Information on the Oto Indians
Recorded by Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804

The following excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and their men present a picture of the Oto people as the Anglo-Americans saw them. The modern reader must be careful to understand that what these white men saw and recorded was not necessarily correct from the Indian perspective. The Oto were from a culture similar to that of the Iowa and Missouri tribes. The Oto were dwindling rapidly during the early 19th century as a result of disease. By 1821 the Oto had merged with the Missouri, together numbering less than 800 individuals. Both tribes moved to the Platte River in Nebraska where they were protected by the more numerous Pawnee, and in 1829 they formally united. Contrary to the popular depiction of the Indians of the plains, the Oto lived most of the year in earthen lodges, not tipis.

The following passages have been freely adapted and excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For students wishing to quote these passages, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the recommended source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. The very best way to obtain accurate information from the tribal perspective is to contact tribal councils for individual tribes - in other words, to consult the people themselves.

Contact Information:

Chairperson, Otoe-Missouria Tribal Council
P.O. Box 68
Red Rock, Oklahoma 74651

Journal Excerpts:

13th June Wednesday, 1804
We set out early. Passed a round bend to the S.S. and two Creeks called the round bend Creeks. Between those two Creeks and behind a Small willow island in the bend is a Prairie in which the Missouri Indians once lived, and the spot where 300 of them fell a sacrifice to the fury of the Sauk. This nation (Missouri), once the most numerous nation in this part of the Continent, is now reduced to about 80 families and that few under the protection of the Otteaus [Otos] on the River Platte, who themselves are declining.

15 June Friday 1804
The Missouri Nation resided under the protection of the Osage, after their nation was reduced by the Saukees below. They built their Village in the same low Prairie and lived there many years. The war was So hot & both nations become So reduced that the Little Osage & a few of the Missouris moved & built a village 5 miles nearer the Grand Osage, the rest of the Missouris went and took protection under the Otteaus [Otos] on Platte river.

July 21, 1804 19 miles traveled today.
Camped in.

[Lewis - writing above the mouth of Papillion Creek near Bellevue, a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska]
July 21, 1804
From this evening's encampment a man may walk to the [Pawnee] Village on the S. (East) bank of the Platte River in two days, and to the Otos in one day. All those Indians are Situated on the South bank of the Platte River. As those Indians are now out in the prairies following & hunting the buffalo, I fear we will not see them.

July 21st Saturday 1804
The Indians pass this river in Skin Boats which are flat and will not turn over. The Otos, a Small nation, reside on the South Side 10 Leagues up, the Pawnees on the Same Side 5 Leagues higher up.

Saturday July 21st 1804
Up the Platte about one mile the Hills of Prairie Land - about 2 days and half up the Platte 2 nations of Indians Lives viz.: The Souttoes, the Pawnee.

Saturday 21st. Up this river live three nations of Indians, the Otos, Panis, and Loos, or Wolf Indians. [Oto, Pawnee, and the Skiri or Loup (Wolf) Pawnee].

July 22nd, Sunday 1804
This being a good Situation and much nearer the Otos town than the Mouth of the Platte, we concluded to delay at this place a few days and Send for Some of the Chiefs of that nation to let them Know of the Change of Government, The wishes of our Government to Cultivate friendship with them, the Objects of our journey and to Present them with a flag and Some Small presents.

Camp 10 Miles above the River Platte
Monday July the 23rd
At 11 o'clock sent George Drewyer & Pierre Cruzatte, 1/2 Indian, to the Otos Village, about 18 miles west of our Camp, to invite the Chiefs & principal men of that nation to come & talk with us &. &., also the Pawnees if they Should meet with any of that nation (also on the S. Side of the Platte, 30 miles higher up). At this Season of the year all the Indians in this quarter are in the Plains hunting the Buffalo. From Some signs Seen by our hunter and the Prairies being on fire in the direction of the Village, induce a belief that the Nation have returned to get green Corn.

