Dorsey's Osage Stories

George A. Dorsey, an anthropologist who testified in the Luetgert trials, was also a noted collector of Native American folk tales. In a 1904 Field Columbian Museum publication, Dorsey recounted the stories told to him by Osage Indians between 1901 and 1903, including these peculiar examples. Please take note that no offense is intended toward the Osage by publishing Dorsey's remarks here; he undoubtedly observed the social problems he describes, but it is unfair to describe the entire tribe as suffering from these problems or to characterize them as "lazy."

From the Introduction

The Osage are of Siouan stock, and made their home, when first known to the whites, in southern Missouri, northern Arkansas and eastern Kansas. In 1871 they were removed to a reservation in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, which they still occupy. They are degenerating rapidly, are very lazy and much addicted to drink. The use of the peyote or mescal among them is rapidly increasing.

It must be admitted that this collection of tales does not adequately represent the traditions of the tribe. This is largely due to the difficulty of engaging the attention for any length of time of the old men of the tribe, for reasons above mentioned.

The Opossum and the Skunk

The Opossum and the Skunk once lived together. They were sisters-in-law. "Let us eat our young ones," said the Skunk. So the Opossum ate her young ones first. Then her sister-in-law said, "Let us separate from one another." So the Skunk started with her young ones over the world.

The Skunk said, "Two of us women were once living together, sisters-in-law, but now only I have my young ones; Opossum has eaten hers up." Opossum said, "I am mad that my dear young children are eaten up." Then the Opossum defecated in the Skunk’s face. So the Opossum killed the Skunk.

The Skunk and the Wolf

The Skunk and the Wolf once met by a creek. The Wolf said, "Hello, brother." And the Skunk said, "Hello." They talked quite a while. Finally, the Wolf said, "Brother, I want some of you bullets to kill some buffalo with." The Skunk said, "All right." They turned their rumps together, and the Skunk gave the Wolf two loads. The Wolf went off and came to a hickory tree. He tried his gun, and hit the tree in the center. He went on a good way, and came to a grapevine. He shot it and knocked it down. He ate the grapes and went on.

While the Wolf was walking along, he saw about four Elks coming toward him. He said to himself, "I will eat something." So he waited until the Elk arrived in a ditch, then he turned his rump around toward the Elk, and, as they came up, he tried to shoot, but he could not make it work. One of the Elk said, "There is my friend Red-Rump." The Wolf said, "I was just cooling my rump."

The Raccoon and the Wolf

The Wolf and the Raccoon met one day, and the Wolf said to the Raccoon, "Hello, friend. How are you?" And the Raccoon said, "I am all right. How are you?" The Wolf said, "I am all right. How can we have some fun?" The Raccoon said, "I do not know." The Wolf said, "Let us have some connection with one another. Let me have connection with you first." But the Raccoon said, "I ought to have connection first." Finally, the Raccoon got on top and went after him, and the Wolf reached back and touched the Raccoon’s rump, and said, "It will soon be my turn." The Raccoon got off and climbed a tree. The Wolf said, "Come down, friend." But the Raccoon never looked at him.

The Wolf stayed around the tree, and every once in a while he would say, "Come down, for I was to have connection with you." So after a while the Wolf got mad, and said, "You do not know I talk to white men." So he made a hatchet out of mud and began cutting the tree down but broke his hatchet. The Wolf stayed around the tree, and said, "I will stay until you come down." The Raccoon said, "I will never come down." The Wolf stayed around the tree all day. When it came night he stayed right at the foot of the tree, but when midnight came he went to sleep, and the Raccoon got down and went off.

Next morning, the Wolf got up and looked up in the tree, and missed the Raccoon, and he said to himself, "I ought not to have gone to sleep." So he trailed the Raccoon, but could not catch him. So at last he gave up the chase, and said to himself, "I will kill every Raccoon I see from now on."

The Deceived Boy

A boy and his grandmother were living together. One day the boy went hunting with the hold woman, and they found a deer. The by shot at the deer and killed it. "Grandmother," said he, "did I kill him?" The old woman said, "No, he ran off." So they started home. The boy went hunting again.

The old woman had some white beans cooking; so she went over and got a piece of meat from the dead deer, to cook with the beans. When the boy got back from hunting, she gave him supper, and the boy said to the old woman, "These beans smell like meat." The old woman said, "Do not say that, because we have no meat to cook." So the boy said, "Grandmother, give me my meat." Then the boy said, "My grandmother hid the deer that I killed, and just gave me some beans, but I can smell the deer meat just the same."

The Boy Who Killed the Hill

There once was a village by a hill. The hill was eating up everything all the buffalo and deer and horses.

Finally there was a boy in the village, who said, "I will kill that hill." His mother said, "You leave him alone, for he eats buffalo and deer, as well as men." But the boy said, "I will kill him anyhow." He got his knife and sharpened it. He went out to the hill, and said to it, "Now eat me; you have eaten lots of men." The hill said, "What! Will a boy like you say that to me! I will eat you, sure enough!" So the hill ate the boy.

As soon as the boy was inside of he hill he cut the hill’s heart, and the hill wondered how such a boy could make him sick; he thought he must be mad. After a while, the hill died.

The boy came out, and said, "I have killed him, sure enough." So everything that was inside of the hill came out buffalo, deer, turkeys and all went into the woods.

The chief of the village said he must have a council and do something for the boy, in return for what he had done for the people. So they held a council meeting, and they decided to let the boy have the chief’s daughter. He invited all the chiefs to come and take dinner with him.

From Traditions of the Osage, George A. Dorsey, a 1904 publication of the Field Columbian Museum, Chicago.

Dorsey collected stories from other tribes as well, publishing The Cheyenne with the Field Columbian Museum in 1905 and Traditions of the Caddo with the Carnegie Institute in Washington in 1905. A few stories drawn from those two books were adapated in the 1984 Pantheon book American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erodes and Alfonso Ortiz.