Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 17, No. 2
PAWNEE TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
Guy Rowley Moore
The origin of the name "Pawnee" and its meaning are, to the present day, concealed in mystery. There was no name for the confederacy
as a whole.1 It is certain that the white man is the author of the name; but what prompted him to employ such an appellation has long
been forgotten. To be sure there are words in the Pawnee language which may lead one to speculate on the origin of the work
in question. Some authorities attribute its origin to the word "pariki"2 or as the Skidi now pronounce it "parrico" which means "horn," and referred to the peculiar erect scalp lock which was so
decorated as to have resembled horns. It is also possible that the name could have been derived from the word which, with
the Skidi accent, is pronounced "pah-ree-shoo," or as the Chaui pronounce it "pah-ress-oo," which means "hunters." It is possible
that the white man's questions were misunderstood and that this word was given in answer to his first inquiries. The name
has come to us through the French in which language it was spelled "Pani."3
The Pawnee tribes comprise a branch of the Caddoan Linguistic family which is composed of the Pawnees, Arikaras, Caddos, Huecos
or Wacos, Keechies, Tawaconies and Pawnee Picts or Wichitas.
The Pawnee confederacy is composed of four tribes or bands of which the "Skidi" is the largest and by far the most aggressive.
The other three bands are: the Kitkehahki, the Chaui and the
Pitahauerat.4 The word Kitkehahki means "on the hill"; Chaui, "in the middle"; and Pitahauerat, "down the stream," or "east."5 These names were derived from the position in which their villages were located.
The original home of the Pawnees was in the southern part of Mexico,6 perhaps near the peninsula of Yucatan. Tradition says that they left their home early because of an inundation from the sea.7 This catastrophe having come upon them it was necessary that they retreat to a higher altitude.
Another tradition which tells that they once lived in houses built of stone and that in their migrations they crossed two
ranges of mountains,8 adds to the proof of their migration from Mexico. The custom of offering the human sacrifice and the ritual of the ceremony,
their fondness for magic performed by their medicine men and their gentle welcome and hospitable entertainment of invaders
remind one of the Aztecs.9 Could they be descendents of Mayan or Aztec civilization, changed by climate and surroundings? If so then it would be easy
to understand how the Spanish conquerors were led on by the stories of rich cities to the north.
At the time of their migration, especially after they came into what is now the United States, they were very numerous and
no doubt embraced all of the Caddoan linguistic family. The general direction of the group was toward the north and east until
crossed the Rio Grande when they bent their course toward the east. Their landmarks may be traced from the Colorado River
in Texas to Lake Itasca, including a large portion of Texas, all of Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa, a very large portion of Minnesota
and the Dakotas, almost all of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma besides small portions of the states east of the Mississippi
River from the northern exteremity of Illinois to the mouth of the Arkansas River.10
The ancient Caddoans uniformly buried their dead in the valley land cornfields where a sandy loam subsoil made possible the
excavation of a grave with clam shells in a mere fraction of the time that would have been necessary to make such an excavation
in the heavy clay soil of the uplands with the crude implements which they possessed. Nearly every burial was accompanied
by one or more pieces of earthernware pottery, presumably for the sustenance of the departed during the course of the journey
to the spirit land. Where only one or two pieces were used the vessels were very plain in design and sometimes so fragile
as to suggest that they had been fabricated and burned expressly for mortuary purposes. Where three or more pieces are to
be found, nearly all of them are of superior quality in design, decoration, finish and quality of texture. There seems to
be an almost infinite variety of forms including the plain conventional bowls and kettles, vases, urns, water bottles, jugs
and effigies of animals, birds, fish and reptiles and even human figures and faces.
In their northward movement the various Caddoan tribes separated. The Caddos remained in Louisiana, the Wichitas wandered
farther north and the Pawnees continued until they reached the Platte River Valley. The Arickaras must have led the way northward
as they were found as far north as North Dakota. Traditions of their movements add color to the story but the exact reasons
for their separations cannot now be ascertained.11 The reason for their northward movement was, without doubt, a de-
sire to find better hunting grounds and to procure sinew. According to tradition, at a time long after the separation of the
tribes, the Arickaras came to live with the Skidi. Intermarriage took place and it seemed as if the two tribes would become
one when for some unknown reason the Arickara chiefs led their people north again to their former home.12
When the Caddoan people came to the Great Plains they found them already inhabited. They took the territory by conquest.13 When the Siouan family moved to this country from the east they found the Pawnees already established. The Pawnees had been
so long in this country that their language had taken up local expressions for directions such as "O-kut-ut," above stream,
meaning west; "Oku-kat," below stream, meaning east; "Puk-tis-tu," toward the Omahas, came to mean north and "Kiri-ku-ruks-tu,"
toward the Wichitas, meaning south.14 The Sioux, from their first arrival on the plains, became enemies of the Pawnees and remained enemies until the Pawnees were
removed to Indian Territory in 1876.
