An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827-1830: Three French Accounts

An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827-1830: Three French Accounts

by University of Oklahoma Press

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In 1827 six Osage people—four men and two women—traveled to Europe escorted by three Americans. Their visit was big news in France, where three short publications about the travelers appeared almost immediately. Virtually lost since the 1830s, all three accounts are gathered, translated, and annotated here for the first time in English. Among the earliest writings devoted to Osage history and culture, these works provide unique insights into Osage life and especially into European perceptions of American Indians.

William Least Heat-Moon’s introduction poignantly tells of people leaving one alien nation, the United States, to visit an even more alien culture an ocean away. In France the Osages found themselves lionized as “noble savages.” They went to the theater, rode in a hot-air balloon, and even had an audience with the king of France. Many Europeans ogled them as if they were exhibits in a freak show. As the entourage moved through Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, interest in the Osages declined. Soon they were reduced to begging in the suburbs of Paris, without the means to return home.

Translated by Heat-Moon and James K. Wallace, the three featured texts are surprisingly accurate as basic descriptions of Osage history, geography, and lifeways. The French authors, influenced by racist and sexist expectations, misinterpreted some of the behaviors they describe. But they also dismiss rumors of cannibalism among the Osages and observe that “the behavior of some whites . . . was not conducive to giving the Indians a favorable opinion of white morality.”

An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827–1839 offers scholars and general readers both a compelling story and a singular glimpse into nineteenth-century cultural exchange.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806151120
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 11/18/2013
Series: American Exploration and Travel Series , #81
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 168
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

William Least Heat-Moon is the author of Blue Highways: A Journey into America and, most recently, Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened.
James K. Wallace is Professor Emeritus of French at the University of Missouri.

Read an Excerpt

An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827â"1830

Three French Accounts

By William Least Heat-Moon, James K. Wallace


Copyright © 2013 William Least Heat-Moon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5112-0


About the Text of

Six Red Indians

A HALF-DOZEN EDITIONS of Six Red Indians appeared in 1827 and apparently none thereafter. We have examined five of the six—the one published in Le Havre, two in Paris, one in Brussels, and one in Leipzig—but we have not been able to locate anything that could be a first edition. That initial printing, appearing within hours of the arrival of the Osages in Le Havre, may have been little more than a mere announcement or news account. If that should be so, then Father Matthew Anduze might have had a hand in calling attention to relevant cultural material, especially Nicolas Perrin's review of John Dunn Hunter's Memoirs of a Captivity, published in London only three years earlier. Whatever the content or whoever the author of that original edition, we think it likely David Delaunay, as leader of the Osage tour, underwrote its publication. The first printing may have been small, just enough to gauge French interest in the Indians, but sales were apparently sufficient to exhaust the supply and warrant a "revised, corrected, and augmented" second edition no later than four days after the Osages landed.

This version contains two revealing details unremarked until now: On the verso of the title page is, effectively, a statement of copyright:

We, the undersigned, in charge of the management of the Six Osage Indians, certify that the information given here, printed by M. S. Faure, in Le Havre, was written up based on documents furnished by our Interpreter, who has spent a great number of years among the Indians; that all the details which it contains are the exact truth, and that the Author of this work, and Editor, is the only one who has the right to publish it, not wanting, we the undersigned, to concede this right to any other person.

Le Havre, August 1st, 1827

D. DELAUNAY, F. C. TESSON, Directors of Management Paul LOISE, Interpreter.

The problem here lies in the punctuation and syntax of this sentence: Is the "Author" one and the same as the "Editor," as the singular verb that follows suggests? If so, that person must be David Delaunay. And what documents did Loise provide? Could that man of the backcountry have had enough literacy to know about Perrin's long review? Perhaps Loise did little more than turn over material given him by Father Anduze, whom the Osages had asked in New Orleans to prepare the way for their arrival. To create Six Red Indians, Delaunay then could have cobbled together items around Perrin's review of Memoirs of a Captivity and perhaps also included comments based on Loise's firsthand knowledge of Osage life. The second edition, although described as "revised, corrected, and augmented," contains no information on the Indians while they were in Le Havre, other than remarks about their arrival. This is the version Paul Vissier cites and belittles in his History of the Tribe of the Osages.

