floating worlds
Return to Pawnee Tales

Transmission of an Oral Tradition

Roger Echo-Hawk
April 2009

In the years after Pawnee removal, Baptiste Bayhylle recounted an incident that occurred when he led the last group of Pawnees from their ancient homeland in Nebraska to a new reservation in Oklahoma Indian Territory. The first group of Pawnees had left several years earlier in 1873, going to live among the Wichitas in southwestern Oklahoma. They were followed the next year by the main body of the tribe, and the final group left in the fall of 1875.
Emmet Pearson was a young boy, age nine or ten, when he accompanied this last group of Pawnees to Oklahoma. Becoming an adult, he heard his uncle speak of the trip and tell the poignant story of one of the incidents along the way – an encounter with what the Pawnees termed a kitsahuruksu. This unfortunate Pawnee man had been scalped. He was living in exile with a group of other such Pawnees along a nameless stream in northern Kansas. After Bayhylle’s death, Pearson kept the story alive, telling it to other Pawnees; he died in 1930, a respected Skidi leader.
Born about 1894, several years after the Pawnee Reservation was opened up to American settlement, Susan Young Hawk was a little girl when Baptiste Bayhylle died in 1897. When she grew up, she heard from Emmet Pearson the story of Bayhylle’s encounter with a kitsahuruksu. In 1973 Esther Heskett recorded the story from her.
On June 30, 1982 my aunt Georgette Echo Hawk and Francis Eagle Chief took me to the Coons home near Ralston, Oklahoma, where we met Esther Heskett. When we arrived, Mrs. Coons’s grandson woke her up, telling her that a researcher had come to hear some stories. She remarked, “Well, I guess I could tell the Bayhylle story.”
Susan Coons was a slight woman with a lively laugh. She was a Kitkahahki who had married a man of the Skidi Band. A few years after our visit, I learned that we are distantly related – it turns out that her father’s mother was my great-great-grandfather’s sister.
Mrs. Coons wasn’t feeling very energetic that morning, so rather than tell the Bayhylle story herself, she accepted Esther Heskett’s suggestion that we listen instead to the tape-recorded version. We gathered in the living room and Mrs. Heskett permitted me to make a recording; she placed her player on the coffee table in front of us and I set down my recorder next to it. Mrs. Coons greatly enjoyed hearing the story. She indicated several times that it was a reliable rendition of the story.
The quality of my copy turned out quite poor, but I transcribed the story and sent a typescript to Esther Heskett in May 1983. Taking pity on my efforts, she very kindly provided me with a better quality cassette tape.
Editing the story, I made a variety of minor adjustments. I moved several comments to better fit the narrative flow; I left out pause-filling utterances; and I deleted brief interjections by Esther Heskett. My major editorial decisions had to do with sentence formation and paragraph structuring. But transferring the story from verbal to written form was a straightforward process because Susan Coons told a very polished story.
In the fall of 1986 I submitted the story to a literary newspaper called Rolling Stock. I thought the writers who comprised its readership would appreciate the artistry of this wonderfully told story. “Baptiste Bayhylle and the Pawnee Removal” appeared in Rolling Stock # [13], March 1987, p. 11, together with an excellent pencil drawing of Baptiste Bayhylle by my sister, Debbie Echo-Hawk.
By the time I listened to Esther Heskett’s recording of this story, I had already heard a version in 1980 from my grandmother’s older sister, Nora (Shunatona) Keys. Like Mrs. Coons, Grandma Nora had heard the story long ago from Emmet Pearson, but the version told by Susan Coons contained more detail. In her rendition, Mrs. Coons provides a fascinating glimpse of the passing of the Pawnee Nation from its ancient homeland, and the long journey south to a new world in Oklahoma.