There were several institutions and practices, some of which exist to the present time, all of which directly or indirectly
depend upon religious belief. Among these are: the human sacrifice of the Skidi, medicine, the construction of the earth covered
lodge, secret societies, dances, war parties, the buffalo hunt, agriculture, games, marriage, feasts, and tribal government.
The line of demarcation between mythology and superstition on the one hand and rational religion on the other cannot be definitely
drawn by the unbiased critic. The fact that there is but one Deity has been maintained by the Pawnees as far back as tradition
can tell. "Ti-ra-wa" is the Great Creator of the universe. He is the Great Spirit who is omnipotent as well as omni-
present. With Tirawa, the Father, who lives in the heavens, there are lesser spirits which correspond to the angels of the
Christian belief.15 There are many of these and they are often characterized by the heavenly bodies. Some are masculine and some are feminine.
Each has his allotted function to perform and Tirawa governs them all. The morning star, the evening star, the north and south
stars, the sun and moon represent such characters as the Angel of Life, the Angel of Death and many others. The morning star
and the evening star are the Angels of Life, They are directly instrumental in providing for the usual necessities of man.
There is a Spirit Land but knowledge concerning this life cannot be had as none who have gone there have ever returned to
tell about what one may expect beyond the grave. The milky way is the long pathway leading to the Spirit Land. The Angel of
Death, The North Star, starts the departed on the long journey to the Great Beyond.16
Since the tribe had no writings of any kind, the sacred history had to be kept in another way. Hanging up in the lodge was
a bundle wrapped in the skin of some kind of animal. This was known as the sacred bundle.17 On various occasions this bundle was taken down and the stories it guarded were recounted. Among its contents was an ear
of corn which was handed down by Tirawa to his children. The scalp represents the wars which were fought and also the achievements
of heroes. The bow and arrow were symbolical of many things. While they were weapons of offense and defense they were also
of the utmost importance on the hunt. The eagle feather was as much esteemed by them as the national emblem is by the whites.
The lasso which was made of buffalo hair was another major article. Together with these were several other articles of lesser
importance. Each represented
some great event which the keeper knew and was able to relate. If the Pawnees had had a means of preserving all of their sacred
history other than by the sacred bundles, which lose some of their beauty at the death of each keeper, we would know in full
what we now know in part. There was a genesis. After Tirawa created the heavens and the earth, "He spoke, and at the sound
of his voice a woman appeared upon the earth." Tirawa then created man and sent him to the woman.18
There is a tradition that giants once inhabited the earth.19 The bones of the dinosaur which were found on the plains were supposed to have been bones of these giants. Tirawa destroyed
them with a great deluge after which he promised not to destroy the earth in that manner again. He has told the people that
he will use other means to destroy the earth and its inhabitants. Some day the earth will come to an end. Among the means
of destruction which Tirawa shall employ are excessive storms and fire from the sky.20 The moon shall turn red, the sun shall cease to shine and the stars will fall from heaven.21 Many other signs will mark the end.
The Pawnees are profoundly religious. It is not uncommon for a person to go out on a hilltop alone or otherwise to seclude
himself there to pray to Tirawa in secret. When once a person wanders thus from the village it is understood by the others
that he desires to be alone with Tirawa and his wishes are respected.
