The End of the World


Pawnee tradition preserves a fascinating oracular text, a prophesy of disease and apocalypse and the end of the world – a dire future when the Star of Death “would take possession” of the world.  A 1906 narrative by a Pitahawirata community leader named Captain Jim opens when he “was a little boy.”  In those days his father, See-tee-de-tah-kee-tah-we-loo-coo, told him “about the songs of these old men.”  And that night, “My grandmother then told me the following story…”  We don’t know which grandmother related this tradition, but Captain Jim was born circa 1836-1840, so he heard the story sometime during the 1840s.  Judging from Captain Jim’s date of birth, both of his grandmothers might have been born around 1790 – his father’s mother was Chay-suh-pah-tos; his mother’s mother was Stah-kee-tah-welah-lee-coo.  The story touched on signs portending the end of the world.  Moon turning red; the dying of Sun’s light; the vanishing of North Star (Polaris); rising waterways; a great starfall; and the foreboding movement of Upirihkaahuririwisisuʾ or South Star (Canopus).  Captain Jim’s grandmother said, “The North Star is the one which is to end all things.”  She explained that “when a person died they were taken by the North Star and they were placed upon the pathway which led to the Star of Death – the land of the spirits – the South Star.”  The two stretcher constellations (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) symbolize people who have fallen ill with disease.  And “the South Star would come higher, until at last it would capture the people who were carrying the two people upon the stretchers; as soon as the South Star captured these two people upon the stretchers they were to die.”  And so “the South Star would take possession of the earth and of the people.”  Captain Jim’s tradition touches on Tarahaʾ Raruhraturaaruuta, Buffalo Trail – the South Band Pawnee term for the Milky Way.  I believe this name references a mysterious bison divinity that stands at Toos Peh, the ancient mountain portal to Spiritland.  Captain Jim’s grandmother explained, “Each year this buffalo was to drop one hair.  When all the hairs of the buffalo had come off then the people would not live upon the earth any more.”  The tradition said that rising waters would carry away animals, and clam shells “would cry out like babies.”  And stars would fall to earth and “mix among people…”  And there would be eclipses: “The old people told us that the Morning-Star said that when the time came for the world to end the Moon would turn red… that when the Moon should turn red the people would then know that the world was coming to an end.  The Sun was also to shine bright and all at once that brightness would die out and the end would come.”  This describes a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse – common celestial phenomena that occur every year.  In astronomy, a “blood red” moon is a term for the moon during a lunar eclipse, and on January 20, 2019 a “Super Blood Wolf Moon” became visible across North America.  Then on December 26, 2019 an annular solar eclipse unfolded across Asia, barely visible in Wuhan, China – we can note here that a full solar eclipse reveals the solar corona, the sun’s coronal prominences and filaments.  And at that moment on earth at the end of 2019, a new coronavirus had appeared.  We can only wonder whether Captain Jim would have had any inclination to connect his apocalyptic family oral tradition to coincidence of this kind.  I have the impression that Pawnee storytelling today typically underscores catastrophic disease epidemics as a central factor in the 19th century Pawnee demographic decline.  Infectious diseases of various kinds have always existed in Pawneeland, but the spread of new virulent diseases in Pawneeland is typically framed as an outcome of European and American interactions.  Historian Richard White wrote in 1983, “Increased contact with Americans brought increased exposure to disease…”  And “steady contact with whites made diseases such as syphilis, dysentery, and tuberculosis virtually endemic, and epidemics of influenza, smallpox, and cholera continued to sweep through the villages.”  Deadly disease epidemics have sufficient antiquity in Pawneeland to have earned a place in Pawnee cosmology, in traditional explanations for human mortality.  And it is notable that when smallpox appeared, the Pawnees blamed South Star, not “white people.”  One such account is in the papers of James R. Murie and George Dorsey at the Field Museum of Natural History: “Origin of Sickness Among Indians,” told by Kiwikurawaruksti (Mysterious Buffalo Bull, John Buffalo), a Skidi priest.  The story begins, “When Tirawa placed the gods in the heavens, the last one he placed was the South Star.  The South Star was to be the home of the dead people.”  One time the South Star appeared and there came a cyclone, and one man dreamed that the cyclone appeared and said, “My son, I am the Wind which has just passed over your village.  I have life.  I visit different parts of the earth and on my journeys I leave behind sickness, so that the people in the country become sick.  Sometimes I visit your villages as a man; but though apparently a man, I am really the disease that is to come among the people.”  The account then turned to a time when “the people were living upon the Platte river in Nebraska, near Fremont; at this place was the lodge of the animals.”  The people left there “and went west upon the Loupe river, and there they made their village, and lived for many years.”  This sequence of events seems to indicate that Pawnees were residing on the Flat River in the vicinity of Pahaku during the late 18th century.  In those days, “The people were being taught by different animals how to cure various diseases.”  And Mark van de Logt’s Monsters of Contact (p. 59-74) features a fascinating analysis of Arikara oral traditions connecting whirlwind imagery to late 18th century disease epidemics.  He makes a convincing case that a spectrum of such traditions can be usefully interpreted as glimpses of historical epidemics, and this connection is also evident in Kiwikurawaruksti’s Skidi tradition with its mention of “the Wind.”  It is also notable that the cessation of visits from the celestial bringer of disease is associated with the coming of “white people”: “The Indians say that in olden times this mysterious man was seen many times, and each time some sort of disease spread among the Indians.  