to the fort site. Late in 1809 he completed his permanent factory building, a story-and-half structure with two-story cellar. His bachelor quarters of bedroom, dining room and kitchen, were in the south end, with office, trade room, and storage for merchandise and furs opposite. The goods traded to the Indians consisted mainly of blankets, traps, guns and ammunition, tomahawks, knives, kettles, colored cloth, beads, silver ornaments, vermillion, and breech-cloth. For these were received buffalo robes, dressed, and shaved deer skins, and bear, beaver, raccoon, wolf, fox, badger, and muskrat furs. This factory was one of the few operated in the United States without a loss. The Indians valued the opportunity to supply themselves with guns for protection from others so armed and found trade goods useful. Private traders resented competition by the government factories and induced Congress to end the system in 1822.

The restoration and equipment of the factory are based upon the descriptive appraisals and inventories filed annually by the factor with the Indian Department and artifacts found on the site. It is constructed of hewn white-oak logs from the Ozark Mountains, finished with hand-wrought hardware and window glass, and rests upon the original footings of which lower courses remained in place. The furniture in the factor’s living quarters is as inventoried and consists of typical original pieces of the period. The patterns of china displayed are similar to fragments from the site.

A museum in the second-floor storage room illustrates the operation of the factory and its relation to the first two decades of the Louisiana Purchase. Military and occupational activity found on the site are displayed. This was a period of notable activity in the fur trade with Mexico. These pursuits were enlivened by unrest of the Indians, incited by the British in anticipation of the War of 1812, and their depredations during the war. The period is inadequately covered in written history, hence the attention given to it in the restoration. The restored factory building was dedicated September 11, 1954.

Registered National Historic Landmark


Blockhouse No. 1

THE FORT OSAGE RESTORATION at Old Sibley, in Jackson County, Missouri (about twenty miles east of Kansas City) illustrates the earliest history of the Louisiana Purchase when the Indians first were in contact with Americans, the Missouri River was laboriously ascended by the keel boats of fur traders and explorers, and the topography and boundaries of the Purchase were as yet unknown.

The FORT was built of hewn white-oak logs in 1808, on the high promontory overlooking the Missouri, by William Clark, joint commander of the Lewis and Clark expedition, two years after the return from the Pacific. Its purposes were to establish friendly relations with the Indians by giving them a government trading house, enforce the licensing of private traders, and serve notice upon the British and Spanish colonial authorities that the United States would resent encroachments upon its new territory.

BLOCKHOUSE NO. 1 was the largest of five that defended the fort and its gun could command the river. Its restoration was dedicated September 11, 1948 and contains cannon and historical exhibits. The Fort Osage restoration is a Jackson County Park Department project. Purchase and development of the site and construction of buildings have been authorized by the County Court. The Native Sons of Kansas City, Missouri, Inc. has donated the furnishings and exhibits and did the original research.


The Fort Osage Restoration is in commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Louisiana Purchase. Within this region, between the Mississippi River and the crest of the Rocky Mountains, Fort Osage may well rank with Jamestown and Plymouth Rock as a symbol of American beginnings. The spread of the original United States, east of the Mississippi, was doubled by the purchase from France in 1803. It was as savage a wilderness as had met the first colonists two hundred years before and the conflict between the red and white men was to follow the old pattern.

Upon the return of Lewis and Clark from the Pacific in 1806 the explorers were placed in charge, Meriwether Lewis, as governor and William Clark as commander of militia and Indian agent of Louisiana Territory. Their immediate problems were the encroachment of British traders from the north; efforts of Spanish officials to ally the Indians on the south; regulations of the rapidly growing fur trade; and protection of the settlements from depredations by the Osage and other tribes. Similar situations had been met since Washington’s time by the operation of fortified trading houses on the Indian frontiers. So it was that Fort Osage came to be built by William Clark three hundred river miles from the nearest white habitation.

