“Nianqua” means “many springs” in the Osage language. It’s those little springs that make canoeing down the Little Nianqua river a favorite pastime for adventurers. The Little Nianqua is a tributary of the Nianqua River which empties into the Mississisppi.
In between freshman and sophomore year in college (September of 1966), a high school friend from the Presbyterian Church near our home in Kansas City, KS, suggested we take a canoe trip in the Ozarks about 150 miles southeast of Kansas City.
The portion of the Little Nianqua normally canoed is about 35 miles, and with time out for climbing the over-looming bluffs, visiting Osage sites and generally goofing around, we would have to spend the night sleeping on a sandbar, propping the canoe over us for protection. It sounded like great fun.
Here was the goofing around part. I made an emergency outrigger out of a barrel and some limbs.
It sort of worked. At least it didn’t sink.
Those bluffs were pretty high, but of course we felt compelled to climb them.
Below is a view of our sandbar encampment from the bluff.
Apparently, Richard was not aware that the spirit of the departed Osage do not like to be disturbed. Otherwise, he would not have perched on an Osage burial mound.
Richard tempting fate.
Shortly after we returned home, Richard and I borrowed my family’s 55 Buick Special and went to a drive in. I was almost 21 years old, so I felt inspired to procure a gallon of Ripple wine. I have no idea what the movie was about, but Ripple actually tasted better than its reputation.
Unfortunately, the spirits of the Osage decided at that moment to seek their revenge. Richard spilled half of the gallon of Ripple, inside the Buick.
Our feeble attempt to soak up the wine and clean the interior was of no avail. No matter what we did, the car stank of cheap wine.
As luck would have it, we both had to head back to college almost immediately. As soon as I was back in Georgia, my parents traded in their one and only car. Somehow, I doubt they got much for it.
I lost touch with Richard Thorn when my parents sold the house in Prairie Village, threw out my child-hood toys (for spite maybe?), hopped into their station wagon with that fresh, new car smell, and headed to a warmer clime, southeast Texas.
Strangely enough, they never said anything to me about that Ripple event. But I guess, compared to my flying off with the keys to the Buick when I flew back to Atlanta the previous January, without enough gas in the car for Dad to make it home, and having poor Dad walk to a gas station, in a snowstorm, well, the Ripple event simply paled in comparison.
However, that “no-keys event”, they did tell me about.
I guess the lesson is, respect the spirits of the dead, or you will pay in ways you cannot imagine.
Perhaps you have read about the Osage in my novels. The Osage ancestral lands were located in Missouri around the Ozarks and over to the Mississippi River. Reportedly, French fur traders found the Osage women to be quite attractive. So much so that supposedly, many of the traders married Osage women.
In spite of that intermarriage, when land-hungry settlers moved from Tennessee to Arkansas and Missouri, the government relocated the Osage to Oklahoma, right next to the relocated Cherokees. In fact, to this day, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, a town I’ve visited and written about, is the current home of the Osage Nation.
About the only Osage thing the white man did not replace, was the name of their river in Missouri, the Nianqua.
In summary, if you’re so inclined, have fun canoeing the Little Niangua. But do be careful where you tread.