As the white people came among the Indians this sick man was not seen any more and therefore no more epidemics occurred among the Indians.”  This curious statement about “white people” might reflect experiences of some kind with American medical practices.  Kiwikurawaruksti was born during the mid-1830s, and US documents of the early 1830s includes a long list of Pawnees who were inoculated against smallpox.  And Pawnee tradition speaks of one American official who rode around visiting Pawnee camps to distribute medicine during the devastating epidemics of 1876.  Pawnee cosmology associates South Star (Canopus) with death, but this might have been separate from a “Star of Disease,” identified with Saturn.  Citing Murie and Dorsey, Douglas Parks noted that the ritual use of sweetgrass smudging was therapeutic, and “it was believed that the deity of disease was pushed farther from the village and that the village itself was thereby freed from disease.”  Given the deadly epidemics that passed through Pawnee cities long ago, it would be interesting to know whether the Pawnees ever practiced forms of social distancing.  But it is clear that communal ceremonies offered a prescribed mode of treatment in Pawneeland.  Murie and Dorsey noted that Pawnee Doctor society rites held every autumn served three purposes: “By them they renewed their powers, drove disease from the village, and, by means of their sleight of hand performances, convinced the people that they really possessed the supernatural powers attributed to them.”  In the course of these fall rituals, people who were ill received visits from doctors.  A spectrum of beliefs and doctoring activities pertained to disease in Pawneeland, and tradition-keepers at the end of the 19th century spoke of those ways.  And when Captain Jim was young, his grandmother told him a story that he remembered many years later.  And that night long ago in Pawneeland, at the end of the story, the little boy might well have felt worried about the future.  And his grandmother might have noticed.  She said, “Now, my grandchild, go to sleep and think no more of what I have told you, for you are young yet and must not think about these things.”  Coronavirus Chronology – In early April 2020, pondering the coronavirus pandemic, I got curious about the complexities of civic leadership and cultural perspectives and disease transmission processes.  I wondered whether an examination of this pandemic might shed some kind of peripheral light on the epidemic tribulations of my Pawnee ancestors.  I borrowed an anonymous timeline from social media and I checked the information, and I integrated additional material from various sources.  My apologies to the uncited people who transcribed and assembled the information below.  To frame this pandemic through a traditional Pawnee lens… As the South Star takes possession of the earth, a tragic number of people worldwide must “get ready to be turned into stars.”  And as “the stars in the heavens would look down,” we can only wonder what kind of world will emerge from these days.  December 30, 2019 – Dr Li Wenliang messages on WeChat that his hospital in Wuhan, China has seven patients diagnosed with a SARS-like illness, and he has contracted the disease.  He is reprimanded by Chinese authorities.  December 31, 2019 – China informs the World Health Organization (WHO) that about 41 patients have a mysterious pneumonia.  January 5, 2020 – China announces probe into the mysterious pneumonia outbreak.  WHO issues a risk assessment on “pneumonia of unknown etiology (unknown cause) detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.”  WHO “does not recommend any specific measures for travellers.”  January 7 – China identifies the novel coronavirus.  President Xi issues directives for control of the novel coronavirus; this is not known outside China until February 15.  January 8 – First CDC warning, issued on “a reported cluster of pneumonia of unknown etiology (PUE)…”  January 11 – First known death in China.  For a glimpse of White House attitudes in early January, see Jonathan Lemire, “Signs Missed and Steps Slowed in Trump’s Pandemic Response,” New York Times, April 12, 2020:  “Twenty current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House were interviewed for this account about the critical weeks lost before the president spoke to the nation on Feb. 26.” “The Pentagon first learned about the new coronavirus in December from open source reports emanating from China. By early January, warnings about the virus had made their way into intelligence reports circulating around the government. On Jan. 3, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, received a call from his Chinese counterpart with an official warning.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was alerted to the virus around the same time – and within two weeks was fearful it could bring global catastrophe.  Quickly, U.S. intelligence and public health officials began doubting China’s reported rates of infection and death toll.  They pressed China to allow in U.S. epidemiologists – both to assist the country in confronting the spread and to gain valuable insights that could help buy time for the U.S. response.  U.S. officials also pressed China to send samples of the virus to U.S. labs for study and for vaccine and test development.  On Jan. 11, China shared the virus’ genetic sequence.  That same day, the National Institutes of Health started working on a vaccine.”  January 16 – US House of Representatives sends two articles of impeachment to the Senate.  The coronavirus appears in Japan.  January 17 – US begins screening arrivals at three airports.  January 18 – Alex Azar briefs Trump on coronavirus threat; according to Jonathan Lemire (April 4, 2020 report) “Trump spent much of the conversation wanting to talk about vaping…”  January 20 – China reports first known person-to-person transmission.  January 21 – Official confirmation of the first known US case of coronavirus in Washington State.  January 22 – Trump: “We have it totally under control.  It’s one person coming in from China.  It’s going to be just fine.”  January 23 – Wuhan put under partial quarantine.  WHO issues position that epidemic does not yet constitute a global health emergency.  January 27 – Joe Biden publishes a warning that Trump has “demonstrated failures of judgment and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.”  January 29 – White House advisor Peter Navarro sends a memo to the National Security Council warning of “the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”  Formation of White House task force on the coronavirus.  