The building party consisted of a company of 81 1st U. S. Infantry, for garrison duty under Captain Eli B. Clemson, and a company of 80 St. Charles Dragoons, mounted militia, who volunteered their services to General Clark for thirty days. The regulars, accompanied by U. S. Factor, George C. Sibley with his trade goods, made the voyage from Fort Bellefontaine, near St. Louis, in six keel-boats in 26 days, while the Dragoons marched their horses from St. Charles in ten days. Both parties arrived at the fort site on September 4, 1808. In eleven days construction of the fort was so far advanced that General Clark and his Dragoons could return to St. Charles. On November 10, 1808 the post was christened “Fort Osage” with military honors.

Fort Osage has unique historic interest, not only because it was the first United States army post beyond the line of settlement along the Mississippi, but also because its association with the earliest personalities and movements identified with the opening of the West. The logic of its location near the fork of the northwest and southwest routes around the Rockies was proved by the later development nearby Independence, Westport, and Kansas City as termini of successive methods of continental transportation. Sturdily built of white-oak logs the fort justified its objectives and the trading house was among the most successful of 28 such posts at one time or another under the United States system.

While supervising the building of the fort William Clark had required the Great and Little Osages to move their villages to the immediate vicinity and obtained the cession to the United States of all their land to the east and between the Missouri and Arkansas rivers. There were at one time some 5,000 Indians about the fort. In the spring of 1809 the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company’s expedition of 172 men was sworn into federal service by Captain Clemson for the return of Chief Shahaka to his Mandan town. He had accompanied Lewis and Clark to Washington in 1806 and a previous escort had been turned back by the Sioux and Arikara Indians. In April, 1811, the Astorians left Fort Osage on the first expedition, after Lewis and Clark, to reach the Pacific. They were organized by John Jacob Astor to build a fur post at the mouth of the Columbia River. These were followed by the annual Missouri Fur Company party, with whom Saccagawea, the Lewis and Clark heroine, was returning to her Hidatsa home. In this year also Factor Sibley, with a guard of Osages, visited the Kaws and Pawnees in the interest of trade. The War of 1812 caused the evacuation of Fort Osage during the years 1813-1815, five of the northern U. S. factories having been destroyed by British and Indians.

With the return of the garrison in 1816 the fort acquired a hostess in the youthful bride of George C. Sibley. One of her first guests was the celebrated Daniel Boone of Kentucky, then in his 85th year. The Army’s Yellowstone expedition of 1819, including the Long exploring party, brought the first steamboats and removed the garrison to establish Fort Atkinson above present Omaha. The trading house continued in opertion until 1822, when the United States factory system was abandoned through opposition of the fur companies. In 1821 the first successful trading party to Santa Fe, under Captain William Becknell, had stopped at the fort and in 1825 George C. Sibley was appointed one of the commissioners for federal survey of the Santa Fe Trail, beginning at the gate of the fort. By the Osage treaty of that year the Indians ceeded their remaining land in Missouri, from which Jackson County was formed. Only rock foundations and occupational artifacts were found when Fort Osage restoration project was begun, but the neighborhood name of “Six Mile” survives from the original area granted by the Osages for the fort’s restoration. The town of Sibley perpetuates the name of the factor. It is the objective of the restoration to preserve the opening history of the Louisiana Purchase and to present an example of the United States factory system, which played an important part in the development of Indian affairs of the nation.

Herman Dunlap Smith

Center for the History

of Cartography

The Newberry Library

Historical Atlas and


of County Boundaries,


John H. Long, Editor

Volume 4 Iowa, Mo.

Compiled by:

Adele Hast (Mo.)

John H. Long (Iowa)

G. K. Hall & Co.

70 Lincoln Street

Boston, Massachusetts


*Notice: This material

may be protected by

copyright law

(Title 17 U,S, Code),

Per written agreement,

proper citation of materials

must credit reproduction

to: Jackson County(Mo.)

Historical Society


Jackson County, Mo. as

formed from the 1825 Treaty

with the Osage Indian Tribe