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ETHNONYMS: Pani, Panzas, Pawni


Identification. The Pawnee are an American Indian group currently living in Oklahoma. The name "Pawnee" comes from the term pariki, or "horn," and refers to the traditional manner of dressing the hair in which the scalp-lock is stiffened with fat and paint and made to stand erect like a curved horn. The Pawnee called themselves "Chahiksichahiks," meaning "men of men."

Location. Throughout much of the historic period the Pawnee inhabited the territory centered in the valleys of the Loup and Platte rivers and along the Republican River in what is now the state of Nebraska in the central United States. In 1874-1875 they moved from this territory to Reservation lands in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Region of the Loup, Platte, and Republican rivers consists largely of high and dry grass-covered plains interrupted by rivers and river valleys and is characterized by a subhumid climate. Trees are nearly absent except along the river courses.

Demography. In the early part of the nineteenth century the Pawnee numbered between 9,000 and 10,000. Subsequently, the population declined because of warfare and European diseases; smallpox epidemics in 1803 and 1825 were especially devastating. In 1859 the population was estimated at 4,000, in 1876 at 2,000, and in 1900 at 650. The population subsequently increased to over 2,000 today.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Pawnee language belongs to the Caddoan linguistic family.

History and Cultural Relations

The ancestors of the Pawnee inhabited the plains region of North America since at least a.d. 1100 and migrated to the Region of the Loup, Platte and Republican rivers from a Southeasterly direction sometime prior to European contact. Contact with Spanish explorers may have occurred as early as 1541, but direct and sustained contact with Europeans did not come until the eighteenth century. During the contact period the native groups neighboring the Pawnee included the Arapaho and Teton to the west, the Ponca to the north, the Omaha, Oto, and Kansa to the east, and the Kiowa to the south. In 1803 the Pawnee territory passed under the control of the U.S. government through the Louisiana Purchase. In a series of treaties between 1833 and 1876 the Pawnee ceded their lands to the federal government and in 1874-1876 removed to Indian Territory. The gradual ceding of territory to the United States was done reluctantly, but out of necessity as White migration, depletion of the bison herds, and warfare on the plains between native peoples made it increasingly difficult for the Pawnee to carry on the hunting and farming way of life in their traditional territory. In 1870 the Pawnee split over the question of resettlement, but the issue was decided when they were forced to seek the protection of federal authorities after a massacre of Pawnee by the Dakota in 1873. In 1892 their reservation lands were allotted on an individual basis and the Pawnee became citizens of the United States. The transition to individual land ownership proved difficult, as the Pawnee tradition of village living proved inconsistent with individual farming.


In the historic period prior to 1833 the Pawnee bands were settled in four groups of villages in valleys along the Platte River. Villages were large and relatively permanent, and consisted of clusters of earthlodges surrounded by fields. In the nineteenth century some villages were surrounded by a sod wall three to four feet high for defensive purposes. Earthlodges were circular and constructed of a log frame plastered over with layers of grass and packed earth. Lodges varied in size according to the number of occupants, but averaged fifteen feet in height and forty feet in diameter. In the summer the occupants of the earthlodge moved outdoors and slept under a brush arbor. Tipis of bison hide were used for shelter on the hunt.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . In the historic period until the latter part of the nineteenth century the Pawnee subsistence pattern consisted of farming and hunting, with a minimal amount of gathering. The principal crops were maize, beans, squash, and pumpkins; the principal game animal was the bison. Horses acquired from the Spanish, starting in the late seventeenth century, stimulated the Development of a more nomadic, hunting way of life, but this never supplanted the farming basis of life to the degree that it did among other Plains Indian groups. At about the same time European firearms were acquired from the French, but these had less economic impact; even into the nineteenth century the bow and arrow was the weapon of choice among bison hunters. Throughout the nineteenth century the Pawnee were under constant pressure by the U.S. government to give up hunting and adopt European methods of farming. The Pawnee resisted this pressure for a time until White migration, dwindling bison herds, increased population pressure on food resources, and finally resettlement in Indian Territory made the traditional hunting and farming way of life impossible.