The third and fourth editions, both published in Paris, are virtually identical in content and format: They are duodecimos (five by seven and three-quarter inches). The third edition appeared around the tenth of August and updates the title-page description to "Revised, corrected, and augmented with interesting details of their sojourn in Le Havre." The fourth version came out two weeks later.

The Brussels edition appeared in a reduced format of a sextodecimo (three by five and one-half inches) and is clearly based on those of Paris, although for some reason it omits three paragraphs about Osage religion. One Brussels copy we examined was in thin, lime-green paper covers with a strange title, "Almanach des Osages," although the almanac is nothing more than a four-page table of saints' days for 1828. The wrapper indicates the pamphlet was distributed free to the audience of a December 1827 vaudeville show, presumably the onstage appearance of the Osages singing and dancing. The title page notes: "This foreign family, after having offered themselves to the contemplation of inquisitive people in Brussels, will apparently go to the principal cities of the Kingdom."

The Leipzig version, Die Sechs Kupferrothen Indianer [The Six Copper-Red Indians], states that the German translation is based on the third French edition, and it does, in fact, follow that text closely but for two exceptions: It deletes a paragraph about French place-names along the Missouri River, and in the conclusion it mentions the visit of the Osages to the king of France on August 21, adding that the Indians were still in Paris. This edition includes a foldout illustration by Luther Brand that is superior to any illustration in the French-language versions of Six Red Indians.

All copies we have seen were originally published in flimsy paper covers typical of the time, scarce protection for the pages within over the intervening years. Whatever the case, Six Red Indians is relatively difficult to find, even in major libraries.

The half-title page of the various French editions, imprinted in capital letters with Les Indiens Osages, has led some modern commentators to refer to the work as The Osage Indians, an error that Paul Vissier compounds by calling the pamphlet Des Indiens Osages [About the Osage Indians]. These incorrect designations can derail a title search alone for the booklet.

For reasons of its generally superior completeness, we have chosen to translate and annotate the third edition, which also appears to be the one with the widest circulation. The endnotes document differences among the five known printings.

Six Red Indians

The Osage Indians

Course of the Missouri River

THE ACQUISITION OF LOUISIANA by the government of the United States which bought this immense country in 1803 from the residents to whose domination it was subjected, and by its subsequent treaties made with Indians, have rendered the American Union master of a vast region watered by the Missouri River. The concessions obtained from the savage natives cost the present owners very little—portions of the territory one-hundred-thousand arpents in size being transferred for less than two hundred dollars.

The Missouri is a river with its source near the Rocky Mountains, not far from the divisions separating North America from the Columbia of the North. The mouth of the Missouri is at Fort Saint Louis where it mingles with the Mississippi which waters Louisiana and New Orleans and empties into the sea forty-five leagues from this latter city.

The course of the Missouri is majestic, and a short while ago some intrepid American engineers traveled on it with unheard-of effort by means of steamboats, which were broken down into parts and transported on beasts of burden when impassable passages were encountered. An infinitude of smaller rivers carry the tribute of their waters to the Missouri; among these is the Grand Osage which waters the territory of the people from whom six members have just disembarked at Le Havre. The Missouri receives this river forty-three leagues from Fort St. Louis.

Memories of the French

At one hundred leagues upriver towards its source are the last French fortifications, abandoned like all the others; the only imperishable monuments we have left there are the names we gave to places, prairies, and rivers which they retained while changing masters: One still finds la Bonne Femme, la Prune, le Mont-Brun, les Charbonniers, la Terre-Blanche, etc.

Names of Peoples Neighboring the Osages

The shores of the Missouri are peopled with a plentitude of Indian tribes, the complete denomination of which has no place here; counting only the red nations, we have the Osages of whom we will especially speak, the Kanzas, the Pawnee-Loups, the Republican Pawnees, the Grand Pawnees, the Poncas, Omahas, Comanches, the Plais or Bald-heads, the Utes, Sauks, Fox, Ioways, and Sioux; the latter tribe is much larger than the others.

Love of the Savages for Their Region

The mores of these peoples, some of whom call the President of the United States their father, present as a whole the same characteristic traits. It's only in the details that one notices nuances. Habits are modified according to the location of the places where they dwell, and their physiognomy changes—if you compare the Indian of the Plains with the Indian of the [Rocky] Mountains, the savage of the forests and the one who built his hut on the bank of a river; but the tenacity of these men for the place where they were born is the same everywhere; it is a passion rivaled only by their ardent love for independence and liberty, attributes so precious they would not exchange the slightest part for the benefits of civilization. Their favorite maxim is that anyone can do whatever he wants if he harms not another, but one doesn't progress in civilization with that rule of conduct. No people, says Mr. Hunter, have a stronger attachment to their land, and death holds no horror for an Indian if his country can gain some advantage from his demise. Self-interest is never taken into consideration. The savage submits to his destiny, fully persuaded he is doing his duty, with a magnanimity that ordinary souls are incapable of appreciating. Skilled at concealing the emotions he feels, he never forgets a favor or an insult.


The Indians live in huts that in their language they call "wigwams." A few tree trunks brought together without being joined form the walls of these crude structures. Smoke escapes from an opening made in the roof. A chimney would be a luxury. Their beds are made from two planks trimmed with an axe, upon which they place a bear skin or bison skin in the winter; in the summer, they use moss found growing in the swamps. These men of nature do not bother themselves with anything except what is necessary to keep from dying of hunger or cold; everything beyond those limits is considered superfluous, and they renounce it. Liberty and weakness have never walked side by side. Furnishings are unknown. Their cooking equipment would not surpass that of our lower Breton peasants: a bowl or hollow scraped into a piece of maple wood; two or three plates made of crude sundried pottery, some wooden forks—those are all the furnishings of a hut. Certain tribes are somewhat better equipped, having iron pots and clay dishes in shapes not unattractive, but such wares are few.


Most of these Indians are hunters and fishermen, and their food is scarcely more refined than their clothes; they live on roots, fish, and buffalo flesh half-roasted and boiled, to which they add in the spring the bark of a shrub with a sweet taste something like the turnip in Europe. One unusual dish, which probably only a few people could get used to, is a soup made with ants plentiful in the region. The Snake Indians are especially fond of it and never fail to serve this soup at family reunions or celebrations.


The further customs are separated from civilization, the less women are treated with the consideration necessary to a sex nature did not endow with strength for the work people in savage lands think they have the right to require of them. The unfortunate Indian women, of all females in the world, have the most right to complain about the abuse of marital power. Savage women do not have the least bit of coquetry, although they really enjoy daubing their face with vermilion. One can hardly conceive that females who have such a mild appearance can be so frightening and so cruel when they fall upon an enemy prisoner.

Agriculture and routine work of every sort are among their tasks. Men would think themselves degraded by doing it; they live in continual indolence. They rarely deign to go out to make weapons or build canoes or wigwams, but even in the latter two projects, men make women help them. When different tribes go to hunting lands, the male savage walks proudly carrying only his bow and gun. On the other hand, the woman serves as a beast of burden as she carries on her shoulders, with the help of a strap across her forehead, all the equipment for the family, never receiving—if she succumbs to the load—either help or signs of compassion from her spouse. Once arrived at the place where the camp is to be established, the man reposes while the woman puts down her burden and busies herself setting up the tent and preparing a meal.

If the male goes hunting, he almost always returns without carrying back his prey. He goes into his hut and stretches out on the moss, his wife takes off his mitas and his mokosins (leggings and shoes), and she washes his feet, fills his pipe, and awaits his orders. "My kill is at such and such a distance," the savage tells her; the woman leaves quickly; and it is remarkable that in these immense, empty lands, the unfortunate savage woman never goes astray, but returns carrying the game. Thus this liberty the Indians are so jealous of really profits only the men. Women are excluded from it. They are slaves! If such is the law of nature, you must agree that nature gave a very large portion to the masculine sex.


