Settling the Land Between Two Rivers
It is common for Pawnees today to portray Pawnee removal from Nebraska to Oklahoma during the 1870s as an instance of racial Indians being compelled to bow to racist American pressures. This interpretive emphasis makes effective use of well-documented incidents in which the Pawnees in Nebraska found themselves confronted by the growing power of American settlers – oppressive and racist incidents that were greatly resented by the Pawnees of that time.
To make sense of history, it is important for storytelling to help people understand how the past has shaped the present, and Pawnee removal serves as one of a handful of events that set the course of Pawnee history in recent centuries. In the discussion below, I outline what the course of events looked like to the Pawnees as they entered their new homeland in Oklahoma, and I offer a few thoughts on what this story signifies as a matter of history.
The vast majority of Pawnees removed to Oklahoma in two groups in 1873 and 1874.1 The third (and last) group of Pawnees left Nebraska in late 1875 under the leadership of Baptiste Bayhylle. This final group consisted mainly of Skidis.2
The Pawnees came together on their new reservation in Oklahoma in 1876. The first and second groups of Pawnees had gone to live among the Wichitas, and when the Pawnees chose the site of their new reservation, several hundred Pawnees remained behind to harvest their fields of corn among the Wichita. The four Pawnee bands initially settled near the new agency headquarters on Black Bear Creek during the winter of 1875-1876, later moving out to occupy different regions of the reservation, which was bounded on the north by the Arkansas River and on the south by the Cimarron River.
A Skidi woman, Nora Phillips, remembered, “When we first came to this country in the winter time[, w]e were camped in the bottom, the whole tribe.” 3 Born a generation later, Susan Coons often heard descriptions of the first coming of the Pawnees to Black Bear Creek: “When the people arrived in Oklahoma, the people were all camped at the Agency – so many people that their camps were spread out even down to the Fairgrounds.” 4
The Kitkahahki set up camps west of the new agency. One Kitkahahki woman, Annie Keller, recalled in 1933 that, “It was some little time before allotment  when we lived out west of Pawnee.” 5 Another Kitkahahki, White Elk, reminisced about this period, describing how “one time we were west of Pawnee and we were sitting there in a tent at Hu-ra-ka’s tepee.” 6
Jesse Peters, a son of Kitkahahki George, testified in 1933 that he was about age one when his family removed to Oklahoma, and he remembered Hu-ra-ka, who “died quite a number of years ago, a long time ago, before the allotments were made [in 1892].” 7 Peters remembered seeing Hu-ra-ka and High Eagle in an earthlodge: “[W]e used to live out west and camped there and that is where I saw them... we had a mud lodge there.” Thomas T. Rice, whose father, A-we-te-kay or Tom Rice, was a brother to Kitkahahki George, also remembered seeing Hu-ra-ka “among the Kit-ka-hocks” when they dwelt “[a]bout three miles west of [the agency].” 8 In the years following removal to Oklahoma, the Kitkahahkis spread from this initial settlement area to colonize other portions of the southern half of the reservation. But during the 1880s, this locale west of the agency continued to host Kitkahahki families, and the community consisted of camps and at least one earthlodge.
The camps of the Chaui Pawnees extended up to the agency on both banks of Black Bear Creek during this period.9 According to Julia Calico, Sadie Blue Hawk had a tent “[j]ust when we cross the bridge going to town, on the north side [meaning on the side of the creek within the present-day city limits]....” 10 Calico also observed that at that time she resided “in Sitting Bull’s tent....” 11 Another Chaui, U. S. Grant, removed to Oklahoma among the third group of Pawnees, and he described the location of his family’s camp during 1876: “[S]omewhere along in May we camped there [across Black Bear Creek from the present-day Pawnee Agency] in May and we staid there that summer, until along in Oct[ober] we left that place and went into this timber across the creek [on the Agency side] and that same winter of 1876.” 12
The families probably all moved their camps occasionally during this period. Grant further noted that he herded horses belonging to Kate Hawk Chief’s grandmother, and for payment they fed him supper: “It was along in June when the corn was just commencing to tassel out and they got me to herd their ponies and every evening they always invite me, that is all that I got the worth of my work.” 13 He also recalled that he was “sick, awfully sick” that fall. Pete Fancy Rider apparently lived in his sister’s tent, and another Chaui woman, Jane Hyson, lived nearby, as she reported: “It wasn’t very far.... Pete’s tent was about as far as this fence and those trees out there (indicating a distance of about 67 ft.).” 14 She recalled, “We lived there together all winter”; then in the fall of 1876, her family “camped over here at the race tract....”
The Skidis camped at the present location of the Pawnee Agency when they first arrived in Oklahoma. John Buffalo testified in 1913 that he came down with the third group of Pawnees in the fall of 1875 and “we were all camped back of the school house. I had my tent there and my tent was red....” 15 Skidi families soon spread out northward and eastward from the agency.
