Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99 per year.
Subscribe for Full Access

“The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it.”

So says Washington, and, acting accordingly, plans are being discussed even now for heading off a torrent of gold which is flowing to the Osage Indian reservation in the state of Oklahoma.

No Osage medicine man, with his incantations and prophecies, nor any Osage kettle woman, with her village jokes and her jesting songs, could ever have imagined the thing that has happened to this tribe of Indians. Even Uncle Sam himself, wiser than Indian village wise men, could not foresee it, which explains the predicament in which he finds himself to-day.

Life for the Osage Indians was neither easy nor pleasant for many years. On their lands in Kansas, until 1907, they grew small crops with difficulty, and now and then the government gave each member of the tribe a small check, aggregating forty dollars a year, from money which had been paid to the government by cattle raisers who leased grazing rights on the Indians’ acres.

A change came in 1907. The government decided to send the Osage Indians down into Oklahoma, to permit them to grow up in a new state. The tribe was small, and perhaps the government officials felt that, in a new land, it might be absorbed. An entire county, larger than the state of Delaware, was set aside for the tribe, and named Osage County. A strict census was taken of the tribe. It was discovered that it numbered 2229 men, women, and children; every Osage Indian in existence was counted and that number made up their total force.

Every man, woman, and child was given 657 acres of land; a school was started for the Indian children, and the Osages settled down to a life of farming. The Osages tell you now that the soil was not good; that there were too many hills and too much timber and too much underlying stone, and that farming in Oklahoma was worse than in Kansas.

The government promised the Indians to protect them until 1931; after that they must be considered full-fledged American citizens, able and willing to take care of themselves.

For eight years the Indians went from bad to Worse. And then, five years ago, fate, in the shape of an oil man, stepped in. He drilled for oil on the Indian land and found it. Immediately Washington was besieged with demands for oil leases. These leases were sold by auction; some of the prices paid were fabulous. These leases brought in so much money that in 1915, before the oil had begun to flow, every Osage Indian, man or woman, and every child born before 1907, received a check for $170.25 from the fund held by the government, which had decided to pool the oil interests of the Indians, making one man’s luck the luck of all. Cash money, in such abundance, astounded the Indians. Some of the wise men said: “There’s a trick here. The great White Father is getting ready to make us move again and he’s trying to buy our consent.” But wealth was to follow that would make these first small checks look like tobacco money.

The next year, 1916, oil began to flow from many wells. The tribe, it was stipulated by the government, should receive one-sixth of all the oil that was taken out. By the end of 1916 every man, woman, and child received from the government $826.06, for leases and $1,449.82 as his share of the oil.

In 1917 the 2,229 Indian claimants received $2,608 each; in 1918 each share was $3,940. Last year each Indian received $5,000, and in this year of grace, with new leases being sold at wild prices and with oil flowing from every ‘well,’ the Indians had received over $5,000 apiece up to July, with prospects that their individual shares for the entire year would be $9,000.

The average Indian family numbers four persons; two or three members of a family will each have one of the 2,229 Osage shares, perhaps. This means a family income of over $25,000, which is real wealth.

Now and then an Indian has inherited several shares. The books in the office of the Indian Agent in Osage County, for instance, show that Mrs, Kate Barker, a comely Indian woman of thirty-two years, has eight shares in all of Osage “stock.” Her income this year will approximate President Wilson’s salary.

Where will it end? Every time a new well is drilled the Indians are that much richer. There are millions of acres yet to be leased, and every auction day the leasers come in larger numbers and pay higher prices. For all anyone knows, the Indians may get $20,000 apiece next year and $40,000 apiece the year after that, and keep on until they get into six figures.


Pawhuska is the town around which center the activities of the oil men, the government agents, and the Osage Indians themselves; it is the metropolis of the Indian oil country.

Certain worthy copper-hued citizens of this little town of Pawhuska shed their influence on towns as far distant as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and Washington, D.C. For instance, almost daily some of them roll into Tulsa in their great cars, and delight the merchants with their tremendous purchases. In more distant Oklahoma City, where they are less frequently seen, you will find in the hotel lobbies magnificent oil paintings of prominent Pawhuska citizens, and in the glass cases of the photographers’ studios you will see artful semblances of such eminent men as Mr. Bacon Rind, for instance, and others. There was the time, of course, too, when Mr. Blank came to Oklahoma City and, filled with the spirit of—to say the least—rivalry, bought, at great expense, an automobile hearse and, seated in a rocking-chair, viewed there from the streets and shop windows, while a high-priced chauffeur sat at the wheel.

