Osage County, Oklahoma

Osage County (/ˈs/) is the largest county by area in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. Created in 1907 when Oklahoma was admitted as a state, the county is named for and is home to the federally recognized Osage Nation. The county is coextensive with the Osage Nation Reservation, established by treaty in the 19th century when the Osage relocated there from Kansas. The county seat is in Pawhuska, one of the first three towns established in the county. The total population of the county as of 2020 was 45,818.[1]

Osage County
Osage County Courthouse
Osage County Courthouse
Map of Oklahoma highlighting Osage County
Location within the U.S. state of Oklahoma
Map of the United States highlighting Oklahoma
Oklahoma's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 36°38′N 96°24′W / 36.63°N 96.4°W / 36.63; -96.4
Country United States
State Oklahoma
Named forOsage Nation
Largest cityHominy
 • Total2,304 sq mi (5,970 km2)
 • Land2,246 sq mi (5,820 km2)
 • Water58 sq mi (150 km2)  2.5%
 • Total45,818
 • Density20/sq mi (7.7/km2)
Congressional district3rd



During the 17th century, the Osage and other Dhegihan Siouan tribes were displaced westward from the Ohio Country following the Beaver Wars. The Osage became established as a powerful nation in the areas of present-day Missouri and Arkansas between the Missouri and Red rivers, as well as extending to the west. By 1760, they had increased their range to include the present Osage County. Historically one of the most powerful Great Plains tribes, their numbers were reduced by infectious disease and warfare after encounter with Europeans.

In 1825, they ceded their claim to the land in present-day Oklahoma to the United States government, which included it in a "perpetual outlet to the west given to the Cherokee Nation by the Treaty of New Echota" in 1835. This treaty was to accomplish Cherokee removal to the Indian Territory. During the American Civil War, on December 26, 1861, a band of pro-Union Creek and Seminole fought with a Confederate Army unit at the Battle of Chustenahlah[2] on Bird Creek, near the present town of Skiatook.[3] Generally the Five Civilized Tribes were allied with the Confederacy.

In 1870, the Osage finally prepared for removal from Kansas, after having negotiated payment for their land. They purchased 1.57 million acres (6,400 km2) of their former territory in present-day Oklahoma from the Cherokee. By owning it by title, they had a stronger position in relation to the US government than did other tribes.[4] The Osage Agency was established in 1872 at Deep Ford, later renamed as Pawhuska. It was designated as the county seat when Oklahoma was admitted as a state. The other chief settlements in the 1870s were Hominy and Fairfax; each of the three was settled by a major Osage band.[4]

In 1875, the US designated their land as the Osage Reservation. Because the tribe owned the land directly, they retained more control over their affairs than did tribes whose land was held "in trust" by the United States government.[4] This reservation became part of the Oklahoma Territory under the Oklahoma Organic Act of 1890. It became a semi-autonomous district by the Oklahoma Enabling Act of 1906, and Osage County at the time of Oklahoma Statehood in 1907.[3] At that time, there were 2,229 registered Osage members.[4]

As owners, the Osage negotiated the retention of the communal mineral rights to their reservation lands. In October 1897, the Phoenix Oil Company drilled the first successful oil well on the Osage reservation and in Oklahoma Territory. It was located along Butler Creek. In 1901, Phoenix Oil and Osage Oil companies combined their assets to form the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company (ITIO). It arranged with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to sub-lease the eastern part of the Osage reservation until 1916. When ITIO's lease expired, the United States government supervised the public auctioning of leases for 160-acre (65 ha) tracts.[3]

All subsurface minerals, including oil, are owned by the Osage Nation and held in trust for them by the Federal Government. Each mineral lease was negotiated by the Osage National Council and approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.[3] While the government forced allotment of lands and distribution of 160-acre (65 ha) plots to tribal members for farming in the early 20th century, the tribe continued to hold their "surplus" land after the distribution.[4] Other tribes were forced to give up such "surplus" and allow for sales to non-Indians. The Osage distributed their surplus communal land to tribal members, so that in 1906 each Osage was given a total of 657 acres (266 ha), nearly four times the amount that other Indian households received in the allotment process. Later the enrolled Osage and their descendants received oil and other mineral royalties as payments based on these "headrights".[4]

The Burbank Oil Field was discovered in May 1920 with the Marland Oil Company's well 1 discovery. Peak production from the dome was in July 1923 at 88,950 barrels from 1020 wells, with total production of 200 million barrels by the end of 1938. Most production is from the Burbank Sand at a depth of 2700–3000 feet.[5]

By 1920, the Osage were receiving lucrative revenues from royalties and were counted as the richest people in the country. During the 1920s, Osage County was the site of the infamous Osage Indian murders. Because of the great wealth being generated by oil, an estimated 60 tribal members were killed as whites tried to gain their headrights, royalties or land. The FBI believed that several white husbands of Osage women had committed or ordered murders of their wives.[4] Other Osage were tricked out of their legal rights by unscrupulous white opportunists. Congress had passed a law in 1921 requiring all Osage of half or more Indian ancestry to have a guardian appointed by the court until the person proved to be "competent." Guardians were appointed by the courts even for minors with living parents. There was extensive corruption as such guardians manipulated people to give or bequeath land to them in order to get access to oil rights.

