Roaming Chief and the Cosmic Journey

Tilton Collection Photo Lot 89-8

It must have been circa 1910 when the priest of the Pitahawirata Bear Ceremony chose Siriresaruku to serve as one of the four Leaders of the ritual.  And on the sixth day, the Morning Star rose.  And Siriresaruku handed a bear robe and claws and an eagle feather to another ritualist, and he spoke of how these should be worn when the man set forth to find the special cedar tree.  And Siriresaruku said, “Mother stands in the timber with our spirits, dreams for us, and sends the stories for us.”  And the Bear men found the tree.  And in the ceremony Siriresaruku sang two songs – songs about a man who long ago became lost in the fog, and he heard a woman singing in a cedar tree, and she became the tree, and the man dreamed of her, and he became a leader of the Bear Society.  And in the ceremony of the Bear Society, the man sang about the woman, the singing cedar tree who dreams for us.  Mother Cedar Tree who sends us the stories that we tell.  Many years later in 1998, the Pawnee Nation Education Department got in touch with me to pose an interesting question.  When Siriresaruku died in 1919, he was known by two names, one of which seemed incorrect.  “Roam Chief” versus “Roan Chief.”  Which was right?  I thought I knew the answer.  But now… I’m not so sure.  We can identify various names he held through his life.  Robert Bruce’s 1932 publication on the Pawnee Scouts included a photo of “Roam Chief” with this caption: “Known as ‘Koot tah-we-coots oo pah’ (literally hawk, red – commonly Red Hawk) on the last campaign of the Pawnee Scouts with the North brothers…”  Kútawikucuupahat means “tail-big-red,” referring to a red-tailed hawk.  This name appeared on an enlistment roster dated October 9, 1876 when Red Hawk was a young man.  Bruce added, “Roam Chief was over 7 feet in height…”  Red Hawk apparently changed his name while in the Pawnee Scouts – two undated letters in Roam Chief’s allotment file at the Pawnee Agency deny him a veteran’s pension.  These gave his name as “Lah-lah-we-ra-koo-lah-sah, now Roam Chief.”  This suggests that Lah-lah-we-ra-koo-lah-sah was the name he held when he was mustered out of service in 1877.  During the fifteen years that followed, all the Pawnees received Americanized names.  The various protocols that guided this process are not completely clear to me, but I have the impression that several Pawnee translators worked closely with American officials, and the final stages of this momentous change in Pawnee culture unfolded under the guidance of Helen Clarke, a Blackfeet woman who had charge of Pawnee allotment.  In the midst of allotment, during the 1892 Jerome Commission hearings, several Pawnees served as translators and an unknown person transcribed what they said.  Both this transcript and the list of Pawnee signatories to the 1892 Agreement included “Room Chief,” a likely error for “Roam Chief.”  It might have been in July 1893 that Helen Clarke allotted “Roam Chief,” age 41, born about 1851-1852.  He was married in those days to Eva Sitting Bull (Chaui) and Rebecca Richards (Pitahawirata).  These records imply that by 1892 he held a Pawnee name that could be translated as “Roam Chief,” but I have seen no transcription of this name in Pawnee.  In February 1902 he visited Washington DC with a Pawnee delegation, and De Lancey Gill took a photo of him, and the National Anthropological Archives attached the name “Ray-Tah-Cotz-Tay-Sah (Roaming Chief).”  The 1902 Pitahawirata Pawnee census and the 1903 Pawnee census both list “Roam Chief.”  And in 1904 George Dorsey and James R. Murie recruited him to join a delegation of Pawnees to attend the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.  According to Hannah Facknitz, one newspaper reported his name as “Roan Chief,” and a list of Pawnees attending the Exposition identified all the members of his family under the name “Roan Chief.”  Photos taken by Charles Carpenter at the Exposition likewise identified him as “Roan Chief, chief of the Pitahauerat and Pawnee.”  Dorsey and Murie’s 1906 The Pawnee Mythology included two stories told by “Roaming-Chief, hereditary chief of the Chaui.”  A February 25, 1907 “Affidavit As To Lawful Heirs” said that William Bishop and “Roam Chief” had the same great-grandfather.  An anonymous report about Pawneeland was published on March 28, 1907 in a Washington DC newspaper, together with a photo of “Roaming Chief, Six feet four inches tall.”  The archives of the Field Museum of Natural History contain a circa 1907 manuscript, a narrative “Told by Roaming-Chief (Chaui).”  The 1912 edition of a book by Frank Cooper about Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill published a photo captioned “Pawnee Bill and Roan Chief, Finest Specimen of Manhood Living.”  James R. Murie’s 1914 Pawnee Societies mentioned “Roaming-chief.”  And Murie’s Ceremonies of the Pawnee – edited by many hands – included mention of “Roaming Chief” with a photo of him captioned “Siriˑreˑsaruˑku They Are Making Him A Chief.”  Siriresaruku died in 1919.  People remembered him as Roan Chief; others said Roam Chief.  