As for Washington, D.C., did not Mr. Bacon Rind himself go there, some months ago, and converse with the great men of the land? And are there not books and records in Washington filled with the names of the Pawhuska folks? And do not low-waged clerks, in that town of clerks, spend much of their time making out checks for large sums of money to the Pawhuska people?

Indeed, you hear of the town of Pawhuska and of its eminent citizens long before you see it. You have heard the Pawhuska folks called the “richest Indians in the world”; at Tulsa and Oklahoma City you begin to hear their individual names and to cross their Indian trails, and by the time you get on a little train at Tulsa which, after a few hours, will put you down at Pawhuska, you have a thrill of expectation.


“Sister Jones! In this next revival meeting I’m going to tell the truth about this business. God won’t let me lie. I can’t keep back the truth without losing my soul.” You turn in your seat and see behind you an earnest-faced young man who is talking to a group of men and women standing in the aisle.

“We’ve had a great meeting,” says the young man, “and in my next place I’m going to preach God’s truth about wickedness and greed.”

“That’s right! Tell ’em the truth,” answers the southern-voiced Sister Jones.

The men and women in the aisle say good-by to him and then walk out of the car singing, “We’ll Never Say Good-By in Heaven.”

The train starts; the young man settles down in his seat to read a paper.

“He must be talking about the folks in the Osage Indian country—probably Pawhuskee,” the man sitting next to you. is confiding, in Western fashion, to you.

You turn to him. “I’m a stranger in these parts. Are folks so bad at Pawhuska?”

“Bad! Man, they’re crazy! Money-crazy! They started about five years ago cheatin’ rich Indians, and now they’ve got to cheatin’ themselves and no one knows where it’ll end. They certainly need a revival up Pawhuskee way.”

“Do you live at Pawhuska?”

“No, siree. I wouldn’t live in Pawhuskee for nothing. Prices too high. I’m only a picture salesman in the Indian country.”

“What kind of pictures do you sell?”

“Great business! Any time any of these Indians has a photograph taken that he likes, he wants an oil painting made of it, or a crayon drawing, with a big frame. I’ve got men out here in the Osage country who go around taking orders, and, oh, man! it’s easy money. Almost every time an Indian does anything special he wants a painting made of it. There was a fellow the other day who bought a team of horses for $1,700. He sent his son off to town to get the slickest harnesses he could find. The boy bought the harness, but there wasn’t enough celluloid rings spread around on it to suit him, so he went to another store and bought three hundred and fifty-dollars worth of red, white, and blue rings and had ’em fastened all over the harness. The storekeeper didn’t want to sell him so many, and when the boy’s father came to the store a month or so later the storekeeper said to him: ‘What did your boy want with all those rings? I almost told him he couldn’t have ’em.’ And all the father said was: ‘What right you got to say what my son buys? This is a store, ain’t it, where folks can buy what they want?’

“Well, after they got the harness home and onto the horses they sent for a photographer and he took ’em, and one of my men happened along with his samples. They bought a crayon drawing of the photograph for thirty-nine dollars and a frame for thirty dollars. Any time an Indian wants anything and he has the money for it you bet he’ll get it.”

The slow train has now passed into Osage County, an area larger than the state of Delaware. The preacher behind you has fallen asleep, with the paper on his lap. The picture salesman continues:

“It’s oil that’s done it. The Osage Indians own this whole county. There ain’t many of ’em, and every time a new well comes in they get more money. The Lord only knows where it’ll end. There are more wells bein’ drilled than ever before, and the oil men have only just begun to tap it. Unless some one heads ’em off they’ll all be red millionaires, these fellows.

“You didn’t tell what business you was in, stranger,” says the picture man, after a brief pause; “but, no matter what it is, you take a tip from me and come out here to Pawhuskee where the money is.”

The country is rolling and wooded; streaks of stone show through the grass. Now and then on the creek bottom or in a small valley you see a cornfield. Soon, on the sky line, you see the skeletons of oil wells. A little later you pass ‘a tiny farmhouse surrounded by wells; the neglected yard is crossed by three pipe lines. One of these runs out into a cornfield. The corn is choked with weeds.

“They struck oil on that fellow’s place only a few months ago, and he took the money and let his corn go to grass,” says the picture man. The train stops, after a time, at a village which is literally peppered with wells. Oil tanks line, the roadway. There are wells in front yards and back yards and in one churchyard.

The firm-jawed young evangelist leaves the train. Through the car window you see him set his ragged bag down on the station platform, take off his hat, wipe his brow, hitch up the sleeves of his alpaca coat like a man preparing to do a big job, and then, resuming his baggage, start across the dusty road toward the sidewalk of Main Street. He is at his Nineveh. You wonder whether his revival is to be held in that church whose cross is overshadowed by the oil well.

