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Indian camps

The ground or spot on which tents, huts, &c. are erected for shelter, commonly arranged in an orderly manner. The body of persons encamped in the same spot, as of soldiers, surveyors, lumbermen, Indians, &c. — Webster, 1882

There were ashes where Indian campfires had been. There were holes in the ground where tent poles had been driven and old bones of game where the Indian dogs had gnawed them. – Little House on the Prairie manuscript

In Little House on the Prairie (Chapter 9, “A Fire on the Hearth”), Laura and Mary go to Walnut Creek with Pa when he goes to dig rocks to use in building the fireplace. Laura asks where the Indian camps are located, and while Pa had seen them among the bluffs, he was too busy to show the girls that day.

The closest Indian camp to the Ingallses’ squatting place in Section 36 was two miles away from their cabin, across Onion Creek. There were a number of other camps dotting the landscape in Montgomery County: two on the Elk River, five along the Verdigris River, one southeast of the cabin on Onion Creek. With the exception of the camp southeast of the cabin on Onion Creek – about ten miles away – all were on the other side of “the water” from the Ingallses’ cabin. It is highly unlikely that Mary and Laura walked ten miles to see this camp, but is it true that they crossed the creek to visit the camp closest to them? If they indeed visited in August, then perhaps the creek was barely a trickle at the time.

In Little House on the Prairie, no distinction is made between the different “camps” or clans/bands of Indians among the bluffs; they were all called “Osage Indians” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The different physical divisions of the Osages arose from the flood tradition, or story that during a sudden flood in the early days, the people were forced to flee to safety. Although there was some mixing of the two divisions recognized at the time, due to panic, five distinct physical divisions of the Osage were created. It’s too much to go into here (read Louis Burn’s Osage Indians Bands and Clans), but it was a village camp of Claremore’s band of the Osage who were the closest to the Ingallses.

A tidbit of interest about the Claremore band. The chief was also the head chief of the Osage of the Oaks (Arkansas band). His gentile name was given as Gra moie: Gra moie means “Passing or moving hawk,” although sometimes it is given as “Walking Eagle.” He was also said to be called “Arrow Going Home,” which was pronounced like Clermont in French, but sounded more like Claremore to English speakers, hence the name. Claremore I was an older brother of Chief White Hair. Their sister married the Kansas Chief White Plume and they were the great grandparents of Charles Curtis who was Vice President under Herbert Hoover. While already a great story, think how much more fun it would be if the Vice President had spelled his name Kurtis!

The map above shows the Little House on the Prairie cabin site in relation to the Claremore camp site. I’ve added “Mr. Edwards'” cabin, or the site of Edmund Mason’s later claim and the stone building foundation pictured in William Anderson’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Country. I also added (faint yellow dashes) the “Osage Indian Trail” location from the 1880 map included in Eileen Charbo’s A Doctor Fetched By The Family Dog. This trail didn’t exist at the time the Ingallses were there; this is what was called the “New Osage Trace,” and was established in 1871 (after Indian removal) so the Indians could visit and trade at Osage Mission, which is now St. Paul, Kansas.

For more information on the Indian camps, see Penny T. Linsenmayer’s “Little Settlers on the Osage Diminished Reserve: A Study of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House on the Prairie.'” Kansas History 24 (Autumn 2001), 168-185. You can access the full article online HERE. I drew the maps for Linsenmayer’s article, and I am including my map showing the location of all Indian camps in the area below.


Indian camps (LHP 9, 14, 21-23)