Monday 23rd. Six men were sent out to make oars; and two [Drouillard and Pierre Cruzatte] to a nation of Indians up the Platte River to inform them of the change of government in this country, and that we were here ready to treat with them. We hoisted a flag, and sent them another. [They traveled to the Oto village east of Yutan, Saunders County, Nebraska].

Wednesday, White Catfish Camp 25th of July
At 2 o'clock the two men Sent to the Otos Village returned and informed
they Saw Some fresh Sign near that place which they pursued, but could not find them, they having seen that no Indians were at the Town, they took precautions to Conceal the rout which they went out from the Village. The Indians of the Missouri being at war with one & the other or other Indians, move in large bodies and Sometimes the whole nation Continue to Camp together on their hunting trips. Those men inform that they passed through an open Plain all the way to the Town, a few Trees excepted on the water courses.

July 28th Saturday
The party on Shore brought in a Missouri Indian who resides with the Otos, this Indian & 2 others were Hunting in the Prairie; their Camp is about 4 miles off. This Indian informs that his nation is in the Plains hunting the Buffalo. The party with which he is encamped is about 20, family, Hunting the Elk.

July the 28th, Saturday 1804
We camped on the S.S. below the point of an Island. George Drewyer brought in a Missouri Indian which he met with hunting in the Prairie. This Indian is one of the few remaining of that nation, & lives with the Otos, his Camp about 4 miles from the river. He informs that the "great gang" of the nation were hunting the Buffalo in the Plains. His party was Small, Consisting only of about 20 Lodges. [blank] miles further another Camp, where there was a Frenchman, who lived in the nation. This Indian appeared sprightly, and appeared to make use of the Same pronunciation of Chief - Inca.

Saturday July 28th 1804
G. Drewyer found three of the Oto Indians Dressing an Elk. They were friendly and gave him a part of it and one of them came with him in order to find the Boat. Drewyer killed one Deer & joined us, brought the Indian with him [to] where we was Camped on the north Side of the River in Timbered land below an island & prairie.

July 29th Sunday
We Sent one Frenchman La Liberty & the Indian to the Camp to invite the party to meet us at the next bend of High Land on the L.S.

July the 30th Monday
We came to in a grove of timber and formed a Camp. Raised a flagpole, and determined to wait for the Oto Indians.

Monday July 30th
We set out at an early hour, in order to find a place in order to form our encampment; and to wait for the Frenchman, (Liberty) and the Oto Indian who we had sent to the Oto nation returning.

[Ordway - writing at the Council Bluff site, Fort Atkinson, Nebraska].]
Tuesday July 31st 1804
We expected the Oto nation of Indians today & the man which went for them but they did not come. The reason is as we expect that they were So much scattered hunting that it takes some time for them to get ready, but we wait for them.

Wednesday August 1st 1804
Lay by all this day expecting the Indians every hour. Sent one man down the River to where we ate Dinner on the 28th of July to See if any Indians Had been there. He Returned and Saw no Sign of them.

August 2nd 1804
At Sunset 6 chiefs and their warriors of the Otos and Missouris, with a Frenchman by the name of Farfonge [arrived in the camp]. We (Spoke), Shook hands and gave them Some Tobacco & Provisions. They Sent us watermelons.

August 2nd Thursday 1804
At Sunset Mr. Fairfong and a part of the Oto & Missouri Nation Came to Camp. Among those Indians were the principal Chiefs. Capt. Lewis & myself met those Indians & informed them we were glad to see them, and would speak to them tomorrow. Sent them some roasted meat, Pork, flour & meal. In return they sent us Watermelons. [every?] man on his Guard & ready for anything.

Thursday August 2d
The Indians came where we had expected; they fired many Guns when they came in Sight of us and we answered them with the Cannon. They Came in about 2 hundred yards of us. Capt. Lewis and Clark met them at Shaking Hands; we fired another Cannon. There was (Six) 6 Chiefs and 7 men and one Frenchman with them who has lived with them for some years and has a family with them.