January 30 – Trump campaign rally, Iowa.  WHO declares a global health emergency.  Trump: “We think we have it very well under control.  We have very little problem in this country at this moment – five – and those people are all recuperating successfully.  But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us.”  January 31 – President bans foreign nationals from entering US if they have visited China in prior two weeks.  This narrow ban left open significant travel between China and the US, and it was the only major action Trump took through mid-March to address the incipient pandemic.  In comments made on various occasions in February and March, Trump cited push-back from unnamed sources that he respected, and he portrayed his decision as an “aggressive action” that was difficult and effective.  February 2 – Trump: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”  First known death in Philippines.  February 4 – Diamond Princess cruise ship put under quarantine in a Japanese harbor.  February 5 – The US Senate votes to acquit Trump, ending the impeachment trial.  February 8 – First known death of an American in China.  February 10 – Trump campaign rally New Hampshire.  International WHO research team arrives in China.  Trump: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do – you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat, as the heat comes in.  Typically, that will go away in April.  We’re in great shape, though.  We have 12 cases, 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.”  February 11 – WHO names the new virus COVID-19.  February 12 – Dow Jones closes at an all-time high of 29,551.42.  South Korea epidemic begins.  February 14 – The first known COVID-19 death in Europe is a Chinese tourist.  Health and Human Services and the National Security Council prepare a joint memo with recommendations for community mitigation “significantly limiting public gatherings and cancellation of almost all sporting events, performances, and public and private meetings…”  Trump refuses to meet with HHS /NSC.  Trump: “And 61 percent of the voters approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.” “And we’re – we have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it.  It’s like around 12.  Many of them are getting better.  Some are fully recovered already.  So we’re in very good shape.”  February 15 – Trump golfs, Florida.  February 18 – President Xi assures British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that China is “achieving visible progress.”  February 19 – Trump campaign rally, Arizona.  Iran epidemic begins.  Diamond Princess asymptomatic passengers released into US.  February 20 – Trump campaign rally, Colorado.  Trump: “The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus.  This is their new hoax.”  South Korea first death.  February 21 – Trump campaign rally, Nevada.  February 23 – Peter Navarro sends memo to Trump via National Security Council, noting, “There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.”  Trump: “We have it very much under control in this country.”  February 24 – Trump: “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”  The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunges 1000 points.  February 25 – Trump: “CDC and my Administration are doing a GREAT job of handling Coronavirus.”  “In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.”  NIH announces clinical trial of antiviral remdesivir.  Italy issues list of Lombardy towns in lockdown.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunges 879.44 points, closing at 27,081.36.  February 26 – Trump:  “The infection seems to have gone down over the last two days. As opposed to getting larger, it’s actually gotten smaller.” “And the United States is now – we’re rated number one.  We’re rated number one for being prepared.” “But we’ve done, really, an extraordinary job.  When you look at a country this size, with so many people pouring in – we’re the number one in the world for people coming into a country, by far.  And we have a total of 15 cases, many of which, or most – within a day, I will tell you most of whom are fully recovered.” “The fifteen [US cases] within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” “We’re going very substantially down, not up.”  CDC announces that an American in California acquired the virus from an unknown source through community transmission.  VP Pence put in charge of US program.  February 27 – Trump: “We have a situation with the virus.  We’ve done a great job.  The press won’t give us credit for it.” “If we were doing a bad job, we should also be criticized.  But we have done an incredible job.  We’re going to continue.  It’s going to disappear.  One day – it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”  February 28 – Trump campaign rally, South Carolina.  “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus.  You know that, right?  Coronavirus.  They’re politicizing it.”  “My administration has taken the most aggressive action in modern history to prevent the spread of this illness in the United States.  We are ready.”  “And the Democrats single point – talking point and you say it’s – is that it’s Donald Trump’s fault, right.”  “Whoever thought of this two weeks ago?  Who would’ve thought this could be going on four weeks ago.”  February 29 – Trump press conference: “Tremendous amounts of supplies are already on hand.  We have 43 million masks, which is far more than anyone would have assumed we could have had so quickly…”  First known US death.  Washington Governor Inslee announces state of emergency.  March 2 – Trump campaign rally, North Carolina.  “My administration has also taken the most aggressive action in modern history to protect Americans from the coronavirus.”  “Washington Democrats are trying to politicize the coronavirus, denigrating the noble work of our public health professionals…”  The Coronaviridae Study Group officially designates the virus as SARS-CoV-2.  March 3 – Federal Reserve issues unscheduled cut to interest rates to help faltering US economy.  Iran announces that 23 members of its Parliament are infected.  March 4 – Trump to Hannity: “If we have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by, you know, sitting around and even going to work – some of them go to work, but they get better.”  CDC removes certain restrictions on coronavirus testing.  March 5 – Trump: “I never said people that are feeling sick should go to work.”  “And one of the things I did is, I closed down the borders to China and to other areas that are very badly affected, and really having a lot of troubles, I mean, countries and areas of countries that have had a lot of problem.  And I closed them down very early, against the advice of almost everybody. And we have been given rave reviews.  And that’s why we have only right now 11 – it’s a lot of people, but it’s still 11 people, versus tremendous numbers of thousands of people that have died all over the world.  We have 11.”  March 6 – Trump: “Well, job numbers just came out and they’re incredible. The job numbers were tremendous.”  “Our numbers are lower than just about anybody.  And in terms of deaths, I don’t know what the count is today.  Is it 11?  Eleven people?  And in terms of cases, it’s very, very few.  When you look at other countries, it’s a very tiny fraction because we’ve been very strong at the borders.”  “So I think we’re in great shape.  I mean, I think we’re in great shape.  This came unexpectedly a number of months ago.  I heard about it in China.  It came out of China, and I heard about it.  And made a good move: We closed it down; we stopped it.” “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down… a tremendous job at keeping it down.” “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” “Anybody right now and yesterday – anybody that needs a test gets a test.  We – they’re there.  They have the tests.  And the tests are beautiful.” “They’re all set.  They have them out there.  In addition to that, they’re making millions of more as we speak.  But as of right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test – that’s the important thing – and the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect.  The transcription was perfect, right?  This was not as perfect as that, but pretty good.” “I like this stuff.  I really get it.  People are surprised that I understand it.  Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’  Maybe I have a natural ability.  Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”  March 7 – Trump golfs, Florida.  Asked about future rallies, Trump: “Well, we’ll have tremendous rallies.  And we’re doing very well.  And we’ve done a fantastic job with respect to that subject on the virus.  Yeah.”  Asked about whether he is concerned about the coronavirus appearing in DC and at the White House: “No, I’m not concerned at all.  No, I’m not.  No, we’ve done a great job.”  March 8 – Trump golfs, Florida.  Trump: “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine-tuned plan at the White House for our attack on Coronavirus.”  March 9 – Trump: “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant.”  “And we have a great economy, we have a very strong economy, but this came – this blindsided the world.  And I think we’ve handled it very, very well.  I think they’ve done a great job.  The people behind me have done a great job.”  Italy institutes a national lockdown.  US stock market plunge triggers an automatic shutdown.  Dr Leana Wen, physician and public health professor: “It appears that out of 1,000 people who have this coronavirus, somewhere between 10 to 30 people will die, compared to one person [out of 1,000] who has the flu.”  March 11 – Trump: “We are moving very quickly. The vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low.  Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus.”  WHO declares COVID-19 emergency a pandemic.  Trump issues a limited travel ban to US by some foreign nationals from 26 European countries.  Identifiable US cases hit 1000.  March 13 – US national emergency declared.  March 15 – The US Federal Reserve cut interest rates close to zero.  March 17 – Trump: “I’ve always known this is a – this is a real – this is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.  All you had to do is look at other countries.  I think now it’s in almost 120 countries all over the world.  No, I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”  A leaked federal plan warns that this pandemic “will last 18 months or longer…”  March 18 – Coronavirus relief package signed into law with testing support and paid emergency leave.  March 19 – New Zealand issues a blanket travel ban for travelers to New Zealand.  March 23 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average drops 583 points.  New York City confirms 21,000 cases of infection.  March 24 – Trump: “I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” “I think it’s possible.  Why isn’t it?”  “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu.  We don’t turn the country off.  I mean, every year.  I mean, think of it.  We average 36,000 people, death, death.  I’m not talking about cases.  I’m talking about death, 36,000 deaths a year.  But we have never closed down the country for the flu.”  The Washington Post reported (April 15) that about March 24 the White House received a special “goodwill” shipment of 1800 surgical masks from Taiwan.  March 25 – By this date over 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment.  March 27 – Trump signs into law CARES, with $2 trillion for pandemic relief.  March 30 – Trump: “When I stopped some very, very infected, very, very sick people, thousands coming in from China long earlier than anybody thought, including the experts.  Nobody thought we should do it except me.  And I stopped everybody.  We stopped it cold.  It had never been done before the history of our country.”  The Dow Jones Industrial Average drops 915.39 points, closes at 21,636.78.  March 31 – Thirty-five US states have stay-at-home orders.  April 2 – By this date 6.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment.  April 3 – CDC advises Americans to begin wearing cloth masks in public.  April 6 – By this date there are over 1.3 million identified coronavirus cases worldwide, with 364,567 known cases in US.  Trump: “Take a look at the swine flu.  It was a disaster; 17,000 people died.  The other administra… they didn’t even know – it was like they didn’t even know it was here.”  April 7 – Minimum known US pandemic death toll by this date: over 12,800.  April 9 – Minimum known US pandemic death toll by this date: circa 16,700.  April 10 – Minimum known US pandemic death toll by this date: 18,638.   April 12 – By this date more than 2 million tests have been administered in the US, covering less than 1% of the total population.  April 13 – Minimum known US pandemic death toll by this date: over 20,000.  April 15 – Minimum known US pandemic death toll by this date: over 30,000.  By this date, during the previous four weeks more than 22 million Americans filed for unemployment.


