The forty-nine traditional Osage narratives presented here, collected in Oklahoma between 1910 and 1923 for the Bureau of American Ethnology, have never before been assembled in one book. What makes these stories especially important is that they were collected in their original language, Osage, by a scholar who was a native speaker of a mutually intelligible language, Omaha, and who was also highly educated and articulate in English. As contextualized in Garrick Bailey's introduction, these stories offer insights into Osage culture and society that are not available elsewhere.
Bailey divides the stories into sacred teachings, folk stories, and animal stories. To the Osage, the sacred included not only religious but also what we would consider social and political institutions. Unlike the sacred teachings, which were known only to priests, folk tales were public property. Sacred teachings were always educational, whereas folk stories served a variety of purposes. Some were entertaining, some humorous, some frightening, but all were also designed to instill the proper social norms and values of the Osage. The animal stories, intended for children, also illustrate Osage values as well as convey information about the animals themselves.