Osage Women and Empire
Gender and Power
The Osage empire, as most histories claim, was built by Osage men’s prowess at hunting and war. But, as Tai S. Edwards observes in Osage Women and Empire, Osage cosmology defined men and women as necessary pairs; in their society, hunting and war, like everything else, involved both men and women. Only by studying the gender roles of both can we hope to understand the rise and fall of the Osage empire. In Osage Women and Empire, Edwards brings gender construction to the fore in the context of Osage history through the nineteenth century.
Edwards’s examination of the Osage gender construction reveals that the rise of their empire did not result in an elevation of men’s status and a corresponding reduction in women’s. Consulting a wealth of sources, both Osage and otherwise—ethnographies, government documents, missionary records, traveler narratives—Edwards considers how the first century and a half of colonization affected Osage gender construction. She shows how women and men built the Osage empire together. Once confronted with US settler colonialism, Osage men and women increasingly focused on hunting and trade to protect their culture, and their traditional social structures—including their system of gender complementarity—endured. Gender in fact functioned to maintain societal order and served as a central site for experiencing, adapting to, and resisting the monumental change brought on by colonization.
“Edwards skillfully explores the centrality of complementary gender construction in Osage life from precontact through the nineteenth century. Through the use of ethnographies, government documents, missionary records, and travel narratives, Edwards masterfully creates a work that shows the importance of both men and women at every level of the continued creation of Osage ideology and identity.”
“A compelling read.”
—Great Plains QuarterlySee all reviews...
“Osage Women and Empire skillfully illustrates how incorporating women's history and attention to gender can enrich and transform our understandings of all kinds of history, often identifying continuities where there seemed only disruption. With its beautiful prose and embedding of gender analysis within clear explanations of Osage and U.S. history, Edwards’s book should be assigned not only in classes on indigenous studies and women’s history but also in U.S. history courses.”
—American Historical Review
“Edwards offers a powerful contribution to the story of the Osage empire through an examination of gender roles and their persistence throughout a critical period of U.S. removal and settler expansion. Historians interested in indigenous history, gender, and settler colonialism will find Osage Women and Empire useful and thought provoking.”
—Journal of American History
“With clarity and grace, Edwards presents a fascinating snapshot of the gender roles played by Osage women and men. This succinct book, suitable for course adoption, will be useful for students of Native American history, women’s studies, and settler colonialism.”
—Missouri Historical Review
“In her comprehensive analysis of gender roles throughout a critical period in Osage history, Tai S. Edwards demonstrates how attention to a Native American nation’s deeply held beliefs in complementarity, autonomy, and balance allows us to understand indigenous resilience to colonization. Edwards does not simply add women to the story of the Osage empire. Rather, she proves that we cannot understand their creative and often successful adaptation without paying attention to the persistence of gendered values and behaviors. This book will change the way we understand the history of the southern plains.”
—Rose Stremlau, author of Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation
“An important new work that refutes the long-standing false stereotype of the male domination and abuse of women in Plains warrior societies. Edwards restores Osage women to their rightful place in an egalitarian, non-hierarchical indigenous system in which they were respected and essential participants in every aspect of Osage life while providing new insights regarding Osage resistance to, and selective adaption of, white norms under US colonialism. Important reading for students of indigenous history, women’s studies, and settler colonialism.”
— Donna L. Akers, author of Living in the Land of Death: The Choctaw Nation, 1830–1860See fewer reviews...
Through the lens of gender, and by drawing on the insights of archaeology, ethnography, linguistics, and oral history, Osage Women and Empire presents a new, more nuanced picture of the critical role of men and women in the period when the Osage rose to power in the western Mississippi Valley and when that power later declined on their Kansas reservation.