Claude Charles Du Tisne

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Claude Charles Du Tisne (also Dutisne) led the first official French expedition to visit the Osage and the Wichita Indians in Kansas in 1719.[1]


Du Tisne was born in France about 1688 and came to Canada in 1705 as a soldier. He was sent to establish a fort on the Ohio River. He built up a reputation for competence and knowledge of the frontier and the Indians. In 1719 his superiors instructed him to visit the Panis or Panioussa (Wichita) and the Padoucas (Apaches) as a first step toward establishing trade with the Spanish colony in New Mexico. He was to make friends with these Indians, then unknown except by name to the French, and ensure that they posed no problems to such trade passing through their lands. What Du Tisne and the French did not know was that the leaders of New Mexico were opposed to any trade with the French.[2]

The Missouria[edit]

Du Tisne and his small group of French and Indians left Kaskaskia, Illinois probably in May 1719, and journeyed by canoe up the Missouri River to the village of the Missouria Indians near where the small town of Miami is today. The Missouria were already known to the French; they were Siouan, speaking a dialect of Chiwere, the language also of the Winnebago, Oto, and Iowa. The Missouria village had 100 houses, probably the same type of large bark-covered longhouse typical of the region, and thus the population was probably more than one thousand. Du Tisne said the Missouria stayed in the village only in the spring, an indication that they probably followed the same pattern as other nearby tribes of planting crops in the spring and journeying west to hunt buffalo in the summer. Du Tisne doesn't mention the presence of horses among the Missouria, although they surely had some.

On the south side of the Missouri River across from the Missouria was an Osage village. These were the "Little Osages" a splinter of the main group of Osage then living about 100 miles (160 km) away on the Osage River and its tributaries. They had split from the main Osage tribe a few years earlier and moved to the Missouri River for unknown reasons.

The Missouria were unhappy with the French, because French traders had been bypassing them.[3] They stopped Du Tisne in his tracks, refusing to allow him and his party to proceed upriver from their village. They wanted to be the middlemen for French trade with Indians further up the river, and, especially, did not want French guns to fall into the hands of tribes who were, or could become, their enemies. Du Tisne had to turn around and return to Kaskaskia.[4]

The Osage[edit]

Du Tisne made a second attempt later that summer to reach the plains by land. He proceeded straight west from Kaskaskia, through the Ozarks region, and after a journey of about 250 miles (400 km) he reached the village of the "Great Osages." The Osage village was in Vernon County, Missouri about four miles (6 km) from the Osage River atop a ridge amidst flat rich prairies. The village location is today commemorated as a State Historical Site.

The Osage lived in longhouses. Du Tisne said the Osage had many horses "which they steal from the Pani and can be bought from them."[5] They also had buffalo robes and deer skins to trade. Like the Missouria, the Osage had adopted the practice of the Indians of the plains border of journeying west to hunt buffalo, living in tipis during that time and leaving only the old, infirm, and small children in the village.

Du Tisne does not portray the Osage as numerous. Their village was about 100 houses and 200 warriors, numbers consistent with a population of little more than 1,000. Quite likely there were other Osage villages in the area of which Du Tinse was not aware or did not visit.

Du Tisne was impressed with the physical size of the Osage, often more than six feet tall, and well-proportioned. They wore their hair in a scalp-lock. He was less impressed with their character, "in general they are traitors who easily break their promises." Du Tisne also commented on the dual nature of Osage politics and organization, the existence of the two moities, the Hon-ga and Tsi-hzu, the multiple clans and bands, all of which produced a large number of Osage leaders, none of whom seeming to have much authority. There is little in Du Tisne's narrative to suggest that the Osage had yet reached the power and prominence they were soon to enjoy.

Like the Missouria the Osage were opposed to having Du Tisne pass through their territory to the villages of the Wichita. Most of all they worried that the French would sell the Wichita guns. Finally, after extensive negotiations in which Du Tisne resorted to threats that the French would suspend trade relations, he was allowed to continue, but he was allowed to take only three guns, trade goods, and his interpreter.[6]

The Wichita[edit]

Finally departing with the begrudged permission of the Osage, Du Tisne journeyed on to visit the Wichita. Their two villages were four days and about 100 miles (160 km) away, probably on the Verdigris River near the site of the future town of Neodesha, Kansas. Two archaeological sites near here fit the profile of Du Tisne's narrative.[7] "All the route was through prairies and hills, full of buffalos. The land was beautiful and well-wooded."[8] Most early visitors exulted at the beauty of the tallgrass prairie. It was an airy and open release from the darkness and menace of the Eastern forests.

