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Revamped museum exhibits showcase a rich Osage history

Black Dog’s battle shield, photos from the museum’s opening day and remnants of a war culture are just some of the new artifacts on display
Osage Tribal Museum Technician, Joe Don Brave, explains the differential characteristics among the museum's collection of pipe bags and pipes. Photo by Shannon Shaw/Osage News

A display case full of pipes and pipe bags from a past Osage culture sit in the middle of the Osage Tribal Museum as a new exhibit.

“Not all the pipes and pipe bags are Osage, but most of them are,” said Joe Don Brave, the museum’s technician. “Different tribes had their own different herbs and plants, certain barks from trees they used to make their own tobacco. Some were made for medicinal purposes, some had sedative ingredients; it wasn’t like the tobacco we have today. If it was, the bags would have been resonated and discolored.”

Brave, who spent eight years working for the Smithsonian in New York City working with collections and designing mounts and impact objects, has worked with the Osage museum for nearly a year and was honored to go through the collections and redesign the exhibits. 

One of the most prominent collections, which has been with the museum since it opened in 1938, is the John L. Bird Collection. The Bird Collection is where Brave picked most of the new items for display. Among those items is the shield of Hereditary Chief Black Dog.

The descriptive plaque that accompanies the exhibit is a reprint from the book, “Art of the Osage.” According to the plaque, feathers on the broadcloth flap below the shield are from immature bald eagles, and a crescent of golden eagle feathers adorns the front edge of the upper flap. Hawk feathers hang from either end. Several smaller feathers, possibly from the wing of a woodpecker, are attached to the center of the shield along with a silver disc at its center, according to the plaque.

“The loop at the top of the cloth may once have held a sacred object,” according to the plaque. “While many interpretations of the shield’s painted surface have been offered, the original intent of the paintings was to strike fear in the heart of the enemy, and in this regard, the shield could be said to emanate the face of death itself.”

To the Osage, like all other activities, warfare had to have a meaning, according to the Warfare exhibit. Warfare was strictly controlled by the clan priests who had to sanction the organization of the war party. The thirteen war honors, O-don, were awarded only the men upon participation in an organized war party, according to the exhibit.

Museum patrons Rick and Vicki O’Brien, who were visiting the Osage Tribal Museum for the first time on Jan. 28, traveled from Sand Springs to search for a photo of Rick’s mother in the museum’s “2229” exhibit that shows photos of Osage original allottees.

“It’s a nice facility,” said Rick O’Brian. His wife Vicki was taken with various artifacts on display. “What’s fascinating to me are the different things that I wasn’t aware of, like the woodpecker bills on the headdress and the beads,” she said, referring to the Otter Turban Headdress worn by Osage clan priests.

An exhibit dedicated to Osage mothers and cradle boards shows photos of babies in cradle boards and Osage women taking care of their infants. Other exhibits showcase Osage beadwork, yarnwork, ribbonwork, men and women’s clothing, the evolution of moccasins and the history of the Osage’s involvement in the Native American Church.

There is an exhibit dedicated to Osage veterans and an exhibit dedicated to the opening day of the museum in 1938. Photos of Osage women and men practicing archery, women cooking the feast and Osage dignitaries celebrating the opening day of the museum line the exhibit.

The museum has received numerous compliments on the new displays.

“It’s good to have everything change,” said Kathryn Red Corn, OTM director. “People have commented on the fact that they are seeing new things.”

New Web site

A new Web site for the museum can be found at The site is built as a research tool and has approximately 6,000 photos in the search engine. Visitors of the site can look up original Osage allottees by their name or number. The site creators strived to make the search easy by putting in numerous spellings of the Osage names. Osage history is also on the site.


Osage Tribal Museum
819 Grandview
Pawhuska, OK
United States