The Pawnees established new communities and camps in various locations across their reservation. The Pitahawiratas lived with the Chauis in 1876,16 but they soon settled several miles to the south of the Pawnee Agency. According to James R. Murie, within several years of their arrival at the new reservation “the Pet-a-how-e-rats had their village on Hannah Doctor Chief’s allotment.” 17 Two Kitkahahki brothers, Frank White and Charlie White, established a settlement on Lagoon Creek southeast of Pawnee Agency; Frank White, who became famous as the leading Pawnee Ghost Dance Prophet, lived in a “yellow house.” 18 Murie also mentioned the presence of a Skidi community on the Arkansas River by January or February of 1877:
There was some Skedees living out there. Lone Chief was the head of the party of that village and he was really the head chief of the Skedees at that time, and really was one of the greatest men we had. And when he died this Comanche Chief wanted the Skedee scouts to know it and the whole village died out there.19
During 1876, the Pawnees suffered greatly from illness, and many died. The following narrative told by Nora Pratt in 1982 describes the removal of the Skidis from Nebraska and the impact of the epidemic which struck the Pawnee camps after they settled on their new reservation in Oklahoma Indian Territory:
My mother was Lucy Tilden, and she was 107 years old when she passed away in 1965. Everyone knew her as “Grandma Tilden.” She was Skidi, and she and my brother were members of Pahukstatu Clan, Pumpkin Vine. My father, Ezra Tilden, put me and my half-sister into his clan, Tuhwahukasa, Camping On a Hill Clan. My father was also part Kitkahahki and Pitahawirata, and we used to have a lot of visitors from down south.
I call my mother’s family the Washingtons, even though there were a number of names among the different family members and they all had Indian names in Nebraska. Several families were related together. The Lone Chiefs, for instance, are connected to us. A lot of us are related.
I call my grandmother, “Grandma Washington”; she had a mud lodge right up here on the hill. After she passed away, my mother stayed with Lizzie Washington, her aunt. I remember my mother and some of the others used to always talk about a George Washington. One family member might have been named that – but whether he was one of the uncles or my grandmother’s husband, I don’t know. But they used to always talk about a George Washington. That’s who my mother and the others got their name from.
It got too rough for them in Nebraska, so they came down here. They said that before they left Genoa, they had made big dug-outs and they put their potatoes and corn and pumpkins and some of their things in there. They said, “We’ll come back; if we get down there and don’t like it, we’ll come back.” I guess the oldest one, the family leader, died on the way down, and the next one took over.
My mother said that when they got here, the grass was tall. They camped up where that Drive-in theater is [north of the Agency headquarters, near the present Pawnee Lake], and down through that valley and up this way. They camped in groups. After they got here, that fever struck them. My mother said that there was a doctor – they had a doctor [at the Agency]. He would come on a horse and he’d go to these camps and give them – I guess it was quinine. They said it was bitter and I guess that’s all they ever had. They said that sometimes, in one of those tipis or tents, all of the people would be dead.
That’s why my mother’s family wanted to go back north. They said, “We don’t like this country, so we’re going back up there to Nebraska.” So they started, and they got as far as Ralston somewhere. Then the leader got sick up there and passed away.20 That ended their trip back home, back to Nebraska. We would have been Northern Pawnees if they had made it back.21
During the months after arrival in Oklahoma and initial settlement at the Agency, the Skidi began to disperse into camps north of the Black Bear Creek and northwest of the new Agency headquarters. Some Skidis under the leadership of Lone Chief moved to the north end of the reservation, perhaps during the summer of 1876.
Illness devastated many Pawnee families during the year after settling in the new Pawnee homeland between the Arkansas River and the Cimarron River. Hundreds of people were swept away by “ague” and “malarial” diseases. And the effects of disease were magnified by economic distress. Removal demolished the Pawnee economy, forcing the tribe to rely on funds from the sale of their Nebraska reservation.
I have heard Pawnees make comments that treat Pawnee removal as another Indian Trail of Tears. The most direct outcome of this popular narrative emphasis is to attach Pawnees to the social production of American racialism. As Pawnee Indians, the Pawnee people adhere to the tenets of racial Indianhood, and the Trail of Tears version of Pawnee removal produces a rewarding bond with other Indians.
The story of Pawnee removal does speak of racial injustice, but it also tells us that the Pawnees responded to American oppression by empowering themselves. They made their own decisions about their fate as a people. Pawnee removal was not imposed on the Pawnees by American military might or as a deliberate result of US federal policy. It was adopted by the Pawnees as a drastic measure to hold Americans at arm’s length, and it succeeded in temporarily slowing the pace of interactions between the two peoples.
Even so, throughout the 19th century the United States and the Pawnee Confederacy became steadily enmeshed in an ever-expanding variety of political, economic, and cultural interfaces. New configurations of culture were set in motion, conjointly shaped by both Pawnees and Americans, giving rise to a new social world in which the intentions of American racialism would set the agenda for the makings of personal identity and Pawnee communal identity.