Du Tisne got a hostile welcome at the Wichita village. The Osage had sent a messenger ahead of him to warn the Wichita that he intended to enslave them. The Indians raised a tomahawk twice over Du Tisne's head and threatened to decapitate him, but he persuaded them that the purpose of his visit was peaceful. As his entourage was small, the Wichita probably concluded that he was not dangerous. The concern of the Wichita was probably that Dutinse was a slave trader.

The Wichita village—Du Tisne and other Frenchmen called them "Panis," a generic term for the Caddoan people of the plains, and a word that came to also mean "slave"--had 130 houses and two hundred to two hundred and fifty warriors, thus a population of one thousand or more. Another village about three miles (5 km) away was of similar size. The Wichita in the two villages possessed about 300 horses "which they esteem greatly and with which they do not wish to part."[9] The Wichita, closer to the source of supply of the horses in New Mexico, seem to have been better endowed with horses at this time than the border tribes, the Osage, Kaw, and Missouria. Du Tisne said that the Wichita, borrowing the concept from the Spanish, armored their horses with leather for war. They still used bows and arrows for both hunting and war, although they also used lances tipped with the pointed end of Spanish swords.

The chief enemies of the Wichita were the Padoucas—Plains Apache—who ventured as close as six days journey from the Wichita but lived fifteen days to the West, a distance indeterminable depending upon whether travel was by horse, on foot by hunters, or on foot with women and children. They said that the Spanish had formerly been in their village but the way to the Spanish settlements, more than a month of travel away, was barred to them by the Padouca.[10]

The Wichita war with the Padoucas seems to have been continuous and Du Tisne says that both sides practiced ritual cannibalism which seems to have been a feature of Wichita culture, as was perhaps an occasional human sacrifice. Both tribes seem to have fought for slaves and horses. Wichita slaves were traded in Santa Fe by the Apaches for horses; Padouca slaves were traded by the Wichita to the Osage and others for European trade goods. The Wichita had only six guns in their villages as the Osages and other eastern tribes were leery of trading them guns.[11] Du Tisne traded the Wichita three guns, powder, pickaxes, and knives for two horses and a mule with a Spanish brand. In the course of his life the mule had been stolen or traded eastward six hundred miles from the Spanish colonies.

When Du Tisne proposed to continue his journey by visiting the Padouca villages to the west, the Wichita objected and he had neither the men or arms to force the issue. However, he concluded an agreement for trade with the Wichitas, stating that they could be pacified easily by giving them a few guns and other presents. He also was optimistic that the Padouca could later be visited and that peace between the Wichita and Padouca could be achieved, thus opening up the trade route to New Mexico.[12]

The Wichita visited by Du Tinse were probably the sub-tribe later called Taovayas, but unless there were many more of them nearby, their villages, with a total population of perhaps 3,000, seem only a remnant of the numerous Wichita Coronado and Onate had met more than a century earlier. They had probably been impacted by European diseases.[13]

Later life[edit]

After this expedition, Du Tisne continued to work on the frontier, becoming a Captain and commander of Fort de Chartes in Illinois. He died in 1730 of a wound he received from a Meskwaki or Fox Indian.[14]


  1. ^ Wedel, Mildred Mott. "Claude-Charles Dutisne: A Review of his 1719 Journeys." Great Plains Journal. Vol. 12, (Winter 1972), 5-25 (Spring 1973) 147-173
  2. ^ John, Elizabeth A. H. Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, p.320
  3. ^ Gregg, Kate L. "The Missouri Reader: Explorers in the Valley." Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 39, No. 3 and 4, Apr and July 1945, 509
  4. ^ Wedel, 13-17
  5. ^ Mathews, John Joseph. The Osages; Children of the Middle Waters. Norman: U of Okla Press, 1967, 180
  6. ^ Wedel, 147-153
  7. ^ Vehik, Susan C. "Wichita Culture History." Plains Anthropologist. Vol. 37, No. 141,1992, 319
  8. ^ Wedel, 153
  9. ^ Wedel, 157
  10. ^ The Comanche were also later called Padouca by the French, but at this time it appears that Du Tisne referred to the Apache
  11. ^ Wedel, 159-160
  12. ^ Wedel, 153-160
  13. ^ Smith, F. Todd. The Wichita Indians: Traders of Texas and the Southern Plains, 1540-1845. College Station: Texas A&M Univ Press, 2000, 11
  14. ^ "3 Apr 2011 Trade Goods: Biographies and Histories of Traders/Merchants/Chiefs/Officials/Voyageurs."