The Osage Nation in the Spotlight
March 24, 2004
The Osage Nation in the spotlight this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.
Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.
Of all of the Native American nations moved into what is now Oklahoma, the Osage nation was perhaps, at least monetarily, the luckiest. Situated in northeastern Oklahoma, the Osage Reservation, now Osage County, lay unbeknownst to anyone at the time over immense deposits of oil. The Osage Nation, like every other tribe in the state was broken up into individually owned sections of land, it was thought by politicians that this would help to end the communal spirit of the Native Americans and better serve to move them into the world of the whites. However, unlike ever other tribe, the Osage did not divide up the mineral rights to their land. While the surface was divided up among the members of the tribe, the mineral rights were held in common and equally by all of the members. Whether this was achieved on purpose or by accident is unknown, but it had a huge impact on the quality of living for most of the tribal members.
It was late in the 1800s when interest in Osage oil began to surface and the Foster family from Rhode Island moved into the area to see what they could develop. It was in this week of 1896 that the Fosters signed a lease with the Osage tribe to drill on their reservation. The importance of this lease is several fold, it meant that only one company would control the Osage oil, it prevented the mass hysteria boom-town phenomenon common in other areas and because the oil production was so tightly controlled it provided great ecological benefits; there wasn't as much rampant disregard for the environment.
The oil reserves under the feet of the Osage proved to be large and of high quality, and due to the communally held mineral rights, each member received an equal share of the profits. In other tribal histories whites often gained control of the oil producing regions robbing the rightful owners of any profit from production. The Foster lease was the only so called, "blanket lease," signed with a Native American nation, and it worked out well for the tribe. Not only did mineral rights produce income for the tribe, but a series of sub-leases occurring under the watchful eye of tribal leaders provided additional sources of revenue. The careful extraction of the oil left most of the natural gas deposits intact, and those are still providing revenue for the Osage today, one hundred and eight years after the Foster lease was created.
The Foster blanket lease on Osage Reservation, signed in this week of 1896.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio and the Oklahoma State University Library.