Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.


ITTB: Week Ten

Although Oklahoma boasts of 38 federally recognized Native American tribes, there are just five known Osage speakers in the state. The extreme deficiency of speakers stem from limited educational sources, making every resource invaluable. Being so, the Native American language department’s most treasured item is not a million-year-old fossil or a rare specimen. It’s a notebook.


The Osage language, native to Oklahoma, is a member of the Dhegihan branch of Siouan languages and is related to Kansa (Kaw), Quapaw and Omaha-Ponca. With only a handful of speakers, these languages are severely endangered and none have adequate documentation. However, one remarkable document from northern Oklahoma offers hope for the future of the Osage language.


Pawhuska, Okla.

Robert (Bob) Bristow grew up in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and was interested in languages and Osage even in high school. He married into an Osage family and learned to speak the language fluently. He took copious notes from Osage classes and interviews with Osage elders during the 1970s. These notebooks are filled with vocabulary items, sentences, stories and tribal history.


He additionally jotted down snippets of conversation, plays on words and other humorous quips overheard. As an amateur artist, Bristow illustrated his notes with images of cultural items and doodled Osage ribbon work patterns. His handwritten notes for an Osage Dictionary became the backbone of Carolyn Quintero’s Osage Dictionary (OU Press 2010).


Carolyn Quintero’s Osage Dictionary

Bristow’s work is accurate, easy to read and contains the richest documentation of Osage in the 20th century. His notebooks continue to be invaluable to the Osage Nation Language Department and to scholars of Osage, Siouan, and language and cultural diversity in general. As you likely know, the Sam Noble Museum stores a unique combination of cultural and prehistoric artifacts, which is why next we’ll be visiting the last remaining department, paleontology. 

You certainly won’t want to miss our last ITTB post next Wednesday, so mark your calendars! It’s going to be a finale of Jurassic proportions.