Maternal care is not as all-encompassing in their country as in civilized lands. Women employed in rough work do not take much care of their off-spring. When a child is born, it is attached by thongs to a plank covered with vegetable fiber, and the mother hangs it on a tree while she goes about her domestic affairs. The anguish of these little creatures lasts up to ten months before they gain freedom of their limbs; then the children can crawl or drag themselves on the ground if their legs are not strong enough to hold them upright. Boys go naked; girls are dressed in a shirt which covers them to the waist and a very short sort of skirt which comes half-way down their legs. Children are nursed until age two or three, a custom attributed to the difficulty of finding, for such young beings, food suitable to the weakness of their organs.


The ordinary dress of women differs little from children of their same sex. They both circle the head with a leather band or a ribbon of some cloth decorated with glass beads, medallions, or feathers of divers colors. Men wear no garment except a strip of cloth large enough to cover their loins; they throw a bear skin, buffalo skin, or perhaps a wool blanket over their shoulders to form a drapery the ends of which they hold in one hand. They have buskins of soft fur and quite appropriate for running. When they walk about their wig-wams, they are armed with a large knife, and they carry a long-stemmed pipe because they are heavy smokers, a habit they got from the Spanish. Young men go naked even during the most intense cold spells, and leave the wearing of furs to the older men who would make fun of a young man taking on such airs of a sybarite.

Lesser Sioux or Osage chiefs having pretensions of refinement or elegance shave their heads, leaving only a tuft of hair on the crown which they carefully decorate with little slips of silver, ivory, ebony, or feathers. Each tribe has its own color, its favorite hue; some paint their faces yellow with roucou while others prefer red with black ornamentation. A mixture of the last two tints is the ne plus ultra of good taste; one cannot refuse anything to a young man who paints his cheeks with rings, crescents, arrows, and designs most bizarre.

To add even more to their beauty, the fashionables separate their ears from their heads with a knife to the extent that the ears are held in place only at the extremities; then brass wires are inserted, one on top of another, into the slits which, because of the weight, cause the ear to hang to the shoulder. Nostrils undergo similar mutilation and are filled with different kinds of pendants. So there you have men of nature who refuse to submit to the yoke of civilization, but who submit themselves to customs more tyrannical than anyone might imagine. It is true that man is evident in everything man does, whether you find him in the center of Paris, Peking, or on the wild shores of the Missouri. The men wrap the ankles of their feet with little lanyards to which are attached metal platelets that hit against each other and make a tiny ringing noise that pleases the Indian when running or dancing, activities he is very fond of.


All Indians are great hunters, their weapons being the bow and the carbine; a buffalo, bison, beaver, or bear, hunted by them, rarely escapes their dexterity. The force of an arrow shot by one of these savage is truly extraordinary: People have seen an arrow go through the body of a buffalo and fall to the ground on the opposite side of the animal, sometimes even carrying some distance beyond. American agents travel among the tribes at certain times, gaining for a very low price—either in money or an exchange of goods—the product of hunts of people especially involved in this occupation. Indians strongly insist on the right to the game within their own territory, but they are nonetheless ready to poach on the land of neighbors. Game is the cause of almost all quarrels arising between the chiefs and among their inferiors.


Excerpted from An Osage Journey to Europe, 1827â"1830 by William Least Heat-Moon, James K. Wallace. Copyright © 2013 William Least Heat-Moon. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Preface: A Thousand-Dollar Book,
A Note on Illustrations,
About the Text of Six Red Indians,
Six Red Indians,
About the Text of History of the Tribe of the Osages,
History of the Tribe of the Osages,
About the Text of Remarks about the Six Indians,
Remarks about the Six Indians,
Appendix A. Chronology of the Osage Tour,
Appendix B. Marquis de Lafayette to William Clark, March 22, 1830,
Appendix C. Paul Wilhelm's Disquisition, translated by Olaf Schmidt,

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