Martha Blaine noted in Some Things Are Not Forgotten (p. 251 endnote 4): “Garland Blaine said ‘Roan Chief.’  I have heard this as well as Roam Chief used.  His name translated from Pawnee as Roaming Chief.”  A 2013 obituary for Lucille Davis Long noted: “As a young child, she lived with her… step-grandfather, Roan Chief (as she always called him)…”  This chronology shows that he held various names during his lifetime, and one name was a source of confusion, difficult to explain.  The man known to us as Roam Chief / Roan Chief surely understood that people around him used both of these names.  But his Pawnee name was Siriresaruku, They Are Making Him A Leader.  A comparable situation occurred with another South Band man, Ruling His Sun / Ruling His Son.  He was asked about when he received his name, and he replied, “I do not know.  It is hard to tell but it was after I came here from Nebraska and they put me down for my allotment as Ruling His Sun.”  He did not seem to care whether Americans called him Ruling His Sun or Ruling His Son.  His Pawnee name was Pásaasiʾ, Osage.  We can guess that Siriresaruku felt the same way.  I have the suspicion that for whatever reason, he did not trouble himself to set people straight – maybe he even made use of both names.  “Roan Chief” might well have reminded him of his first name, Red Hawk.  It also remains possible that he held the name Roan Chief at some point.  If so, we would look for Asaapakspaharesaru or Ritkutareeʾusresaru; but to date, I have not found any version of that Pawnee name in any record.  For that matter, I have yet to find the name Roam Chief / Roaming Chief set down in Pawnee.  But we can assume that he did hold this name at circa 1890.  Whatever the name might have been, it got translated as Roam Chief and this was misheard on occasion as Roan Chief, and when he realized what was happening with his new American name, he apparently decided that both names worked just fine.  The name “Roam Chief” would most likely be written as Rakawariresaru or Rakaawarii Resaru.  Many variations are possible, with differing meanings, but the word “awarii” was surely an element in the name.  This term holds much meaning in both Pawnee dialects, referring to things in motion, to ritual movements.  Douglas Parks has pointed out that when kaawarii is used in a personal name, it refers to a person wandering under the heavens.  And among the Skidi, awarii served as the name for an annual spring ceremony, referring to the sentient energy that fills the world with motion and life-force.  And “resaru” arises from an equally fascinating cultural context.  It came to be typically translated as “chief,” but it refers to such ideas as “esteem” and “regal,” and it also obliquely invokes the celestial life-force as a creative divinity.  The philosophical context for “resaru” is that leaders of the earthly realm are supposed to emulate the divinities in the celestial universe; what happens in the heavens is to be echoed on earth.  To cultivate a disposition to benefit humankind, leaders should hold the meditative sense of these meanings at the center of their selfhood.  This traditional quality long ago guided Pawnee leadership.  A long ago understanding of resaru might loosely translate the term as “Regal Community Leader.”  But to reflect a wider circle of traditional meanings, we could speak of a more esoteric translation: “Sovereign With Divine Celestial Blessings.”  We can suggest that Rakawariresaru might best be translated as Ruler Roaming Under The Heavens.  In this case, both “ruler” and “awarii” connote movement in a straight line.  Along the way, the celestial realm resonates with the distant motions of stars and planets and the moon and the sun – sublime echoes flow down to all the living things that move across the earth, and we wish for mysterious heavenly powers to send us both dreams and stories.  Exploring the names held by Siriresaruku, we glimpse the occult ethic of leadership and selfhood that once shaped Pawneeland.  And through the 19th century, “Resaru” diminished in meaning, humbled from regal cosmic significance into the more mundane “Chief.”  And slowly Siriresaruku wandered in the world, the tall heir of a royal lineage of the South Band Pawnees.  Roaming across America, he sometimes posed for photos, and they called him the “Redskin Giant,” and they said he was six feet four inches… he was six feet eight inches… he was seven feet – they finally said he was over seven feet tall.  And in Pawneeland he bore his great names lightly under the heavens, and one day he related a story.  He told how the priest of a long ago ceremony spoke to the people, saying, “…our father stands before us clothed with power, sent down from the different gods in the heavens.”  And that priest of olden days told the people, “When we leave the lodge we shall go out as if born anew, then we shall pass around the north side of the village as children.  Then we shall pass around the south side as old men, and then we shall enter the lodge to show the people that we die again and are put under ground.”

