The Osage Massacre

Narrated by Xetenišaraga (John Hazen)

John Hazen Hill

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

(1) When the Hocągara lived on Turkey River (Seseke Nišnąk), some went up the river to hunt and were living there. There while the men went out from the village away on a hunt, one day a warparty fell upon them. They were Osages (Waras). All the old people that were there, and all the women, they also killed. Then they went away. When the hunters eventually returned home, these were all dead. So these men did it. They painted the faces of all the dead, as many as there were, and then they laid them away.

Then they took up their trail. They kept on. Then eventually, there they were going on ahead of them. There a young man was with them (the Hocągara). He ran ahead. The men were fleet of foot. But as they went, he overtook them. As they went, he disappeared into the distance. When they got there, the man was fighting them. He did a great deal. As they went along, this one would catch up to them and kill one of them. A mighty and great man he was, not to be equaled. When they tried to run away from him, he would catch up to them and circumcise their heads. He never considered them to be men. After he had killed many of them, they decided that he should stop, but he kept right on alone. So they told him to stop, but he got mighty angry. He said to them, "Just how can you say that? They killed our relatives, so you said we must kill all of them. How is it then that you are relenting?" he said. "But I will not stop," he said and again he rushed for them, but they pleaded with him once more. So there the young man wept and killed himself.

This young man was a great man, but thus he did. (2) He did this in his first battle, and there he acted this way. This young man was a great loss of a man, and "Goes Where It is Cold" (Sinįhogiwega) was his name. An old man, "Big Thunder" (Wakąjaxetega) he is called, he had a son who was called Cap’ósgaga, they say that he was the father of Goes Where It is Cold. So Big Thunder himself had blessed Cap’ósgaga. Therefore, he was holy (wákącąk), it is said.

The one who led these people (the Osage) on the warpath, that leader was a brave man, but he did not do the ritual properly. Therefore, he was killed. When he was ready to come out, he had said, "They have killed one of my children, so that's why I'm going," he said. That was a thing that the old people forbid very much. The Osage brave had said, "I declared that I would put a Hocąk head there with my child, so that's why I'm going," he said. So that is why it is said that he was killed, they say. They say that the Hocągara never did such things. They could be bad people, but sometimes they were afraid of at least one thing. And they liked to do war. It was forbidden to speak of the dead (wanąǧi) when at war. It was that thing that this Osage, a brave, did — he might as well have surrendered himself. That is why he died a bad death. When one of his children had died, it was not better to have said it that way. Truly, the War Controller thought thus, so thus he fared, and so it seems, so should he have fared. So the man on the warpath, the warleader, takes cognizance of all these things and how he plans is done the way it is usually done. This is what the old people say. If one has good thinking qualities, one always fares well. Thus the Indians said to those who came to hokíkų. This is about all that I know of this worak.1

Commentary. "these men did it" — C. C. Trowbridge (1823), has this to say about the relationship between the Hocągara and the Osage.

The first war in which this nation was engaged, was with the Osages, who then inhabited Rock River. It commenced before the arrival of the french, and there has [not] been any thing like a treaty of peace between them to this day. Their hatred is so inveterate that if an Osage should now appear in the country the first man who saw him would consider it his duty to kill him.2

"painted the faces" — the dead had their faces painted in the particular pattern of their clan so, it is said, that they might be recognized in the other world.

"circumcise their heads (nasura-wamajes'aže)" — the word maje is used in the Gospel of Luke to mean "circumcise," so it is unclear whether this describes scalping (as the translation has it), or beheading, which is the established practice from antiquity.

"Cap’ósgaga" — this name, which means "White Breast" is never translated in the text, perhaps because he is so well known under his Hocąk name.

"such things" — at first glance this might seem to suggest that the Hocągara never went to war for the sake of revenge, but that is contradicted by this very story. What is being referred to here is the idea of mentioning the dead while at war. The Osage brave made the mistake of mentioning out loud his lost child in connection with his warpath, which was taboo.

"they were afraid of at least one thing" — that is, violating a religious taboo, particularly in the context of a warpath.

"wanąǧi" — this word also means "ghosts."

"he died a bad death" — that he violated a spiritually sanction taboo is why he died; but the death was bad because, as a warleader, he had lost many men on the warpath, and therefore died in disgrace.

"War Controller (Wonąǧire Hirukanara)" — the "one in charge of wars" is one of the spirits who decide the outcome of such battles. When the Osage warleader mentioned the wanąǧi, "ghosts," he violated a taboo which offended the War Controller. (See the Glossary entry.) Thus, whatever blessings he might have received from the spirits were nullified by this action, and they forsook his protection. That is why the wise warleader avoids such taboos, and is thereby able to fulfill all the promises that he makes about the outcome of his warpath.

"hokíkų" — defined by Miner as, "to attempt to better oneself by communicating (said of groups)."

Links: Ghosts.

Stories: mentioning the Osage: Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), First Contact (v. 2), Black Otter's Warpath, Introduction; mentioning Big Thunder (Wakąjaxetega): Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath; mentioning Cap’ósgaga: Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name; about famous Hocąk warriors and warleaders: How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Masaxe War (Hogimasąga), Wazųka, Great Walker's Warpath (Great Walker), Great Walker's Medicine (Great Walker, Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Šųgepaga (Dog Head), The Warbundle Maker (Dog Head), Black Otter’s Sacrifice to a Thunder, Black Otter's Warpath (Dog Head, Black Otter), The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara (Smoke Walker, Dog Head, Small Snake), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath (Big Thunder, Cap’ósgaga), The Fox-Hocąk War (Cap’ósgaga), The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, White Thunder's Warpath, Four Legs, The Man who Fought against Forty (Mącosepka), Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, The Hills of La Crosse (Yellow Thunder), The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, Fighting Retreat, Mitchell Red Cloud, jr. Wins the Medal of Honor (Mitchell Red Cloud, jr.), The War of Indian Tribes against White Soldiers (Šųgépaga, Black Otter), How Jarrot Got His Name, Jerrot's Temperance Pledge — A Poem, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, Jarrot and His Friends Saved from Starvation, They Owe a Bullet (Pawnee Shooter).

Themes: descriptions of human warfare: Black Otter's Warpath, Annihilation of the Hocągara II, The Warbundle Maker, The First Fox and Sauk War, Great Walker's Medicine, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Wazųka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fox-Hocąk War, Great Walker's Warpath, White Fisher, The Lame Friend, White Thunder's Warpath, A Man's Revenge, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, They Owe a Bullet, The Spanish Fight, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Tobacco Man and Married Man, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka, The War of Indian Tribes against White Soldiers; a Hocąk warrior single handedly fights an overwhelming enemy force (taking at least one enemy head or scalp): The Warbundle Maker, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier (Arapaho), Little Priest's Game (Sioux), The Man who Fought against Forty (Dakota), Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath (Osage), Fighting Retreat, The Scalping Knife of Wakąšucka; failure to observe ritual practice or taboo has fatal consequences: The Masaxe War, Sunset Point; (attempted) suicide: Lake Winnebago Origin Myth.


1 John Hazen, War Exploit, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, < 1909) Notebook 66, Story 5: 1-2.

2 Charles C. Trowbridge, "Manners, Customs, and International Laws of the Win-nee-baa-goa Nation," (1823), Winnebago Manuscripts, in MS/I4ME, Charles Christopher Trowbridge Collection (02611), Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 87-88.