Since its discovery oil has played a major role in Osage history. Through conditions set in treaties, the Osage Tribe was able to obtain the mineral rights to all of what is now Osage County. Owning the mineral rights meant that the Osage tribe would have to be paid royalties for any oil drilled in Osage County. Oil royalties paid to the Osage people, during the early 20th century, helped to make them one of the wealthiest groups of people in the world.
The first oil lease in Osage County was obtained in 1896 by Henry Foster. The lease was a 10 year blanket lease that covered all of Osage County. Foster and his Brother Edwin started the Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company (ITIO), and completed their first well on October 28, 1897. In 1906 Foster’s son, Henry V. Foster, renewed the blanket lease for another 10 years.
In 1916 the ITIO lost the blanket lease, and the tribe began selling leases individually to the highest bidder at lease auctions. These lease sales were held under the shade of a giant elm tree located atop Ki-He-Kah Hill in Pawhuska, which would later be named the Million Dollar Elm. Selling the oil leases individually proved to be a smart decision because it greatly increased the royalties the tribe received from oil production.
While the Osage people are no longer among the richest people, the effects of the oil industry are still felt today. Many Osages still receive their quarterly royalty payments, known today as headrights. The oil industry in Osage County has provided many job opportunities for Osages across Oklahoma as well as helped with the economic development of the whole country.