Tilton Collection Photo Lot 89-8

Photo by Charles Carpenter, “Roan Chief,” 1904, National Anthropological Archives

Rush Roberts and the Setting Sun


Rush Roberts was born November 30, 1859.  A family history prepared by George Roberts named the father as “Latakutskalahar (Fancy Eagle),” and the mother “Chiha (Reed Matting).”  These names are Riítahkaackarahaaru, Proud Eagle, and Chihiítu, Reed Mat.  Both Proud Eagle and Reed Mat died “in the land of Nebraska” – Proud Eagle was killed “by enemy Indians.”  Late in life Rush Roberts responded to a list of questions received from a researcher, and he mentioned his father: “My father was a Doctor; he died when I was about four years of age.  My stepfather was a hunter and trapper.”  This suggests that Proud Eagle was killed about 1864, and Reed Mat married another Skidi man.  This genealogy traces the Roberts family history back to the late 18th century.  But in 1977 Garland Blaine took issue with certain aspects of this family heritage, and he said that Rush Roberts was “a mixed blood.”  Then in 1983 I heard a very different story.  In July that year I sat down with my uncle John Knife Chief to go over a list of Pawnee men who had signed the Agreement of 1892 – the generation that adopted the formal use of inherited surnames.  When we got to the name “Rush Roberts,” Uncle John paused.  He said Rush’s real parents were, as he put it, white immigrants.  They might have been German, he said.  One day they were both killed by the Sioux.  A Skidi group came upon the slaughter and they found a living child and Rush grew up as a Skidi.  These stories are confusing.  Was Rush Roberts the scion of Skidi lineages?  Was he a “mixed blood”?  Was he an adopted son of Proud Eagle and Reed Mat?  We can say for sure that he grew up as a member of a Skidi family, and he shared with his son Henry his memory of his Skidi father, Proud Eagle, who was married to Reed Mat, his mother.  Henry wrote in a 1903 school essay, “He said that when he was young his father was killed in a battle with the Sioux Indians, and so he did not get to see his father very long.”  Perhaps we can reconstruct an arguable model of what happened.  At the killing of his birth-parents, Rush was likely an infant, too young to retain any memories of what had happened.  And he was still quite young when his first Skidi adoptive father, Proud Eagle, died at the hands of the Sioux.  Pawneeland in those days was an embattled realm.  The colonizing Sioux and their client states and allies wrested away swathes of Pawnee hunting grounds by military invasion, taking control of steadily declining herds of buffalo.  And they assaulted the Pawnees in their last city, Wild Licorice Creek – an earthlodge metropolis founded in 1859, a few months before the birth of Rush Roberts.  That city had two Skidi suburbs, and in later life Rush said, “The village I lived in had about fifty lodges in Nebraska.”  From its founding, Wild Licorice Creek was a city under siege.  A New York Times report described a Sioux attack on the “Scheedees” in May 1860 and “a sharp fight took place, lasting about half an hour in which three Pawnees were killed and four severely wounded,” with honorable mention of the deeds of Baptiste Bayhylle and Crooked Hand.  Historian Mark van de Logt noted that “between April and September 1860, Sioux raiders struck the town no fewer than eight times.”  Clyde Milner added: “In the summer of 1860, even with a company of US soldiers on the reservation, the Sioux destroyed sixty Pawnee lodges.  Early in 1861, with the Pawnees off in their winter camps, the Sioux virtually occupied the reservation.  That fall they burned the prairies to prevent a successful Pawnee hunt, and by January many Pawnees had no food.”  The Pawnees also observed Sioux attacks on their American neighbors.  In early September 1862 the American farmer for the Pawnees reported that the Sioux had “killed a white man a few miles above” the Pawnee city.  And “they were intending to have a big fight with the Pawnees.”  He heard “that the Sioux were in large bodies, of 500 each, at various distances on all sides of the Pawnee village.”  Historian George Hyde touched on events in the summer of 1863: “The Sioux were very troublesome this summer.  