In 1723, Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont established Fort Orleans on the Missouri River, the first European post on that river. In 1725 he took a group of their chiefs, including one Osage, to Paris to show them the power and glory of France. The “sauvages” proved a great novelty and generated huge interest throughout France. They were feted, dined, went to the opera, and were given gold-trimmed coats and cock hats and other gaudies. Their visit was a popular success and the Indians seemed equally impressed, stories of their trip passing down over the years after their return.
The Osage maintained their relations with the French in subsequent years, doing extensive trade with René Auguste Chouteau of St. Louis. In the 1820s, the Osage became acquainted with a friend of Chouteau’s, David Delaunay. This led, in 1827, to the Osage being taken to France by Delaunay for an eventful and not so successful, two year visit. About this trip there is a fair bit of graphic illustration and documentary information, but there is much about the Osage’s visit to Europe in 1827 which remains unclear.
The main problem is that there are two conflicting sources of information. One consists of a number of pamphlets which were published in France during the Osage’s visit. The original source of the story told in these pamphlets was likely Delaunay himself and they present a generally positive report. The other source is the biography of Mohongo, one of the Osage travelers, that appeared in the McKenney & Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America. That account takes a much dimmer view on the whole episode.
According to the French pamphlet accounts, the Osage instigated the idea of visiting France on their own, inspired by the stories they heard of the earlier visit of 1725. According to the pamphlets, initially 25 Osage planned to make the trip and spent four years raising money for it. Eventually the number dropped to 12 and then a boat full of furs, which they were planning to sell in St. Louis, overturned and they lost everything. They supposedly then met David Delaunay in St. Louis and he agreed to take a small party with him to France.
This is not the story as told by McKenney & Hall. There it was Delaunay’s idea to take the Osage to France in order to profit by exhibiting them in various venues; “decoyed from the boarders of Missouri, by an adventurer, whose intention was to exhibit them in Europe for the purpose of gain.” Supposedly they were impressed with Delaunay’s wearing an American uniform and they were further persuaded by Paul Loise, a Frenchmen who had been appointed by Meriwether Lewis in 1808 as Osage interpreter.
To add to their travails, Mohongo had given birth to one or two daughters about six months after arriving in France. If she had twins, it seems that she gave up one of the children for adoption to a wealthy Belgian woman, for by the winter of 1829, she had only one daughter with her.
In financial straits and left in a strange land, the Osage eventually made it back to France, where they did find help in their desire to return to their American home. They had split into two groups, one of which connected with Bishop William DuBourg, who had got to know the Osage when he resided in St. Louis from 1818 to 1823. The bishop was able to get this group back to the United States via Bordeaux.
Not all the Osage made it back to America, for either two or three died of small pox on the trip back. The survivors did return to their tribal lands, where the History of the Indian Tribes of North America reports that “although they suffered much from the treachery of one of our race…they were indebted to the white man for many acts of kindness and sympathy during their novel and adventurous journey.” (Vol. I, p. 22)
In 1833, Mohongo and Little Chief were seen in 1833 on the Neosho River, and also that year Little Chief was at the treaty conference at Fort Gibson. Big Soldier lived until 1844 and he would proudly show off his Lafayette medal. French tourist Victor Tixier met him in 1840, saying that he was a minor chief of great pomposity, but Big Soldier was befriended by John Mix Stanley, who painted his picture in 1843, the year before he died.