Unaffected by the Gospel: Osage Resistance to the Christian Invasion, 1673-1906: A Cultural Victory

Article excerpt

Unaffected by the Gospel: Osage Resistance to the Christian Invasion, 1673-1906: A Cultural Victory. By Willard Hughes Rollings. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 243. Acknowledgments, illustrations, maps, notes, references, index. $45.00, cloth; $22.95, paper.)

Over a decade ago, Willard Rollings' The Osage: An Ethnohistorical Study of Hegemony on the Prairie-Plains provided a great service to American Indian history in altering our perspective on the Osages and challenging older, more negative images of these people. In this most recent work, Rollings continues to elucidate the complexity of Osage society and history, this time examining religion and Christianity specifically.

Much attention is paid to the Indian wars in scholarly and popular literature, but Rollings wants to show that American Indians often resisted encroachments on their land and challenges to their beliefs in nonviolent ways. The Osages, in particular, Rollings argues, were very successful in nonviolent resistance to the advance of Euro-American culture. That may come as a surprise to many who have been taught that the Osages were fearsome warriors who killed white traders and Indian rivals in Arkansas and elsewhere and intimidated the Spanish colonial government. The problem with this interpretation of Osage history is not that it is untrue, but that it sees the Osages as inherently violent and vicious. Another perspective, Rollings' for example, places violence into context and sees the Osages as one of many expansionist powers on the continent, each of which (whether Osages, Lakotas, or Anglo Americans) had reasons and goals for expansion.

Religion was one of the ways in which Anglo Americans furthered their own expansionist impulse. The Osages first encountered Christianity in the seventeenth century, when Catholic missionaries arrived in the mid-continent. At the time, Catholic missionaries were only visitors and did not establish permanent missions among the Osages. In the nineteenth century, Protestant missionaries arrived and stayed for several decades. The United Foreign Missionary Society-supported by the Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and Associate Reformed Churches-established the Union, Harmony, and Hopefield Missions. …