Industrial Arts, Work in skins, particularly bison skins, was highly developed and provided the Pawnee with tents, ropes, rawhide, containers, blankets, robes, clothing, and footwear. Other by-products of the bison were used for bows, bowstring, thread, hammers, scrapers, awls, and fuel. Pottery making was not a highly developed skill, but did exist and persisted into the nineteenth century when clay pots were replaced by copper and iron vessels obtained from European-Americans.

Trade. Virtually self-sufficient in aboriginal times, Pawnee trade with neighboring groups was limited. After contact they traded with Whites for horses, firearms and ammunition, steel knives, axes, hoes, brass kettles, and whiskey.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, women tended the fields and men were responsible for hunting, but this division of labor broke down during the second half of the nineteenth century with the decline of bison hunting and the gradual acceptance of plow agriculture as the basis of subsistence.

Land Tenure. Each village traditionally possessed its own fields, the use of which was allotted to individuals by the Village chief. Upon the individual's death the lands reverted to the village and were re-allotted.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic kinship grouping among the Pawnee was a division into north and south, or winter and summer people. Membership in these divisions was inherited matrilineally. In games, religious ceremonies, and other social gatherings, the people were divided along hereditary lines.

Kinship Terminology. Kin terms followed the Crow System.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages were arranged and negotiated primarily by the mother's brother. First-cousin marriages were prohibited, and village endogamy generally prevailed. Polygyny was practiced and as a rule was strictly sororal. Residence was matrilocal. Strong emotional ties generally did not exist Between husband and wife, and though divorce was rare, it could be effected by either party.

Domestic Unit. Although nuclear families occasionally lived alone, most often several such families lived together in the earthlodge.

Inheritance. Traditionally, property passed to the oldest male. Theoretically, women had no rights to property, but, in fact, were generally considered to be the owners of lodges, tipis, and their own tools and utensils.

Socialization. Traditionally, early childhood training was in the hands of the grandparents, with strict discipline and harsh punishment the norm. Youths were allowed considerable sexual freedom until puberty, after which time separation of the sexes was enforced until marriage. A mother's brother's wife often served as a sexual partner for a young man from the time of puberty until he married.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Nineteenth-century Pawnee society included a series of classlike hierarchical divisions. Highest in rank were chiefs, followed by warriors, priests, and medicine men. Next in rank were common people without power or Influence, and below them were semioutcastes, persons who had violated tribal laws and lived on the outskirts of the Villages. There was also a category of captured non-Pawnee slaves. Men's societies concerned with warfare and hunting were a prominent feature of Pawnee society. In addition, there were eight medicine men's societies and numerous private organizations that functioned for the public good in times of need.

Political Organization. The Pawnee were divided into four main groups or bands: (1) the Skidi, or Wolf, the largest band, (2) the Chaui, or Grand, (3) Kitkehahki, or Republican, and (4) the Pitahauerat, or Tappage. The Chaui were generally recognized as the leading band; however, the nature of the relationship of the four groups is not clear. Aboriginally the four bands may have been independent of one another, with greater political unity developing in response to the pressures of acculturation. As exhibited by the Skidi Pawnee in the early nineteenth century, band political Structure consisted of federated villages held together by a governing council of chiefs and common participation in a Ceremonial cycle. Within the band, authority resided with four chiefs, the position of which was inherited matrilineally. Each band consisted of one or more villages. But with the pressures of acculturation and European contact there was a progressive diminution of the number of villages occupied, and in later history two or more bands frequently dwelt together in the same village. Each component village had a chief whose responsibilities included the allotting of village lands to Individual users. The position of village chief was inherited, generally by the eldest son, but subject to the approval of a Council of chiefs and other leading men.

