Pawnee Indian Tribe

The Pawnee lands in Kansas were taken by the Government through treaties with the Kansas and Osages. The cession of the Pawnees in Kansas was insignificant. They had a much better title to Kansas west of the Blue than any other tribes. Irving found the remains of their towns on the Cimarron as late as 1832. Brower claimed to have traced them or their kindred from the Ozarks to the forks of the Kansas River. They lived on the Lower Neosho, in the vicinity of the present Vinita, in the time of Du Tisne. But they were despoiled by the agents of the Government, and their place in Kansas history was thereby circumscribed.

The name Pawnee, Dunbar tells us, comes from the word pá-rik-i, a horn. The tribal mark of the Pawnees was the scalp-lock. No other tribe had one like it. With the Pawnees the scalp-lock was bound about and held in a solid body by buffalo tallow and the paints used by the Indians. It was thus so stiffened that it stood erect. Sometimes it was curved back in the shape of the horn of a buffalo bull. It is said that the term, pá-rik-i, at one time embraced the Pawnee Picts, known to us now as the Wichita Indians.

The four bands of the Pawnees were known among themselves by the following names:

  1. Xau-i, or Grand Pawnees
  2. Kit-ke-hak-i, or Republican Pawnees
  3. Pit-a-hau-e-rat, or Tapage Pawnees
  4. Ski-di, or Loup Pawnees

The origin and meaning of some of these tribal designations are lost. Indeed, only the Pit-a-hau-e-rat signification is remembered, and is supposed to imply that the Tapage were the Noisy Pawnees. They were also known as the Smoky Hill Pawnees, having lived on that stream in what is now Kansas well down into historic times. In 1836 they pointed out to Mr. Dunbar the remains of their villages on the Smoky Hill. In 1719 there was a Pawnee town at the mouth of the Republican River—most probably a Tapage Pawnee town.

There were, among the Pawnees, the usual divisions of gentes, but the names of these cannot now be stated with certainty. Morgan gives the following as probable names of Pawnee gentes, but does not pretend that the list embraces all the gentes of the Pawnees as their organization originally existed:

  1. Bear
  2. Beaver
  3. Eagle
  4. Buffalo
  5. Deer
  6. Owl

The compact manner in which the Pawnees were always found, and which remained until recently, would seem to justify the conclusion that these gentes or clans extended through all four of the tribal divisions, as with the Iroquois. The chiefs of the band were the governing power, the individuals having little influence in tribal matters.

The principal expeditions to the country of the Pawnees in early times have been noted. In 1833 John T. Irving, Junior, went with Commissioner Ellsworth on a tour of the Indian country tributary to Fort Leavenworth, visiting the Pawnees. Later, he was present when the various tribes gathered at the fort to compose their differences. At that time he witnessed a Pawnee dance, his description of which is here given to show the savage nature of the Pawnees:

In the evening it was determined to bring the Delawares and the Pawnees together as friends, for as yet they had held no intercourse. A large fire was accordingly built before the outhouses in which the Pawnees had taken up their quarters, and the wild troop sallied forth, prepared to commence one of their national dances round the flame. A group of eight or ten savage-looking fellows seated themselves a little distance off, furnished with a drum and rattle. They commenced a song, accompanied by their rude instruments. For a time there was no movement among the Pawnees who stood huddled in a large, condensed crowd. Suddenly one of them, a tall muscular savage, sprang into the middle of the circle, and gazed around with a hurried air; then with a loud yell he commenced his dance. He jumped slowly round the fire, with a kind of zigzag step; at every leap uttering a deep guttural “Ugh!” occasionally accompanied with a rattling sound from the very bottom of his lungs. His comrades looked on silently, but with intense interest. They were a savage group; face and body begrimed with paint; their fierce features reflecting the flame, their teeth bared, and every brow knotted into a frown. Head rose behind head, and gleaming eyes were seen peering through the living mass, until those farthest off were hid by the darkness.

When the first warrior had made two or three circles about the fire, a second left the crowd, and sprang forward in the dance; a third followed, and a fourth, until about twenty were fitting swiftly round, and joining in the song. Occasionally they stopped short in their course, and uttered a loud shrill yell, which was taken up by the whole surrounding horde, until the very trees echoed to the sound. At one moment they moved swiftly forward, and at another their steps were slow and wearied. As we watched their fierce, earnest faces, the forms of some wrapped in shaggy robes, the painted bodies of others writhing in the dance, and then turned to the silent, and equally savage group of lookers-on, it required no great stretch of the imagination to fancy them a host of evil spirits, busied in fiendish revel.