Before starting out on any undertaking the Pawnee always invokes the guidance of the Almighty Tirawa. In those days when the
hunters and their families left for the hunt they humbled themselves and implored divine aid in their undertaking. Burnt offerings
were made to the Deity. Prayer and sacrifice mark the beginning of a feast and often its end. At the conclusion of each undertaking
thanks and sacrifices were offered for the success or a safe return.22
It was the custom of the Skidi band to offer a human sacrifice23 to the Great Star to insure good crops. This ceremony usually took place sometime in April. The Skidi alone performed the
rite. They always sent an invitation to the chiefs of the other tribes to attend the celebration but each time the latter
The victim of this terrible affair was a captive taken from some other tribe with whom the Skidi had been at war. At a time
previous to the ceremony of sacrifice the captor in council with some of the chiefs announced that he wished to offer his
captive to the Great Star. This intention was kept strictly in secret. None outside the circle of chiefs and braves who attended
the council were permitted to know lest such intelligence reach the ears of the captive. The unfortunate one was then taken
into the captor's lodge and given freely of all the necessities of life that these people could afford. Nothing was spared
to make the captive happy. The best food was abundantly supplied. This was done that the captive might be made as cheerful
as possible and thereby be a more acceptable offering. On the day appointed for the sacrifice the captive was led to the fatal
spot before he could even conjecture what was to happen. Authorities differ on the methods of torture, but the unfortunate
person was tortured for some time after which he was put to death in the manner chosen by his captor.
Certain parts of his body were taken to the corn field where much ceremony took place over the newly planted corn. Some parts
were burned while the agricultural implements were passed through the smoke which was looked upon as a strong medicine to
insure a bountiful crop.
The victim of these gruesome ceremonies in many instances within the historical period were young women. A few times they
were men. Sex did not cause any deviation from the regular order of affairs.
23H. R. Schoolcraft, History of the Indian Tribes of the United States, etc., 495-496; Father P. J. DeSmet, "Narrative of a Year's Residence Among the Indian Tribes of the Rocky Mountains" in
Transactions and Reports of the Nebraska State Historical Society, 1887, 131-132; Missionary Herald, XIX, 397; John T. Irving, Jr., Indian Sketches, II, 146-153; Jedidiah Morse, Report to the Secretary of War, 247-249; Thomas L. M'Kenney, History of Indian Tribes of North America, I, l0l.
In order to become a medicine24 man or physician, one must conform to rules set down by the secret order of Medicine Men (Ku-ra-u-ruk-ar-u). First of all
the individual who desired to become a medicine man placed his application with this order to become a student. A council
of medicine men was called at which they deliberated upon the proposed admission of the new student. He was admitted or rejected
as the council saw fit. His character must be such that he would keep secret the arts entrusted to his knowledge. Upon admission
to the order he was taught the different kinds of roots and herbs, their qualities and uses. The medicine men became very
proficient indeed. They were so skillful that their care for a gun shot wound, broken limb or knife wound was marvelously
Tuition was high. The medicine men received horses as their pay. Their fees for medical attention upon the sick were also
horses. Under such a system it was not uncommon that a medicine man should have more property in horses than the head chief
of the tribe.
There were good doctors and poor ones. The good doctors only attended those who could pay horses as fees. Poor people were
obliged to employ poor doctors or quacks.
The general idea about diseases was that they were caused by malign influences. In order to cast out these devils they put
in practice a peculiar remedy consisting of incantations and dances.
The Pawnee doctors used many remedies which were very effective. Cauterizing was very common. A bit of the stalk of the yarrow
(achillea millefolium), about an inch long was inserted into the affected part and fire was set to the outer extremity. This
piece was allowed to burn into the skin. Sometimes several of these pieces were inserted at once. Blistering was produced
by rubbing the skin with an acrid plant. They knew the use of several herbs such as the wormwood (artimisia ludoviciana),
sweet flag (acorus calamus), wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa), Oswego
24Sorrenson, op. cit., pp. 26-33; Murray, Travels in North America, I, 285; Rev. Samuel Allis, "Forty Years Among the Indians, etc." in Nebraska State Historical Society Reports, 1887, p. 140; James W. Savage, "A Visit to Nebraska in 1662" in Nebraska State Historical Society Reports, 1887, p. 129.
tea (monarda punctata), wild mint (mentha canadensis) and many others. Wormwood and wild bergamot were in general use as disinfectants
and cosmetics. The women used decoctions of the wormwood at certain periods. For relieving pain they used prickly poppy (argemone
mexicana) and they were also familiar with the cathartic qualities of other plants.
A remedy which was in very common usage was the vapor bath. They built a small framework about six feet in diameter and four
feet high which they covered with blankets and skins and into which they would place several heated stones. The patient would
enter and carry with him a vessel of water which he would sprinkle on the stones. The water thus converted into steam stimulated
the activity of the secretory system.
