History of the Fort

Welcome inside Fort Osage

Built under the initial direction of General William Clark, Joint Commander of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, Fort Osage was established in 1808 as a military post in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. The Fort’s purpose was to provide military presence in the territory to assure Spain, France and Great Britain, that the United States meant to protect its territory through military strength and trade with the American Indian population.

Fort Osage was built strategically on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. The height and location of the bluff provided a clear view of the river for many miles. The river current around the bluff caused the boats to slow down considerably in order to safely navigate the waters. These conditions provided a natural defense for the Fort.

At the time of its establishment, Fort Osage had a company of 81 officers and enlisted men under the command of Captain Eli B. Clemson of the 1st US Infantry. The soldiers enlisted for a minimum of five years and were paid $5 a month, depending on service and rank. Soldiers performed military drills, work details, and guarded the Fort 24 hours a day. Extra duty was also required of each soldier at the Fort. This extra duty was performed during their free time, and they were paid 10 cents a day for common labor and 16 cents a day for skilled labor. A soldier’s daily rations included one and a quarter pounds of beef or ¾ of a pound of pork, 18 ounces of bread and one gill of rum, whiskey or brandy. They were issued salt for their food, candles and vinegar every one-hundred days. Soldiers also supplemented their diet by planting and caring for gardens.

The United States Factory System, established in 1796 under President George Washington, was later expanded by President Thomas Jefferson into the Louisiana Territory. The Factory System derives its meaning from the English Common Law definition of a "Factor" as a person who buys and sells on behalf of his employer. The purpose of the Fort Factory was to trade quality goods at a low price with the Indian tribes in order to establish good relations with them.Geo

George Sibley was the Factor at Fort Osage from 1808 to 1822. His duties included bookkeeping, processing furs, supervising and stocking the trade room, and attending to Indian affairs.  Sibley was paid an annual salary of $800 until 1811, when he received a $300 raise. 

From the Federal Government's perspective, the fur trade as practiced by private European and American Traders, seemed to be a constant contributor to unrest in the Territory. President Thomas Jefferson hoped to undermine private traders and gain alliances with the Indians for the United States. But, alas, the United States Factory System was discontinued by Congress in 1822, due to pressure from the rival fur trade interests and years of turmoil.

The decline of the United States Factory System was attributed to the lack of staff familiar with the Indian trade, government regulations, and budget restrictions.  The lack of incentives for the Factor to increase the trade under their management and control, further hindered efforts, and the competition from private traders, who had greater trading flexibility since they traveled to the distant Indian villages, also worked against the government’s trade efforts. Many private traders also married into Indian families, further solidifying their commercial relationships. 

The Military Garrison and Factory staff evacuated Fort Osage in June of 1813, due to the War of 1812, and did not return until October of 1815. During that time, the Factory operated out of a temporary location in Arrow Rock, Missouri. Fort Osage remained a military post and trade location until the late summer of 1822 when it permanently closed. Congress abolished the Factory Trade System in the Spring of 1822, making the Garrison and Factory obsolete, especially since the Frontier moved further Westward.


Today, Fort Osage National Historic Landmark is directly connected to the Lewis and Clark and Santa Fe Trails. The Education Center and reconstructed Fort welcome thousands of visitors from across the United States and the World each year.

 We look forward to your visit soon!