Thursday 2nd
About 14 of the Oto Indians arrived here at Dusk. 2 Guns fired from our Bow piece. We gave them Some provisions. They appear to be friendly, &c.

Thursday 2nd. The Indians we expected came at dark; but our Frenchman was not with them. We supposed he had been lost.

Thursday 2nd
12 of the Oto Indians Arrived at Our Camp Called the Council Bluffs, or the Brarareham prairie at the Hour of P.M. 7 o'clock. No business was done. The commanding officer ordered them plenty of provisions.

Thursday August 2nd
At 7 o'clock A.M. the Oto Indians arrived at our Camp, which the Captains had altered the name of, to that of Council Bluffs, or the Brarcoham Prairie. No business with the Indians commenced this day. The number of Oto Indians that arrived were 12, the remainder of the Warriors, Chiefs, and hunters of that nation having not returned from hunting Buffalo in the Prairies. The commanding officers ordered them plenty of Provisions. They are a handsome, stout, well made set of Indians & have good open Countenances, and are of a light brown color, and have long black hair, which they do wear without cutting; and they all use paint in order to complete their dress.

August 3rd Friday
Prepare a Small present for those Indians and hold a Council. Delivered a Speech & made 6 chiefs. [hole] Gave a few presents and a Smoke, a Dram, Some Powder & Ball-[hole] The man [La Liberty] we (left) not yet come up. Those people express great Satisfaction at the Speech Delivered; they are no Orators. Big, open Countenances, Otos large, Missouris Small. . . After Delivering a Speech informing those Children of ours of the Change which had taken place, the wishes of our government to Cultivate friendship & good understanding, the method of have good advice & Some Directions, we made [a] Great Chief to the [one] who was not present, to whom we addressed the Speech & Sent Some presents or Medals & flag. We made 2 Second Chiefs, one for the Missouris & another for the Otos (those two tribes are nearly equal) and 4 principal men, to those principal men we gave a Small commission. To each man to whom we gave authority, a present of a breech clout, Garter, Paint & a medal or Small Commission was delivered for the whole. Each Chief & principal man delivered a Speech acknowledging their approbation to what they had heard and promised to pursue the good advice and Caution. They were happy with Their new fathers who gave good advice & to be Depended on. All Concluded by asking [for] a little Powder & a Drop of Milk [whiskey].
I answered those Speeches, gave them 50 balls [and] one Canister of Powder & a Dram. After Capt. Lewis Shot his air gun a few times, which astonished the natives, we Set Sail. Received from those people watermelons &c.
The Chiefs & Principal men of the Otos & Missouris made by M. L. & W. C. the 3rd August 1804:
Viz. Indian Names Tribe English Signification
1. We-ar-ruge-nor Oto Little Thief
2. Shingo-ton go Oto Big horse
3. We tha a Missouri Hospitality
4. Wau-pe-ur Missouri
5. Au-ho-ning ga m
6. Ba Za con ja Oto
7. Au-ho-ne-ga Miss.

