ETHNONYMS: Pani, Panzas, Pawni
Identification. The Pawnee are an American Indian group currently living in Oklahoma. The name "Pawnee" comes from the term pariki, or "horn," and refers to the traditional manner of dressing the hair in which the scalp-lock is stiffened with fat and paint and made to stand erect like a curved horn. The Pawnee called themselves "Chahiksichahiks," meaning "men of men."
Location. Throughout much of the historic period the Pawnee inhabited the territory centered in the valleys of the Loup and Platte rivers and along the Republican River in what is now the state of Nebraska in the central United States. In 1874-1875 they moved from this territory to Reservation lands in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Region of the Loup, Platte, and Republican rivers consists largely of high and dry grass-covered plains interrupted by rivers and river valleys and is characterized by a subhumid climate. Trees are nearly absent except along the river courses.
Demography. In the early part of the nineteenth century the Pawnee numbered between 9,000 and 10,000. Subsequently, the population declined because of warfare and European diseases; smallpox epidemics in 1803 and 1825 were especially devastating. In 1859 the population was estimated at 4,000, in 1876 at 2,000, and in 1900 at 650. The population subsequently increased to over 2,000 today.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Pawnee language belongs to the Caddoan linguistic family.
History and Cultural Relations
The ancestors of the Pawnee inhabited the plains region of North America since at least a.d. 1100 and migrated to the Region of the Loup, Platte and Republican rivers from a Southeasterly direction sometime prior to European contact. Contact with Spanish explorers may have occurred as early as 1541, but direct and sustained contact with Europeans did not come until the eighteenth century. During the contact period the native groups neighboring the Pawnee included the Arapaho and Teton to the west, the Ponca to the north, the Omaha, Oto, and Kansa to the east, and the Kiowa to the south. In 1803 the Pawnee territory passed under the control of the U.S. government through the Louisiana Purchase. In a series of treaties between 1833 and 1876 the Pawnee ceded their lands to the federal government and in 1874-1876 removed to Indian Territory. The gradual ceding of territory to the United States was done reluctantly, but out of necessity as White migration, depletion of the bison herds, and warfare on the plains between native peoples made it increasingly difficult for the Pawnee to carry on the hunting and farming way of life in their traditional territory. In 1870 the Pawnee split over the question of resettlement, but the issue was decided when they were forced to seek the protection of federal authorities after a massacre of Pawnee by the Dakota in 1873. In 1892 their reservation lands were allotted on an individual basis and the Pawnee became citizens of the United States. The transition to individual land ownership proved difficult, as the Pawnee tradition of village living proved inconsistent with individual farming.
In the historic period prior to 1833 the Pawnee bands were settled in four groups of villages in valleys along the Platte River. Villages were large and relatively permanent, and consisted of clusters of earthlodges surrounded by fields. In the nineteenth century some villages were surrounded by a sod wall three to four feet high for defensive purposes. Earthlodges were circular and constructed of a log frame plastered over with layers of grass and packed earth. Lodges varied in size according to the number of occupants, but averaged fifteen feet in height and forty feet in diameter. In the summer the occupants of the earthlodge moved outdoors and slept under a brush arbor. Tipis of bison hide were used for shelter on the hunt.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities . In the historic period until the latter part of the nineteenth century the Pawnee subsistence pattern consisted of farming and hunting, with a minimal amount of gathering. The principal crops were maize, beans, squash, and pumpkins; the principal game animal was the bison. Horses acquired from the Spanish, starting in the late seventeenth century, stimulated the Development of a more nomadic, hunting way of life, but this never supplanted the farming basis of life to the degree that it did among other Plains Indian groups. At about the same time European firearms were acquired from the French, but these had less economic impact; even into the nineteenth century the bow and arrow was the weapon of choice among bison hunters. Throughout the nineteenth century the Pawnee were under constant pressure by the U.S. government to give up hunting and adopt European methods of farming. The Pawnee resisted this pressure for a time until White migration, dwindling bison herds, increased population pressure on food resources, and finally resettlement in Indian Territory made the traditional hunting and farming way of life impossible.
Industrial Arts, Work in skins, particularly bison skins, was highly developed and provided the Pawnee with tents, ropes, rawhide, containers, blankets, robes, clothing, and footwear. Other by-products of the bison were used for bows, bowstring, thread, hammers, scrapers, awls, and fuel. Pottery making was not a highly developed skill, but did exist and persisted into the nineteenth century when clay pots were replaced by copper and iron vessels obtained from European-Americans.
Trade. Virtually self-sufficient in aboriginal times, Pawnee trade with neighboring groups was limited. After contact they traded with Whites for horses, firearms and ammunition, steel knives, axes, hoes, brass kettles, and whiskey.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, women tended the fields and men were responsible for hunting, but this division of labor broke down during the second half of the nineteenth century with the decline of bison hunting and the gradual acceptance of plow agriculture as the basis of subsistence.
Land Tenure. Each village traditionally possessed its own fields, the use of which was allotted to individuals by the Village chief. Upon the individual's death the lands reverted to the village and were re-allotted.
Kin Groups and Descent. The basic kinship grouping among the Pawnee was a division into north and south, or winter and summer people. Membership in these divisions was inherited matrilineally. In games, religious ceremonies, and other social gatherings, the people were divided along hereditary lines.
Kinship Terminology. Kin terms followed the Crow System.
Marriage. Marriages were arranged and negotiated primarily by the mother's brother. First-cousin marriages were prohibited, and village endogamy generally prevailed. Polygyny was practiced and as a rule was strictly sororal. Residence was matrilocal. Strong emotional ties generally did not exist Between husband and wife, and though divorce was rare, it could be effected by either party.
Domestic Unit. Although nuclear families occasionally lived alone, most often several such families lived together in the earthlodge.