Social Control. The Pawnee considered violence within the village a serious matter and generally made every attempt to avoid it or stop it when it occurred. For the most part, public opinion acted as the mechanism of social control, but to ensure order each village had a small police society whose head was an old warrior selected by the village chief. On the communal bison hunts held in the late summer and autumn of each year, a special society of military police or soldiers was selected to prevent individual hunters from leaving the camp and disturbing the bison herds.

Conflict. In prehistoric and early historic times interband disputes and violence were not uncommon, particularly Between the Skidi and Grand Pawnee.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Pawnee had a highly integrated System of religious beliefs that resisted European missionization until well into the nineteenth century. In this system of beliefs all life was understood to have derived from the meeting of male (east) and female (west) forces in the sky. The supernatural power at the zenith of the sky where these forces met was known as Tirawa. Tirawa produced the world through a series of violent storms and created star gods, who in turn created humanity. In 1891, along with other Plains Indian groups, the Pawnee participated in the Ghost Dance, a revitalization movement envisioning the return of the dead from the spirit world and the disappearance of the White man from the land. The two most prominent star powers were the Evening Star, the goddess of darkness and fertility who lived in the western sky, and Morning Star, the god of fire and light who was located in the eastern sky. Next in rank to Tirawa, Evening Star and Morning Star were the gods of the four world quarters in the northeast, southeast, northwest, and southwest who supported the heavens.

Religious Practitioners. Pawnee religious specialists consisted of a group of wise men who derived their power and authority from a star planet and held their position as a matter of heredity. They were understood to stand between normal men and Tirawa and supervised a yearly round of religious ceremonies conducted to bring success in farming, hunting, and warfare.

Ceremonies. The foci of Pawnee religious ceremonies were sacred bundles of religious objects believed to have been passed down a line of ancestors. Each village had its own sacred bundle with which its members identified strongly, and each sacred bundle was a medium through which the people communicated with Tirawa. The annual ceremonial cycle began with the first thunder in the spring and concluded with the harvest of maize in the autumn. The climax of the cycle was the sacrifice of a young woman to the Morning Star at the time of the summer solstice in order to ensure prosperity and long life. The sacrifice to the Morning Star persisted until about 1838. Another important ceremonial event concerned preparations for the buffalo hunt. The ceremony began with fasting, prayer, and sacrifice by the priests, followed by a public ritual in which the priests appealed to Tirawa for aid. The ritual concluded with three days of uninterrupted dancing. Arts. Pawnee music was simple in its melody and rhythm and was an important part of Pawnee ceremonial activities. At the time of the Ghost Dance songs secured in dreams or visions emphasized memories of former days, reunion with the dead, and other aspects of the Ghost Dance revitalization movement.

Medicine. The Pawnee recognized witchcraft and, ultimately, anger and hostility to be major causes of disease. Pawnee religious specialists also included shamans who cured the sick through powers believed to have been acquired from animal spirits. Shamans were organized into societies with specific rituals performed twice each year in order to perpetuate and renew their powers.

Death and Afterlife. As with disease, death was believed to sometimes be the result of hostility and witchcraft. Burial preparations varied according to the rank and position of the deceased. Individuals of importance and those who died in extreme old age were painted with a sacred red ointment, dressed in their best costumes, and wrapped in a bison robe before burial. It was believed that after death the soul of the deceased ascended to heaven to become a star or, in the case of those who were diseased or died in a cowardly manner in battle, traveled to a village of spirits in the south.


Hyde, George E. (1951). Pawnee Indians. Denver: University of Denver Press.

Murie, James R. (1914). Pawnee Indian Societies. American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers H(4). New York.

Oswalt, Wendell H. (1966). "The Pawnee." In This Land Was Theirs: A Study of the North American Indian, edited by Wendell H. Oswalt, 239-289. New York: John Wiley.

Weltfish, Gene (1965). The Lost Universe. New York: Basic Books.


