Jump to Navigation

Osage - Warfare History

The Osage were renowned for their skills in warfare, which allowed for the expansion of their territory during the 18th century. They had two primary war strategies: bluff war and no-quarter war. Bluff war was characterized by psychological tactics. The Osage would insult their enemy with gestures to draw them into fighting. When the Osage killed adversaries, they sometimes removed the heads of their opponents, placing them on stakes to scare off the rest of their rivals. Bluff war tactics were frequently used against groups like the Pawnee. The Osage preferred not to kill unless it was absolutely necessary. They would often capture and sell enemies as slaves to southeastern tribes. No-quarter warfare was used when the Osage could not simply defeat the enemy with fear tactics. This tactic was used against the Kiowa and Cheyenne to the west and southwest of the Osage.

The Kiowa were allies with the Comanche and together the two tribes were strong enough to halt the westward expansion of the Osage, but the Osage were also strong enough to stop the Kiowa and Comanche alliance from moving farther east. One example of no-quarter warfare is an incident in 1833 that the Kiowa call the “Cut Throat Massacre.” The Little Osage Chief, Chetopa, led a war party killing every man, woman, and child in four Kiowa lodges. The heads of the dead Kiowa were placed into kettles as a warning to stay out of Osage territory. The Osage also stole the tai-me, the Kiowa’s most sacred object, which was used in the Sun Dance and other important rituals.

Psychological tactics of intimidation were a component in all Osage wars, both through actions like beheadings and through visual indications, such as war paint. The Osage would prepare paint for war to look intimidating. The warriors wore black paint during war, because to them, black symbolized merciless fire that destroyed everything in its way. When they painted their whole heads or bodies with black paint, it meant no-quarter warfare. They would paint the upper half of the face black and the lower half yellow or orange during a bluff war.

Entry: Osage - Warfare History

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2015

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.