They started with a big raid on June 22, when they charged straight into the Pawnee villages, killing and scalping some Indian women, with Agent Lushbaugh and the officers of the cavalry company which was supposed to be on guard looking on.  Later in the summer 300 Brulés made an attack on the Pawnee villages, wounding the captain of the cavalry company with an arrow and killing one soldier and a number of Pawnees before the Indians and cavalry could mount and drive them off.  The cavalry company seemed useless, small parties of Sioux getting in almost daily to kill Pawnee women in the corn patches and to enter the Indian villages at night to steal horses.”  Surveying this history, it is certainly possible that Rush Roberts was the son of non-Pawnee parents killed by the Sioux somewhere in Pawneeland – parents who might well have been immigrants from Germany.  Their infant son survived.  The little boy was too young to retain any memories of those grim events.  And Proud Eagle and Reed Mat took in the orphan and they named him Arikaraaru.  The name means “horned one” and it refers to a “stag, buck deer.”  Perhaps we could translate it as Deer Antlers.  In later years he could vaguely recall how his Skidi father died at the hands of an invading Sioux military expedition – a dim memory reinforced by things his mother said in his childhood before she died.  Other Skidis in the community knew the truth, and perhaps some Pawnees thought Deer Antlers was a Skidi with American ancestry.  Deer Antlers became a youth in this time of war, and one summer day in 1873 he survived the genocidal Sioux slaughter of Pawnees at Massacre Canyon.  An American named Royal Buck visited the scene.  He published a somber report in a local newspaper: “It was indeed a regular massacre… for nearly four miles down the canyon the dead bodies are still lying bleaching in the sun or putrifying in the water or slough holes… near one hundred victims are lying on the ground and full two thirds are squaws and pappooses.  All or nearly all are scalped.”  In 1876 Deer Antlers joined the final enlistment of Pawnee Scouts.  Mark van de Logt quoted Rush in his 2010 book on the Pawnee Scouts: “The Sioux and Cheyennes were our enemies, and I had this chance to operate against them.”  It appears that Deer Antlers was present at the Dull Knife battle in late November 1876.  He recalled, “About three days after the Cheyenne battle we had the name changing ceremony at our supply wagon camp.”  Perhaps this was the occasion when Deer Antlers took his Skidi father’s name, Riítahkaackarahaaru.  The name is typically translated as Fancy Eagle, but the word karahaar means “be neat, fastidious, particular, as in one’s dress or work; be proud.”  The term pertains to a person who takes pride in being meticulous and “proudly attired.”  And riítahkaac refers to a golden eagle.  Douglas Parks translated this name as Proud Eagle.  And it must have been during the 1880s when Proud Eagle took another name, borrowing an American name “Rush Roberts” from a Quaker official of the Board of Indian Commissioners.  In October 1875 Benjamin Rush Roberts had visited Pawneeland in Oklahoma, and he was struck at how this new Pawnee realm looked quite beautiful “in the light of the setting sun… a picture which no pen could adequately describe.”  And in 1904 when George Dorsey and James R. Murie published Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee, they included one narrative told by “Fancy Eagle.”  And “God-of-Wind” tells of a “wonderful boy” who could perform magic, transforming a clay buffalo “into a live buffalo calf.”  Stitakäu or Womb “could call the buffalo” and “he seemed to make the ground open so that buffalo came forth.”  This narrative has the feel of an old tradition handed down for generations – it ends with Stitakäu becoming a divinity in the north: “Hikusu, Breath or Wind.”  And the people made offerings in those days, as the story told.  And Stitakäu became Hikusu “and the people knew that he did not die”; and still, he is “living and stands in the north…”  And the infant boy became Arikaraaru.  And he became Riítahkaackarahaaru.  And one day he became Rush Roberts.  And he lived to a great age – he grew very old in Pawneeland, a beautiful realm “in the light of the setting sun… which no pen could adequately describe.”