Inheritance. Traditionally, property passed to the oldest male. Theoretically, women had no rights to property, but, in fact, were generally considered to be the owners of lodges, tipis, and their own tools and utensils.
Socialization. Traditionally, early childhood training was in the hands of the grandparents, with strict discipline and harsh punishment the norm. Youths were allowed considerable sexual freedom until puberty, after which time separation of the sexes was enforced until marriage. A mother's brother's wife often served as a sexual partner for a young man from the time of puberty until he married.
Social Organization. Nineteenth-century Pawnee society included a series of classlike hierarchical divisions. Highest in rank were chiefs, followed by warriors, priests, and medicine men. Next in rank were common people without power or Influence, and below them were semioutcastes, persons who had violated tribal laws and lived on the outskirts of the Villages. There was also a category of captured non-Pawnee slaves. Men's societies concerned with warfare and hunting were a prominent feature of Pawnee society. In addition, there were eight medicine men's societies and numerous private organizations that functioned for the public good in times of need.
Political Organization. The Pawnee were divided into four main groups or bands: (1) the Skidi, or Wolf, the largest band, (2) the Chaui, or Grand, (3) Kitkehahki, or Republican, and (4) the Pitahauerat, or Tappage. The Chaui were generally recognized as the leading band; however, the nature of the relationship of the four groups is not clear. Aboriginally the four bands may have been independent of one another, with greater political unity developing in response to the pressures of acculturation. As exhibited by the Skidi Pawnee in the early nineteenth century, band political Structure consisted of federated villages held together by a governing council of chiefs and common participation in a Ceremonial cycle. Within the band, authority resided with four chiefs, the position of which was inherited matrilineally. Each band consisted of one or more villages. But with the pressures of acculturation and European contact there was a progressive diminution of the number of villages occupied, and in later history two or more bands frequently dwelt together in the same village. Each component village had a chief whose responsibilities included the allotting of village lands to Individual users. The position of village chief was inherited, generally by the eldest son, but subject to the approval of a Council of chiefs and other leading men.
Social Control. The Pawnee considered violence within the village a serious matter and generally made every attempt to avoid it or stop it when it occurred. For the most part, public opinion acted as the mechanism of social control, but to ensure order each village had a small police society whose head was an old warrior selected by the village chief. On the communal bison hunts held in the late summer and autumn of each year, a special society of military police or soldiers was selected to prevent individual hunters from leaving the camp and disturbing the bison herds.
Conflict. In prehistoric and early historic times interband disputes and violence were not uncommon, particularly Between the Skidi and Grand Pawnee.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The Pawnee had a highly integrated System of religious beliefs that resisted European missionization until well into the nineteenth century. In this system of beliefs all life was understood to have derived from the meeting of male (east) and female (west) forces in the sky. The supernatural power at the zenith of the sky where these forces met was known as Tirawa. Tirawa produced the world through a series of violent storms and created star gods, who in turn created humanity. In 1891, along with other Plains Indian groups, the Pawnee participated in the Ghost Dance, a revitalization movement envisioning the return of the dead from the spirit world and the disappearance of the White man from the land. The two most prominent star powers were the Evening Star, the goddess of darkness and fertility who lived in the western sky, and Morning Star, the god of fire and light who was located in the eastern sky. Next in rank to Tirawa, Evening Star and Morning Star were the gods of the four world quarters in the northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest who supported the heavens.
Religious Practitioners. Pawnee religious specialists consisted of a group of wise men who derived their power and authority from a star planet and held their position as a matter of heredity. They were understood to stand between normal men and Tirawa and supervised a yearly round of religious ceremonies conducted to bring success in farming, hunting, and warfare.
Ceremonies. The foci of Pawnee religious ceremonies were sacred bundles of religious objects believed to have been passed down a line of ancestors. Each village had its own sacred bundle with which its members identified strongly, and each sacred bundle was a medium through which the people communicated with Tirawa. The annual ceremonial cycle began with the first thunder in the spring and concluded with the harvest of maize in the autumn. The climax of the cycle was the sacrifice of a young woman to the Morning Star at the time of the summer solstice in order to ensure prosperity and long life. The sacrifice to the Morning Star persisted until about 1838. Another important ceremonial event concerned preparations for the buffalo hunt. The ceremony began with fasting, prayer, and sacrifice by the priests, followed by a public ritual in which the priests appealed to Tirawa for aid. The ritual concluded with three days of uninterrupted dancing. Arts. Pawnee music was simple in its melody and rhythm and was an important part of Pawnee ceremonial activities. At the time of the Ghost Dance songs secured in dreams or visions emphasized memories of former days, reunion with the dead, and other aspects of the Ghost Dance revitalization movement.
Medicine. The Pawnee recognized witchcraft and, ultimately, anger and hostility to be major causes of disease. Pawnee religious specialists also included shamans who cured the sick through powers believed to have been acquired from animal spirits. Shamans were organized into societies with specific rituals performed twice each year in order to perpetuate and renew their powers.
Death and Afterlife. As with disease, death was believed to sometimes be the result of hostility and witchcraft. Burial preparations varied according to the rank and position of the deceased. Individuals of importance and those who died in extreme old age were painted with a sacred red ointment, dressed in their best costumes, and wrapped in a bison robe before burial. It was believed that after death the soul of the deceased ascended to heaven to become a star or, in the case of those who were diseased or died in a cowardly manner in battle, traveled to a village of spirits in the south.
Hyde, George E. (1951). Pawnee Indians. Denver: University of Denver Press.
Murie, James R. (1914). Pawnee Indian Societies. American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers H(4). New York.
Oswalt, Wendell H. (1966). "The Pawnee." In This Land Was Theirs: A Study of the North American Indian, edited by Wendell H. Oswalt, 239-289. New York: John Wiley.
