This was written by Myron A. Hurd for the Ranchman magazine and appeared in the November 1961 issue. Watch for Part II of this article. Submitted by the Claremore Museum of History.
Probably no area in Oklahoma enjoys a more fascinating history than Cooweescoowee District, Cherokee Nation, which encompasses the area referred to as “The Will Rogers Country.” It’s modern version as we know it began about 144 years ago when Jean Pierre Chouteau persuaded some of the Osage Indians, with whom he held exclusive trading rights from the French government, to move from their Osage River homes in Kansas and Missouri to this area. He established a trading post at Salina on Grand River in 1796 to keep them supplied and buy their furs. This was seven years before the U. S. government acquired title to this area (1803) through the Louisiana Purchase.
The supply of wild game in Oklahoma about this time was reported to be inexhaustible. When Washington Irving visited Pierre Chouteau at Salina about 1832 and wrote his “Tour of the Prairies,” after accompanying some of the men on a hunting expedition, he described the prairies as a tall grass country rich in wild game and wild horses. The horses had propagated from the Spanish horses which had escaped from explorers on previous journey in the prairies and plains country.
The Osages settled along the rivers and creeks in villages such as Claremont’s “Pasuga” near Claremore Mound about 1817 and Black Dog’s village on Dog Creek (named for the chief) near the present Claremore Cemetery. Chouteau’s post at Salina was the social and cultural center of this entire area.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, agitation began in the southeastern states for removal of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles, to these western lands. Some of the Cherokees foresaw the enforced removal coming and voluntarily emigrated to lands set aside for them between 1810 and 1820. Most of them settled east of Grand River and were later referred to as the “Old Settlers.”
It was hunting parties from these old settler Cherokees who engaged bands of Osages in battle skirmishes from time to time. The Osages reportedly whipped a band of Cherokees near the Arkansas border and the Cherokees retaliated by killing many Osages in the battle of Claremore Mound about 1819.
The late “Uncle” Monte Price’s version of this battle, as told to him by one of his relatives who participated, was that they killed many Osages in a running fight toward the mound, they killed more of them on top of the mound, and ran the rest into the swollen Verdigris River where only a few escaped from drowning. The Cherokees were armed with guns while the Osages had only bows and arrows, he said.
The Osage version of this battle was that their men folks were away on a hunting party and that only a few old men and women and children were there to resist the attack.
Dr. Cal Chapman, Anthropologist from the University of Missouri, who is writing a book on the history of the Osages, came to Art Hanes farm recently looking for the location of Claremore’s village. Having examined the archives in Washington, D. C. and read the account by missionaries, he knew where to come, where to look and what to look for. He and Forrest Hanes, Art’s son, strode up over Claremore Mound on a cloudy, soggy day. At the east edge, Chapman paused and remarked “yonder looks like what we are looking for.” They walked down the east slope and out into Charles Green’s field a ways where Dr. Chapman began picking up Indian relics, thus verifying the presence of an Osage village long ago.
Fort Gibson was established in 1824, according to historian, Grant Foreman, to help curb the warlike tendencies of the Osages. By the time of the enforced removal of the Cherokees to Cherokee Nation (west) over the “Trail of Tears” between 1837 and 1840, the Osages were pretty well confined on their Reservation with the Osage Agency (now Pawhuska) as trade and governing center.
Most of white man’s wares for trading with Indians came up the Arkansas River by boat to Ft. Smith and Fort Gibson, and over the Osage Agency Trail through Will Rogers Country near present Claremore.
The Cherokees were reluctant to settle on the prairies of Cooweescoowee District because they were so lonely, compared to the lovely hills where they lived in Georgia and North Carolina. Elijah Hicks was one of the first to settle near Claremore in 1842. He kept a surplus of supplies for resale in other emigrants who ran short. According to Emmett Starr, there were about 30 Cherokee children in Mt. Claremore School (about 4 miles north of present Claremore) in 1858 and 1859, with Nancy Jane Rider as teacher.
Learn more about Claremore and the Cooweescoowee District at the Claremore Museum of History. Open Saturdays from 11a – 3p, 121 N. Weenonah, in the old Will Rogers Library.