Aug. 3d 1804
Made up a Small present for those people in proportion to their Consequence. Also a package with a medal to accompany a Speech for the Grand Chief (which we intend to send to him). After Breakfast we Collected those Indians under an awning of our Main Sail, in presence of our Party paraded & Delivered a long Speech to them expressive of our journey, the works of our Government, Some advice to them and Directions how They were to Conduct themselves. (Made one) the principal Chief for the nation (to whom) being absent we sent him the Speech, flag, Medal, & Some Clothes. After hearing what they had to say Delivered a medal of Second Grade to one for the Otos & and one for the Missouri (part of the nation) present and 4 medals of a third Grade to the inferior Chiefs, two for each tribe. Those two parts of nations, Otos & Missouris now (forming one of) residing together (about 250 men) are (nearly equal in number).
Those (people) Chiefs all Delivered a Speech acknowledging Their approbation to the Speech and promising to pursue the advice & Directions given them; that they were happy to find that they had Fathers which might be depended on &c.
We gave them a Canister of Powder and a Bottle of whiskey and delivered a few presents to the whole after giving a Breech cloth, Some Paint, gartering & a Medal to those we made Chief. After Capt. Lewis's Shooting the air gun a few Shots (which astonished those natives) we Set out and proceeded on five miles on a Direct line. [This council is discussed in Ronda, Lewis and Clark Among the Indians, pp. 17-23. At this time, Europeans outside the Spanish Empire had only a vague idea of the geographical location of Santa Fe, a city nearly two hundred years old, and knew little of the geography of the Southwest. The Spanish government preferred that this ignorance continue.

Friday August 3rd
The Council was held and all parties was agreed; the Captains Give them money, presents. These is the Oto and the Missouris. The Missouris is a very Small nation, the Ottos is a very Large nation So they Live in one village on the Platte River.

Friday 3rd
This morning the two Captains held a Council With the (13) Oto Indians & made 6 Chiefs under the American government. They all received their medal & other presents With Great kindness & thankfulness. They all appeared to be Glad that they had Got freed from all other powers &c. They made some very sensible speeches, smoked and drank with us, shook hands and parted.

Friday 3rd. Captain Lewis and Captain Clark held a council with the Indians, who appeared well pleased with the change of government, and what had been done for them. Six of them were made chiefs, three Otos and three Missouris.

Friday 3rd
The Indians Behaved well while Encamped Near our party. Capt. Lewis brought them to a treaty after the hour of 9 o'clock. There was six of the Oto Chiefs & six of the Missouris; he gave 3 of the head chiefs a Medal, 1 each; and the other three Commissions in the Name of the President of the U. S. They was well content with what they received. The Officer Commanding Gave Each of the privates Some Small presents which made them all on an Equal Satisfactory Atonement for their Visit. They was well content in the presence of their two fathers, which was M. Lewis & Wm. Clark. When the Articles was Opened Out they Said as long as the French had traded with [them] they Never Gave them as much as a Knife for Nothing.

18th August (Friday) Saturday 1804
In the after part of the Day the Party with the Indians arrived. We met them under a Shade near the Boat and after a Short talk we gave them Provisions to eat, & proceeded to the trial of Reed. The three principal Chiefs petitioned for Pardon for this man. After we explained the injury such men could do them by false representation, & explanation [of] the Customs of our Country they were all Satisfied with the propriety of the Sentence & was witness to the punishment. After which we had Some talk with the Chiefs about the origin of the war between them & the Mahars &c. &c. It commenced in this way, i.e. two of the Missouri Tribe residing with the Otos went to the Mahars to Steal horses, they Killed them both which was a cause of revenge on the part of the Missouris & Otos. They also brought war on themselves Nearly in the Same way with the Pawnee Loups [Skiri Pawnees] and they are greatly in fear of a just revenge from the Pawnees for taking their Corn from the Pania Towns in their absence hunting this Summer. The evening was Closed with an extra Gill of Whiskey & a Dance until 11 o'clock [as it was Capt. Lewis' thirtieth birthday].

Saturday Aug. 18th
Our men Returned and Brought with them the man and Brought with them the Grand Chief of the Ottoes and 2 Lower ones and 6 others of their nation.

Saturday 18th
Pleasant, G. Drewyer & the other 2 men Returned, brought with them Reed the deserter, likewise the Big chief of the Otos called the Big Horse, and another chief called Petevaliar, of Missouri, & a Frenchman & 7 of the warriors came for the purpose of treating with the Mahars &c. Reed tried & punished towards evening; the Chiefs very Sorry &c. and Liberty (had been at the village) has not returned with Drewyer. [Actually, Big Horse was a Missouri Indian, and Little Thief ("petevaliar" from the French petit voleur, "little thief"), an Oto].

