Sacred Sun (1809? – 1836?)
Sacred Sun was a remarkable Osage woman who lived for some time in present-day Missouri. She took an unusual trip to Europe, far from her tribal home. Her journey was recorded in newspapers and pamphlets of the day. Upon her return to America, her portrait was painted and displayed in Washington, D.C.
From Mid-Missouri to St. Louis
Sacred Sun was born around 1809 in a village on the Missouri River in what is now Saline County. Her Osage name was Mi-Ho’n-Ga. Around 1823, some members of her tribe decided to travel to France. Other Osages had visited France in the past. The Osages hunted furs for four years to pay for their trip.
In 1827, when she was only eighteen years old, Sacred Sun began her journey. She joined eleven other Osages, loaded furs on a raft, and set off on the Missouri River for St. Louis. Upon nearing St. Louis, the raft wrecked and the twelve travelers lost everything. Six Osage decided to return home. The other six continued their journey even though they now had nothing to trade for food and supplies. This group included Sacred Sun, Little Chief, Hawk Woman, Black Bird, Minckchatahooh, and Big Soldier.
From St. Louis to France
Once in St. Louis, the Osages joined a Frenchman named David Delaunay who promised to take them to France and act as their guide and translator. Sacred Sun journeyed down the Mississippi on the steamboat Commerce. She arrived in New Orleans and then set sail for Europe on a ship named New England. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Sacred Sun was amazed when she saw an enormous whale spouting water.
Sacred Sun and her group arrived safely in France on July 27, 1827. A crowd of excited French citizens met them at the dock. Many Europeans had never seen American Indians before. Sacred Sun was particularly beautiful. She had large, lively eyes and a small frame. She wore her black hair parted down the center with a red line painted down the parting. This red line represented the dawn road of Grandfather the Sun. She wore a dress that came to her knees with a red tunic over it. She wore shoes covered with mitas, or gaiters of beaver skin that came up to her knees. Around her neck she wore strands of shells. Sacred Sun and her group stayed in nice hotels, rode in carriages to attend operas, and ate fancy European food. They even met King Charles X at his palace. The French called the Osage the “Missourian Majesties.”
The “Missourian Majesties” Become Stranded
Staying in hotels and eating good meals was costly. To raise money, David DeLaunay started selling tickets to see the Osage in their hotel rooms or to watch them perform dances. Little Chief even went up in a hot air balloon. Despite these efforts, DeLaunay ran out of money and soon could barely feed and support the six Osage. Meanwhile, it became clear that Sacred Sun was pregnant. She began to weep in public, longing to return home to deliver her baby in the safety of her own village. On February 10, 1828, she gave birth in a hotel in Belgium. Around the same time, DeLaunay was jailed for not paying his bills. The Osages were left to survive on their own.
Sacred Sun and the other unhappy Osages spent the next two years wandering through France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. They begged for food and places to sleep at night. Eventually, a newspaper wrote about their terrible situation. French bishops, officials, and royalty finally came to their rescue. The Marquis de LaFayette, an American Revolutionary War hero, sent Sacred Sun, her baby, Black Bird, and Minckchatahooh back to America. Although Black Bird and Minckchatahooh died of smallpox aboard the ship, Sacred Sun and her child arrived safely at Norfolk, Virginia, in late 1829. Little Chief, Hawk Woman, and Big Soldier returned a few months later.
The Osages reunited in Washington, D.C. There Thomas L. McKenney, Superintendent of Indian Trade, had the artist Charles Bird King paint a portrait of Sacred Sun and her baby. The portrait hung in the National Indian Portrait Gallery until 1865 when it was destroyed by fire. Fortunately, copies of all the portraits, including Sacred Sun’s, were made before the fire. They were printed in the book, History of the Indian Tribes of North America.
Sacred Sun bravely made a journey from her tribal village in mid-Missouri to Europe and back again. She returned to St. Louis in the summer of 1830 and lived the rest of her life on Osage lands in present-day Oklahoma.
Research and Text by Carlynn Trout
Mathews, John Joseph. The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961. pp. 539–547.
McMillen, Margot Ford. “Les Indiens Osages: French Publicity for the Traveling Osage.” Missouri Historical Review. v. 97, no. 4 (July 2003), pp. 295-333.
McMillen, Margot Ford and Heather Roberson. Into the Spotlight: Four Missouri Women. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004. pp. 1–34.