Oto Indians (from Wat`ota, ‘lechers’). One of the three Siouan tribes forming the Chiwere group, the others being the Iowa and Missouri. The languages differ but, slightly. The earliest reference to this tribe is found in the tradition which relates to the separation of the Chiwere group from the Winnebago. This tradition is given by Maximilian, who states that it was communicated to Maj. Bean, the Indian agent, by an old Oto chief. He related that, before the arrival of the whites a large band of Indians, the Hotonga (‘fish-eaters’), who inhabited the lakes, migrated to the southwest in pursuit of buffalo. At Green Bay, Wisconsin, they divided, the part called by the whites Winnebago remaining, while the rest continued the journey until they reached the Mississippi at the mouth of Iowa river, where they encamped on the sand beach and again divided, one band, the Iowa, concluding to remain there, and the rest continuing their travels reached the Missouri at the mouth of Grand river. These gave themselves the name of Neutache (‘those that arrive at the mouth’), but were called Missouri by the whites. The two chiefs, on account of the seduction of the daughter of one by the son of the other, quarreled and separated one from the other. The division led by the father of the seducer became known as Waghtochtatta, or Oto, and moved farther up the Missouri. While the Winnebago settled in Wisconsin, the Iowa, after they ceded to the United States all the lands on which they first settled, moved west between Missouri river and the Little Platte. The Missouri, having been unfortunate in a war with the Osage, divided, and a part of them lived with the Iowa and a part with the Oto. The Oto continued up the Missouri until they crossed the Big Platte and lived for some time a short distance above its mouth; later they resided on Platte river, about 80 miles by water from the Missouri.
The same tradition was obtained by Maj. Long several years before Maximilian’s visit. Dorsey was informed by the Iowa chiefs who visited Washington in 1883 that their people once formed part of the Winnebago. The Oto seem to have been most intimately associated with the Iowa. That they were ever at the mouth of Missouri river, where, according to one tradition, they were with the Missouri, is not likely. The fact that they were with the Iowa in the vicinity of Blue Earth River, Minnesota, immediately preceding Le Sueur’s visit in 1700, indicates that their movement was across the Mississippi into south Minnesota instead of down that stream. Le Sueur was informed by some Sioux whom he met that “this river was the country of the Sioux of the West, of the Ayavois [Iowa] and the Otoctatas [Oto].” Messengers whom he sent to invite the Oto and Iowa to settle near his fort at the mouth of Blue Earth river found that they had moved west toward the Missouri river, near the Omaha.
Marquette, in1673,apparently locates the tribe on his autograph map on upper Des Moines or upper Iowa river. Membré (1680) places them 130 leagues from the Illinois, almost opposite the mouth of the Wisconsin. Iberville (1700) said that the Oto and Iowa were then with the Omaha between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, about 100 leagues from the Illinois. The last two statements agree substantially with that of Le Sueur. It is therefore not probable, as given in one statement, that the Oto were on Osage river in 1687. That they were driven farther south by the northern tribes at a later date will appear from the list of localities given below. Lahontan claims to have visited their village in 1690 on the “Otentas [Iowa or Des Moines] river at its junction with the Mississippi,” perhaps referring to a temporary camp.
In 1721, according to Charlevoix, the Oto were below the Iowa, who were on the east side of Missouri River, and above the Kansa on the west side. Le Page du Pratz (1758) mentions the Oto as a small nation on Missouri river. Jefferys (1761) placed them along the south bank of “Panis river,” probably the Platte between its mouth and the Pawnee country; but in another part of his work he locates them above the Kansa on the west side of Missouri river.
Lewis and Clark (1804) locate the tribe at the time of their expedition on the south side of Platte river, about 30 miles from its mouth, but state that they formerly lived about 20 miles above the Platte, on the south bank of the Missouri. Having diminished, probably through wars and smallpox, they migrated to the neighborhood of the Pawnee, under whose protection they lived, the Missouri being incorporated with them. From 1817 to 1841 they were on Platte river near its mouth. In the latter year they consisted of 4 villages. In 1880 a part of the tribe removed to the lands of the Sauk and Fox Indians in Indian Territory, and in 1882 the remainder left their home in Nebraska and went to the same reservation.
The Oto tribe has never been important, their history being little more than an account of their struggles to defend themselves against their more powerful enemies, and of their migrations. That they were not noted for their military prowess, notwithstanding Long’s statement of the deeds of bravery of some of their warriors, seems evident from their inability to cope with their enemies, although, according to Lewis and Clark, they were once “a powerful nation.” They were cultivators of the soil, and it was on this account, and because they were said to be industrious, that Le Sueur wished them and the Iowa to settle near his fort. Lewis and Clark speak of those they saw, at or near Council Bluffs, as almost naked, having no covering except a sort of breechcloth, with a loose blanket or painted buffalo robe thrown over their shoulders. Their permanent villages consisted of large earthen lodges similar to those of the Kansa and Omaha; when traveling they found shelter in skin tipis. One of their musical instruments was a stick notched like a saw, over the teeth of which a smaller stick was rubbed forcibly backward and forward.
The Oto and Missouri made a treaty of peace with the United States, June 24, 1817. They joined with other tribes in the treaty of Prairie du Chien, Wis., July 15, 1830, by which were ceded all rights to lands east of Missouri river up to the mouth of Big Sioux river. By the treaties of Oto village, Nebr., Sept. 21,1833; Bellevue, Nebr., Oct. 15, 1836; Washington, Mar. 15, 1854, and Nebraska City, Nebr., Dec. 9, 1854, they ceded to the United States all their lands except their reservation on Big Blue river, Nebr. Here they remained until about 1882, when, with the Missouri, they were removed to Indian Territory and placed under the Ponca, Pawnee, Oto, and Oakland agency. Their reserve contained 129,113 acres.
Lewis and Clark gave their number in 1805 as 500; Catlin, in 1833 (including the Missouri), as 1,200; Burrows, in 1849, 900; the Indian Report of 1843 (including the Missouri), as 931. In 1862 the two tribes numbered 708; in 1867, 511; in 1877, 457; in 1886, 334; in 1906, 390.