Weltfish, Gene (1965). The Lost Universe. New York: Basic Books.
GERALD F. REID
"Pawnee." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pawnee
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PAWNEE. Archeological investigations in Nebraska have revealed that pottery, tool, and implement types found in the Lower Loup Phase beginning between the 1500s and 1600s indicate a distinct grouping of people. Similarities were discovered between Lower Loup artifact types and cultural patterns found in later eighteenth-century historic Pawnee sites. Information in European colonial and later American sources indicated that the Pawnees lived and hunted in a region now located in Nebraska and parts of Kansas. The Pawnees' first contact with non-Indians occurred in the seventeenth century, when the French traded with tribes along the Missouri River tributaries. Later the Spanish considered the Pawnees subjects of the Spanish crown. Next, in the early 1800s American explorers and treaty makers came. United States treaties resulted in tribal land cessions, placed the tribe on a Nebraska reservation, and reduced its traditional territory, until 1875, when the tribe faced forced removal to a reservation in Indian Territory. Estimates indicate a population of between 10,000 and 20,000 in the 1800s, dropping to less than 700 by 1906. The rapid decline resulted from intertribal warfare, disease, and hunger caused by improvident government policies.
The sacred was all-encompassing in Pawnee life. The seasonal round of subsistence activities, including crop growing, gathering, and biannual bison hunting, called for ceremonies in which hide-wrapped sacred bundles containing powerful objects were used ritually to secure success in each endeavor. Harvest and success in war and hunting called for particular tribal ceremonies. Important in Pawnee religion was the belief in Tirawahut, an abstraction described as all-powerful in the universe. Certain sky constellations, Mother Corn, the buffalo, and all things in nature had sacred connotations. A few sacred bundles belong to the Pawnees now, but their use and ceremonies are mostly forgotten. Today, tribal members may belong to local Christian churches or the Native American Church.
The Pawnee tribe historically was governed by a council composed of chiefs from each of the four bands, the Chaui, Pitahawirata, Kitkahahki, and Skidi, that once lived in separate locations and villages. After land cessions they were compelled to live together on reservations. Later in Oklahoma, after passage of the 1936 Oklahoma Welfare Act, a Business Council and the Nasharo (Chiefs) Council became governing bodies.
Important historical events include loss of tribal land resulting from forced cessions and the Allotment Act of 1896; use of Pawnee warriors as United States scouts in the 1860s and 1870s; forced removal to Indian Territory, away from sacred places and tribal graves; deaths of leading chiefs, ceremonial leaders, and tribal members that initiated loss of sovereignty and culture; the ongoing yearly visit between the Caddoan-speaking Wichitas and Pawnees, stemming from an ancient friendship; the leadership of Pawnees in the Native American Rights Fund and repatriation issues; and the selection of Kevin Gover as recent head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
United States legislation in the second half of the twentieth century benefited the Pawnees by providing for grants to educate doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals; health benefits; and greater tribal autonomy and decision making, including government-funded, tribal-managed programs. These programs include a tribal court, a tax commission, tribal law enforcement, repatriation of tribal remains and artifacts, substance abuse programs, after-school tutoring, cultural retention programs with language classes, and others that improve the conditions and status of the people. All these programs provide employment for tribal members. Others are employed locally or in other cities and states.
The tribe numbers approximately 2,500, most of whom live away from the old Oklahoma reservation area. Many return for the four-day Pawnee Homecoming sponsored by the Pawnee Veterans' Association. A few older ceremonies survive and other feasts and tribal dances bring the people together as Pawnees.
Blaine, Martha Royce. Pawnee Passage: 1870–1875. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.
———. Some Things Are Not Forgotten: A Pawnee Family Remembers. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Hyde, George E. Pawnee Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974.
Weltfish, Gene. The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
See alsoTribes: Great Plains .
"Pawnee." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pawnee
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Pawnee (pônē´), Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Caddoan branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). At one time the Pawnee lived in what is now Texas, but by 1541, when Coronado visited Quivira, they seem to have been settled in the valley of the Platte River in S Nebraska. By the early 18th cent. the Pawnee had divided into four groups: the Skidi (or Wolf), the Grand, the Republican, and the Tapage (or Noisy). They then numbered some 10,000. By the time French traders settled (c.1750) among them, the Pawnee had extended their territory to the Republican River in N Kansas and the Niobrara River in N Nebraska. In 1806, Spanish soldiers visited the Pawnee just before the arrival of the expedition of Zebulon M. Pike.
In material culture the Pawnee resembled other Native Americans of the Plains area but they had an elaborate set of myths and rituals. Their supreme god was Tirawa (the sun), who with Mother Earth conceived Morning Star. Morning Star was the rising and dying god of vegetation. The Pawnee periodically sacrificed a young woman to Morning Star. This custom, one of the few examples of human sacrifice N of Mexico, was, however, ended by the great Pawnee chief Pitalesharo (b. c.1797).
The Pawnee were hostile to the Sioux and the Cheyenne, although friendly toward the Oto. They were fierce fighters, but they never warred against the United States, even when treated unjustly by the government. In fact, the Pawnee provided scouts for the U.S. army in the Indian wars as well as protecting the Union Pacific RR from the depredations of other Native Americans. Pawnee population was reduced by wars with the Sioux and by the smallpox and cholera epidemics of the 1830s and 1840s. By a series of treaties begun early in the 19th cent. the Pawnee ceded all of their land in Nebraska and in 1876 moved to a reservation in Oklahoma, where they were granted the right to own their land individually. In 1990 there were over 3,300 Pawnee in the United States.