Photo by Thomas Smillie: “Ray-Tah-Cots-Tey-Sah-Ru, Fancy Eagle, called Rush Roberts,” January 21, 1905

Sitting Bull’s Earthlodge

It must have been in the early 1890s when photographer Thomas Croft visited Pawneeland.  Using glass plate negatives, he took two photos of an ákaaruʾ (earthlodge) built by the family of Sitting Bull.  One photo shows the exterior of the house.  Several hundred photos of Pawnees must have been taken during the 19th century, and perhaps twenty or so show earthlodges.  But I can’t think of any that peer into the interior of an ákaaruʾ.  So I was quite interested to recently find online a photo taken by Croft inside Sitting Bull’s earthlodge.  It is apparent that he set up his tripod at the inner end of the hiwata or íwatuuruʾ – the extended entryway.  So we must be looking at the uúkatat, “hanging at the west,” the west side of the earthlodge.  This is usually where a sacred bundle would hang over the altar.  In this photo, against the far wall we see a canopy structure.  And a dark shadowy object sits atop the frame of the canopy.  It is difficult to make out any details, but one spot of light might be a gourd rattle.  Perhaps this is a sacred bundle, a Cuʾuhreereepiiruʾ, Rains Wrapped Up.  Under the canopy we can make out what seems to be a bison skull resting on a pedestal.  These are very intriguing details.  But I am also interested in the itkatahaaruʾ, the “place of the fire.”  We can see that it is collared with an earthen rim.  This feature holds esoteric meaning, ancient symbolism (see my book The Enchanted Mirror: Ancient Pawneeland, p. 100-101).  Earthlodges constructed in more recent years have been built as exhibits, and these don’t have collared hearths.  But this feature connects Pawnee earthlodges to antiquity, to long-forgotten religious ideas about heaven and earth.  And it is no wonder that this hearth had a ring built around it, because Kiwikutiwitit (Sitting Bull) was a Chaui priest.  He was born about 1830.  He grew up at Marsh Town, a Chaui earthlodge city on the Flat River, and he studied to become a doctor, and he served in the Pawnee Scouts, defending Pawneeland against the implacable invasion of the Sioux empire.  After the Pawnees moved to Oklahoma, many people fell ill and Kiwikutiwitit doctored people in his tent.  He had two wives then, Stay kee lah wee rah and Chee sah hee rah sah.  And south of the Pawnee Agency they built an earthlodge.  It might have been around 1890 when Kiwikutiwitit took the name Tahirasawica’, He Arrives In The Lead.  In Echo Hawk family tradition Tahirasawica’ was known for treating broken bones.  In 1982 one of my uncles told me that after the reservation opened in 1893, a new American neighbor brought his son to Sitting Bull’s earthlodge.  The boy had a broken leg, seriously infected.  It needed amputation.  Sitting Bull told the farmer: “You must let me have this boy for four days, and perhaps I can help him.”  That youth stayed in the earthlodge shown in the attached photos.  And whatever life he lived ever after, when he walked around in his world he surely thought of how he left the ákaaruʾ of Sitting Bull with a mended leg.  I would guess that this story has endured in my family oral tradition because it tells an important story, reminding us that the Pawnees dealt honorably with their new American neighbors when they needed help.  And Tahirasawica’ was more than a doctor; he was also a priest.  He conducted the Chaui Pipe Dance, a ritual filled with dreams that happened long ago in an ancient realm.  There the priests of antiquity invented the Pipe Dance, and folk began to live in earthlodges.  And in the fall of 1898 Tahirasawica’ traveled to Washington DC and he shared with anthropologist Alice Fletcher the songs and rituals of the Pipe Dance.  And Fletcher came to Pawneeland in the fall of 1901, and she visited the earthlodge of Tahirasawica’: “I saw how he had propped up a part of the ruins of his lodge,” she wrote, “so that he might still keep the sacred objects in a primitive dwelling.”  He said to her, “I cannot live in a white man’s house of any kind.  The sacred articles committed to my care must be kept in an earth lodge, and in order that I may fulfill my duties toward them and my people, I must live there also, so that as I sit I can reach out my hand and lay it upon mother earth.”  And in those days long ago the Pipe Dance slowly drew to an end.  The ákaaruʾ of Tahirasawica’ slowly fell into ruin.  And about 1908, one day long ago the old man reached out his hand to touch the earth one final time.

