The Writing Traveler: Coming Home Again
March 12, 2021
It was his land. Leslie Brown owned it and farmed it. But once upon a time, it had belonged to another. But now the ghosts were gone.
Leslie Brown knew he had something but no idea what it was. He gazed across the vast and unbroken landscape of the Osage River Valley in 1940 and walked among the scattered ruins that had been virtually hidden by the grasses and underbrush. A few pieces of cracked pottery, weapons, and primitive tools lay beside his footsteps, lost and undisturbed, perhaps for centuries. Brown figured that more ancient artifacts no doubt had been buried by the passing of time and floodwaters from those three crooked little streams that ran together to form the Osage River.
It was his land. Leslie Brown owned it and farmed it. But once upon a time, so many years ago, it had belonged to another.
Then again, maybe the land belonged to no one.
A man simply came and walked upon the earth for a time, never long enough, it seemed, then left it all for another.
Leslie Brown did not realize it, but he was standing on a small hill that had once held the principal villages of the Osage Nation.
How long ago?
No one knows for sure, but as early as 1673, the existence of the village was noted by explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette. In 1719, Charles Claude du Tisne glimpsed the home of the Osage – more of a metropolis than a village – as he rode farther west to sit with the Pawnees and discuss the parameters of peace. Basically, de Tisne wanted the tribe to stand aside and stay out of the way as bands of settlers came traipsing through unmarked and uncharted territory.
He ignored the tribe on the hill. He ignored the tribe without a name.
It would be years before anyone got around to calling it Osage.
But during those days when they rode the land alone, when other tribes took other routes to other places before wagon trains came across the prairie lands and left their ruts cut deep in fields of corn, squash, and beans, there were as many as two and maybe three thousand people living quite comfortably in two hundred lodges. They hunted for bison, bear, elk, and deer. They fished in the streams, the river, and the oxbow lakes. When fur traders trekked into the countryside, they found that the Osage accounted for more than half of the total fur trade along the Missouri River.
They were a proud race, a proud people. By 1825, they had been forced to sign a treaty and ride away from a village that would fade and deteriorate with time. They traded their remaining lands in Kansas for a reservation in Oklahoma.
The land they left behind was silent as it waited for the coming of the wagons.
Its ruins were like tombstones.
Leslie Brown definitely knew he had something, just no idea what it was. He realized the land was a valuable commodity, and he had the title. He could sell the acreage, or even sell parcels of it, and might become quite wealthy.
He may have been tempted, but Brown wanted to preserve the land, whatever it was. If anyone offered to buy, he resisted the offer. He kept his land, and he kept it close. The heritage of the land was more important to him than the money. He was holding it still when he died. And only then were arrangements made to sell the property to the Archaeological Conservancy.
Brown could rest in peace.
The village was saved.
Three years later, the principal village of the Osage Nation was sold to the Missouri Department of Natural resources who preserved it as a state historic site. The walking trail and outdoor exhibits that provide a rare glimpse of another life in another time are not easy to find or easy to reach. These are the directions: The village is located in Southwestern Missouri, only nine miles east of Nevada on Highway 54 near Walker. Go six miles north on Highway C, then three miles on a gravel road in Vernon County.
The Osage had no problem finding it.
They rode in a straight line.
They weren’t slowed down by an automobile looking for a better road.
Confessions from the Road is a collection of travel stories about people and places I gathered during my years as a travel editor. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.