While they were thus engaged, the crowd separated, and revealed a Delaware watching their movements. Behind him were about twenty more of the same tribe. No sooner had the Pawnees caught sight of them than they retired. Old prejudices could not be rooted out at once, and though the dancers remained at their employment, the rest of the tribe drew off in a sullen and haughty group, and stood watching the countenances of their quondam enemies.

This continued during the whole evening. As it grew late, group after group of the Pawnees left the fire, and retired into their dwelling. The Delawares soon followed their example; and although their visit had continued for several hours, I fear it did but little towards removing that ancient venom, which, in spite of their apparent friendship, was rankling in their hearts.

The treaty-scene between the Pawnee and the Kansa, as described by Irving, is worthy a place in any historic work:

The deliberations lasted during the whole day: for, as these Indians had no particular injuries to dwell upon, they confined themselves to things in general; and, as this was a subject that would bear to be expatiated upon, every man continued his address until he had exhausted his wind. The Pawnees listened with exemplary patience, though I doubt if there was one who regretted when the last speaker had finished.

The morning following, the Pawnees and the Kansas had a meeting to settle their difficulties. A large chamber in the garrison had been selected for the purpose. About ten o’clock in the forenoon they assembled. The two bands seated themselves upon long wooden benches, on opposite sides of the room. There was a strong contrast between them. The Kansas had a proud, noble air; and their white blankets, as they hung in loose and graceful folds around them, had the effect of classic drapery.

The Pawnees had no pride of dress. They were wrapped in shaggy robes, and sat in silence—wild and uncouth in their appearance, with scowling brows, and close pressed-mouths.

At length the speaking commenced. First rose the White Plume. He had boasted to his tribe that he would relate such things, in his speech, as should cause the Pawnees to wince. With true Indian cunning, at first, in order that he might conciliate the favorable opinion of those present, he spoke in praise of the whites—expressing his high opinion of them. After this, he gradually edged off into a philippic against the Pawnee nation, representing them as a mean and miserly race—perfidious and revengeful. There was a hushed silence among his own people as he spoke, and every eye was fastened upon the grim group opposite. The White Plume went on; and still the deepest silence reigned through the room; that of the Kansas arose from apprehension; the silence of the Pawnees was the hushed brooding of fury.

The chief of the Tappage village was sitting directly opposite the speaker; his eyes were dark as midnight; his teeth were bared, and both hands were tightly grasped round his own throat; but he remained silent until the speech had finished. When the White Plume had taken his seat, half a dozen Pawnees sprang to their feet but the Tappago chief waved them down; three times did he essay to speak, and as often did he fail. He rubbed his hand across his throat to keep down his anger; then stepping out, and fixing his eye on that of the Kansa chief, in the calm, quiet voice of smothered rage, he commenced his answer; he proceeded; he grew more and more excited—indulging in a vein of biting irony. The White Plume quailed, and his eye drooped beneath the searching, scornful glance of his wild enemy. Still the Pawnee went on; he represented the injury which first kindled the war between the two nations. “My young men,” said he, “visited the Kansas as friends; the Kansas treated them as enemies. They were strangers in the Kansa tribe, and the Kansas fell upon them and slew them, and concealed their death.” He then entered into the particulars of the quarrel, which, unfortunately for the Kansas, were strongly against them. The chief of the latter tribe received the answer with great philosophy; nor did he attempt to utter anything in reply. Perhaps, too, he did not wish to invite a second attack from so rough a quarter. When the Pawnee had finished, the Commissioner interposed, and after a short time harmony was restored, and several of the inferior chiefs made their harangues. They were of a more calm and conciliating nature, and gradually tended to sooth the inflamed feelings of their foes. The council lasted until sunset, when the terms of the treaty were finally adjusted.

On the 9th of October, 1833, the Confederated Pawnees—all the divisions of the tribe—ceded “all their right and title in and to all the land lying South of the Platte River.” This embraced but a small portion of Kansas—a triangular tract bounded on the south approximately by Prairie Dog Creek, and on the west by the east line of range thirty-seven.

So passed the Pawnees from their ancient heritage in the future State of Kansas.

Additional Pawnee History

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