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PAWNEE. Archeological investigations in Nebraska have revealed that pottery, tool, and implement types found in the Lower Loup Phase beginning between the 1500s and 1600s indicate a distinct grouping of people. Similarities were discovered between Lower Loup artifact types and cultural patterns found in later eighteenth-century historic Pawnee sites. Information in European colonial and later American sources indicated that the Pawnees lived and hunted in a region now located in Nebraska and parts of Kansas. The Pawnees' first contact with non-Indians occurred in the seventeenth century, when the French traded with tribes along the Missouri River tributaries. Later the Spanish considered the Pawnees subjects of the Spanish crown. Next, in the early 1800s American explorers and treaty makers came. United States treaties resulted in tribal land cessions, placed the tribe on a Nebraska reservation, and reduced its traditional territory, until 1875, when the tribe faced forced removal to a reservation in Indian Territory. Estimates indicate a population of between 10,000 and 20,000 in the 1800s, dropping to less than 700 by 1906. The rapid decline resulted from intertribal warfare, disease, and hunger caused by improvident government policies.

The sacred was all-encompassing in Pawnee life. The seasonal round of subsistence activities, including crop growing, gathering, and biannual bison hunting, called for ceremonies in which hide-wrapped sacred bundles containing powerful objects were used ritually to secure success in each endeavor. Harvest and success in war and hunting called for particular tribal ceremonies. Important in Pawnee religion was the belief in Tirawahut, an abstraction described as all-powerful in the universe. Certain sky constellations, Mother Corn, the buffalo, and all things in nature had sacred connotations. A few sacred bundles belong to the Pawnees now, but their use and ceremonies are mostly forgotten. Today, tribal members may belong to local Christian churches or the Native American Church.

The Pawnee tribe historically was governed by a council composed of chiefs from each of the four bands, the Chaui, Pitahawirata, Kitkahahki, and Skidi, that once lived in separate locations and villages. After land cessions they were compelled to live together on reservations. Later in Oklahoma, after passage of the 1936 Oklahoma Welfare Act, a Business Council and the Nasharo (Chiefs) Council became governing bodies.

Important historical events include loss of tribal land resulting from forced cessions and the Allotment Act of 1896; use of Pawnee warriors as United States scouts in the 1860s and 1870s; forced removal to Indian Territory, away from sacred places and tribal graves; deaths of leading chiefs, ceremonial leaders, and tribal members that initiated loss of sovereignty and culture; the ongoing yearly visit between the Caddoan-speaking Wichitas and Pawnees, stemming from an ancient friendship; the leadership of Pawnees in the Native American Rights Fund and repatriation issues; and the selection of Kevin Gover as recent head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

United States legislation in the second half of the twentieth century benefited the Pawnees by providing for grants to educate doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals; health benefits; and greater tribal autonomy and decision making, including government-funded, tribal-managed programs. These programs include a tribal court, a tax commission, tribal law enforcement, repatriation of tribal remains and artifacts, substance abuse programs, after-school tutoring, cultural retention programs with language classes, and others that improve the conditions and status of the people. All these programs provide employment for tribal members. Others are employed locally or in other cities and states.

The tribe numbers approximately 2,500, most of whom live away from the old Oklahoma reservation area. Many return for the four-day Pawnee Homecoming sponsored by the Pawnee Veterans' Association. A few older ceremonies survive and other feasts and tribal dances bring the people together as Pawnees.


Blaine, Martha Royce. Pawnee Passage: 1870–1875. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

———. Some Things Are Not Forgotten: A Pawnee Family Remembers. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Hyde, George E. Pawnee Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974.

Weltfish, Gene. The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.

Martha RoyceBlaine

See alsoTribes: Great Plains .

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Pawnee (pônē´), Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Caddoan branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). At one time the Pawnee lived in what is now Texas, but by 1541, when Coronado visited Quivira, they seem to have been settled in the valley of the Platte River in S Nebraska. By the early 18th cent. the Pawnee had divided into four groups: the Skidi (or Wolf), the Grand, the Republican, and the Tapage (or Noisy). They then numbered some 10,000. By the time French traders settled (c.1750) among them, the Pawnee had extended their territory to the Republican River in N Kansas and the Niobrara River in N Nebraska. In 1806, Spanish soldiers visited the Pawnee just before the arrival of the expedition of Zebulon M. Pike.