“Oil is so good here,” says the picture man, “that they’d drill in the graveyards and in Main Street if they could.”

The best town of all you have seen since leaving Tulsa is Pawhuska. Aged trees lining the streets, and old stone buildings of the Civil War time and earlier, remind you that Pawhuska was an Indian center for the American government several generations ago. But the town is busy, in a nervous, excited way. Red brick buildings and concrete and steel buildings are being constructed regardless of high costs. Newly finished buildings are only too apparent. The curbstones are crowded with automobiles; they are large cars of high-priced patterns. You’ll walk many a block before you’ll see a four-cylinder machine or a flivver in this town.

There are two things for a stranger to do in Pawhuska; pronounce it “Pawhuskee,” and stop being a stranger. There are so many new folks coming to Pawhuska all the time that, after you have been in town fifteen minutes, you can go down to the railroad station and act as a reception committee to the next newcomers. It will not be amiss for you to stop any man on the street and shake hands with him. He will not ask you your business, for he will know that it is Indian trading or oil.

If you are engaged in neither of these pursuits—if you tell them, for instance, that you are only a magazine man who has come to Pawhuska to see the Indians and write about them—then you will find everybody your friend. They will tell you all they know about their red neighbors, and they will laugh and expect you to laugh at this joke, this turn of fate that has made these Osage Indians the richest Indians in the world. But walk along the streets first before you talk much to the town folks. A huge car of expensive make comes up to the curb. An unshaven young man, coatless, wearing a greasy golf cap and no collar, is at the wheel. Before long you will see many of his type; he is a well-paid chauffeur for a rich Indian family. He brings the car to a stop with a suggestion of a flourish. He does not descend to open the rear door; instead he begins to roll a cigarette. From the back seat steps a huge Indian woman; she is blanketed, and her glistening hair is parted in the middle and brushed back above her ears. She has a bead necklace and a beaded bag, but you catch a flash of a silk stocking and you see that instead of moccasins she is wearing heelless, patent-leather slippers, attached to her feet with an ankle strap. Marie Antoinette, in her empire gowns, was shod like this. Behind her descends a huge red man. His garb is Indian to the last observable stitch, except for his hat. His blue trousers are edged here and there with beads and are of a soft and glistening broadcloth. A gayly colored blanket is about his shoulders. His companion has not waited for him to alight. She strides off through the entrance of a store; he follows, fifteen feet behind her. They both “toe in,” she in her empire slippers and he in his soft, beaded moccasins. The chauffeur settles back in his seat to smoke, with one leg crossed high over his knee. In other cities men of his calling, with masters not so rich by far as his, have far more dignity than he. When in distant places you heard of these Indians with their chauffeurs, you expected to see liveried autocrats at the wheels of glistening limousines, but you soon discover, in Pawhuska, that a chauffeur does not even keep a car glistening, much less wear a livery. Mud and dust on a car’s sides do not affect its speed.

Here on one of the several main streets you see a curio store. In any other town its beaded moccasins and bags, blankets and strings of elks’ teeth, its skins and its filigree silver boxes would be lures for tourists seeking souvenirs of this land of Indians. Step inside. Here are three Indian couples, the women richly beaded, and the men wearing garments only too obviously new, purchasing blankets and other objects of Indian art. This is not a tourists’ shop. The Indian women do not come here to put on sale rugs and blankets into which they have woven their heart’s blood. Little do they seem to care who wove these gay rugs—girls at a machine in New Jersey or a Creek Indian woman in a wigwam. Here are things they want and they have the money with which to purchase them, seemingly at any price.

They stalk along these streets, these rich Indians, solemnly and proudly. Everyone of them is a celebrity in the town. Up on the hill, in an old and solid red-stone building, is the office of the Indian agent, and there in books are records of all the money that each of the Indians receives—records for any merchant to see. Some merchants seem to watch them greedily as they pass along the street, and the Indians seem to know that they are being watched with greed.

It will pay you well, after you have seen the picture in the streets, to exercise your right to become acquainted with the white citizens of Pawhuska and tell them that you wish to know something of their red neighbors. They will soon let you in behind the scenes of Pawhuska life. It will be nothing for you to be invited to sit in the offices of at least a dozen business and professional men within the next two days to hear what they know of Indians. Their stories of the disregard of the Indians for high prices make our silk-shirt buying citizens seem miserly.

When the cherries first appeared in market this year, for example, an old Indian drove up to a store in his car, pulled out a tin pail, and went over to the counter where there was a case of cherries in little boxes. He emptied one box after another into his pail, and when he had them all he turned to the storekeeper and said, “How much?”

“Dollar a box,” said the storekeeper.