Sitting Bull's Earth lodge Outside

Pawnee Creek

Pawnee Creek weaves a slender thread of water across a hot summerland.  In this corner of the arid Colorado High Plains, the world paused one day, and history uttered a tale of curious intersections and collisions.  A tale of human diversity.  A tale of segregated humankind.  And in Pawnee tradition… once upon a time Spider Woman helped the Skidi here; then she spread her legs on a hillside and she made Pawnee Creek.

In mid-September 2018 my wife and I traced on maps the route of Pawnee Creek across northeastern Colorado, and we set forth to visit the stream.  The final stretch of this waterway long ago gave way to modernity.  Where it adjourns into the Flat River, it becomes a modest irrigation ditch.  Just beyond a No Trespassing sign we found a herd of cattle browsing on a field of almost bare dirt.

Noticing a sidelong track, we soon discovered a hidden parking area – and Dune Ridge State Wildlife Area.  Hiking across a field to the shore of the Flat River, we stood among butterflies.  Migrant Monarchs daydreaming in the shade.  Peering down the stream I could see a scatter of trees where Pawnee Creek irrigates the shallows of the Flat River.


The Flat River at the mouth of Pawnee Creek

One summer day almost two hundred years ago some American travelers paused in Pawneeland on the Many Wild Potatoes River.  At Kítkhahaahpakuhtu’, the Skidi metropolis, it was June 1820.  There the Long expedition enlisted several French-American guides – one was Joseph Bijeau, an American trader with French-Canadian ancestry, hired to serve as “guide and interpreter.”  He was fluent in French and English and Pawnee, and he “was partially acquainted with several Indian languages; in particular, that of the Crow nation, which is extensively understood by the western tribes…”

It is apparent that Bijeau had a son with a Skidi woman.  One Long expedition chronicler described the wives of the French-American traders in that city as wearing “moccasins, legings of red serge” and “Shoud [stroud] of blue cloth, a kind of short petticoat ornamented around the bottom with red or yellow binding – and a shirt of callico fringed round the neck & bosome of the same material.”  In those days calico became popular among the women in Pawneeland.  My great-grandfather’s grandmother was born in a Kitkahahki city sometime around 1800 and she became known as Cihiitu, Calico Woman.

On June 14 the Americans departed from Kítkhahaahpakuhtu’.  Over the next few days they stopped at various Pawnee campgrounds, then they arrived at a locale where they noticed two human skulls on the ground.  Edwin James said that the French-American guides didn’t know what had happened there.  But Captain John Bell heard that “Chayennes” had accosted a “Pawnee party” here and they had killed everyone except one survivor.  Thomas Say selected a skull and packed it up and the Americans carried it back to the United States.

On June 28 the Long expedition journeyed along the south side of the Flat River in the west of Pawneeland and they saw herds of wild horses, several rattlesnakes, a fox, a buffalo, a curious antelope – and that day they passed a stream “called by the Indians Bat-so-ah, or Cherry creek…”  The term is not Pawnee or French.  It is probably a Crow term, báachuua, meaning chokecherry.  We can guess that the name was supplied by Joseph Bijeau who was “partially acquainted” with Crow.  This moment arose at the edge of Pawneeland from a complicated cultural quilt.  An American expedition.  A French-American with French-Canadian ancestry.  A Skidi family.  Rumor of the wandering Crows.


A view of Long’s Peak from Longmont, Colorado

Several days later this party saw far mountains “upon the luminous margin of the sky” and the Americans decided they were seeing “the point designated by Pike as the Highest Peak.”  Pike’s Peak.  But no.  This was a mountain farther north.  In time that mountain became known as Long’s Peak, named after Stephen Long, the leader of the American party.  The Americans continued on to Pike’s Peak.  And they journeyed onward through the Great Plains.

After they returned to the United States, the Pawnee skull picked up by Thomas Say made its way into the hands of Samuel Morton.  Morton studied the skull, and he wrote about it in his 1839 book, Crania Americana.  Generalizing about “The American Race” Morton came to the scientific conclusion that his collection of kidnapped skulls revealed an aversion “to cultivation” and a people “slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure.”

