Indian All Set For Bad Times

January 4, 1929
Osage County News
Microfilm Roll: MN00308

On this day in Osage country, tribal member, Henry Tallchief’s plan for his own, personal economic sustainability was featured on the front page of the Osage County News.

Near the close of the nineteenth century, the Osages were deemed the “the richest people on earth” (Burns). At the time of this luxurious entitlement, Osage Indians were experiencing great economic gains from grazing leases, but not nearly the amount of economic prosperity they would see in the early 1900’s.

Petroleum was founded on Osage land after, according to the article, the tribe was, “set off on what was considered to be one of the poorest sections of Oklahoma” (“Indian All Set for Bad Times”). In the late 1890s the Phoenix Oil Company, later renamed the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, was created by a man named Edwin Foster; his brother, Henry, was responsible for obtaining the lease covering the entire Osage Nation. The oil company began drilling the land but did not encounter a flourishing well until after the turn of the century. Unfortunately, less than twenty years later, the company went under.

After the fall of the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, the land was publically leased and “by 1930 more than three dozen Osage oil fields existed…from 1901 through 1930, 319 million barrels of Oklahoma crude were pumped from the ground in Osage County” (Bone). Osages were able to profit off of this phenomenon through a “headrights system” installed by the United States government under the Osage Allotment Act of 1906. Through this act the Osage tribe received payments on mineral leases which were then divided into equal headrights, or shares, and allocated to tribe members. By the mid-twentieth century the Indians collected over $100 million in royalties and bonuses.

There is an old saying that states all good things come to an end; perhaps that is what Henry Tallchief had in mind when he began to focus on creating a more sustainable future for himself as opposed to relying solely on profits from the oil industry. According to the article, Tallchief was a prominent figure in the Osage tribe. He was very involved within the tribal community and was also an established cattle breeder; a skill passed down to him by his father. Growing up as the son of a rancher, and a man of agriculture himself, Tallchief believed that a lifestyle of farming delivered the “best opportunities for the independence to his people.”  As Tallchief stated in his interview with the journalist, “Someday oil will go and there will be no fat checks from the Great White Father.”

Morgan M. Guzman

“Indian All Set for Bad Times.” Osage County News. Jan. 4, 1929, p. 1. Microfilm roll number MN00308. Sequoyah National Research Center, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Further Reading

Bone, Corey. “Osage Oil.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed January 26, 2018.

Burns, Louis F. “Osage (tribe).” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed January 26, 2018.

May, John D. “Osage Murders.” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Accessed January 29, 2018.

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