“You took eighteen boxes.”

“All right. Charge it,” said the Indian. Not all their spending is selfish indulgence; gentler emotions often. come into play.

“I want to buy best baby-carriage,” said a proud young Indian mother to a storekeeper.

“But your mother bought a carriage for the baby to-day,” said the storekeeper. “She said she wanted him to ride in his grandmother’s carriage.”

“All right. But he’s my baby and I want him to ride in his mother’s carriage sometimes, too,” said the mother, as she selected a carriage, twin of the one her mother had bought.

Planning in advance is not an Indian trait, and “wanting a thing when you want it” is oftentimes the mother of invention, as when an Indian sent word into town that he wanted a garage man to send a big car out to his farm in a hurry. The cost was seven dollars.

When the car arrived the Indian gave the driver a bill and said: “You go to Pawhuskee, buy me beefsteak.”

“How much beefsteak?” asked the driver.

“Much as money you got left from the bill,” said the Indian.

“Me hungry.”

It worked out that the Indian got a $3 steak for a $10 bill, and he was so satisfied with the arrangement that it became a habit with him to have his meat delivered in this fashion.

Much of their money goes for gifts, and the Osage parents often give vent to their pride in the children in this way.

An Indian boy, graduate of an Eastern university, came home from school with his diploma. His proud old father made him a present of a dozen of the gayest and most expensive blankets he could find and added several pairs of exquisitely beaded moccasins. On top of this he gave his son a huge new car. To the honor of the boy—and to the honor of his university, too—the young man put aside his store clothes and his nifty college shoes, and whenever he rode in that car he wore a blanket and moccasins.

“It’s my university outfit from dad,” he used to explain.

A spirit of fun is common among these rich Indians, and they will often spend money just to make a joke.

“One of my Indian clients,” said a lawyer, “had to go to Washington not long ago. It was his first trip. He left Pawhuska wearing his blankets and moccasins. When he got back here he was wearing a dinner jacket.

“‘I got to St. Louis,’ he explained, ‘and I thought I had better buy some clothes from the store. So I got this suit and some very high collars. The collars were so high that I had to look upward into the sky. But I looked like a count, a rich count. I know how all the tops of all the buildings look in St. Louis and Washington, but my collars were so high I never could see the streets. They respected me in Washington for my clothes and my collars.’

“I found out afterward that he had been making fun of us white folks with our high collars. He had worn his blankets to Washington, but on the way home he had outfitted himself with evening clothes just to have a joke on us.”

Vanity, too, shows itself in their spending.

When Galli-Curci was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, some months ago, she saw a celebrated painting of Bacon Rind in the lounge of the Tulsa hotel.

“What a man!” she exclaimed. “Does he really live?”

“He does. He’s alive to-day, and I think I can get him to come to see you,” said an acquaintance of Bacon Rind’s.

When Bacon Rind heard that the great singer wanted to meet him he took Mrs, Bacon Rind to a shop, outfitted her completely, and then did likewise for himself, at an expense of hundreds of dollars.

Together, a day later, they appeared at the hotel in Tulsa, as handsome an Indian couple as America could offer.

Galli-Curci sang a song for them, to which they listened patiently.

Then, taking Bacon Rind’s arm, the singer walked back and forth with him in the hotel lounge, asking him questions about Indian life. Mrs. Bacon Rind sat very solemn-faced, meanwhile. It is against the Indian code for one Indian to touch another’s person.

Some months later Galli-Curci took her marital difficulties to court. “No wonder,” Mrs. Bacon Rind told a lawyer friend. “Bacon Rind made her discontented, with his fine clothes and with her holding his arm.”


You discover that some of these men who talk to you about Indians are guardians, selected by the county court to care for certain red wards. Ugly stories come to you about some of the guardians, but you will hear other and better stories, too. Here is a gray-haired old doctor, who has been in the Indian country for many years. Among his wards are Indian girls who have suffered by unfortunate marriages.

“They don’t get a fair shake, some of these Indian girls with money,” he tells you. “They marry some white rascal, who wants their cash, and they’re often left almost hopelessly diseased. It’s a downright shame.

“Right now,” he says, looking from his window, “there’s a young villain that ought to be sent out of this town.” He points to a coatless, collarless youth across the street. “He married a fine Indian girl for her money and I had to take her to the hospital. We got a divorce for her; somebody paid him money to keep away from court during the trial. After an Indian girl has married a white man few of her own men will marry her.”

Even while you are talking with this doctor—he is telling you of the old days when his only rivals were medicine men—a clerk from a bank enters.

“Your young man has been acting up again,” says the clerk.

“Signed a check this time?” asks the doctor.

