Louis F. Burns

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Louis F. Burns
Born January 2, 1920
Elgin, Kansas
Died May 20, 2012
Pawhuska, Oklahoma
Occupation Historian, author
Spouse(s) Ruth Blake (1945-2006)

Louis Francis Burns (January 2, 1920 – May 20, 2012) (Osage) was an American historian, author, and teacher, a leading expert on the history, mythology and culture of the Osage Nation.[1][2] Burns wrote more than a dozen books and scholarly works on the Osage people.[1] In 2002 he was inducted into the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame.


Early life and marriage[edit]

Burns was born on January 2, 1920, in Elgin, Kansas, to Robert Lee and Bessie (née Tinker) Burns.[2] His mother, Bessie, an Osage allottee, was a member of the prominent Tinker family, whose history Burns chronicled in his 1980 book, Turn of the Wheel.[1] Through her, Burns was descended from the Little Bear/Strike Axe band of Little Osages, and was a member of the tribe's Mottled Eagle Clan.[1] His Osage name was Hulah Kiheka (Eagle Chief), and he became a member of the I’n Lon Schka Society. Burns was raised on a cattle ranch within the Osage Nation.[2]

He served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II within the Central and South Pacific Campaigns.[2] Soon after returning to the United States from the war, he married Ruth Blake in 1945.[2]


Burns received both a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in history from Kansas State Teachers College at Emporia.[1] (The college is now known as Emporia State University since 1977). He later worked on a doctorate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.[1]

Burns graduated from the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, a private aeronautical college in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He worked for the Lockheed Corporation in California and Beech Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, during the course of his career.[1]

In addition to work in the aeronautical industry, Burns also held positions as an educator and lecturer. He taught high school in the communities of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, and Santa Ana, California.[1] He served as an instructor and lecturer at his alma mater, Emporia State University, and Santiago Community College in Orange County, California.[1]

Osage historian[edit]

Burns wrote 13 books on the history, culture, and mythology of the Osage Nation.[2] His best known work, A History of the Osage People (1989), included material from much of his earlier research and publications.[1]

Burns also contributed research as a columnist, feature writer, and editor. He wrote for the Osage Nation News and Inside Osage as a feature writer.[2] He also contributed articles to the Chronicles of Oklahoma.[2] Burns also served as the editor of two educational newsletters.

He also presented scholarly papers for the Plains Indian Seminars at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Wyoming in 1989, 1992 (his paper "Missionaries, Fur Traders, and Osage Ribbon Work" was published in The Artist and the Missionary: Proceedings of the 1992 Plains Indian Seminar; 1997 and 1999. In each case the proceedings were published.[2] He presented papers at the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999, and the Missouri Valley Historical Society in 1996 in Omaha.[2]

He also collected artifacts from Osage history. Burns donated much of his collection to the Osage Nation Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.[1] Burns also contributed extensively to the Oklahoma Historical Society. His donations to the Historical Society are housed in a new, purpose-built wing at the White Hair Memorial in Ralston, Oklahoma.[1]

Burns died at his home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2010, at the age of 92.[2] He was buried at Pawhuska City Cemetery with both U.S. military honors and traditional Osage customs and rites.[1] Burns was survived by his two children, Keith Burns and Alice (Burns) Thomas. His wife, Ruth, died in 2006 after 61 years of marriage. In a dedication to her in one of his books, Burns said his wife was, "My best friend and harshest critic."[1] The director of the Osage Nation Museum, Kathryn Red Corn, described Burns' death as a loss for the Osage Nation, saying, "He will truly be missed by the Osage people...Mr. Burns was a good friend to our museum. He was a repository of tribal history."[2]


Burns' research materials are housed by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Sequoyah Research Center of the American Native Press Archives. The University of Arkansas' Louis F. Burns Collection has papers related to his scholarly research, which spanned more than fifty years.[3]

His publications include numerous articles and ten books, including:

  • Treaties, Constitution, and Laws of the Osage Nation (reprint ed., 1967);
  • Turn of the Wheel (1980);
  • The Osage Annuity Rolls of 1878, 3 vols., (1980–81);
  • Osage Indian Bands and Clans (1984);
  • Osage Indian Customs and Myths (1984);
  • Osage Mission Baptisms, Marriages, and Interments, 1820-1886 (1986);
  • A History of the Osage People (1989); and
  • Symbolic and Decorative Art of the Osage People (1994).

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 2002, Burns was inducted into the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame.[2] He joined another prominent Osage author, the late historian and Osage Council member, John Joseph Mathews, who had been posthumously inducted in 1996.[1]