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

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.


Wild Licorice Creek

The name of my great-great-grandmother is mysterious.  It would be interesting to know what it means, where to set it among the scattered pieces of her life, the fragmentary glimpses that endure.

When Cha-ka-us was a little girl, a war expedition of the Throat Cutters rode into Pawneeland and they killed her father and her grandfather, and they burned the city where she lived.  Her mother, Ctaapitawi, Hanging Goods Woman, married another man and they made a new home for Cha-ka-us and her three brothers.

Cha-ka-us was the daughter of a Little Kitkahahki family.  Her grandfather, Bull Elk, was the leader of the Little Kitkahahki when the Throat Cutters killed him, when the father of Cha-ka-us fell in battle.  By the 1860s the Little Kitkahahki had become a band of the Kitkahahki.  In those days Curly Chief became a Little Kitkahahki leader, a Pitahawirata who had a Kitkahahki wife.

About the time the Pawnees left Pakaku, a sprawling city on the Flat River, Cha-ka-us married Sakurihuru – he was about age 18 in 1859 and she was a few years older.  They joined a household in the new metropolis at Wild Licorice Creek.  And the next year Cha-ka-us had a baby girl.  Then my great-grandmother was born and she became known as Good Dishes of Food.

A second wife shared this marriage.  I don’t know her name.  But a couple years after Cha-ka-us gave birth to Good Dishes of Food, this second wife bore a son to Sakurihuru: Noo-kats-sah-who-see-lah / John Fox.  And about 1872 Cha-ka-us also had a son, Bromet Taylor.