An Indianized version of Pawnee removal became pressed into service as an effective means of promoting this configuration of society. And in this version of history, the assertion of social power by Pawnees making their own choices came to matter less than the tale of how American adherents to racial whiteness victimized and dispossessed Pawnee adherents to racial Indianhood. As a key outcome, this race-based storytelling has promoted an unquestioned allegiance to the making and passing along of American racial ideology.
By the time Pawnee removal occurred, the notions of race had become firmly enshrined in Pawnee lifeways. And in the years that followed removal, the traditions of racialism created a fundamental and very powerful social reality that the Pawnee people took to heart. Passing along racial identity, generations of Pawnees found it useful to hand down versions of history that helped to perpetuate the tenets and structures of American racialism.
The Pawnee Nation today is an Indian nation. This reality has a history – a past that explains the present. Setting forth into the future, the Pawnee people long ago left their ancient Central Plains homeland for Indian Territory, and there would be no turning back from the storytelling that followed.
This is the true meaning of the tale that the Pawnees tell today about Pawnee removal.
I included the original version of the main body of this paper in Roger Echo-Hawk, Children of the Seven Brothers (February 1998), in Book One: Kindred of the Seventh Son, “Chapter One: The Ancestry and Life of Echo Hawk,” p. 19-23.
An excellent book on Pawnee removal is Martha Royce Blaine, Pawnee Passage, 1870-1875, 1990, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Susan Coons, “Baptiste Bayhylle and the Pawnee Removal,” told to Esther Heskett in 1973 and edited by Roger Echo-Hawk, Rolling Stock, # , 1987:11.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of Nora Phillips, p. 70.
Susan Coons, “Baptiste Bayhylle and the Pawnee Removal,” told to Esther Heskett in 1973 and edited by Roger Echo-Hawk, Rolling Stock, # , 1987:11.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 719 High Eagle, 4/17/1933 testimony of Anna Sutton Keller Eustis Knifechief, p. 4.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 719 High Eagle, 4/17/1933 testimony of White Elk, p. 1. White Elk went on to describe comments made by Hu-ra-ka: “Then Hu-ra-ka got pretty sore because High Eagle had left and he said that he had one son, meaning High Eagle, that wasn’t very good and that he wouldn’t even look after the horses around there that some of his brothers and sisters had.”
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 719 High Eagle, 4/18/1933 testimony of Jesse Peters, p. 3.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 719 High Eagle, 4/17/1933 testimony of Thomas T. Rice, p. 3.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 6/12/1913 testimony of William Mathews, p. 99. Mathews recalled that he lived at the location where the school house was built, and said, “We all camped there Chowee band.” He came to Oklahoma with the third group of Pawnees in 1875.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of Julia Calico, p. 36. She reported that in Nebraska she lived in the same earthlodge as Pete Fancy Rider, who left Nebraska in 1873 with the first group of Pawnees, while she came the next year with the second group. Another Chaui woman, Fannie Jim, mentioned that she lived in a tent located about 150 feet away from Sadie Blue Hawk’s tent (p. 80), and then “along in the fall we went into the timber” (p. 83). Several years later, however, Fannie had moved to dwell among the Pitahawirata (p. 85).
Sitting Bull was a prominent Chaui priest who later worked with James R. Murie and Alice Fletcher to record a description of the Chaui Pipe Dance. Julia Calico was recalled for additional testimony on May 12, 1913, and she identified the location of her camp in the summer of 1876 as “where Charlie Knife Chief lives [in 1913]” (p. 60).
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533, 1913 testimony of U. S. Grant, p. 39. Grant testified that he was “55 years old.”
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533, 1913 testimony of U. S. Grant, p. 47.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of Jane Hyson, p. 55.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of John Buffalo, p. 65-B. Nora Phillips said that she lived with John Buffalo and his wife and “another old lady” at this time (p. 71).
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of Fannie Jim, p. 87; Fannie Jim testimony, p. 146: “Right where the school building is, the Chowee used to live on one side and the Pet-ahow-e-rats on the other.”
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of James R. Murie, p. 66. Hannah Doctor Chief’s 1892 allotment was on the north side of Camp Creek. Murie testified that he came to Oklahoma with the third group of Pawnees.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 6/13/1913 testimony of Ivy Fox, p. 92.
Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Realty Office, Allotment File 533 Pete Fancy Rider, 1913 testimony of James R. Murie, p. 68. This “Lone Chief” was probably the “Skurararesharu” described by John B. Dunbar as “the second chief of his band” who died in 1876 (Dunbar, “The Pawnee Indians: Their Habits and Customs,” Magazine of American History, volume 8, Part II, # 11, November 1882:754-755). Comanche Chief requested Murie to write a letter with this information to the Pawnee Scouts.
This was probably Skurararesharu, who may have been Lizzie Washington Box’s sibling since one document lists the name of her brother as “Ska-lah-lay-sah-lu” (Pawnee Agency, Oklahoma, Individual History Card, Lizzie Washington Box).
Nora Pratt 1/1/1982 interview with Roger Echo-Hawk at her house near Pawnee, Oklahoma.