- Category: Pawnee County, OK
- Published on Thursday, 27 October 2011 00:38
- Written by Katy Hestand
Historic Pawnee, Oklahoma, "Where the West Remains", started out as a Trading Post in 1894 on the banks of Black Bear Creek. This has been the home of the Pawnee Nation since being removed from Nebraska in 1874-1876. It still maintains the rustic charm of an early 1900s settlement in Indian Territory. The Pawnee Nation has a long and proud history going back over 700 years. At one time, early in the 19th century, there were over 10,000 members of the Pawnee Nation along the North Platte River in Nebraska.The Pawnee villages consisted of dome shaped, earth covered lodges with a diameter of 25 to 60 feet with a long entrance leading towards the east. A center pit dug three to four feet in diameter served as a fireplace. These lodges housed extended families.
The Nation then, as it is now, was composed of four distinct bands: the Chaui 'Grand'; the Kitkihahki, 'Republican"; the Petahauirata, 'Tappage"; and Skidi, 'Wolf'. Each band went on separate hunts and often fought separate battles.
Before the middle of the 19th century, the tribe was stricken with smallpox and cholera. A great loss of life occurred and by 1900, the tribe's membership was decreased to approximately 600. The Pawnees were well known for their ability to raid neighboring tribes and acquire their horses. They set out on foot and brought back hundreds of horses, especially from the tribes to the south and southwest. Horses gave the Pawnees the mobility that made them a name to be feared by their enemies. Although the Pawnees never waged open war against the U.S. Government and were classified as a 'friendly nation", extra privileges were not gained. The government felt the need to placate warring tribes with gifts, which sometimes consisted of rifles to hunt buffalo. These rifles were in turn used against other tribes, including the Pawnees, who were not so fortunately armed.
Nevertheless, the Pawnee warriors were men of courage and great endurance. Even when outnumbered and outgunned, they fought valiantly. Some of these warrior feats were considered legendary.
One such great feat was that of Chief Crooked Hand of the Skidi Band, who arose from bed to muster the old men, women and boys and led the charge to defend their home. Although outnumbered two to one, they outfought a superior armed enemy and drove them away.
Pawnees dressed similar to other Plains tribes; however, the Pawnees had a special way of preparing the scalp lock by dressing it with buffalo fat until it stood erect and curved backward like a horn. The Pawnees unwillingly ceded their lands to the U.S. Government in 1833, 1848, 1857 and 1872. The move from Nebraska to what is now Pawnee County was completed in 1875. The Pawnee Indian Agency was established just east of the present site of the City of Pawnee and an Indian boarding school, called Pawnee Industrial School, was built. The school, affectionately known as "Gravy U" was closed in 1958 and the land was returned to the tribe in 1968. Many of the old 'Gravy U' buildings have been renovated and are now used as tribal offices.
Today, the tribal enrollment numbers a little over 2,500 members and Pawnees can be found in all areas of the United States as well as foreign countries in many walks of life. Pawnees take much pride in their ancestral heritage. They are noted in history for their tribal religion, rich in myth, symbolism and elaborate rites
Pawnee County is at the crossroads of the American West, marking the division between the lush, hilly, heavily forested East and the arid, flatter grasslands of the West. It is bounded on the north and south by the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers with plentiful game, wood, water, and shelter that attracted primitive man and, later, bands of Native Indians.
The region became a crossroads as Prairie and Plains Indians followed the migrating herds of buffalo. The Wichita and, later, the Osage and Cherokee claimed the area as tribal hunting domain, and bloody clashes took place as these nations fought over the area.
In 1874, the Paw-nee, along with the Otoe-Missouria tribes, were moved into the Oklahoma Indian Territory when they were expelled from the Kansas and Nebraska plains. They occupied the western two-thirds of Pawnee County while the remainder, part of the Cherokee Outlet, was a mecca for cattlemen attracted by lush grass and plentiful water. Also, the area became a haven for bandits and bootleggers from both the Oklahoma and Indian territories.
This mixture of Western cowboys, the Wild West, and Native Americans gave the region a remarkable blending of cultures which was portrayed by the county's most famous personality, Gordon W. "Pawnee Bill" Lillie, and his Wild West Show.
According to most linguists, the Pawnee derived their name from the Pawnee work Pariki, which early French traders corrupted into Pani, Pana, Panana, Panamaha, Panimaha, or Pawnee. Pariki, which meant horn, referred to the scalp lock, which the Pawnee dressed with red ochre and buffalo fat until it resembled a horn protruding from their head and curved backward. This identifying "head dressing" was the origin of the Choctaw reference word, Pana, meaning a braid or a twist of hair, and the Siouan word Pani or Panyi, which refers to red bird feathers.