See R. Linton, The Sacrifice to the Morning Star by the Skidi Pawnee (1922); W. Wedel, An Introduction to Pawnee Archeology (1936); G. Weltfish, The Lost Universe (1965); G. E. Hyde, The Pawnee Indians (rev. ed. 1973).
"Pawnee." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pawnee
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Paw·nee / pôˈnē/ • n. (pl. same or -nees ) 1. a member of an American Indian confederacy formerly in Nebraska, and now mainly in Oklahoma. 2. the Caddoan language of these peoples. • adj. of or relating to these people or their language.
"Pawnee." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/pawnee-0
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"Pawnee." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pawnee
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The name Pawnee (pronounced PAW-nee or paw-NEE ) probably comes from the Sioux term pa-rik-i, meaning a horn. The word refers to the distinctive hairstyle of the Pawnee warriors, who coated their hair with thick grease and paint so that it stood up and curved like a horn. Some groups of the Pawnee called themselves Ckirihki Kuruuriki, meaning “looks like wolves,” or Chahiksichahiks, meaning “men of men.”
The Pawnee believe their ancestors came from the Southwest; some historians say they may have come from Mexico. Evidence suggests that the tribe had inhabited the Central Plains for at least five hundred years. The Pawnee once lived in what is now Kansas and Nebraska, concentrating in the valleys of the Loup, Platte, and Republican rivers. In the early twenty-first century the Pawnee reservation is located on 20,000 acres of land in north central Oklahoma, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Tulsa.
At their height the Pawnee probably numbered about thirty-five thousand. In 1790 there were about ten thousand Pawnee. In 1900 there were about 650. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 3,387 people identified themselves as Pawnee. According to the 2000 census that number had decreased to 2,636; however, a total of 5,205 people claimed some Pawnee background. In 2007 tribal sources indicated a Pawnee enrollment of 3,190.
Origins and group affiliations
The Pawnee and other Caddoan-speakers may be descendants of the prehistoric hunter-gatherers who roamed the Great Plains region of North America as many as 7,500 years ago. Some historians believe they came from Mexico but moved northward, and by 1600 they were in control of large parts of the western Plains. The Pawnee say they descended from the Kawarakis Pawnees, ancestors of the Chaui, Kitkehahki, and Pitahawirata Bands, who settled in southeastern Nebraska in approximately 900.
The Pawnee nation consisted of four related bands: the Chaui, or Grand Pawnee; the Kitkehahki; or Republican Pawnee; the Pitahawirata, or Tappage Pawnee; and the Skidi, or Wolf Pawnee. The Arikara were once considered part of the Pawnee, but they split from the main group many years ago and are now considered a separate group. The major enemies of the Pawnee were the Cheyenne and the Sioux tribes.
The Pawnee were a peaceful farming people who could be fierce when pushed to defend themselves. Because they stayed in one area, they made easy targets for other wandering Plains tribes. Still, other tribes regarded them as mysterious, and were awed by their poetic stories and rituals concerning the heavens and the Earth.
Pawnee in ancient times
For centuries the Pawnee way of life revolved around pursuing the Plains buffalo on foot, stampeding them over cliffs, trapping them in corrals, and killing and butchering them with chipped-stone tools. The Pawnee also farmed part-time, raising corn, squash, and beans in the fertile river valleys of the Great Plains.
Sometime around the early thirteenth century the Pawnee left the Great Plains, perhaps because of a change in the climate. While some scholars believe they settled in the Southwest, others believe they moved into the Southeast near the Mississippi River delta. But by the year 1300 the ancestors of today’s Pawnee returned to the Great Plains. They settled in the river valleys of modern Kansas and Nebraska between the Apache people to the west and the Sioux people to the east (see entries). From the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries Pawnee civilization flourished on the Great Plains.
1300: The Pawnee begin their migration to Nebraska.
1541: Francisco de Coronado meets the Pawnee on the Great Plains while looking for treasure.
1817: The Pawnee chief Petalésharo puts an end to the tradition of the Morning Star maiden sacrifice.
1833–72: The Pawnee sign four different agreements giving their land to the U.S. government.
1876: The U.S. government forces the Pawnee to abandon their land in Nebraska for a reservation in Oklahoma.
1960s–1970s: The federal government returns Pawnee reservation lands in Oklahoma to the tribe.
Horses arrive on the Plains
In 1541, about 250 years after the tribe returned to the Great Plains, Spanish explorer Francisco de Coronado (c. 1510–1554) encountered people he called Harahei north of the Arkansas River in what is now Kansas. These people were probably the Pawnee. Coronado, then in search of the riches, did not stay among them long.
Sometime before 1680 horses (originally brought from Spain) became a common sight on the Great Plains, and the Pawnee began to use them. Horses allowed the tribe to travel farther in search of buffalo. However, while tribes such as the Sioux and the Cheyenne (see entry) used the horse to move from place to place, the Pawnee remained primarily an agricultural people.
Tribe faces changes
Many changes occurred among the Pawnee in the nineteenth century. Their lands were overrun, first by eastern whites who had heard stories of free, fertile land in the West, then by miners heading to California after gold was discovered in 1848. The waves of migrant people, intent on crossing the Great Plains to find riches, frightened the buffalo on which the Pawnee relied for their survival. Sometimes starving Pawnee attacked white wagon trains and settlements to stay alive.
The whites brought European diseases to which the Pawnee had no immunity. A smallpox epidemic (outbreak of disease) in 1831 cut their numbers in half. In 1849 cholera, a deadly disease that spreads rapidly, reduced the tribe by half again. By 1857 widespread measles and tuberculosis had made the Pawnee dependent on aid from the U.S. government. That year the U.S. government placed the few remaining members of the tribe on a reservation on the Loup River near what is now Genoa, Nebraska. But on the reservation the Pawnee were vulnerable to raids from other Plains tribes, particularly the Sioux. In 1864 the U.S. government began a campaign to subdue the hostile Sioux, and the Pawnee volunteered to assist. Pawnee warriors fought bravely alongside the U.S. Army regulars.
