We didn't know it at the time, but six hundred miles to the southwest of our expedition, in an Arkansas mountain range to the east of Long Prairie, there were events unfolding that would eventually intersect with our lives. Many months later, we would hear enough of those events that I was able to put together what must have happened as a renegade Wah-Sha-She band of Osage Indians reacted to their last encounter with the Kados.
Chief Wey Chutta, leader of the banished Wah-Sha-She, heard the report from ChoCaCanNih, the leader of the war party that had just returned, and slammed his fist into the ground. “How can this be? Ten years ago, they were crushed. Now you say they are strong and well-armed with many rifles and much ammunition. They kill three of our braves in battle. You return with no horses? No slaves? What are we to trade with the French for more rifles? We are already running low on powder. Are the mighty Wah- Sha-She warriors going to run and hide from the Kados for lack of guns? No, we will not!”
For a time, ChoCaCanNih was silent. Then he spoke. “Our braves fought well, my chief, but we must fight with arrows against their guns. They have one gun for every brave, but only one out of three of our braves have a gun. For five years, they have been growing stronger each time we fight them. Since Dehahuit, their chief, moved the Kado to their lake, their positions are better defended. They are well supplied with arms, food, and all manner of things. They travel the Three Notch Trail without fear.
“This is not all. Five score of Cherokees have settled at the mouth of the Little River and are said to be allied with the Kado.”
Wey Chutta was an imposing figure of a man. He was tall, well over six foot, as were most Wah-Sha-She men. A blackbird was tattooed across his back and a black snake lay coiled on each breast. His head was shaved except for a tuft of black hair that grew from his forehead to his neck. His eyebrows were plucked, and he was naked except for a simple breechcloth. His face grew ever more ugly and filled with hate as he spat out words in a deep, angry voice.
“Many years ago, our fathers drove these filthy women of the river away from our lands. Those who remained were left eating berries and fish. We should have destroyed every last one of them then, but the old men of the Osage were weak and allowed our enemy to live to fight another day.” He glared at the braves sitting cross-legged around the campfire. Wey Chutta knew they were brave warriors. They wore their war paint with pride and rode their ponies into battle intent on winning. But as their war-party leader ChoCaCanNih said, their bows and arrows were no match for the Kado rifles. They bowed their heads in shame. Wey Chutta looked over the campfire at them, then spoke.
“I am not weak. You are not weak. We are not weak. I vow the Kado is the greatest enemy of the proud Osage people and will be crushed once more. This time never to rise again!” Wey Chutta slammed his fist down, this time into the fire. Sparks and ash and burning wood flew into the air, startling the braves to attention. “I will not allow the Kado to return to our lands, no matter how many guns they possess, no matter how many tribes help these women to do their fighting. But to grow strong enough to conquer, we must know more about our enemy. What do they want? Where do they get money to buy guns and food? What are the Kado trading for guns and food? How do they get the Cherokee to fight with them? What do the Cherokee get from the Kado in return for their loyalty? These are things we must know.”
The Osage and the Kadohadacho had been at war for decades, their conflict flaring up ever more frequently since the white man’s expansion began pushing the Osage people westward out of the fertile valleys and onto the Great Plains. Wey Chutta and his warriors were renegades, the meanest, most vengeful, most downright evil Indians in the territory. Denounced by the greater Osage tribes, his warriors were outsiders with nothing left to lose. Recruits would come to him who had been cast out from the Osage and a few related tribes. He had led this band of a hundred Wah-Sha-She, or Osage, warriors for seven years. But recently his ranks had shrunk precipitously, and this infuriated him.
In addition to trading in animal pelts, his band thrived by stealing horses and kidnapping women to sell into slavery, doing business mostly with a small group of outlaw French traders who continued to prey on the region and its peoples long after the French Louisiana territory had been transferred to the Spanish, then, ultimately, to the United States. For many years theirs had been a profitable enterprise, especially because of their trading alliance with the Osage. But as the Kado acquired more arms and their trade with whites grew, recent Osage raids on Kadohadacho lands had become less successful, drying up one of the Osage’s most important sources of plunder.
“Yes, Wey Chutta, we will find answers to all you wish to know. Though we returned with no horses or women, we did capture a lone Kado warrior. Even now he awaits his death outside the lodge of Iyostah.”
