This 200-year old dugout canoe is an example of the type used by Indigenous people and early European colonists for transportation and trade. By the 17th century, the Osage settled in central and western portions of the state along the Missouri and Osage Rivers. Upon French arrival to the area, the Osage established an extensive commercial network centered on the fur trade along the Missouri River and its tributaries. Canoes such as this one could transport people and carry about 2,000 pounds of freight, making it vital to trade in the region.
Despite strong commercial and diplomatic ties with French colonists, the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and its aftermath changed life for the Osage. In 1808, a treaty established Fort Osage near Sibley to serve as a military garrison and trading post. The fort would secure American interests in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and take advantage of the lucrative western fur trade. The treaty, however, forced the Osage Nation to cede its territory to the United States government, ultimately removing them into Kansas and Oklahoma. Fort Osage remained in operation until 1822, and by 1827 it was abandoned.
In 1992, Dennis Reed, a truck driver working on the Big Blue River channelization project, retrieved the canoe from a debris pile. Reed contacted the Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department and donated it to the Fort Osage National Historic Landmark. The canoe is approximately sixteen and a half feet in length and made of black walnut. Extensive research shows that it was probably built by a white man, as the construction techniques differ from those used by Indigenous people. The hack marks indicate the canoe was made using iron tools and probably built in the 18th or early 19th century. The canoe has undergone a robust conservation process and is part of Fort Osage’s permanent collections.