On the reservation
On the reservation the Pawnee tried to live as before, hunting and farming in their communal style, whereby all the people shared in the work and divided equally the crops they produced. Federal agents, however, wanted them to farm as individuals. Agents also tried to convince the Pawnee to live in wooden houses and send their children to government schools where they were forbidden to speak their native language.
Then more disasters struck, both natural and manmade. A drought resulted in the dehydration and death of most of the buffalo and harmed the crops, and a plague of grasshoppers destroyed the crops that had survived. By this time, after all the disease and disorientation, the Pawnee were very weak. On August 5, 1873, a day when their men were away hunting, a large party of Sioux attacked Pawnee women and children. Between 75 and 115 innocent people died in what came to be called the Battle of Massacre Canyon.
In the face of continuing demands by white settlers for more Pawnee lands, in 1876 the U.S. government convinced the tribe to move from Nebraska to a reservation in Oklahoma. The federal government pushed the Pawnee off their Nebraska lands so quickly they did not even have time to harvest their crops. The people spent a terrible winter with little food to eat.
Rebirth of a nation
Government acts in 1887 and 1898 further reduced the land holdings of the remaining Pawnee, whose lives by now were full of sickness and misery. In 1893 white settlers again pressured the federal government for more land, so most of the Pawnee Reservation was purchased and settled by non-Native Americans.
By the early twentieth century the Pawnee seemed to all but disappear. Then in the early 1930s the U.S. government tried to right some past wrongs and help the Pawnee become a functioning tribe. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 restored some of their rights, but it was not until the mid-1960s that the federal government finally returned Pawnee reservation lands in Oklahoma to the tribe. In 1966 the Indian Claims Commission awarded the tribe $7 million for their original lands in Kansas and Nebraska that the United States had taken in the nineteenth century. During the 1970s the Pawnee regained more tribal lands.
In the early twenty-first century most Pawnee live in Pawnee, Oklahoma, the site of their tribal government. Although many have adapted to mainstream American life, they still hold celebrations of their Pawnee heritage throughout the year.
The Sun and stars
The religion of the Pawnee is inspired by the Sun and stars of the Great Plains sky, which they once used to guide them on their travels. Many of the stars and planets were worshipped as gods. The Pawnee believed that after death, human souls followed the Milky Way to heaven and lived out eternity with Tirawa, their Creator.
Pawnee priests served as messengers between the invisible spirit world and the everyday world. They watched the skies during planting and growing season, and if storms or other dangers threatened the crops, they performed rites to drive them away. They used stuffed birds and animals in religious ceremonies.
They also believed that the stars determined the best times for planting crops. In the spring they began a series of ceremonies to ensure a good harvest. At the summer solstice (June 21, when the sun is at its northernmost point) they offered a human sacrifice, and following the harvest they offered maize (corn) and other crops to the gods. Human sacrifices ended in the 1800s.
Sacred bundles and secret societies
Like many of the Plains tribes, the Pawnee had sacred bundles. (Sacred bundles are pouches that contained religious tools and symbols and were used in rituals and ceremonies.) A hereditary keeper cared for each sacred bundle. Their shrines were central to their Pawnee rituals (see “Sacred architecture”). Priests took charge of the ceremonies. The people believed that by pacifying the supernatural powers, they would have food, long life, and prosperity.
Several secret societies were connected with supernatural animals. These societies attracted game, healed diseases, and bestowed special powers. Some Pawnee also participated in the Ghost Dance movement during 1890s.
The Major Gods of the Pawnee
The most important Pawnee god is Tirawa, who represents the open sky. Tirawa created the universe to relieve his loneliness. He first created the four primary stars: the Evening Star in the West, with the Moon as her helper; the Morning Star in the East with the Sun as his helper; and the North and South Stars marking the other two directions. Tirawa also created stars for the skies of Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest and gave them the task of holding up the Earth.
The Evening Star and the Morning Star were responsible for the creation of the Earth and the ancestors of the Pawnee. The Evening Star created the Earth from a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. Then the Morning Star persuaded Evening Star to marry him, and they produced the first of the Pawnee. Their first-born child, a girl, was lowered to Earth on a whirlwind. Their second-born child, First Man, became Chief of Center Village and of all the Pawnee. First Man had to assemble and bring the important sacred bundles to the various Pawnee villages. Aided by Evening Star and Morning Star, the people developed their ceremonies, symbols, and songs. Bound by their shared gifts, the people then banded together to form a nation.
The Pawnee spoke a language that was distantly related to the languages of the Wichita, the Caddo (see entries), and the Arikara, three other tribes whose language were in the Caddoan family of languages. Caddo was related to the languages of the Sioux and the Iroquois (see entry). Caddoan speakers all made use of Great Plains sign language for communicating outside their tribal group.
In modern times, the Chaui, Kitkehahki, and the Pitahawirata speak the South Band dialect (variety of a language), while the Skidi band have their own dialect. Both of these dialects comprise the Pawnee language.
In 1997 the tribe began the Pawnee Language Program. They created computer programs to teach vocabulary and grammar to all ages. With funding from a grant they also developed a Teacher Training Program and the Language Nest Model to teach Pawnee to young children. Language teachers spend two to four hours every day speaking Pawnee in the classrooms at the Hukasa Child Learning Center. The children receiving this training are infants to five-year-olds; their families can also participate in additional language instruction. In this way the tribe hopes to revitalize the Pawnee language and pass on their culture to the next generation.