The women were, as a rule, very faithful to their husbands and children during sickness. They carried their patients outside
to enjoy the sunshine in the morning and cooked little delicacies to tempt their appetites. It is said that women did not
receive such care when sick, but their husbands were often known to give them very careful attention.25
These medicine men were also skilled in sleight of hand. They were such good illusionists that even the white spectators wondered
how such miracles could be performed. They apparently possessed the power of imbuing inanimate objects with life and motion.
It was not uncommon for them to shoot arrows through their bodies and to crush their skulls with tomahawks without harm. They
planted corn in the ground and in a few minutes made it grow to maturity. Swallowing sticks, knives, and arrows were the performances
of mere apprentices.
The Pawnee villages consisted of dome shaped, earth covered lodges26 of a circular ground plan with a long entrance always extending to the east. The frame work of these lodges was made of heavy
poles set in the ground. The poles of the outer circle were much shorter and more numerous than those nearer the
26Ibid., IV, 272-276; Allis, op. cit., 143-144; Dorsey, The Pawnee Mythology, Part I, pp. 14-15; Missionary Herald, XXXI, 346; Bureau of American Ethonology, Bulletin 30, part 2, p. 213.
center. Each was so selected as to have a crotch in the top into which were fitted the cross pieces upon which other poles
were laid. Upon this primary framework rested a large number of smaller poles and twigs tied to the framework by means of
leather thongs. A coat of heavy grass covered this structure above which was a coating of earth. As for the floor there was
a slight excavation of from a foot to eighteen inches which left a bench entirely around the lodge (except for the entrance)
on the interior. This bench was used as a seat in the daytime and upon it were spread the robes and blankets which served
as a bed for the night. These beds were often made on a framework slightly above the ground. This bench was often partitioned
off into apartments to accommodate all the members of the family or families, as the case might have been, as well as the
occasional visitor. The partition was made of woven willow twigs and bound closely together with bark.
In the center was dug a fireplace three or four feet in diameter. The earth taken out of the fireplace was placed around the
outer edge making a kind of hearth. Some distance out from the fireplace, in a circle, stood the six or eight long posts which
supported the roof. In the vaulted ceiling immediately over the fireplace was an opening out of which the smoke was allowed
The opening which extended to the east about fifteen feet from the main structure usually had two flaps or curtains, one at
the outer extremity and one where the entrance joined with the circular part of the structure. The size of these houses varied
from twenty-five to sixty feet in diameter. The outer walls reached the height of from seven to ten feet and the highest point
was often from fifteen to twenty feet in height.
Sometimes several families lived in the same lodge. Each family had a certain portion assigned to it, but there was no privacy.
What one did all knew. When one family cooked a meal all the rest were given a portion of it. Borrowing and lending were common
and they were usually very accommodating.
While on the hunt they lived in the movable tepee which was
constructed of a group of poles spread in a circle at the bottom, tied at the top and covered with buffalo skins.
The Pawnees were very fond of mysticism. In former times there were many secret societies27 among them. Some of these societies were directly connected with or sanctioned by the leading sacred bundles. Membership
in all societies was for life. One might become a member of any or all of them at one time and there was no age limit to eligibility.
Four leaders of each society exercised the right to elect new members and their own places were sometimes hereditary and sometimes
self elective. It was customary for all members to be succeeded at death by relatives. There was no limit to the number of
members that a society may have and since the number was not fixed the leaders kept watch over young men to note candidates
of promise. When some young man was found to show signs of greatness he was invited to become a candidate. Many young men
sought admission. The ceremony of initiation was very solemn and of such a nature that the candidate was subjected to various
tests. If the candidate failed in one of these tests he was forever disqualified from becoming a member. As an example, "a
candidate must dance about the village an entire day, bearing the lance; should he fall from exhaustion or give up from fatigue,
he could not proceed to membership, even though he inherited the place."
These societies had different purposes. Some were war organizations, some were hunting societies, and others may have had
several objects combined. Some of these societies had members only in one band while others were composed of members taken
from more than one or even all four bands. For example the "Black Heads" (Pakskatit) was a society whose purpose was to organize
for both the war and the hunt, but they were made up entirely of warriors of the Kitkehahki band. The "Horse Society" (Raris
Arusa) was a hunting organization and was composed of Skidi and Chaui. "Those Coming Behind" (hAtu-hka) was strictly a war
party and was made up of members from all four bands.