19th of August Sunday 1804
I prepared a present from the Chiefs & Warriors. The main Chief breakfasted with us naked; & begged for a Sunglass. At 10 o'clock we assembled the Chiefs & Warriors under an awning and delivered a Speech, explanatory of the One Sent to this Nation from the Council Bluff, &c.:

"Children: When we Sent the 4 men to your towns, we expected to See & Speak with the Mahars by the time you would arrive and to lay the foundation of a peace between you and them."
The Speech of Petit Villeu Little Thief: "If you think right and Can wait until all our Warriors Come from the Buffalo hunt, we Can then tell you who is our men of Consequence. My fathers always lived with the father of the B together & we always live with the Big house. All the men here are the Sons of Chief and will be glad to get Something from the hands of their fathers. My father always directed me to be friendly with the white people, I have always done So and went often to the French. Give my party pieces of Paper [commissions] & we will be glad."
The Speech of the Big Horse: "I went to hunt Buffalo. I heard your word and I returned. I and all my men with me will attend to your words. You want to make peace with all, I want to make peace also. The young men, when they want to go to war, where is the goods you give me to Keep them at home? If you give me Some Whisky to give a Drop to my men at home. I came here naked and must return home naked. If I have Something to give the young men I can prevent their going to war. You want to make peace with all. It is good. We want Something to give my men at home. I am a poor man, and can't quiet without means. A Spoonful of your milk [whiskey] will quiet all."
2nd Speech of the Little Thief: "I want Mr. Faufon & Mr. Labiche to make a peace with the Panies Loups [Skiri Pawnees]. I want William to go & make a piece with the Loups, he can Speak English & will do well to go."

[Ed: Clark now returns to his narrative]
Those people were not well Satisfied with the Presents given them. They were much Surprised at the air gun and Several curiosities which were Shown them, none more than the magnet. Those people became extremely troublesome to us, begging Whisky & little articles.

The Little Thief Grd. Chief I have mentioned before
The Big Horse
Crow's Head (or) Kar Ka paha - Missouri
Black Cat (or) Ne ma Sa wa - Missouri
Iron Eyes (or) Sar na no no - Oto
Big ax (or) Nee Swar Unja - Oto
Big Blue Eyes - S.targeaHunja - Oto
Brave Man (or) War Sar Sha co

One of those Indians, after receiving his Certificate, delivered it again to me. The Big Blue Eyes the Chief petitioned for the Certificate again, we would not give the Certificate, but rebuked them very roughly for having in object goods and not peace with their neighbors. This language they did not like at first, but at length all petitioned for us to give back the Certificate to the Big Blue Eyes. He came forward and made a plausible excuse, I then gave the Certificate to the Great Chief to bestow it to the most Worthy. They gave it to him, we then gave them a Dram & broke up the Council. The Chiefs requested we would not leave them this evening. We determined to Set out early in the morning. We Showed them many Curiosities and the air gun, which they were much astonished at. Those people begged much for whiskey.

Aug. Sunday 19th
The Indians got up their horses to water them, all the Indians appear to be friendly. At about the hour of 9 o'clock Capt. Lewis & Capt. Clark read a Speech to the Indians & counseled with them. Gave one a medal & the rest they gave commissions & made them all chiefs &c. They appeared to be willing to make peace with the Mahars & all other Nations. The Captains gave them Some Small articles of Goods &c. & gave them provisions while they remained with us. The most of this day taken up in giving the Indians Good counsel &c. Capt. M. Lewis invited the above Petevaliar the Big Chief to go to see the president &c. &c.

Sunday 19th
The Indians all appear to be friendly. At 9 o'clock the Captains read a long Speech to them & Counseled with them, & Gave one a medal & the others they Gave commissions, & Some Small presents &c. We Gave them provisions while they Remained with us.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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