- asakis … “dog”
- eerit … “see”
- kiítsu’ … “water”
- páh … “moon”
- piíta … “man”
- raruuku … “sing”
- sakuru … “sun”
- tsápaat … “woman”
- árusa … “horse”
- kuúruks … “bear”
- katsiki … “fish”
- rútki … “snake”
In traditional times a Pawnee chief inherited his position from his father. Still, he had to prove he had the necessary knowledge and power to deserve the position. Pawnee leaders were respected for speaking in a quiet tone of voice, for leading in a wise, patient, and understanding manner, and for giving freely.
The tribe was organized by villages; each of which had its name, its shrine containing sacred objects, and its priests. It also had a hereditary chief and a council composed of the chiefs and leading men. Each chief had a herald who announced his orders.
Chiefs from the different villages made up a tribal council. Council meetings followed strict rules. Only certain people could speak, and attendance was limited to a few privileged men who watched the proceedings. The council made all major decisions for the tribe as a whole.
In modern times the tribe is governed by two eight-member governing bodies: the business council and the chiefs of the Nasharo Council. The bands chose their chiefs, while the entire tribe elects the president, vice-president, and secretary/treasurer of the business council.
The Pawnee relied on two different economies: the farming economy and the hunting economy based on the Plains buffalo. To produce the best crops, it was important to know when the spring planting should take place; this was the focus of the Ground-breaking Ceremony (see “Ground-Breaking Ceremony”).
The Pawnee way of life changed in the early 1700s with the introduction of guns and horses. The people came to rely on hunting to supply things that their crops could not give them, including meat and hides for clothing and shelter. They used all parts of the buffalo. Buffalo hair was braided into rope, horns were made into spoons and tools, and the animals’ shoulder blades were used as hoes.
As of 2007 the tribe gets most of its money from government grants and contracts, as well as from leasing tribal land for agricultural use and for oil and gas exploration. Additional revenue comes from their casino and trading post. The tribe also signed an agreement to build an ethanol (an alcohol-based fuel) plant. Individual Pawnee people make their living in many different occupations.
The oldest woman was the most important person in a family or in a household. Women raised the children, did the farming and the cooking, and made bowls, spoons, and other utensils. Men hunted, made war, fashioned weapons such as bows and arrows, went on twice-yearly buffalo hunts, and served as chiefs or healers. Since a Pawnee man could have more than one wife, he did not always live with his children, but it was his job to provide them with food and other necessities. A woman might have more than one husband, but all her children considered themselves brothers and sisters.
Older women of the tribe watched the children while middle-aged women worked. Young single women learned their duties by helping and observing. Pawnee society was matrilineal, so tribal heritage was passed down through the mothers. Men generally had one of the following functions: medicine man and priest, hunter, or warrior. Although men and women had distinct jobs, they shared decision-making.
The Pawnee built two types of structures: earth lodges and tepees. They lived in earth lodges during the spring and fall while they were planting and harvesting their crops. They carried tepees with them on the buffalo hunt. Tepees were large, with eleven lodge poles, and could house up to eighteen people. They were made from buffalo hide and could be easily carried from place to place.
Earth lodges were made of dirt piled over a wooden framework of cottonwood and willow. They were well suited to the changing climate of the Great Plains, but they only lasted three to six years. They were also hard to build and maintain. It took the timber from four large trees and up to one hundred smaller trees or bushes to build one lodge.
Ten to twelve lodges made up a village, and each could shelter as many as ten related families. A lodge usually had a covered entryway, measuring about 12 feet (3.6 meters) high, 7 feet (2 meters) across, and 8 feet (2.5 meters) long. The entryway led to the main part of the circular dwelling, which was about 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter and about 15 feet (4.5 meters) high at the smoke hole in its center.
Both the earth lodge and the tepee were built according to Pawnee ideas of sacred architecture. They were miniature models of the universe, with the roof representing the sky overhead and the floor representing the earth underfoot. The four cedar logs holding up the roof stood for the four Pawnee clans, and a star shrine pointed to the West.
Each lodge or tepee had a sacred spot called the wi-haru, “the place of wonderful things.” The wi-haru represented Pawnee Paradise, where the corn was always ripe and the buffalo were always plentiful. It was always located along the western wall of the dwelling and included an altar with a buffalo skull and the family’s sacred bundle (see “Sacred bundles and secret societies”).
Clothing and adornment
The Pawnee made most of their clothing from buckskin. Women wore leather dresses or wrap skirts, adding leggings and overblouses in winter. Men wore leather breechcloths (garments with front and back flaps that hung from the waist), loose shirts, and leather leggings. They wore two belts. One held up their clothes; the other held necessities, such as a tomahawk, knife, pipe, and tobacco. Men carried buffalo robes to impress visitors with their power and status. The quality of a man’s hide shirt, with its decorations of quillwork, scalps, or skins, also showed his status.
Shirts and robes were decorated with moons, suns, or stars to represent the tribe’s special relationship with the heavens. Otter hide moccasins were usually left plain, although they might be decorated for special ceremonies, such as burials or warfare. Men sometimes wore turbans of hide or cloth. On special occasions, they wore war bonnets adorned with suns, moons, and stars. Both men and women pierced their ears and wore ornate beaded earrings.
On their farmland in the fertile river valleys of Kansas and Nebraska, the Pawnee raised ten to fifteen different kinds of corn, eight kinds of beans, and seven kinds of pumpkins and squash, as well as watermelons, sunflowers, and tobacco. They also harvested a grain similar to modern wild rice. The village chief assigned plots of land to various families.
Excellent hunters, the Pawnee shot raccoon, skunk, quail, and prairie chickens with bows and arrows. When they caught buffalo, the Pawnee, who in later times were often near starvation, would gorge on hunks of the roasted or baked meat. The tribe used all parts of the buffalo, including the stomach lining, which made strong waterproof vessels and water pails.
