PAWHUSKA The Osage Nation knew the Jesuits had some documents
relating to the history of the tribe.
Delving into those papers has brought new revelations.
"It was so much more," said Osage Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear.
"Many of the documents go to the unknown history of our tribe. It
involves stories and legends that we did not know."
"This is very important to the Osage. This is our history. Now,
we can fill in some of the unknown."
The Osage tribe, in conjunction with the Roman Catholic order
of priests, has uncovered what Chief Standing Bear called "a treasure
trove of documents about the history of our tribe".
Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear walks through
the tribal museum Wednesday where a newly preserved cache
of historical documents will be displayed at the Osage Nation
complex in Pawhuska. (photo by Matt Barnard - Tulsa World)
The Jesuits and tribe were linked for decades through the Osage
Mission, which was established in 1847 and located near what is
now St. Paul, Kansas.
The documents include translations of the Bible into the Osage
language along with stories and legends told by tribal elders to
"Most of these documents are over 100 years old, and some date
back as far as the 1700s," said John Williams, a senior advisor
to the Osage chief. "It includes works about the story of creation
and buffalo hunts and how the Osage language changed over the course
of years and years."
Standing Bear and Williams knew of the existence of the archive
of tribal history and went to see it at the Jesuit of the Missouri
Province Archives in a building near St. Louis University.
Once they saw the extent of the documents, and their significance,
they started the process with the Jesuits to preserve and make a
digital copy of the collection.
An initial proposal to fund the $90,000 project was turned down
by the Osage Nation Congress, but money was found from the Osage
The papers, some made from onion skin, are currently in Philadelphia,
where they are being preserved and copied.
"We're looking forward to having papers on display at our museum
sometime in the future to further tell the story of our tribe,"
Standing Bear said. "And, with the digital preservation, any scholar
will be able to look at and study the archives on computer.
"There's just so much newly discovered information on these
The Jesuits "kept meticulous records of everything, and we had
a very long relationship with the Jesuits through the Osage Mission,"
Williams said. "So, we knew there were important documents, but
we had no idea how extensive and how much new information we would
The Jesuits of the Missouri Province created the documents in
English, Osage and Latin. The archives include operations, writings,
publications, photographs and memorabilia.
"These are stories that were passed down from parents and grandparents
and told to the Jesuits," Williams said. "There are stories of medicine
and hunting the hairy elephants (believed to be woolly mammoths
from ancient times)."
"These are the stories of our people as they traveled from Missouri
to Kansas and eventually here to Oklahoma. It adds to our culture
One of the most interesting documents is an Osage translation
of the Douay Rheims Bible, an early English version used by the
Jesuits during the 1800s.
In preliminary study of the Osage language Bible, the tribe
is learning more about its language and the way it was transformed
and changed over the years.
photo of a document in the Jesuit archives of their Osage
Mission Collection. The Lord's Prayer is translated into Osage
from the mid 1800s. (photo courtesy Osage Nation Executive
"It really is interesting to read and see how words changed
and how the language changed and seeing new words that we previously
didn't know existed," Standing Bear said. "To see these documents
is really fascinating."
"There is so much of our history that has been lost. This helps
to fill in the blanks of the history of our culture. We think that's
very important to the future."