“Yes. Down in St. Louis. Signed a check for eighty-four dollars.”

“That young man will go to the penitentiary some of these days,” says the old doctor, sighing, as he draws a huge check book from a pile on a little shelf under his waiting-room table.

He makes out a check for $84, and the clerk, handing him the bad check, departs, smiling.

“This young Indian who makes out bad checks has plenty of money in the bank here; about ten thousand dollars, I think. But I’m his guardian. He hasn’t any right to make out checks; his signature isn’t any good. I’m supposed to make his checks out for him, but now and then he gets away from town and just tries to sign his bank account away. He’s always able to find some one who’ll cash a check for him. Women and rum, I guess.”

Of the uglier stories about guardians and the system of guardianship you hear more covert mention. The merchants desire to be on friendly terms with guardians. An Indian trades at a shop designated by a guardian; the guardian fixes the sum that an Indian may spend per month for groceries and other things. You will hear a story, now and then, of a guardian splitting profits with a storekeeper. Some of these huge automobiles, from what you hear, might have stories to tell of how an Indian was prevented, by his guardian, in the first place, from buying a cheaper car; of how money was lent to the Indian, at perhaps 12 per cent interest, to complete a payment on a big car, bought from some dealer designated by his guardian, and how he was charged $6,000 for a car that was worth from $3,000 to $5,000.

Around town they have an idea that the guardians go “up on the hill” to the red-stone building to confer with the government Indian agents about Indian purchases. Up on the hill, at the “red house,” they tell you that Uncle Sam has nothing to do with guardianships.

“We have government employees who go around among the Indians to see how they are behaving. If one of them finds an Indian girl going wrong or a boy or a man throwing his money away riotously, he reports the case here. Then the county judge appoints a guardian for the Indian and the guardian is responsible to the court. Sometimes, when an Indian won’t behave, we hold back his checks, after we have given him a hearing, but that’s about all we can do. His guardian is his boss.”

The impression you get of the guardianship system is not a pleasant one, on the whole. It is a system chock-full of possibilities for graft and swindling; it is a system that might hold out to guardians, and merchants dealing with these guardians, unlimited temptation for cheating an Indian out of all but enough money to live on. Only too often you hear men say in Pawhuska:

“Oh, all these Indians want is just what they want. They don’t want much, but they want it when they want it. Give ’em that, and they don’t care what becomes of the rest of their money. They’re going to get a lot more next year, anyhow.”

When you constantly run across this idea, openly expressed, and then lay it parallel with the guardianship system, you begin to remember the earnest young preacher who was determined to tell the truth about wickedness, and the picture man who had found this county a place flowing with milk and honey.

“Have you got anything better to offer than the guardianship system?” a lawyer or a judge will ask you, if you point out the possible evils of that system.

While you hesitate they will tell you stories to make your blood boil of Indians being cheated out of their money before the guardianship days.

“One old lady who was getting about ten thousand dollars a year was living like a dog in a dirty little hut on the outskirts of town,” you hear. “She got sick and the authorities investigated. They found that she signed over her checks to a certain man in this town who took all her money and then paid her little bills at the grocery store and the meat shop. We couldn’t arrest the man, but we put the affairs of the woman into the hands of a guardian and she’s rich and happy to-day.”

Some guardians may be bad, but no guardians would be worse, seems to be the theory of the men in Pawhuska who have thoughts on the matter. Whether these guardians ought to be appointed by the local judge, or whether they should be designated by the Federal government are questions that agitate Pawhuska folks.

“Up on the hill,” in the government house, they will tell you that the Federal government ought to appoint guardians.

“Take it out of local politics,” say the government men. “Leave guardianships to the local judge,” say the town folks. “If a judge by error appoints bad guardians he is on the spot and can change them quickly. Or, if he is a bad judge, he can be kicked out next election.”

“Don’t have any guardians at all,” say the Indians themselves.


Not many of the Osage Indians live in the town of Pawhuska. They have a village of their own two miles from town, with a great circular meetinghouse in the center of the fenced-off community.

By the time you have been in Pawhuska a few days hearing stories of the various Indians, you find yourself quick to accept invitations to the homes of these celebrities. Several of the lawyers or business men in town can arrange such invitations for you.

You have heard many stories of the Indian village and what you will see there. You have been. told that the houses are small, but that each Indian, in addition to his house, has a summer house—a screened-in, but otherwise unwalled, frame structure in which he and his family spend their summer days. You have been told: that they have white servants; that the Indian women will not cook on stoves, but prefer camp fires on the ground; that they draw gourds of water instead of tapping the pump-filled mains, and that, surrounded with the comforts of civilization, they instinctively follow their Indian ways of life and abide largely by their tepee customs.