Pawnee Ground Roast Pound Meat with Pecans
Author E. Barrie Kavasch spent time with the Pawnee of north-central Oklahoma. He noted that the Pawnee are known for their generosity and for the skill of their drummers and dancers. Their celebrations, accompanied by traditional Pawnee foods, draw large crowds. One Pawnee specialty, ground roast pound meat with pecans, is a favorite festival food. At one time the dish was prepared with buffalo. Today beef replaces buffalo.
- 1 (5-pound) lean rump roast
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 pounds shelled pecan halves
- 1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the roast, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, in a well-greased roasting pan and roast for 50 to 60 minutes until moderately well done. Remove roast and allow to stand and cool for 30 minutes.
Lower the oven to 325°. Cut cooked roast into large chunks, and feed, one by one, through a hand grinder. Coarsely grind the beef and spread it in another broad roasting pan. Place the first roasting pan [on a stove burner] over low heat and [add] the 1 cup of warm water, stirring and scraping all the meat residue from the pan sides and bottom to make a broth [a procedure called deglazing]. Simmer for about 10 minutes while stirring. Pour the broth over the ground meat in the second roasting pan, then sprinkle the meat mixture with the pecan halves. Season overall with sugar, salt, and pepper.
Place this pan in the 325° oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once to blend thoroughly. Serve hot and enjoy with other festival foods. This is especially delicious with hot corn and squash.
Kavasch, E. Barrie. Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1995, p. 76-7.
Grandparents were the primary teachers of Pawnee children, instructing them in the tasks of tribal life. Grandmothers also took care of children’s daily needs and gave them toys and treats. Grandfathers joked with their grandchildren and sometimes took the boys outside on a winter morning, occasionally dumping them into the snow or into a stream to “toughen them up.” Uncles taught the boys to hunt, fight, and make tools. Girls learned from women how to take care of the lodge and work in the fields.
From childhood, tribal members were treated as independent, respected persons who were expected to be self-reliant. Children were taught to share their goods with others, a lesson that produced adults without the strong sense of personal possessions, unlike many modern societies.
In the early twenty-first century most Pawnee students attend area public schools. In 2005 the tribe opened the Hukasa Child Learning Center and Pawnee Nation College. A language program plays an important part in the curriculum at both schools (see “Language”), and college students can learn more about their culture through the American Indian Studies Program.
The Pawnee had two separate types of “medicine men”: holy men who maintained the tribal relationship with Tirawa, the Creator, and the other gods; and shaman (pronounced SHAH-mun or SHAY-mun ) who maintained the tribal relationship with animals and the natural world. The shaman were organized into eight “doctor groups,” and each had its own unique healing ceremonies. Each group conducted at least two healing ceremonies every year and took part in “mesmerizing contests,” where they demonstrated their skills in hypnotizing people.
Only members of the doctor groups could practice the healing arts. Others who did so were considered witches and were treated with contempt. In modern times tribal members receive health care services through the U.S. Public Health Service Clinic.
Pawnee people enjoyed decorating their homes, tools, and clothing with colorful feathers, beads, and paint. Porcupine quills were a favorite material. Quills were dyed various colors, then woven or sewn into designs on clothing, hunting shields, and other objects. In later years crafters also used European glass beads. Paintings were done on a variety of surfaces, ranging from buffalo hides to the painter’s body. They often depicted important events or battles, as well as images of the land, sky, and stars.
>The Fast Runners
Native Americans often told tales to explain why animals had certain physical features. In this story the Pawnee explain why an antelope has a gall bladder (a small sac on the liver that stores bile for digesting food), while a deer does not. And why a deer has dew claws (short hoofs or claws on the back of the leg that do not touch the ground), but an antelope does not. Many versions of this story begin with two children examining the carcasses of the two animals and questioning their mother about the differences.
Once long ago, the antelope and the deer met on the prairie. At this time both of them had galls and both dew claws: They began to talk together, and each was telling the other what he could do. Each one told how fast he could run, and before long they were disputing as to which could run the faster. Neither would allow that the other could beat him, so they agreed that they would have a race to decide which was the swifter, and they bet their galls on the race. When they ran, the antelope proved the faster runner, and beat the deer and took his gall.
Then the deer said, ‘Yes, you have beaten me on the prairie, but that is not where I live. I only go out there sometimes to feed, or when I am travelling around. We ought to have another race in the timber. That is my home, and there I can run faster than you can.’
The antelope felt very big because he had beaten the deer in the race, and he thought wherever they might be, he could run faster than the deer. So he agreed to race in the timber, and on this race they bet their dew claws.
They ran through the thick timber, among the brush and over fallen logs, and this time the antelope ran slowly because he was not used to this kind of traveling, and the deer easily beat him, and took his dew claws.
Since then the deer has had no gall, and the antelope no dew claws.
McNeese, Tim. Illustrated Myths of Native America: The Southwest, Western Range, Pacific Northwest, and California. London: Blandford, 1999.
Much has been written about Pawnee practices because four Pawnee men—James Murie, Roaming Scout, He Arrives in the Lead, and Mark Evarts—cooperated with American anthropologists (people who study the cultures of various peoples) to record and preserve many Pawnee traditions.
War and hunting rituals
The main objective of most Pawnee attacks was to steal horses. When they did raid enemy villages, they approached quietly in the night and swept off with herds of horses. Sometimes they cut off scalps of the enemy as war trophies.
The Buffalo Dance was held to ensure that a hunt would result in a large kill. Painted dancers, carrying spears and wearing large buffalo masks, reenacted a hunt. Moving to the beat of a drum that represented the beating heart of the Pawnee hunter, a dancer circled the fire until a blunt arrow shot by another dancer hit him. Then the buffalo dancer collapsed and was dragged out of the circle. Non-dancing participants pretended to skin and butcher the dead “buffalo,” but in the end released him.