The Osage called in the FBI to help solve several murders in the Kyle family. Three white men were ultimately convicted and sentenced. But, many murders were never solved. To try to protect the Osage, Congress passed a law in 1921 limiting the inheritance of headrights only to persons who were half or more Osage in ancestry.[4]


A view of Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County, Oklahoma

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,304 square miles (5,970 km2), of which 2,246 square miles (5,820 km2) is land and 58 square miles (150 km2) (2.5%) is water.[6] It is the largest county in Oklahoma by area. Most of the county is in the Osage Plains, and consists of open prairie. The eastern part of the county contains the Osage Hills, an extension of the Flint Hills in Kansas.[3] Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is north of Pawhuska.

Holmes Peak is a mountain northwest of Tulsa in Osage County. It was named by the United States Board on Geographic Names on October 5, 1983, for the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. The name was proposed by Richard S. Warner.[7] Holmes Peak is the highest point in the Tulsa Metropolitan area, with an elevation of 1,030 feet (310 m), though it ranks only as the 379th highest point in the state.[8]

Gray Horse Creek, Drum Creek and Salt Creek all drain the southwestern part of the county and flow into the Arkansas River, which is part of the county's southern and western boundaries. Eastern Osage County drains into Caney River, Bird Creek, Hominy Creek, and Delaware Creek. All of these streams flow into the Verdigris River.[3]

Lakes and reservoirs in the county include:[3]

In 2012, the Osage Nation took over management of Wah-Sha-She State Park, which includes Hulah Lake, after state budget cuts would have closed it. Hunting is allowed there. The land is owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which developed the lake.[9] In 2015, the Osage subleased the renamed Wah-Sha-She Park to the Hulah Lake Osage Association (HLOA), a non-profit group which took on the task of maintaining the park through volunteer efforts.[10] As of 2020 HLOA still had the park open, supported by campground fees.[11]

It is the most populous and the second-largest county geographically (after Corson County, South Dakota) of the six U.S. counties that lie entirely within an Indian reservation. (The six counties in descending order of area are Corson; Osage; Oglala Lakota and Todd in South Dakota; Sioux in North Dakota; and Mahnomen in Minnesota.) Three other counties, Thurston in Nebraska; and Dewey and Ziebach in South Dakota, lie entirely in parts of two separate Indian reservations. A total of nine US counties lie entirely within reservation territory. Dewey County is slightly larger in area than Osage.

Adjacent counties



Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[12]
1790-1960[13] 1900-1990[14]
1990-2000[15] 2010[16]

As of the 2010 United States census,[17] there were 47,472 people, 18,205 households, and 12,972 families residing in the county. The population density was 20.6 people per square mile (8.0 people/km2). There were 21,143 housing units at an average density of 9.2 units per square mile (3.6/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 66% White, 11.4% Black or African American, 14.4% Native American, 0.3% Asian, less than 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.8% from other races, and 7.1% from two or more races. Almost 3% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. By the 2020 census, its population declined to 45,818.[1]

As of 2010, there were 18,205 households, out of which 32.6% included children under the age of 18, 54.2% were married couples living together, 12% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 28.7% were non-families. Individuals living alone accounted for 24.8% of households and 10.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 2.99. In the county, the population was spread out, with 24.3% under the age of 18, 7.4% from 18 to 24, 23.1% from 25 to 44, 29.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41.4 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.39 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were more than 100 males.

As of 2010, the median income for a household in the county was $42,847, and the median income for a family was $53,815. Males had a median income of $42,658 versus $32,352 for females. The per capita income for the county was $21,797. About 11% of families and 13% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18% of those under age 18 and 11% of those age 65 or over. According to 2021 census estimates, its median household income was $54,036 and the county had a poverty rate of 12.3%.[1]


Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of December 31, 2023[18]
Party Number of Voters Percentage
Republican 15,686 54.85%
Democratic 8,084 28.26%
Independent/Others 4,828 16.88%
Total 28,598 100%
United States presidential election results for Osage County, Oklahoma[19]
Year Republican Democratic Third party
No.  % No.  % No.  %
2020 14,121 68.76% 6,002 29.22% 415 2.02%
2016 12,577 66.31% 5,597 29.51% 792 4.18%
2012 11,242 62.64% 6,704 37.36% 0 0.00%
2008 12,160 61.86% 7,498 38.14% 0 0.00%
2004 11,467 58.70% 8,068 41.30% 0 0.00%
2000 8,138 51.15% 7,540 47.39% 231 1.45%
1996 5,827 38.38% 7,342 48.36% 2,014 13.26%
1992 5,891 34.01% 6,894 39.80% 4,537 26.19%
1988 7,162 47.57% 7,778 51.66% 115 0.76%
1984 10,083 62.02% 6,095 37.49% 79 0.49%
1980 8,044 56.46% 5,687 39.92% 515 3.62%
1976 6,398 47.93% 6,832 51.18% 118 0.88%
1972 9,288 73.77% 2,968 23.57% 335 2.66%
1968 5,499 46.50% 3,919 33.14% 2,407 20.36%
1964 5,695 43.51% 7,395 56.49% 0 0.00%
1960 7,508 56.41% 5,801 43.59% 0 0.00%
1956 7,296 55.13% 5,939 44.87% 0 0.00%
1952 7,731 53.52% 6,714 46.48% 0 0.00%
1948 3,951 35.57% 7,156 64.43% 0 0.00%
1944 5,557 44.78% 6,846 55.17% 7 0.06%
1940 6,419 41.46% 9,019 58.26% 43 0.28%
1936 4,917 32.66% 10,090 67.02% 49 0.33%
1932 4,775 30.59% 10,833 69.41% 0 0.00%
1928 10,555 67.52% 5,010 32.05% 67 0.43%
1924 6,363 44.80% 7,070 49.78% 769 5.41%
1920 4,567 52.97% 3,801 44.08% 254 2.95%
1916 1,524 38.04% 2,052 51.22% 430 10.73%
1912 1,713 41.68% 1,900 46.23% 497 12.09%







Census-designated places


Other unincorporated communities




School districts include:[20]


Elementary only:

Former districts:

NRHP sites


The following sites in Osage County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places:


Osage County is the setting of Oklahoma native Tracy Letts's play August: Osage County (2007), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Tony Award in 2008, and the 2013 movie adaptation of the same name which stars Meryl Streep. Filming took place in rural Osage County, including Pawhuska, Barnsdall and Bartlesville.[22]

Killers of the Flower Moon, the 2023 film directed by Martin Scorsese, centers on a series of Oklahoma murders in the Osage Nation during the 1920s. Parts of the movie were filmed on location in Osage County.[23]



See also



  1. ^ a b c "Quickfacts: Osage County, OK". U.S. Census Bureau.
  2. ^ "On this date in Civil War history: December 26, 1861 - Battle of Chustenahlah (150th Anniversary)".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g May, Jon D. Osage County, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved September 25, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h McAuliffe, Dennis (1994). Bloodland: A Family Story of Oil, Greed and Murder on the Osage Reservation. Council Oak Books. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-57178-083-6.
  5. ^ Bass, N.W.; Goodrich, H.B.; Dillard, W.R. (1942). "SUBSURFACE GEOLOGY AND OIL AND GAS RESOURCES OF OSAGE COUNTY, OKLAHOMA, USGS Bulletin 900-J" (PDF). USGS. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved October 29, 2020.
  6. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  7. ^ Tulsa City-County Library.How did Holmes Peak get its name? Accessed July 26, 2015.
  8. ^ "Holmes Peak." peakery.com. Accessed July 26, 2015
  9. ^ "Why It's Hard to Privatize and Move State Parks". NPR. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  10. ^ "Nation Subleases Wah Sha She Park to volunteers, considers Walnut Creek". Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage News, February 26, 2015. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  11. ^ "Hulah Lake Osage Association". Facebook. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  12. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  13. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  14. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  15. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  16. ^ "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved November 12, 2013.
  17. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  18. ^ "Oklahoma Registration Statistics by County" (PDF). OK.gov. October 31, 2021. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved November 25, 2021.
  19. ^ Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  20. ^ "2020 CENSUS - SCHOOL DISTRICT REFERENCE MAP: Osage County, OK" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 9, 2022. Retrieved July 23, 2022. - Text list
  21. ^ Marler, Ralph W. (May 26, 2002). "Saying bye-bye to Burbank". Tulsa World. Tulsa, Oklahoma. pp. A-13, A-22. - Clipping of first and of second page at Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ Critic, MICHAEL SMITH World Movie. "'August: Osage County' director talks about making filming in Oklahoma a priority". Tulsa World. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  23. ^ McDonnell, Brandy. "'Killers of the Flower Moon' seeks local crew, Olivia Munn speaks out and more". The Oklahoman. Retrieved March 31, 2023.

36°38′N 96°24′W / 36.63°N 96.40°W / 36.63; -96.40