The buffalo hunt may be entirely in charge of a secret society at the request of one of the priests. A society may be appointed
as soldiers who would dress up their lances and prepare a horse to carry them. The keepers of the lances would lead on the
journey and when it came time to camp they would set up the lances at the place where the soldiers' lodge was to be which,
as a rule, was in the east side of the camp. The lance was kept there until someone went to look for buffalo. Any person might
do this accompanied by other members of the party. On such occasions the lance bearer took the lead and nobody was allowed
to go in advance of him. When a buffalo surround was made the lance bearers acted as chief police, saw that a fair division
of the meat was made and settled disputes among the hunters. While the butchering was going on the lance bearers went to a
hill where they posted themselves as sentinels, watching for any enemy that might appear. They were the last to come to camp.
In case of a society leading a war party the bearers of the special lance were necessarily the last to retreat. The same was
true when counting coup; they must wait until all were through. All the lance bearers placed themselves at the front and might
plant the lances in the ground far in advance. This was a signal to rally around the standard and stand fast. Whenever the
lance was planted before the enemy the bearer must stand fast. He could not take it up except to advance against the enemy.
This made the planting of the lance a "no flight obligation." If, however, the lance was in danger some other member could
bear it to safety and the bearer could follow. The lance could never be taken out by a private war party or on a raid, but
was used only in repelling an enemy invading their territory.
The societies were so organized that in their general meetings each had his station. Certain places in the lodge were reserved
for members according to their position or power in the family or band. Some bands assigned to the new members the places
once held by their ancestors. Lodges were divided for certain functions, those on the north performing the winter ceremonies
and those on the south performing the same in summer. Various stations in the lodge were assigned to individuals. There was
in some such lodges a leader or chief, two drummers and singers, one lance bearer, an errand man or doorkeeper and a herald
who in outdoor ceremonies was mounted.
Some of these organizations exist to the present day and members of such societies who are also members of Masonic organizations
say that there is a striking similarity in the method of lodge work and in the emblematical applications of certain ritualistic
The dances of the Pawnees were always of a religious character. They participated in them in a solemn and prayerful attitude.
Dances were never put on for show and the visitor who made sport of the dance was rudely cast out of the lodge wherein the
dance was held and the same person could never again enter as long as he could be identified.
Before the buffalo hunting expedition started off on the long hunt, the buffalo dance took place whereby they invoked the
guidance of Tirawa and prayed that the buffalo should be plentiful. The war dance took place before going to war and was designed
to call Tirawa to their aid. The drums were beaten for every occasion with the same rhythm; one accented and one unaccented
stroke. Besides the drums which were beaten by the musicians, they also shook rattles made of dry gourds and filled with gravel.
Another musical instrument was made of a stick to the end of which the toes or deer or antelope were fastened by leather thongs.
The dancers carried their war clubs and other weapons while they danced and sang.28 These songs which, to the untrained ear, seemed to be a monotony of "yelling" have a meaning. They recount the former victories
of the tribe or tell of some of the achievements of some chief or brave. The victory dance is one in which the dancers are
all women. To be sure the men may be the singers and drummers, but the women form a circle and carry the scalps which are
emblematical of the victory. These they kept moving up and down. The circle moves from right to left, keeping perfect time
to the music. Thus they dance and sing of the victory making up the song to accompany the
dance from incidents of the fight. They had just as big a dance over one scalp as they had over a large number.
The corn dance is a prayer for a bountiful crop. The dance at harvest time is the return of thanks to the Great Spirit.
The ghost dance,29 which cannot be classed as an original Pawnee dance, was a delusion for which a white man, Jack Wilson, of North Dakota,
was responsible. It was founded upon the fake that a Piute Indian died and went to heaven and returned after seeing the Messiah
and a number of spirits. He also saw a tree of handkerchiefs and feathers. The danccers formed a circle. The leader danced
inside and waved a cotton handkerchief. Some of the dancers fell into a trance and saw spirits. This false prophet idea spread
among the tribes until at last it reached the Pawnees. The Pawnee, Frank White, brought it from the Wichitas in 1892. It received
much opposition on the part of the medicine men and with the tactfulness of Major Wood, who was agent at that time, the dance
was broken up.
