Schell-Osage Conservation Area and the Osage River, which forms the area's north boundary, derive their names from the Osage Indians that once inhabited the area.
Initially purchased in 1957, development of the wetland units and water supply lakes was completed in 1962 and opened to waterfowl hunting in 1964.
The Harry S. Truman Dam and Reservoir was completed in 1979, which affected flood frequency and duration of the Osage River and floodplain, including portions of Schell-Osage.
The area features a unique combination of habitats including wetlands, upland and bottomland forest, cropland, old fields, and lakes and ponds. Also, Little Headwaters, Little Gem, Little Stony Point, Little Savanna, and Little Sandy prairies combine to make up over 40 acres of remnant native prairie, which have been augmented with over 340 acres of restored grasslands.
The 1,425 acres of managed wetlands provides habitat for a wide variety of waterfowl, shore birds, wading birds, and other wetland dependent species, which makes this area popular for both waterfowl hunters and birders.