The Pawnee Indians - Farmers on the Plains
The Pawnee, who
are sometimes called Paneassa, historically lived along the Platte River
in what is now
Nebraska. The name is probably derived
from the word "parika,” meaning "horn,” a term used to designate the
peculiar manner of dressing the scalp-lock, by which the hair was
stiffened with paint and fat, and made to stand erect and curved like a
horn. The Pawnee called themselves Chahiksichahiks, meaning "men of men.”
Descended from Caddoan linguistic stock, the
unlike most of the Plains
as their villages tended to be permanent. Originally, they were an
agricultural people, growing maize, beans, pumpkins and squash. With
the coming of the horse, they did begin to hunt
but it always remained secondary to agriculture.
Confederacy was divided into the following four bands:
Chaui - Grand
Kitkehaki - Republican Pawnee
Skidi – Loup or Wolf Pawnee
Warriors, photo by John Carbutt, 1866.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
The Chaui are
generally recognized as being the leading band although each band was
autonomous, seeing to its own until outside pressures from the
Europeans and neighboring tribes saw the Pawnee
drawing closer together.
Living in large oval lodges formed of
posts, willow branches, grass and earth, as many as 30-50 people would
live in the same lodge. Each village would consist of about
Twice a year the
tribe went on a
buffalo hunt and on their return the inhabitants of the lodges
would often move into another lodge, although they generally remained
within the village. The Pawnee
were a matriarchal people with descent recognized through the mother. When a young couple married, they would traditionally move into the
bride's parents' lodge. Women were active in political life although
men would take decision making responsibilities.
were a spiritual people, placing great significance on Sacred Bundles,
which formed the basis of many religious ceremonies maintaining the
balance of nature and the relationship with the gods and spirits. The
were not however followers of the Sun Dance although they did fall
victim to the
Dance phenomenon of the 1890s. They equated the stars with the
gods and planted their crops according to the position of the stars.
Like many tribal units they sacrificed maize and other crops.
There are also references
of human sacrifice right up until the mid eighteenth century, where a book
refers to a Lakota captive who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows.
She was thought to be the last human sacrifice performed by the Pawnee.
The first European to see
a Pawnee was
Francisco Vásquez de Coronado while visiting the neighboring Wichita
in 1541. There, he encountered a Pawnee chief
from Harahey, a place located north of
Nebraska. Little more is
known about the Pawnees until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when successive
expeditions of Spanish, French and English settlers attempted to enlarge
their territory. It was at this time that
hunters first saw horses, racing back to camp, eager to describe the tall,
bizarre "man-beasts" they had seen—creatures with four legs, long tails,
hairy faces, and clothing that gleamed like sun on the water.
While expanding their
territories, the first Europeans traded with the
present-day Kansas and Nebraska and the various
established loyalties to the different colonial powers according to each
band's best interest.
By the early 19th
Pawnee were thought to have numbered between 10,000 and 12,000. In 1818 the
Pawnee agreed to the first in a long series of treaties that would
eventually culminate in land cessions and placement of the
Pawnee on Nebraska reservations in 1857 and
in 1875. In spite of governmental control on the reservations, the Pawnee
tried to maintain their tribal structure and traditions.
Many Pawnee men joined the US cavalry as scouts rather than face life on
the reservations and the inevitable loss of their freedom and culture. By
the year 1900, Christianity had replaced the Pawnee's older religion and
smallpox, cholera, warfare and devastating reservation conditions had
reduced their number to only about 600.
The Oklahoma Indian
Welfare Act of 1936 established the
Business Council, the Nasharo (Chiefs) Council, and a tribal constitution,
bylaws, and charter. An out of court settlement in 1964 awarded the
$7,316,096.55 for undervalued ceded land from the previous century.
Today, the Pawnee
still celebrate their culture and meet twice a year for the inter-tribal
gathering with their kinsmen, the Wichita
A four day Pawnee Indian Veterans Homecoming & Powwow is held in Pawnee,
Oklahoma each July. Many Pawnee return
to their traditional lands to visit relatives, display at craft shows, and take part
in powwows. As of 2002, there are approximately 2500 Pawnee , most
of them located in Pawnee
of America, updated June, 2017.
Scouts, photograph by
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