Each Osage village had two chiefs. ChoCaCanNih had wisely taken the prisoner to Iyostah, the other chief, before reporting to Wey Chutta, thus ensuring the man would remain alive long enough for them to extract useful information. He was certain Wey Chutta would have become enraged at the mere sight of a Kado and slit his throat.
“Good. Very good. He must tell us what I want to know about our enemy. You must make this happen. Tie him down on the hill of ants. Cover his body with hot coals. Let the ants feed on the burning sores and sting the soft parts of his body. When he begs you to kill him, he will tell all I want to know. Then cut off his member and feed it to your dogs. Take his eyes and his scalp and leave him to die, then put him on his horse back to the Kado village. These Kados will learn what it means to be the enemy of the Wah-Sha-She. When you have done all this, we will take what you have learned to Bourgmont to see what the Frenchman can tell us.”
“Yes, Wey Chutta,” said ChoCaCanNih. “I will do everything you ask.”
“I know you will. And bathe yourself. You have the stench of Kado on your body.”
It took several hours before the screams started, but they continued for two days. Wey Chutta never bothered to watch the prisoner being tortured. He only waited for the answers he sought. Shortly after the screams finally came to an end, ChoCaCanNih entered Wey Chutta’s lodge.
“What have you learned?” said Wey Chutta.
“His only answer to all my questions was to say ‘Sah-coo.’ Where had the guns come from? Sah-coo. Why had the Cherokee allied with the Kado? Sah-coo. Where does the money for Kado guns come from? Sah-coo.” ChoCaCanNih swiped his hand through the air. “I can do no more. He is dead now. He died with ‘Sah-coo’ on his lips.”
“Fool!” cried Wey Chutta. “Do you not know? This Sah-coo is their god. You should have learned where they worship this Sah-coo.” ChoCaCanNih, fell to his knees before his leader.
“This is shit! Shit!” shouted Wey Chutta. “Once again you have failed me, ChoCaCanNih, but for the last time! From this moment you will remain here in our village with the other women. I will now lead our braves myself into battle against our enemies. Go, go sit with the women. Cook our food and sew our buckskins with the women. That is all you are good for. Now leave my sight forever.”
Completely dishonored, henceforth ChoCaCanNih would be shunned by everyone in the Wa-Sha-She camp—men, women, and children alike. In two months, he would be dead from starvation. The Wah-Sha-She believed only in survival of the fittest, and ChoCaCanNih had proved himself unfit.
The next morning, Wey Chutta and ten of his strongest braves rode off toward a lone Frenchman’s trading post on the Arkansaw
River. It was both business and home to a Frenchman known only as Bourgmont, who flouted his contraband trading business in the face of the Americans’ claim on the territory. Two days later, they arrived.
Bourgmont stood on his front porch, his right arm raised in the peace gesture. “Bonjour, Monsieur Wey Chutta! How may I help you?” he asked in Osage.
Bourgmont was a fat, slovenly man about forty-five years of age. He wore his unkempt hair and beard long over a filthy, greasy deerskin coat. Even though it was winter and cold, Bourgmont was red and flushed, covered in sweat. Several mongrels arose from the ground and began sniffing at the Indians. Two Indian women emerged from the cabin to see who had arrived, both holding babies.
“Bourgmont, we have nothing to trade today. We come seeking your knowledge and counsel,” said Wey Chutta.
“But of course, Wey Chutta,” Bourgmont replied in Osage. “I am always ready to help my friends, the Wah-Sha-She. Come, come inside and warm yourself.”
The Indians tied their ponies to the railing in front of Bourgmont’s cabin. Wey Chutta followed Bourgmont inside, leaving his braves to fend for themselves outside in the cold.
The Frenchman seated himself in a handmade chair large enough to accommodate his bulk. “Please, Wey Chutta. Sit here. May I get you something to drink or eat?”
“No. We will not stay long. You are trusted by Wah-Sha-She and know much of our history. We are a strong people with long memories and harsh punishment for our enemies.”
“This is true, Wey Chutta. And your savoir-faire as a trader is also well known. Our business has always been good.”
“Yes. The problem of the Wah-Sha-She is not our business with Bourgmont. It is with our enemy, the Kadohadacho. For many generations we have fought the Kado.”
