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One of the most colorful characters of the Osage tribe was a full-blood known as John Stink. John’s real name was Ho-Ta-Moie, which means Rolling or Roaring Thunder. But he will forever be remembered by the tribe as the man who returned from the grave.
John was born around 1863 and moved with the Osage tribe to their new reservation in 1872. He was a member of the Big Hill Band, which set up camp at the village known as Grayhorse on the Osage Reservation. Due to some unknown misunderstanding with his relatives, John moved to Pawhuska, the capitol of the Osage Nation, in the 1890s and remained there the rest of his life.
The Osages retained the mineral rights to their one-and-a-half-million-acre reserve, providing a financial bonanza when vast deposits of oil were discovered there in the early 1900s. All tribal members were allotted headrights and received royalties on oil revenue. By the 1920s, the 2,229 Osages were the wealthiest people per capita on the face of the earth.
To many Osages, the windfall enabled the building of grand homes and the purchase of fancy new automobiles. Stories are still retold of Osages abandoning new cars at the side of the road when they ran out of gas or had some minor malfunction, returning to town and buy a new car as a replacement.
John received a headright and soon became a wealthy man. But big homes and new automobiles held little interest for him. He adhered to the traditional teachings of his grandfathers. Money could never change his philosophy toward life. John felt a deep kinship with the outdoors and worshiped the Great Spirit, Wah-Kon-Tah, through his daily communion with nature.
John hunted in the hills around town with his faithful dogs. He visited Pawhuska frequently, a popular and picturesque sight on the streets of town. John was a large man, standing six feet tall. He adopted the white man’s dress, with the exception of a scarf that he wore on his head and the blanket that he draped over his shoulders. A cigar clenched between his teeth completed the picture.
Like many Osages, John had a guardian appointed by the Osage Agency to supervise the wealth flowing in from the oil royalties. Unfortunately for many Osages, this well-intentioned program to protect their interests had the opposite effect. Numerous unscrupulous whites flocked to the Osage country, intent on cheating the Indians of their fortunes.
John’s guardian owned a store in Pawhuska that John liked to visit. One of his favorite pastimes was to sit on a bench in front of the store and cut up beefsteaks to feed his dogs. He never lacked for canine companionship. While visiting town, he usually slept in the streets, preferring this to indoor accommodations.
Tragedy struck for John when police shot two of his dogs during a rabies outbreak in Pawhuska. The loss of two of his beloved pets enraged and saddened John. He decided to leave Pawhuska for good, only returning once before he died.
John established his first permanent camp near the old St. Louis Indian Girls School just southwest of Pawhuska. It was while living here that he experienced the famous episode which resulted in his return from the grave. Several versions exist concerning how John “died.”
One story claims that John became ill during a smallpox epidemic. (Some sources maintain the disease was scrofula, a type of tuberculosis.) His condition worsened until he lapsed into a coma and was pronounced dead by the medicine man. John was then prepared for burial and placed in a shallow grave in the sitting position. Stones were piled around him with his face left uncovered so that he could find the afterworld. Miraculously, he awoke from the coma and climbed out of the rock grave, only to find himself rejected and shunned by his tribe as a ghost.
A different version holds that John became intoxicated and passed out in a snowdrift. When he was discovered some time later it was believed he had frozen to death. After he was interred in his stony grave, he thawed out and returned to the land of the living. (continued...)