You will be fortunate if you can be presented at the home of Bacon Rind. All the white folks say of him, “He is the smartest and the. most popular Indian in the Osage tribe.”

It was in the forenoon of an extremely hot day that I was taken by a friend from Pawhuska to call on Bacon Rind. First we went through the village roads, which by courtesy might be called streets. There were no street lamps in the village; for the most part the houses were of one story, but they were all freshly painted in bright colors; yellow seemed predominant. Here and there gasoline engines puffed from smal lout-houses, pumping water into back-yard tanks. On the ash heap in every yard tin cans are conspicuous. Canned delicacies find a great sale among the Indians.

“I want to see if Aunt Sophie is in,” says your escort. He used to teach in an Indian school forty years ago and he knows every Indian in the Osage tribe. Some of the older Indians remember him from the time he was a baby, for his father was a trader in these parts a good part of a century ago. While our automobile stops in the narrow road and while the guide runs into a neatly fenced yard and steps into an open summer house, a slender Indian youth of the college type comes out from the house across the road and leans carelessly against the fence.

“Come around at one o’clock,” he says to the driver of our hired car.

“I did come at nine, when you told me, but you weren’t up,” said the driver, laughing.

“Well, I’m up now,” says the youth.

“Come back after I’ve had breakfast.”

The youth wears a gorgeous silk shirt. His hair is plastered back and shines in the noon sun, but his eyes look tired. He slouches back to the house, mounts the steps of the little porch, and disappears into the new little yellow house.

“His father’s rich and he’s rich, too,” explains the driver. “He sends into town to get me because he doesn’t like to drive his own car. And then, if he changes his mind, he sends me away and tells me to come at some other time. He doesn’t care for expense, that young fellow.”

“What does he do when he gets to town?”

“Well, he’s a pretty good pool player. You’ll see him standing around the streets watching people go by, or maybe he’ll take in a movie. He likes poker, too.”

“Any liquor?” you ask the town-wise driver.

“Oh, they get it somehow when they want it. Hair tonic at ten dollars a bottle, if it’s the right kind, is just the same to them as real whisky.”

This is a glimpse of a shabby life. Morning headaches in the hot little yellow house! And as the day wears along no brighter lights to invite you than the small electrics of Pawhuska, no gayer place than a pool hall or a movie or a poker game; for your speeding taxi a mud-covered car, driven by an unshaven and unrespecting chauffeur along dark and rough country roads; and, if you would dine out, gayly, with music and companions, the town hotels will do you little service because of their rule against entertaining Indians. Consider how little an Indian “sport” can find for his money, no matter how much money it is, in this man’s town.


But across the road at Aunt Sophie’s other matters are afoot. A little woman, with brilliant, black eyes and a brown face cracked with wrinkles like a piece of old pottery, comes through the screen door of the summerhouse, chatting with your guide. He beckons you.

“This is Aunt Sophie,” he explains. “She is eighty-four years old.”

Speak her well, this little old Indian woman. She has a good brain, and you will soon see, after a little talk, why the head men of the tribe I often ask her advice. And she has a heart that feels. As she tells you how far back her memory runs—she remembers Mr. McGuire, your guide, when he was “so high”—you catch a glimpse of a neatly dressed girl working at a gasoline stove inside the big summerhouse. She is Aunt Sophie’s maid and cook and companion. With the very good money which Aunt Sophie pays her she may go to college next fall.

“But your Osage tribe was very poor once,” you say to Aunt Sophie.

“Yes, yes!” she exclaims. “But we were better off then. My heart is crying for our young people, for our girls. Too much money is very bad.” And then she adds, “It hurts the old folks, too, even the wise men.” Then with a tact, full of pathos, as if she realizes that she is trying to share a burden with a stranger and a guest, she says, “Is your mother alive?”

“Yes. She’s seventy now.”

“I’m fourteen years older than she,” she says, proudly. “Fourteen years is a great deal of time, after you’ve reached seventy.”

Her new wealth has brought old Aunt Sophie nothing but comfort and a chance to be kind and philosophical. What would this wealth have done to her, sixty years ago, when she was a dainty mite of black-eyed, raven-locked Indian maiden? Would the old folks of the tribe have been worrying about her? Her ‘hands, surely, would not have been gnarled with toil, as they are now; perhaps she wouldn’t have even been here to tell you of the good old days. Gold glistens dangerously when it catches the glint of the fires of youth; it glows dully and comfortingly at the fireside of age, and this perhaps is what Aunt Sophie means when, in the best of English, she says:

“The old and the young are different.”


And now to the home of the famous Bacon Rind who has been to Washington to talk to the great White Father about his people; who is the wisest and the most popular Indian of the Osage tribe.

He, too, has a yellow house of two stories, but he is out under the roof of his summerhouse this hot noontime. He is a huge bulk of a man, perhaps fifty-five. His voice is deep and heavy and it would seem he cannot speak low.

“How? How?” he rumbles, as he shakes your hand, after Mr. McGuire’s introduction. He wears a big black-felt hat and a brown shirt. As he leads you toward a long wooden seat you see that his leather trousers are not, indeed, real trousers, but are two separate trouser legs, hanging from thongs attached to a belt; you catch astonishing glimpses of his red person as he walks before you; whatever other advertisements may catch his whimlike Indian fancy, those for underwear, in these hot days, leave him cold.

“And this is Mrs. Bacon Rind,” says your guide.

On the grass at the end of the board-floored summerhouse you behold what you had half hoped to see; you have come, fortunately, at cooking time. Here is a large, black-haired woman, not old and not young, seated on her right flank, beside a fire. On the fire is a kettle of boiling grease. On a board beside her are strips of rolled dough. Even while she is twisting these strips into a pretzel-like figure, she looks up, unsmiling, and says, “How?” And that’s all the talk you’ll get from Mrs. Bacon Rind on this visit.

With her hand she drops the figure of dough into the boiling grease. It swells, doughnut-like, until it grows large enough to cover a dinner plate.

“They’re not doughnuts,” says your guide. “That’s Indian bread. They eat it all the time.”

As carefully as you may, while you are seated on the wooden bench beside Bacon Rind, you consider your surroundings. Here is a long wooden table, big enough to seat twenty. Here are benches for at least that many guests. Here is one rocking-chair—perhaps Mrs. Bacon Rind’s—and here is a gayly painted oil stove.

The stove brings you back to Mrs. Bacon Rind beside her little fire on the green grass. She is dressed in a loose and very clean gown of some thin, white stuff. The one visible ankle is clad in black silk. On her feet are the patent-leather slippers, with the ankle-strap of the empire period, which are the latest fashion in red circles in Pawhuska. Mrs. Bacon Rind’s patent leathers are many sizes smaller than some of the huge glistening slippers you have seen in the Pawhuska shop windows. You have heard of such sights as this, but now that you behold it there is nothing very strange about it. If she were at the stove, Mrs. Bacon Rind would be standing on a hard wooden floor; here she is seated on a gay blanket, spread on cool grass. Silk stockings and slippers with very low tops are cooler than hot, high moccasins; and, while you can summon to your mind few white women who could even preside at a chafing-dish in such a posture, Mrs. Bacon Rind looks so utterly comfortable and cool and at her ease that you can find no criticism for either her methods of cooking or for her garb. A rattle of plates attracts your attention; a healthy-looking, blond-haired white girl has come from-the kitchen of the house and is setting the table.

“Come in the house,” rumbles Bacon Rind, suddenly. He has been conversing in the Osage tongue with your guide.

You follow. He takes you in the front door. You find yourself in the “front room,” the typical “company parlor” of other days. The picture man was right. No small part of Bacon Rind’s income has gone for pictorial representations” in oils, water colors, crayon, and such other mediums as “picture agents” employ, of many incidents in his life and of many relatives and acquaintances.

What he wants to show you first is a picture of himself at Washington. It was a photograph, originally. Some “picture man” has colored the figures of the government officials who sat or stood in orderly array around Bacon Rind, who is most gaudily colored of all, and has embedded the picture in a deep, gilded frame. While you are considering the depths to which “art” can go, you hear a rumble:

“Come, see this.” On the wall across the room he shows you a glass plaque. On its surface is a painting of the Stars and Stripes and of “Old Abe,” the eagle. At the bottom of the plaque, pasted in a square space, is a photograph of as upstanding an American doughboy as you ever saw.

“My son,” rumbles Bacon Rind, tapping himself on the chest. “My son, George.”

“Did he go to Europe?” you ask.

“Hugh!” grunts Bacon Rind, amiably. “Rainbow Division.”

And then, while Bacon Rind, who speaks very little English, stands by and looks on, Mr. McGuire tells you of the two feasts that were given by Bacon Rind for George. The first feast was held when word came to Pawhuska that George and the Rainbow Division had got into the fight. There was no news as to how George had come out, but that he had been in battle was enough for the Indian father. He invited everybody to come who would. He bought cattle and had them killed. There wasn’t anything to eat in the stores at Pawhuska that he didn’t have served. There were dances in the roundhouse; Osage Indians came from everywhere, and those who had grudges against each other—for there are political parties and many feuds within the—tribe made peace gifts to one another of horses and blankets and pipes, and so forth. The feast raged for two days, in celebration of the fact that George, the champion shot of the reservation, the fleetest runner, the best wrestler, had at least got his chance to kill Germans.

