Information about the Pawnee

The Pawnee (sometimes Paneassa) are a Native American tribe that historically lived along the Platte River in what is now Nebraska. In the 18th century they were allied with the French and played an important role in limiting Spanish expansion onto the Great Plains defeating them decisively in a battle in 1720.

In the 19th century, epidemics of smallpox and cholera wiped out most of the Pawnee, reducing the population to approximately 600 by the year 1900; as of 2002, there are approximately 2500 Pawnee.

Social structure


Descended from Caddoan linguistic stock, the Pawnee are not typically known as Plains Indians in the context of traditional representations; their villages constructed of earthen lodges tended to be permanent. They were an agricultural people who grew maize, beans, pumpkins and squash. With the coming of the horse culture to the Great Plains they did begin to take on some of the cultural attributes of their cousins, but the buffalo culture remained secondary to the maize culture. The Pawnee Confederacy was divided into the following four bands:
  • Chaui (Tcawi)
  • Kitkehahki (Republican)
  • Pitahauerat (Tappage)
  • Skidi (Wolf)
The Chaui are generally recognised as being the leading band although each band was autonomous and as was typical of many Indian tribes each band saw to its own although with outside pressures from the Spanish, French and Americans, as well as neighbouring tribes saw the Pawnee drawing closer together.


Pawnee lodges near Genoa, Nebraska (1873)The Pawnee lodges tended to be oval in shape, the frame was constructed of 10-15 posts set some ten feet apart which formed the floor of the lodge. In the center were four posts representing the four directions, this framework was then covered with willow branches, grass and earth. A hole was left in the center which served as a combined chimney and skylight, the lodge itself was semi subterranean and the floor was approximately three feet below ground level. A buffalo-skin door on a hinge could be closed at night and wedged shut. There could be as many as 30-50 people living in each lodge. A village could consist of as many as 300-500 people and 10-15 households. Each lodge was divided in two (north and south), and each section had a head who oversaw the daily business, each section was further subdivided into three families. The membership of the lodge was actually quite flexible. Twice a year the tribe went on a buffalo hunt and on their return the inhabitants of the lodges would often move into another lodge, although they generally remained within the village.

Political structure

The Pawnee were a matriarchal people, descent was through the mother and a young couple would traditionally move into the bride's parents' lodge. Women were active in political life although men would take decision-making responsibilities. This may seem contradictory, but one must consider that tribal groups will allow far more flexibility in political life due to the simple fact that survival of the tribe is paramount, not political might and power. Within the lodge the abovementioned sections were designated for the three classes of women.
  • Mature women who did most of the labor
  • Young single women just learning their responsibilities
  • Older women who looked after the young children

The Pawnee placed great significance on Sacred Bundles, which formed the basis of many religious ceremonies maintaining the balance of nature and the relationship with the gods and spirits. The Pawnee were not however followers of the Sun Dance although they did fall victim to the Ghost Dance phenomenon of the 1890s. They equated the stars with the gods and planted their crops according to the position of the stars. Like many tribal units they sacrificed maize and other crops. There is reference to human sacrifice (the Morning Star ritual, only practiced by the Skidi) up through the mid-eighteenth century. In his book, The Lost Universe, Gene Welts makes note of a young Lakota captive who was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. She was thought to be the last human sacrifice performed by the Pawnee, Welts attributes this peculiarity to their Aztec kin to the south.


Francisco Vásquez de Coronado visited the neighboring Wichita in 1541 where he encountered a Pawnee chief from Harahey, north of Kansas or Nebraska. Nothing much is mentioned of the Pawnee until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when successive incursions of Spanish, French and English settlers attempted to enlarge their possessions. The tribes however tended to make alliances as and when it suited them. An interesting point to note being that different Pawnee subtribes could make treaties with warring European powers without disrupting the underlying unity; the Pawnee were masters at unity within diversity. A tribal delegation visited President Jefferson and in 1806 Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, Major G. C. Sibley, Major S. H. Long, amongst others began visiting the Pawnee villages. Their policy being to befriend and defraud the tribes, part of the Manifest Destiny doctrine that had plagued American society. The Pawnee ceded territory to the American government in 1818, 1825, 1833, 1848, 1857, and 1892; in 1857, they settled on a reservation in Nance County, Nebraska. Continual raids from Lakota from the north and west and encroachment from American settlers to the south and east lead to the abandonment of their Nebraska reservation. In 1875 they moved to Indian Territory, (Oklahoma), a large territory that had served as a 'dumping ground' for tribes displaced from the east and elsewhere. Many Pawnee men joined the US cavalry as scouts rather than face the ignominy of reservation life and the inevitable loss of their freedom and culture. In the 20th century, Christianity supplanted the older religion. In 1780 the Pawnee are thought to have numbered around 10,000, but by the 19th century, epidemics of smallpox and cholera wiped out most of the Pawnee, reducing the population to approximately 600 by the year 1900; as of 2002, there are approximately 2500 Pawnee.

Recent History

The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 established the Pawnee Business Council, the Nasharo (Chiefs) Council, and a tribal constitution, bylaws, and charter. An out of court settlement in 1964 awarded the Pawnee Nation $7,316,096.55 for undervalued ceded land from the previous century. Bills such as the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 have gone some way to address the mistakes of the past and help the Pawnee Nation regain some of their pride and culture. Today the Pawnee are still celebrating their culture and meet twice a year for the inter-tribal gathering with their kinsmen the Wichita Indians and the four day Pawnee Homecoming for Pawnee veterans in July. Many Pawnee return to their traditional lands to visit relatives, craft shows and take part in powwows.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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