Through the wild ranch fields in northeast Oklahoma Jacque Jones shouldered her three-month-old daughter in a baby backpack carrier and walked about three miles.
As she walked she wondered why the journey soothed the youngest of her five daughters to sleep. She also thought about the ground she walked on and how it once embellished the footprints of her Osage ancestors.
“Just to be able to walk in the footsteps that my ancestors walked in, it was really kind of an emotional walk for me,” Jones said.
Jones was one of about 70 Osages who took part in the third-annual commemorative Osage Cultural Walk on Oct. 21-22, from the furthest northeast corner of the state to Mullendore Cross Bell Ranch.
The annual walk is a short reenactment of the walk the Osage people made from Kansas to what is now Osage County. For the last three years, participants have camped at the site and made the three-mile walk to the ranch. This year was the same.
Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center director Vann Bighorse said the walk is simply a way for Osages to get more in touch with their history.
“The idea of staying there and camping was to [give] people kind of a sense of . . . how our people lived, outside, eating their meals from a campfire and trying to get a picture of the way they lived,” Bighorse said. “The trials and tribulations they (ancestors) dealt with on a day-to-day basis, that was kind of to give people an opportunity to be Osage.”
On Saturday morning before the walk began, participants gathered at the cultural center for information about the walk. A flat bed and vans were loaded with camping gear and participants were taken to the campsite.
At the campsite children played and helped their parents put up tents, while cultural center staff and volunteers prepared dinner for the camp.
The evening was filled with hand games and Indian dice to pass the time. And later, stories were told over a campfire where marshmallows were roasted.
Jones, who was accompanied by her husband Shannon Jones, five daughters and nephew, said she and her family have taken part in the walk for the last two years.
“I like the fact that there’s no radio and cell phones and the electronic devices that now days is not important to life when you’re out here,” she said. “It kind of makes my family all have to work together to put up our tents…we get to actually get to know each other [the participants], get to learn about each other, get to talk to each other.”
On Saturday Bighorse gathered the participants in front of the 1871 marker, which marked the year when Osages moved into current Osage County, and told the story of the journey the people made.
Bighorse said before moving to the northeastern part of the state the Osages were moved four previous times between 1808 and 1825. Eventually, in 1861, the idea to move the Osages to Oklahoma had been suggested.
Bighorse said Wa-Ti-An-Kah, a war chief, was set on moving the people to the area because he thought it was much like the land they lived on. And right before the last hereditary chief died in 1869, Pah-Ne-No-Pah-She, or who was often referred to as Governor Joe, helped finalize the negotiations.
Bighorse said the Osage people were devastated when they learned they’d be leaving their land.
“They really weren’t familiar with that area…they really didn’t want to leave mainly because of having to leave their loved ones buried there,” he said. “It was a tough time.”
Bighorse said most of the information about the walk came from stories told by elders, research, books, maps, and just about anything else that had to do with Osage history.
The original walk was said to have lasted just over a year, but the walk from the campsite to the ranch took about an hour and 15 minutes to finish.
Jones said as she cradled her six-month-old daughter (who she was pregnant with during last year’s walk) on the walk she thought about the hardships her ancestors faced.
“Some were sick, pregnant, had crying babies…the main thing was for my family to share that piece of information with me,” she said. “They did walk that long of a trip, my ancestors did walk those steps, that’s why we’re here.”
As Bighorse made the walk ahead of his family he said he felt a special tie to the Osage history and what took place over 100 years ago.
He said every year he’s made the walk he feels like he’s taking the walk with his ancestors.
“Ever since I’ve been there I still have that feeling, that sense of connection, I feel a presence of our people being there,” he said. “There’s a spiritual feeling there, I just feel a presence of our ancestors. I really kind of have that feeling about that area there, it makes me feel that presence of our people coming through there…”
Something different to the walk was the visit from Osage Nation Principal Chief John Red Eagle. Red Eagle met the participants at the ranch after the walk was finished before a catered afternoon meal and spoke of the importance of the walk. It was a first for the walk.
This year about 103 Osages signed up for the walk but only about 70 showed up.
Bighorse said the number of participants has increased since the first walk two years ago, and he hopes it continues to grow.
He said since the walk, participants have emailed and called in talking about how much they enjoyed the experience.
“I really feel like it was a successful walk, event, this cultural walk has kind of gained momentum, every year it’s gained a few more that want to come,” he said.
Jones said she and her family learned more every year they’ve attended. She said it’s a good place for children to interact and learn about their lineage.
“My kids know where they come from. That’s what’s important to my family,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful program that’s offered…”