The second feast was given when George came home. He had medals and a paper from Washington saying that he was a fine fighter. So at the second feast more was eaten than at the first; there were more dancing and more chanting, and a, livelier exchange of peace presents, and the celebrators endured, physically, much longer.

“I got presents, too,” says Bacon Rind. “Look!”

He lifts a leather traveling bag to the sofa and opens it. A magnificent feather headpiece is one gift he draws forth. Three ceremonial fans, made of eagle feathers, are others. The handles of these fans are covered with tiny beads. On each fan there is an American flag, woven in beads! These are Indian fans, made by Indians, for gifts to an Indian; and the American flag—their flag as much as the white man’s—is there among all the other ceremonial emblems.

There is one other gift that Bacon Rind wishes to show you. He draws forth a chamois-skin bag, of incredible softness, and empties its contents onto the sofa. You see a heap of what look at first glance like dried apricots, a double-handful. Bacon Rind’s great brown fingers toy with the small treasure.

“Mescal,” he says, importantly.

The cocaine, the heroin, the alcohol, all rolled into one, of the American Indian!

“Do you drink it?’” you ask.

“No, no, no!” says Bacon Rind.

“Eat four, five! Then you come very close to God!” He raises his gaze to the ceiling and lifts one huge hand. “You put some in water; they get very large, like apple. Then eat, slowly, like tobacco. Throw water away; never drink mescal; very bad.”

Mr. McGuire explains. “Mescal is a drug, but the Indians don’t know it. They believe that it is a gift of God to bring them closer to Him. The effect is very quick and very strong; it gives them a dreamy, happy feeling and they think it is religion.”

Bacon Rind talks rapidly to your interpreter and then Mr. McGuire tells you:

“Bacon Rind says that he is going to talk about God in the meetinghouse Sunday. It will be a mescal ceremony. Everyone will eat a little mescal and then he will talk about the Great Spirit. It will make everyone there happy, Bacon Rind says.”

“Yes, yes!” rumbles Bacon Rind, raising a hand above his head. “Me talk God, Sunday. That very good.”

Mescal is a luxury, you learn. Before the Osages became rich they could not afford to send down into Mexico for the dried pods of the mescal plant. The man who sends down there for a bag of mescal like this of Bacon Rind’s will spend a good $500 for the venture.

“Me go eat now,” says Bacon Rind. “Good-by.”

You remember Mrs. Bacon Rind’s huge pretzels and the dinner plates and take your dismissal with good grace.

Mr. McGuire explains that ninety of the richest Indians are making up a party to see the battlefields where George fought. They expect to spend $3,000 apiece on the trip, and reservations are already being made on steamships and in European hotels. George will probably go to act as guide in certain districts with which he is intimately familiar.


John Goodskin, a graduate of Lawrence University, walked down to the railroad station with me when I departed. He is sick at heart.

“I have a diploma from Lawrence,” he said, “and they’ve put a guardian over me. I fought in France for this country, and yet I am not allowed even to sign my own checks.”

“Why don’t you travel?” I asked him. “With your nine thousand dollars a year you could see Europe and the rest of the world and get something out of life.”

He looked around at the drab little town.

“God! yes,” he said. “But my guardian would want to go with me and hold the money strings. He’s a little soul who doesn’t know anything of the world. I don’t know what chicanery he used to get control of me, but here I am, his ward. I’ve written to Washington and to Franklin K. Lane, but I never get an answer. I’m a prisoner in this place, and with all my money I can’t get any good out of it.

“How can an Indian avoid being placed under a guardian?” I asked the young man.

“In the old days, before we had money, it was easy enough. All you had to do was not get drunk. But now your good behavior has nothing at all to do with it. Your money draws ’em and you’re absolutely helpless. They have all the law and all the machinery on their side. Tell everybody, when you write your story, that they’re scalping our souls out here.

“Anyhow,” he added, “I don’t think Congress will let us have all the money that is due us. They’re talking about keeping half of it back. They’ll have some new law before long. And maybe, then, we’ll be free men again.”


There are 265,000 Indians in the United States; their race is not dying out. But, of them all, it is not improbable that these Osage Indians, with their wealth, are the unhappiest. You have that impression as you leave Pawhuska; it is not a happy town. A blight of gold and oil and greed is on it, as heavy a curse as Indians have ever had from their wickedest medicine men.

More from

| View All Issues |

July 1921

“An unexpectedly excellent magazine that stands out amid a homogenized media landscape.” —the New York Times
Subscribe now