Previous to going out on an expedition after wild horses which used to roam over the plains they held what is known as the
wild horse dance. In this dance one man was dressed in a buffalo robe with a horse's tail fastened on behind and another tied
to the neck to resemble a mane. This person was the center of attraction in the dance. Immediately after the dance they left
to round up wild horses. The method of rounding them up was peculiar, as they were "walked down." The horses were followed
in their regular course from one watering place to another until fatigued when they deviated from their regular course and
were easily rounded up with a herd of gentle horses.30
War parties31 were organized to go on expeditions for the purpose of stealing horses. This occupation was not considered a crime in any
sense of the word. Among the aborigines at that time, horses were considered much the same as munitions of war. If the enemy
were deprived of their horses they would not
be likely to cause so many depredations on foot; therefore the horse was a legitimate prize.
Horse stealing parties went on foot in small numbers of from two to thirty-five. They were lightly armed with bow, quiver
of arrows and a knife. Some carried a light gun. Each person was equipped with from four to six pairs of moccasins and one
or more lariats. Each man also carried a pack weighing twenty pounds or more, containing dried meat, both fat and lean, and
some pieces and straps of tanned skins to repair his moccasins and clothing. Such strips might also serve to make a bridle.
They carried a pipe which differed from any other pipe in that it had no hole in the stem. When they came upon a camp where
horses were numerous the leader filled and lighted the pipe. If he succeeded in making it work they took this for an omen
that they would be successful and proceeded to steal the horses. If, however, the leader was unsuccessful they gave up the
undertaking and went home no matter how far they had gone on the expedition.32
They carefully refrained from molesting Government mules and trains as they depended on the Government to protect them on
From their villages in Nebraska they traveled on foot to Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Northern Texas. Tradition
says that they traveled as far as the frontiers of Old Mexico. It was their usual custom to return home well mounted and with
quite a large bunch of loose horses besides.33
The method of stealing horses was interesting. The Pawnees were masters of the art of mimicry. After lying concealed until
dusk when the coyote set up his long continued, dismal howl, the Pawnee warriors, dressed in a light colored robe, hopped
out on the prairie and joined the coyotes in the evening serenade. As dusk turned into night they closed in upon their unsuspecting
enemy until under the cover of darkness they managed to secure a horse each and to stampede the remainder of the herd. The
33Mead, op. cit., X, 108; Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, 300; Dunbar, "The Pawnee Indians, Their Habits and Customs," Magazine of American History, November 1880, vol. V, No. 5, p. 335; Murray, Travels in North Amercia, I, 384.
enemy now on foot was at a decided disadvantage in regaining his lost property. The clattering of hoofs soon died away far
in advance of the fleetest Indian runner.
On some expeditions they went more heavily armed. This depended on the purpose or objective planned. In addition to the equipment
above named, they supplied themselves with a tomahawk, spear, and shield. The shield was of a circular form, about two feet
in diameter. It was made of a tough piece of leather taken from the neck of an old bull. It was stretched over a hoop sometimes
of double thickness. Against an ordinary missile it was sufficient protection.34
Several tribes of the Siouan family, including the Brules, Ogalalas, Crows and Osages; the Arapahoes, Cheyennes and Comanches
were enemies of the Pawnees for many years. When these tribes spoke of the Pawnees, they spoke of them as the "Black Wolf"
or the "Bete Noir."35
For over a half century the Omahas, Otoes and Poncas acknowledged the protection of the Pawnees against their own kinsmen,
These war parties, as was explained above, were sponsored by a secret organization whose purpose it was to conduct such expeditions.
At the head of this organization was a chief of recognized ability and bravery. Previous to their starting out on the foray
the parties spent much time at practice; fighting imaginary battles, deploying and reassembling as the chief might direct
from a position on a hill where he could be seen by all. When the warriors had undergone sufficient preparation a war dance
was held. Sometime in the middle of the night the party set out.37
Upon their return, if they were successful and took some scalps, they held a scalp dance. If, however, the contrary was true
the return was rather quiet except for the lamentations for those who lost their lives on the expedition.38
Great ceremony was used to mark the starting off for the
buffalo hunt. For several days the priests and medicine men prepared for the religious ceremonial which was initiatory to
the setting out. There had been many prayers and much fasting. At the final ceremony a large number prayed together in earnest
supplication that Tirawa would make them successful. They so thoroughly threw their souls into their prayers as to put to
shame many a twentieth century Christian prayer meeting. After this solemn invocation of the guidance of the Great Father,
they took part in the buffalo dance which lasted usually three days, after which nearly all of the tribe set out on the trip
to the buffalo country.39
An officer of one of the hunting societies had command of the buffalo hunt. Each morning he sent a herald through the camp
to announce the orders of the day. After having cached all the things which they did not wish to take with them they loaded
the needed articles on their horses and set out. The women and children, boys and girls, led, each of them, a horse. The men
were free to do as they liked and thus were able to protect the party from a surprise by the enemy. The women carried the
little children or packed them on the backs of the horses they were leading.