All Pawnee buffalo hunts were supervised by a society called the Hunt Police, who kept the people in order so the animals would not be frightened and stampede. The Hunt Police seized and beat anyone who disturbed the silence.
At the onset of menstruation a girl moved into a separate lodge with her grandmother. Afterwards the grandmother bathed and clothed the girl, then purified her with cedar smoke. A Pawnee boy did not wear clothes until he reached puberty. At that time he moved in with his uncle’s wife, who taught him about sex. The uncle decided when the boy was ready for marriage and might even select the boy’s wife.
Courtship and marriage
Girls who had learned how to care for a home and family were considered ready to marry at about age fifteen. Boys often married when they were about eighteen. Marriages were often informal. If a family approved of a boy, he could move into the girl’s home. Although a man might have more than one wife, he usually married his wife’s sister.
When his wife went into labor, a husband unbraided his hair and went to a lodge for four days. After the placenta (the cord that attaches to an infant’s navel, or bellybutton, and nourishes the fetus in the mother’s womb) was cut, it was placed in a special buckskin pouch.
Festivals and ceremonies
The Ground-Breaking Ceremony
Each year the time to plant was determined through a Pawnee ritual known as the Ground-Breaking Ceremony. This was the only Pawnee ritual in which women played a major role.
A woman who had a wintertime dream about planting reported it to the priests of the tribe. If they decided the dream was inspired by Tirawa, they pronounced the woman and her family the sponsors of the Ground-Breaking Ceremony.
Shortly after the first budding of the willows in spring, the woman performed a special dance to launch the annual planting. The tribe devoted the following day to ceremonies and rituals describing the process of planting and caring for the crops, especially corn. For the next six days the entire tribe worked to weed and plant the crops.
Morning Star Ceremony
The most famous Pawnee rite was the Morning Star ceremony, in which the Pawnee sacrificed a young girl to the Morning Star god to thank him for creating the tribe. The ceremony began when a warrior had a special dream about Morning Star. He then went before the priests of the tribe, who gave him permission to kidnap a young girl of about thirteen from another tribe—usually a Sioux band, according to tradition.
The warrior carried the girl back to his village, where she was tenderly cared for until the time for the ceremony came. The warrior placed her on a platform. As the Sun rose, a priest shot her through the heart with an arrow. Then every male in the tribe, even the youngest, shot the girl’s body with arrows. Pawnee chief Petalésharo (c. 1797–c. 1832) ended this practice in 1817. He interrupted a ceremony and freed the young woman before she could be sacrificed, giving her food and a horse so she could return to her own people.
Another popular ceremony was the Harvest Festival. It lasted for twenty nights and featured chanting, music, and performances by magicians and clowns. White people who witnessed the performance reported seeing fantastic sights like the sudden appearance of people dressed as bears and other animals who chased and mangled people to death. The “dead” people were then cured by shamans and arose unharmed.
Every year since 1946 the Pawnee nation has hosted the Pawnee Indian Veteran’s Homecoming around the Fourth of July, where all members of the tribe are welcome to return to their traditional homelands. Dressed in Native clothing, they play Pawnee games and do tribal dances.
Current tribal issues
Like other Native peoples, after years of poverty and the shattering of traditions by government policy, the Pawnee face such problems as alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, child neglect, and hunger. The tribe has developed some effective ways to deal with these social problems. These include health, substance abuse, and community services programs, as well as programs that deal with child welfare and the feeding of the elderly.
Dealing with the remains of deceased tribal members that are displayed at museums and in private collections is also an issue. The Pawnee Tribal Business Council has developed a process for bringing their ancestors’ bones back to the reservation. They see that the remains are buried appropriately.
The self-taught Pawnee artist Charles W. Chapman (1944–) attracted attention during the mid-1980s for his dramatic portraits of Native Americans. For many years Chapman had been employed primarily as a horse breeder, rodeo rider, and construction worker. His artwork draws on his Pawnee heritage, usually depicting shamans, warriors, scouts, and hunters in their Native dress. He has won many awards for his art.
Other notable Pawnee include: attorney and Native American rights activist John E. Echohawk (1945–), who also serves as executive director of the Native American Rights Fund; attorney Walter R. Echo-Hawk (1948–), a tribal judge, scholar, writer, and activist; and chief Petalésharo (c. 1797–c. 1832), who was honored as a great warrior because he tried to make conditions better for all human beings, Native or white.
Fradin, Dennis B. The Pawnee. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1988.
Kallen, Stuart A. The Pawnee. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001.
Lesser, Alexander. The Pawnee Ghost Dance Hand Game: Ghost Dance Revival and Ethnic Identity. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
Linton, Ralph. Purification of the Sacred Bundles: A Ceremony of the Pawnee. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History, 1923.
Hahn, Elizabeth. The Pawnee. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Publications, Inc., 1992.
Myers, Arthur. The Pawnee. New York: Franklin Watts, 1993.
Spence, Lewis. Myths and Legends of the North American Indians. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 1997.
Kavanaugh, Thomas W. “Reading Historic Photographs: Photographers of the Pawnee.” Indiana University. (accessed on August 6, 2007).
“Pawnee.” Four Directions Institute. (accessed on August 6, 2007).
“Pawnee Indian Museum.” Kansas State Historical Society. (accessed on August 6, 2007).
Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. (accessed on August 6, 2007).
Gordon L. Pullar, Director, Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development College of Rural and Community Development, UAF, Anchorage, Alaska
Brian Wescott (Athabaskan/Yup’ik)
Amanda Beresford McCarthy
"Pawnee." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pawnee-0
"Pawnee." U*X*L Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pawnee-0