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Return to Pawnee Tales

Defeat of the Pawnee by the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche

Oral tradition told by George Shooter
to George Dorsey and James R. Murie
American Anthropologist, volume 8, April-June 1906, page 337-340

One night a warrior sat in his lodge with many friends about him listening to his experiences while on the war-path. As the night wore on and he continued to tell of his exploits, a great longing seized him and he asked his friends if they would accompany him the next morning, for he had decided to start on the war-path again. On that same night three other warriors sat in their lodges and told their friends of their own experiences in war, and a great longing to fight filled the breast of each of these warriors; then they asked their friends to go with them on the morrow, for they too had decided to start on the war-path again. Before the break of day the four warriors and their men were on the way to the country of the enemy. During the day scouts from each party met and at night the four parties came together. The scouts resented the presence of one another, for every scout preferred to have the country to himself, but the four leaders joined forces and traveled together to the enemy’s country.
One day the leaders sat down in a valley and sent out men to kill buffalo. The men went out, killed a buffalo, and started to skin it. When they had it about half skinned, the buffalo rolled over, jumped up, and ran away with its skin flapping up and down. The men were dumb with astonishment for a time; then they went on and killed another buffalo, skinned it, cut up the meat and took it to camp where the leaders were. While they were roasting the meat, the men who had been out to kill buffalo told the leaders about the buffalo that was nearly skinned when it jumped up and ran away from them. One of the leading warriors said to the other leading warriors: “This is a very bad omen; tomorrow I shall leave you three warriors to go your way with your parties, and I will go with my party to another country.” The other warriors spoke up and said that there was no danger and that they should all go together. All the warriors stayed at the place over night, but the next morning the warrior who said that he was going to leave started out toward the north with his men. They had gone but a short distance when the other companies sent four scouts to look over the country and see whether there were any signs of enemies. The scout who started first told the other three scouts that he would go ahead; that if he should fail another should follow, and then the other one.
When the first scout had climbed a high hill on the south side, the main body were looking at him. Just as he was about to stand up, for he had been crawling up the hill, a man on horseback came up the other side so that they saw each other at the same time. The man afoot crawled back. The man on horseback turned around and went back whence he came. Then the first scout gave a sign to the second that he (the first) had been seen; then the second scout gave the sign that the enemy had seen their scout, to the third scout, who passed in on to the fourth. The fourth man ran to the place where the main company of warriors was and told them that the first warrior had given a sign to the second, and the second to the third, and the third to himself, that an enemy had seen the first scout. The war-party slipped quietly away into a thickly timbered country and there they stayed. The other three scouts then stopped crawling and stood up and walked toward the place where the leaders and their warriors were in hiding. While they were walking over the prairie, several men on horseback came over the hill, saw them, turned their horses about, and disappeared over the hill. In a few seconds the enemy all came over the hill on horseback. They whipped up their ponies and rode toward the timber.
In the meantime the other leader who had gone had turned back with his company and joined the main body of warriors, and all the warriors were putting on their war clothing. There was one young man who put on a wolf robe, seized his bow and arrows, jumped up in front of the leader and the men, and said: “Leader, to-day the Wolf-man shall defend you and your men!” Then he went back and sat down. Then another young man jumped up and stood before the leader. This man had a bear robe about his shoulders. He said: “Leader and men, to-day the Bear-man shall defend you!” When he sat down, another man, who had a buffalo robe about him, stood up before the leader and said: “To-day Young-Bull shall defend you and these men!” He sat down and another man, with a coyote robe on, stood up and said: “Leader, to-day the Coyote-man shall protect and fight for you!”
During this time the enemy were rapidly approaching on horseback. The four leaders then arrayed their men in a line and said that all the men should fight for their leaders. The enemy came and they were many. As they rode up, the four men jumped up on a bank and fought them, killing several and driving them back. Again the enemy made a charge and the warriors beat them off again. Again the enemy made an attack upon the warriors and again they were driven back.
About this time a man called out from the distance. The warriors looked and saw many men on horseback coming from another direction. The man who had hallooed to them, called out, saying: “My brothers, Pawnee, we are Comanche; the Cheyenne and Arapaho are fighting you; you have driven them back four times; now we will stand here and watch you fight, but we will not take part, since you are our brothers.” When the Comanche finished speaking, some one from the warrior crowd of Pawnee shot at him and hit him upon the forehead, killing him instantly. The Comanche were aroused at once, for the Pawnee had killed their chief in return for their offer of peace. They rode away and joined the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Then the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche all rode up to the Pawnee and surrounded them. The four warriors fought well. The Coyote-man, one of the four men who spoke, was killed. The enemy surrounded them, retreated, then rushed up again many times, but the Buffalo-man and the Bear-man held out against them for a long time. After a long time, the Bear-man saw that there was little hope for them and ordered the men to run into a ravine that extended up the hill side. They were surrounded in the ravine, for they did not know where to go. The Buffalo-man led the way, killing the enemies in front of him as he progressed. When the Buffalo-man had killed one man, another Pawnee caught the pony of the dead man, mounted it, and rode away. The Bear-man plunged ahead by fighting his way through the enemy, who closed in all sides, killing them on the right and on the left. The Bear-man brought up the rear and fought the enemy from behind.
The enemy had killed many Pawnee warriors, but the man they wanted very much to kill was the Buffalo-man. In those days it was customary for the Pawnee to have their hair roached, but the Buffalo-man had long hair; so the enemy wanted to kill him and take his scalp. The Buffalo-man and the Bear-man succeeded in getting the Pawnee through the line of the enemy, but out of the one hundred and twenty men only twenty were left.