Sacred Sun was probably born around 1809 in an Osage village on the Missouri River
At 2,341 miles in length, the Missouri River is one of the longest rivers in North America and a major waterway in the central United States. The river flows east and south from western Montana, forming Missouri's northwest border and crossing the state before merging with the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. With the invention of the steamboat in the early 1800s, the river became part of the nation's first major transportation system and served as a main route during the nation's westward expansion. The Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, houses the remains of the cargo from a steamboat that sank on the Missouri River in 1856.
, perhaps in what is now Saline County.
There are many different versions of Sacred Sun’s Osage name. She is also referred to as Mo-Hon-Go, Mohongo, Mi-hunga, and Myhangah in various publications from the period and later. Certain assumptions made in this essay about Sacred Sun’s life, especially as a child, are based on the work of archaeologists, historians, and reporters from the period.
was her Native American name. The
When the first French explorers came to present-day Missouri, they found two Indian tribes, the Osage and the Missouri. The Osage tribe was the largest and most powerful group in Missouri at one time. Early in their history, the Osage divided into two groups: the “Upper-Forest Sitters” and the “Down-Below People.” French missionaries later called them the Great or Big Osage and the Little Osage, respectively. The Big Osage lived along the Osage River in present-day Vernon County, and the Little Osage lived along the Missouri River in what is today Saline County. Sacred Sun was a Little Osage.
[Wolferman, The Osage in Missouri, p.10, and McCandless and Foley, Missouri; Then and Now, p. 11.]
were nomadic hunters, who also spent periods of time in their villages. As a baby, Sacred Sun would have been strapped to a cradleboard and fastened to a tree branch while her mother worked with other Osage women tending gardens, preserving meat, sewing clothes, and making domestic tools and vessels.
Because the Osage had been trading furs with the French for European goods for nearly a century, Sacred Sun would have been in close contact with
French fur traders.
French fur traders traveled into present-day Missouri via a large network of rivers, including the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries.
She may have even been the
There is evidence that Sacred Sun was the “country wife” of one of the Chouteaus or a close associate of theirs. The Chouteau family, led by Pierre de Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, had founded St. Louis in 1764. Sacred Sun and her French Osage daughter, Amelia, are mentioned in a treaty signed on December 30, 1825. This treaty “moved the Osage completely out of the state of Missouri and the Territory of Arkansas, but several tracts of 640 acres on the north side of the Marais des Cygnes [River] were set aside for French-Osage children, including one for ‘Amelia, the daughter of Mi-hunga’—evidence that ‘Mi-hunga,’ or Sacred Sun, had a child by one of the traders.”
[McMillen, Into the Spotlight: Four Missouri Women, pp. 21–23. For more information about “country wives” see McMillen, “Les Indiens Osages: French Publicity for the Traveling Osage,” MHR, p. 297.]
of a French fur trader. Sacred Sun would have seen American
Thousands of settlers flocked to Missouri on boats and in wagons after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
steadily move into Osage territory. Since the United States had purchased the land west of the Mississippi in 1803, her tribal homeland had become sprinkled with
Fort Osage was a fort and trading post established in 1808 to serve the Osage Indians. It was situated on a high bluff overlooking the Missouri River, about three hundred miles upstream from St. Louis. This lunette painting of Fort Osage by William Knox can be seen at the Missouri State Capitol.
trading posts, and pioneer homesteads. With the coming of settlers and the United States Army, traditional life for the Osage people changed dramatically. By the time Sacred Sun was twelve or thirteen, she would have heard about, or experienced, many hardships due to war, starvation, disease, and the relocation of her people and other Indian tribes.