Built in 1808, Fort Osage was the first of three forts established by the U.S. Army to demonstrate to Britain, Spain, and France that America fully intended to establish control over the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase territory. A key part of this effort was to protect and encourage trade with the Osage Indians. General William Clark, one of the two leaders of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) supervised its construction. The fort remained a landmark on the Santa Fe Trail and a transit point for supplies going north. By the mid-1830s, the fort was dismantled. Today, the fort has been reconstructed to portray Fort Osage as it was in 1812. Living history demonstrations are given about early 19th century military and civilian life. It was rebuilt in the 1940s to its 1812 appearance. Fort Osage is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fort Osage was established in 1808, becoming the first military trading post built in the Louisiana Territory.
Backstory and Context
Fort Osage was one of 28 government-supervised, military trading posts built as part of what was called a "factory system." A "factor" was someone who bought and sold on behalf of someone else; in this case it was the U.S. government. The "factory system" originates from English common law. President George Washington established the U.S. factory system in 1796 and President Thomas Jefferson later expanded it into the Louisiana Territory, which the U.S. bought from France in 1803.
As stated above, the system's purpose was to establish good trade relationships with Native Americans with the goal of pushing out private American and European traders. Ultimately, the government wanted to forge alliances with native tribes to increase its control in the territory.
Indian agent George Sibley was the first factor at Fort Osage, serving from 1808 to 1822 (the fort was abandoned during the War of 1812). His responsibilities included bookkeeping, managing the trade activity, stocking trade goods, and processing furs.
Congress terminated the factory system in 1822 as a result of a number of factors including: increased competition from rival trade interests (private traders could go directly to Indian villages and Europeans traded in remote areas), the lack of factors knowledgeable about Indian trade, government regulations and budget restrictions. As for Fort Osage, it was officially abandoned in 1827 after Fort Leavenworth was built just northeast of Kansas City in the town of Leavenworth, Kansas.
"Fort Osage." National Park Service - Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/places/fort-osage-mo.htm
"History of the Fort." Jackson County Parks and Recreation. Accessed May 15, 2019. https://www.makeyourdayhere.com/209/History-of-the-Fort.
Lissandrello, Stephen. "Fort Osage." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. October 15, 1966. https://catalog.archives.gov/OpaAPI/media/63818147/content/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_MO/66000418_NHL.pdf.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons