Soldat du Chene and the Osage

In Little House on the Prairie, the Ingalls family encounters a French-speaking Osage chief, Soldat du Chene. The Indian tribes who lived in the territory the Ingalls and other white settlers were occupying had decided to make war on the settlers. Soldat du Chene and his tribe came to plead with the other tribes not to kill the white people. He told the tribes that if they began to massacre the settlers, he and his strong Osage would fight them. This persuaded the other tribes to go away peacefully. Soldat du Chene thus saved the Ingalls family's lives.

In reality, Laura could not remember the name of the Indian chief, only what he did, so it is possible that his name wasn't really Soldat du Chene. She researched the Osage tribe while writing Little House on the Prairie, and was told that the chief she was trying to find about was Soldat du Chene. Unfortunately, we don't know the source of her information, and those who have searched have been unsuccessful in finding this same information today. It may be that Laura was given incorrect information, or it may be that he was such an obscure figure that he did not receive much attention in any historical records or documents.

An Osage Chief

There was a chief named Soldat du Chene; however, according to Donald Zochert in his book Laura, he died many years before Laura was born. It is possible he had a grandson or great grandson by this name who was chief around 1870, though. Zochert theorizes it could have been a chief named Augustus Captain. Some other Osage chiefs in that area at that time were See-Haw, Black Dog, and Red Eagle.

There is a picture of a chief named Soldat du Chene in a book called The Osage, by Terry Wilson, but it does not give any dates, so this may be the chief from the early 1800s. The caption is: "Le Soldat du Chene, The Soldier of the Oak, received his name after using an oak tree as shelter to fight off several enemies. He wears the traditional roached hairstyle of Osage warriors."

This book has lots of good information about the Osage people, and Laura either had a very good memory about these Indians or she researched it well. Some of the bits in this book that match up to Laura's descriptions include:

"Many Osage were exceptionally tall."

"They shaved their head...leaving only a scalp lock of hair about two inches high and three inches wide running from the forehead to the back of the neck."

They "held themselves erect."

Examination of Laura's descriptions of the Osage in Little House on the Prairie match this information perfectly.

Another interesting piece of information in Wilson's book is:
"A buffalo hunt required as much planning as a military action. The hunters, who were on horseback, often set controlled fires to drive the buffalo toward a river where other hunters waited in ambush."

This may have been the true reason for the prairie fire Laura writes about. Wilson also discusses the meeting that must have caused Pa to leave:

"The meeting (to discuss removal of either the Osage or the settlers) had been scheduled for August 1870, but it was delayed until September so the Osage could hunt buffalo. After two days of debate, the chiefs and councillors reluctantly accepted a treaty whereby the Osage would move to new land to be purchased from the Cherokee with money they had received from the 1865 treaty. At that time, the Kansas reservation would be sold to settlers for $1.25 an acre."

The Ingalls family left Kansas as soon as Ma and Carrie were able to travel after Carrie's birth on August 3, 1870. They must have left in between then and the date of this meeting, and Pa must have been pretty sure it was going to come out the other way. Had he waited a couple of weeks, the family would not have had to leave their little house on the prairie. It has also been speculated that the real reason the family returned to the Big Woods was because the buyer of their little house had defaulted on the payments. If this was not the reason for their return, Ma must surely have considered it providential that just as they had to leave one home, another one awaited them.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frontier Girl

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Rebecca Brammer & Phil Greetham
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