By 1794, the Cherokees were settling in the West in growing numbers, and conflict with the Osage over hunting rights were becoming frequent. Many years of tit-for-tat violence and raiding followed. With successive waves of Cherokee “Old Settlers,” the spats of warfare only intensified.
In December 1816, a group of Cherokee was hunting on Osage land and stole some horses. They were pursued by a band of Osage who re-captured their horses and killed a Cherokee man in the process. The Cherokee bided their time to retaliate, knowing the Osage left their towns with little protection during the Strawberry Moon, a time when they went to hunt bison on the prairie. In 1817, when the Strawberry Moon appeared, a large party of Cherokee, Choctaw, and white men under the leadership of Black Fox and a Cherokee chief known as The Bowl left their camps to strike the Osage town at Claremont’s Mound, near the south bank of the Verdigris River and Sageeyah Creek. Chief Claremont was known as the “town-builder” of Osage leaders. A nephew of Chief Pawhuska, he had founded the town at the bottom of the mound in 1802.¹
When the Cherokee approached Claremont’s Mound they sent a messenger asking that the Osage send out some chiefs to meet the “10 or 15” Cherokee who had supposedly come to hold council. Only an elderly chief was among the Osage; most men were out hunting bison. The Cherokee concealed their main party, and after speaking with the man and learning that most of the Osage men were away from the town, The Bowl struck the aged chief with a sword. The others fell upon him, and he was quickly hacked to death.
The Cherokee chiefs then summoned their warriors to attack the Osage village. With little armed opposition they slaughtered between 38 and 80 people and took over 100 captives. For two days the Cherokee and their allies pursued the survivors down the Verdigris River, killing or capturing them.
News of the “battle” spread to the Cherokee lands in the East and Washington, D.C. It convinced many more thousands of Cherokee to migrate west. The federal government pushed the Osage to cede more land. They were eager to claim their land in the South, and politicians were eager to encourage Cherokee settlement in the West. Eventually a treaty would be signed, returning Osage captives and transferring ownership to millions of acres of what would eventually be the Cherokee Nation and then the state of Oklahoma.
Before the Civil War, another town called “Claremont” was built on the site of the massacre. At one point it had 150 buildings. In 1882, the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad came through the area and the settlement moved south to spread out around the tracks. A few years later, a telegraph operator would misspell “Claremont,” as “Claremore,” and the mistake would become official.
1. Willard Hughes Rollings states in The Osage: An Ethnohistorical Study of Hegemony on the Southern Prairie-Plains that this Claremont was probably the son of the 18th century Osage leader also known as Claremont who died sometime around 1800.
Originally published in This Land: Fall 2016