Wakonda was the universal spirit to which people could draw closer by fasting and acquiring visions. There were a number of secret curing and dance (religious) societies as well as a hereditary priesthood. In a ceremony related to the Ojibwa (Woodland) Midewiwin, members of the Medicine Lodge Society "shot" an initiate with a magic shell. He was later "restored" by older shamans.
Political and military leadership was provided by hereditary clan and war chiefs. There were about ten patrilineal clans, each with particular responsibilities. The people played lacrosse, among other games. Corpses were placed in a tree or buried in the ground. A four-day mourning period followed funerals, during which a horse was occasionally killed to provide transportation to the spirit world.
Otoe villages were composed of from forty to seventy semiexcavated earth lodges. Each lodge was about forty feet in diameter. People caked clay or earth over a wooden framework interwoven with brush and grass. Skin teepees were used on hunting trips.
Women grew corn, beans, and squash in river bottomlands. Crops were stored in underground, bell-shaped caches. Women also gathered plant foods such as nuts, berries, and roots. Men assisted in farming but mainly hunted buffalo (twice a year), deer, and small game. Hunting, in fact, was a major occupation, and once on the Plains the people gradually shifted to rely more on buffalo than on crops. The people also ate fish.
On the Plains, the Otoes dressed similarly to other local Indians. Skins tanned by women formed the basis of most clothing. Men wore leggings and breechclouts, and women wore a one-piece dress. Both wore moccasins. Cold weather gear included shirts, robes, and fur caps. During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Otoes traded heavily with the French, supplying Indian slaves, among other commodities.
According to tradition, the Winnebagos, Ioways, Missourias, and Otoes once lived together north of the Great Lakes. In the sixteenth century, groups began migrating toward their historic areas. The Otoes and Missourias continued past the Ioways, especially the Winnebagos, until they reached the junction of the Missouri and Grand Rivers in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century.
There the two tribes had a falling-out, traditionally ascribed to a love affair between the two chiefs' children. After the split, the Otoes moved west along the Missouri. Trade with the French began soon after Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet encountered the Otoes in 1673 and continued for about a century. Between 1680 and 1717, the Otoes lived along the upper Iowa River and then the Blue Earth River. From 1717 to 1854 they lived along the Platte in various locations, including its mouth at the Missouri River. The people acquired horses early in that period and became much more involved in hunting buffalo.
The Otoe people absorbed the smallpox-decimated Missourias, with whom they had been fighting the Sauks and Foxes for years, in 1829. Several difficult decades followed, during which the people battled disease as well as Indians and non-Indians. By treaties in the 1830s and 1854, the Otoe-Missourias ceded all land and moved to 162,000-acre reservation on the Kansas-Nebraska border, along the Big Blue River. Two more land cessions occurred in 1876 and 1881.
Two factions developed in 1880 over the issue of acculturation. The Coyote, or traditional faction, moved to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Quakers ceded their land for 129,000-acre reservation near Red Rock in north central Oklahoma. Most Coyotes joined them by 1890, having lived for a time in a separate village on the Iowa Reservation. The reservation was allotted by 1907.
Many individuals grew crops of grains and potatoes at that time. After oil was discovered on their land in 1912, the United States forced many Otoe-Missourias to give up their allotments. During the early to midtwentieth century, intermarriage truly created one tribe. Many Indians left the region during the 1930s. The tribe received a $1.5 million land claim settlement in 1955 and another payment in 1964. Both were divided on a per-capita basis.