“The Kado are now becoming a trouble to you?” He raised a finger and one of the women rushed to his side with a bottle of liquor. Bourgmont raised the bottle toward Wey Chutta, who shook his head angrily. He would never allow fire water to touch his lips as did his weaker brethren.
Bourgmont pulled the cork out and drank straight from the bottle.
“Yes, trader. In their weakness, we were able to take their furs, horses, and women for our trade with you and your French brothers. It seemed only a matter of time before they would be gone from the earth forever.”
“Wey Chutta, I am well aware of your grandes batailles with the Kado. Stories of Wah-Sha-She dominance over the Kado will be told for many years.” Wey Chutta, uncomfortable sitting in a white man’s chair, folded himself on the carpet in front of the fire. “Perhaps, but perhaps not,” he replied. “The stories once told of us are now old stories. We cannot tell them to our young. Today our war parties are turned back by the Kados, who have many guns and stores. They are growing stronger. They have many white man friends. They have killed our braves in battle and repel our raids on their villages. This is of great concern to the Wah-Sha-She. What do you know of such things?”
“Mon Dieu, great Wey Chutta! I share your concerns. However, being but one man at my lonely outpost, I know nothing myself, but I, too, hear stories that the Kado have for several years now purchased guns and other supplies from their patron.”
“And who is this patron?” said Wey Chutta.
“It is rumored that he is the American chief. In Washington City. It is now said the Kado are well fortified with the white man’s guns and food.”
“Ahhhrgh!” said Wey Chutta, slamming his fist on the wooden floor. “Why does the white chief in Washington City make trade with the Kados? They have nothing the white man wants.”
“Besides land, of course. But I have heard more. Vous ne saviez pas? You do not know? It is said their god gives them money.”
Wey Chutta looked down and murmured, “One of their braves we captured told us of their Sah-coo. Do you believe such things? I do not.”
“Of course not. But the Kados do. And frankly, I have no better explanation.”
Wey Chutta looked up and stared into Bourgmont’s eyes. “Then I must kill their god.”
Bourgmont shifted uneasily in his chair. “While you are so engaged, you might do the same for the gods of the Choctaws, Cherokees, and Coushattas. There is talk that the Kados are paying braves from all these tribes to band together against you and your mighty Wah-Sha-She. If all came together, they would be a formidable enemy of your people.”
“Well then,” said Wey Chutta, “I must kill all their gods.”
“Bonne chance, chief.” Good luck.
“I do not need luck. I need knowledge. I must know where this money comes from. You must learn this. You must help the Wah-Sha-She.”
Bourgmont raised his hands toward the sky but said nothing.
Both men were quiet for a time, then Wey Chutta spoke again. “The Kado brave we captured five days ago. We tortured him to tell us the truth about the Kado guns and money. All he would say was ‘Sah-coo.’”
“How does their god bestow money on the Kado people?”
“We tortured him unto death to find out, but he would not tell us.” Bourgmont sat upright and set his whiskey bottle on the floor. “Trader, I need answers to these questions. Who is making the Kado strong?
How are they paying for their guns and ammunition?”
Bourgmont raised his eyebrows inquisitively.
Wey Chutta stood, staring down at the fat Frenchman. He spoke slowly. “I need to know these things. You will get me the answers.”
“We will see, Wey Chutta. We will see.”
Bourgmont began struggling to his feet, but Wey Chutta was angered by the Frenchman’s vague reply. “You know more than you say, trader!” roared Wey Chutta, shoving Bourgmont back into his chair. The trader’s hand bumped the whiskey bottle, knocking it over. He quickly grabbed it and set it back to rights. “Well,” he stammered, “I would not want my friend and best trading partner to be run out of business. I hear the great chief in Washington City is sending a new assistant Indian agent to Natchitoches. I don’t know when. I know the man in charge now. His name is Jamison, and he is not a man we can influence. But this new man, perhaps he is someone who, shall we say, might be persuaded to share our interests? Perhaps he can tell us where the money comes from.”
“You will do this for Wey Chutta?”
Bourgmont’s face took on a sly, greedy look. “Perhaps. Perhaps.”
Wey Chutta nodded and stepped to the door. He turned back to Bourgmont and spat out, “Soon we will talk again, trader.”