In material culture the Pawnee resembled other Native Americans of the Plains area but they had an elaborate set of myths and rituals. Their supreme god was Tirawa (the sun), who with Mother Earth conceived Morning Star. Morning Star was the rising and dying god of vegetation. The Pawnee periodically sacrificed a young woman to Morning Star. This custom, one of the few examples of human sacrifice N of Mexico, was, however, ended by the great Pawnee chief Pitalesharo (b. c.1797).

The Pawnee were hostile to the Sioux and the Cheyenne, although friendly toward the Oto. They were fierce fighters, but they never warred against the United States, even when treated unjustly by the government. In fact, the Pawnee provided scouts for the U.S. army in the Indian wars as well as protecting the Union Pacific RR from the depredations of other Native Americans. Pawnee population was reduced by wars with the Sioux and by the smallpox and cholera epidemics of the 1830s and 1840s. By a series of treaties begun early in the 19th cent. the Pawnee ceded all of their land in Nebraska and in 1876 moved to a reservation in Oklahoma, where they were granted the right to own their land individually. In 1990 there were over 3,300 Pawnee in the United States.

See R. Linton, The Sacrifice to the Morning Star by the Skidi Pawnee (1922); W. Wedel, An Introduction to Pawnee Archeology (1936); G. Weltfish, The Lost Universe (1965); G. E. Hyde, The Pawnee Indians (rev. ed. 1973).

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Paw·nee / pôˈnē/ • n. (pl. same or -nees ) 1. a member of an American Indian confederacy formerly in Nebraska, and now mainly in Oklahoma. 2. the Caddoan language of these peoples. • adj. of or relating to these people or their language.

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Pawneeabsentee, addressee, adoptee, agree, allottee, amputee, appellee, appointee, appraisee, après-ski, assignee, attendee, bailee, bain-marie, Bangui, bargee, bawbee, be, Bea, bee, bootee, bouquet garni, bourgeoisie, Brie, BSc, buckshee, Capri, cc, chimpanzee, cohabitee, conferee, consignee, consultee, Cree, debauchee, decree, dedicatee, Dee, degree, deportee, dernier cri, detainee, devisee, devotee, divorcee, draftee, dree, Dundee, dungaree, eau-de-vie, emcee, employee, endorsee, en famille, ennui, enrollee, escapee, esprit, evacuee, examinee, expellee, fee, fiddle-de-dee, flea, flee, fleur-de-lis, foresee, franchisee, free, fusee (US fuzee), Gardaí, garnishee, gee, ghee, glee, goatee, grandee, Grand Prix, grantee, Guarani, guarantee, he, indictee, inductee, internee, interviewee, invitee, jamboree, Jaycee, jeu d'esprit, key, knee, Lea, lee, legatee, Leigh, lessee, Ley, licensee, loanee, lychee, manatee, Manichee, maquis, Marie, marquee, me, Midi, mortgagee, MSc, nominee, obligee, Otomi, parolee, Parsee, parti pris, patentee, Pawnee, payee, pea, pee, permittee, plc, plea, pledgee, pollee, presentee, promisee, quay, ratatouille, referee, refugee, releasee, repartee, retiree, returnee, rupee, scot-free, scree, sea, secondee, see, settee, Shanxi, Shawnee, shchi, she, shea, si, sirree, ski, spree, standee, suttee, tant pis, tea, tee, tee-hee, Tennessee, testee, the, thee, three, thuggee, Tiree, Torquay, trainee, Tralee, transferee, tree, Trincomalee, trustee, tutee, twee, Twi, undersea, vestee, vis-à-vis, wagon-lit, Waikiki, warrantee, we, wee, whee, whoopee, ye, yippee, Zuider Zee

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