Osage River Joins the Missouri

Page 3 of 3

Figure 7

"A Delightful Prospect"
View southwest, upstream

Osage joins Missouri

At four in the afternoon of June first, 1804, the expedition arrived at the mouth of the Osage River, one of the major Indian trail intersections on the lower Missouri. From the height on the point, which may have been nearly four miles west and two miles south of the location shown here, Clark wrote: "I had a delightfull prospect of the Missouries up & down, also the Osage R. up."

That night and the next morning Lewis took celestial observations to measure the latitude and longitude of the place. The figures representing longitude would be referred to a mathematician after the expedition, but the latitude, easier to compute, was quite accurately determined as North 38°31'6.9". Meanwhile, Clark measured the widths of the Missouri (875 yards, roughly½ mile) and Osage (397 yards, roughly º mile) at the point of convergence, and the width of the neck of land upstream from the point, just for the record. In the afternoon of June third Lewis took a short walk up the Osage and back before the party proceeded on to the night's camp at the mouth of the Moreau River.

Nearly two months later the captains drew upon the measurements they had made with the log line to record the velocity of the Missouri River, and determined that the mouth of the Osage was a nodal point: "in the Missouri from it's junction with the Mississippi to the entrance of the Osage river from 5½ to 6 from thence to the mouth of the Kanzas from 6½ to 7."

None of the journalists mentioned the Osage Indians, who were known to live near the three forks of the Osage River, nearly 100 miles upstream from the Missouri, beyond today's Lake of the Ozarks behind Bagnell Dam. However, by the following winter at Fort Mandan, the captains had accumulated enough information about more than fifty Indian tribes to write descriptions of each, in the framework of nineteen separate topics, such as their names for themselves (spelled phonetically), their languages, their usual places of residence, and their commercial prospects.1 The Grand Osages were first on their list; the Little Osages were second.

Figure 8

Clark's Map of 1805
Detail: "Ossage" River
Pass cursor over map to read details.

At Fort Mandan during the winter of 1804-05 Clark drew "A Map of part of the Continent of North America. Between the 35th and 51st degrees of North Latitude, and extending from 89° Degrees of West Longitude to the Pacific Ocean: Compiled from the Authorities of the best informed travellers by M. Lewis."2 The chart of the "Ossage River" it contained evidently was copied from the captains' 1804 map of the "Territory of the Ozages."3 Chief among those informants were Auguste Chouteau and his younger brother Pierre, who had been trading with the Osages since the early 1770s. The only tributary of the Osage that has retained its old name is the Niangua, which possibly means "many springs."4

Seven days and thirty-five miles downriver, George Drouillard and John Shields had been ordered to proceed on a couple of days with the two horses, to hunt, and had missed reconnecting with the boats. This day they finally caught up with the party, "much worsted," but prepared to give "a flattering account of the Countrey" they had seen. Their experience is a reminder that the Corps of Discovery's trek through the Northwest was anything but an orderly march, for the hunters, and even one officer or the other, frequently ranged many miles on either side of a river. Nearly every step they took, every prospect they studied, was an exploration. Neither time did anyone mention having seen any Osage orange trees, but Lewis collected a specimen of wild ginger.

They passed the Osage River again on 20 September 1806, without comment. That's understandable, for their hearts and minds were preoccupied with more momentous thoughts and feelings. Home was just three days ahead!

1. Moulton, Journals, 3:386-450.

2. Ibid., Atlas, Map 32a.

3. Ibid., Atlas, Map 6.

4. Moulton, Journals, 2:181n.

Funded in part by a grant from the NPS Challenge-Cost Share Program.