In those days a ferment of racial ideas had already given rise to the primary formal tenets of racial Indianhood – ideas invented in the academic ponderings of American and European philosophers and widely adopted and embraced among adherents to the new identity system.  The American imagination had by then drawn on experiences with a Skidi named Pitarisaru (Man Chief) to formulate the stereotype of the noble Plains Indian warrior.  Race would define the Pawnee-American relationship.  Racial Indianhood would flow from those days into the future.

An artist named John Collins made a lithograph of the Pawnee skull for Morton, and according to historian James Poskett, Morton sent a copy of the lithograph to a colleague in England.  This lithograph caused a stir at the next annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  One phrenologist peered at it and decided the forehead of the Pawnee was “villainously low.”

"Crania americana; or, A comparative view of the skulls of various aboriginal nations of North and South America"

John Collins lithograph, “Pawnee”

And BAAS sponsored a special committee that drew up a new protocol for ethnology.  A protocol that added momentum to the idea “that many races now existing are likely, at no distant period, to be annihilated.”  This committee devised guidelines for British travelers, encouraging the production of ethnographic notes on 89 topics.  The racial stereotype of the vanishing Red Indian became firmly rooted in European intellectual culture; this ethnohistory became a matter of weaker races inevitably giving way to stronger racial types.

I don’t know when Cherry Creek became Pawnee Creek.  It appears as Pawnee Creek on one 1866 map of Colorado and again on an 1880 map.  The waterway winds down from Pawnee Buttes.  One 1902 account gave an interesting history, saying it became known as Pawnee Creek “because a party of 200 Pawnee Indians were here surrounded by a greatly outnumbering force of Sioux, who, when they found they could not capture the Pawnees, proceeded to starve them out; but the Pawnees refused to surrender to escape even this death, and the last man of them perished by starvation.”

This must refer to a narrative that became embedded in Pawnee storytelling as a useful interpretive lens: the story of Pawnee Rock – a tale that overflowed onto the summits of Courthouse Rock and Pawnee Buttes.  We can guess that a variety of incidents may have fed into the making of this tale, but it could also have arisen from a single incident.  In the Pawnee Buttes story, after the battle, Spider Woman made a spring that flowed from the hillside – Pawnee Creek.


Historian David Bernstein published a 2018 book that touched briefly on this matter.  A Skidi woman named Mary Faw Faw testified during the 1950s that some Pawnees got trapped on Pawnee Rock by “several tribes” and there was a battle and four Pawnees survived.  One survivor was her grandfather.  Mary Ricketts Faw Faw was the daughter of Charlie Walker (born circa 1837-1841), and he was the son of Te-ha-ka-ha-lus-pe – this could have been the grandfather who took part in the events at Pawnee Rock.  And we can surmise that those events happened sometime before 1831.  Te-ha-ka-ha-lus-pe dwelt at Kítkhahaahpakuhtu’ when the Long expedition appeared there in 1820; he knew Joseph Bijeau; he may have even known the Pawnee whose skull ended up a topic of interest in Britain.

Ancestors of the Pawnees once resided along the western edge of Pawneeland.  People today associate this region with later immigrants who briefly touched down here, like the Arapaho and Cheyenne.  But the ancient forgotten residents of this realm long ago helped give rise to the Kawarakis Pawnees and the Skidi.

During the early 19th century this region served as a crossroads.  People met here, they traded, they hunted together, they raided each other, they intermarried, they killed one another, and they picked up skulls and they wondered what it means to be human.  In this story we glimpse Americans, Canadians, the French, the Pawnees, the Crows, the Cheyennes, the Sioux, and the British.  Wandering at the feet of Those Distant Rocks, they manufactured the manifold details of the various stories they would pass down into the future.  The truths of human diversity give this story a particular kind of depth.  But in those days “diversity” had to be properly managed; everyone tumbled into the rigid channels of racial thinking and the pathologizing of diversity.

And one day in mid-September 2018 I stood on the shore of the Flat River among butterflies.  Pausing beside Pawnee Creek for a moment, I watched the water flow on, as if to find its hidden destiny, mingling with the Flat River, mingling with the Mysterious River, mingling with the Dark River… whispering onward to the edge of the world.