They traveled six or eight miles a day. If it was possible they camped where they could find wood and water. In former times
it was not necessary to go far from the villages on the Platte, but later when the buffalo became scarce they were obliged
to make long journeys in order to find them.40
Prior to the advent of the horse on the plains, the Pawnees would form a long line to make a surround on foot. Disguising
themselves as wolves they would slyly gain a position by which the game would be completely surrounded. Then it was not long
until they had closed on the buffalo and after skilfully manipulating their bows and arrows the entire herd was killed.
Buffalo meat was the Pawnees' "staff of life." Failure to obtain the same meant six months of poverty and hunger, there-
41Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 30, part 2, p. 213; Murie, Pawnee Indian Societies, p. 557; Murray, op. cit., I, 335; Allis, op. cit., 134.
fore the hunt was organized and systematized.41 Certain soldiers, appointed by the chief in charge, kept order. It was their duty to see that no one should leave the village
to go in the direction in which the buffaloes had been seen. They dealt out severe floggings to those who broke this law.
Nobody was allowed to start on the hunt until the general order was given. Even then the soldiers took the lead. That their
scent might not frighten the animals they approached the herd from the windward side and when near the buffalo they dismounted
and prepared for the chase. They again mounted and the soldiers kept the lead until they were discovered by the game and then
at the signal each man started his horse on a gallop. Half of the hunters went around the herd in one way and half went the
other. A complete surround was made. They were so skilled with the bow and arrow that they often sent a shaft clear through
the thickest part of a buffalo.42 The hunter would ride close to a buffalo until it fell and then when the mount felt the jerk of his rider's heels he immediately
started forward to another buffalo, and so on until all of the herd was killed. They generally slaughtered from four to five
hundred at one surround.43 Regardless of how many buffaloes were killed, none of the meat was wasted. After this work was completed they skinned the
animals, packed the meat on their horses and led them into camp. The men's work was now completed.44 The women came out and unloaded the meat, cut it into strips and dried it. A great deal of time was necessary in preparing
the skins for use. The skins taken in the summer hunt were used for covering the tepees, making moccasins, straps for bridles
and all the necessary leather articles. Those taken on the winter hunt were better for robes and rugs because of the heavy
crop of hair which is borne in that season. The skin must first be "fleshed" which work is done with a bone implement cut
something in the shape of an adz with a serrate edge. Sometimes the skin is suspended on a frame. More commonly it is stretched
upon the smooth ground, flesh side up and fastened with pegs. It is then allowed to dry and is fleshed again with the same
implement. The surface is then smeared with brains and the hide is rolled up with the flesh side in. The brains from one buffalo
are more than sufficient to dress the hide. After two or three days the hide is again taken, moistened and softened by continual
working and rubbing until it dries. Sometimes, to shorten the task, it is placed on a frame before a fire. The inner surface
is scraped with the serrated adz and rubbed with pumice stone. Sometimes the skin is passed rapidly back and forth over a
slack cord. When it is thus dried it is ready for use.45
The drying of the meat is a slower process in winter than in summer because it is necessary to construct a rack for that purpose
and build a fire to aid in the drying. The meat is then wrapped in buffalo hides and these bundles are tied with leather thongs
so that they may be easily loaded upon the horses when travel is resumed.46
It was their custom to start off on the summer hunt about the first of July, after the corn had been cared for until it was
tall enough to shade the ground, and to return about the first of September when it was time to harvest the corn. They started
off on the winter hunt about the first of October and returned in March to plant and hoe the corn. They were at their village
about five months out of each year and were off on the hunt the remaining seven months.47
Since prehistoric times the Pawnees have been an agricultural race. They have planted corn ever since "it was given them by
Tirawa" in ancient times.48 The corn planting and harvesting regulated the seasons for the buffalo hunts each year. Their fields contained other crops
than corn. They were known to raise many squashes, pumpkins and beans.
Thus the Pawnees were found on the prairies by the white men.49
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