The name Sakurihuru is literally translated as Big Sun.  But the terms “sakuru / sun” and “rarihuru / big” both carry interesting nuances that deepen the meaning of this name.  “Rarihuru” refers to various forms of magnification, as in “big” and “great” and “vast.”  And the term for “sun” is especially significant.

In 1904 James R. Murie translated “sakuru” as “light bringer.”  A cosmological story told by Roaming Chief evokes this meaning, with Tirawahat saying, “I give you the sun to give you light.”  In those days a Chaui priest named Tahirasawica’ told Alice Fletcher that the term “sakuru” is not normally “used in ordinary speech” because “it refers to the supernatural power, the Sun” who “comes direct from the mighty power above…”

With these connotations in mind, when the term sakuru appears in Pawnee names, it is appropriate to visualize a mythological celestial aura.  “Big Sun” is a good translation of Sakurihuru.  But a less literal translation more usefully evokes the relevant esoteric cosmological context.  Great Bringer of Light.  This translation may come across as a bit haughty-sounding, but the meaning is intended to reflect a meditative prayer for life-blessings.  As Tahirasawica’ told Fletcher, Sun “is very potent; it gives man health, vitality, and strength.”  This name frames a traditional wish for wellbeing in the world.


Roger Echo-Hawk, Sakurihuru

At Wild Licorice Creek Cha-ka-us and other relatives passed along their family traditions to Good Dishes of Food and her older sister.  Good Dishes of Food would one day become known as an admired storyteller – some of her stories were published in 1906 under the name Good Food in Kettle.

We should assume that Cha-ka-us knew the tales told later by her daughter.  One such story concerned the great-grandmother of Cha-ka-us.  The story is significant because it says that this family ancestor dwelt at a town on the Noisy River (Nemaha River), suggesting a Pitahawirata affiliation.  A connection to the Pitahawirata aligns well with the fact that the Little Kitkahahki arose from Pitahawirata roots and included a strong component from that community.

The great-grandmother of Cha-ka-us told of a time when a group of women went out to collect wood.  A young girl wandered off and saw a “child” in a hollow log.  This child was odd, with “a very small face and scarcely any hair, and its arms were very thin and its finger nails were long.”  This child reached out its arms and motioned to her.  The tiny thing “had yellow paint all over its face, and black paint close to the hair.”  The young girl ran back to the women and told them what she had seen.

When they all arrived at the hollow log, the young girl gave off a strange scream, like a fox – and suddenly a fox ran off through the trees.  Then the girl “became very wild.”  They took her to a doctor in their town – her uncle.  He said his niece had seen one of the little people.  “It is human,” he said, “it has wonderful powers; it is not a fox.”  And he cured her, “undoing the bad medicine from animals.”

This tale was handed down from days long vanished in Pawneeland.  But during the late 18th century there was a Pawnee city on a fork of the Noisy River – an obscure archaeological report in 1996 reported rumor of the site.  This was probably the city where the great-grandmother of Cha-ka-us dwelt, and where the girl had her strange encounter.

At Wild Licorice Creek the Pawnees built their last metropolitan center, a collection of suburbs and winding paths between the houses.  The Skidi dwelt in more bounded neighborhoods, reflecting their preference for an aloof engagement with the Pawnee Confederation.  And we might guess that they pushed to settle in this locality.  The founding of the ancient Skidi federation had occurred long ago on Beaver Creek, a waterway that wound through the city.

This creek was known by two different names – Beaver Creek became the name that stuck.  This might well be the ancient name for the stream.  Perhaps the second name was a newer addition, reflecting the undergrowth that had come to dominate the banks of the stream.  Nowadays Beaver Creek is a tree-lined green waterway that curves in and out of Genoa, Nebraska.


Beaver Creek / Wild Licorice Creek, October 8, 2015

The names that eventually came down in time for this last Pawnee city were “Genoa” and “Reservation Town.”  But the Skidi elder White Eagle said in 1914 that the Pawnees called the city Wild Licorice Creek – Melvin Gilmore wrote down Kitspilahatus, meaning, as he described: Kits / stream or creek; and pilahatus, the name for wild licorice.  Gilmore later set down a different version of the name for the wild licorice plant: pithahatusakitstsuhast.  What is clear is that White Eagle told Gilmore the Pawnee term for the city and the creek, and the name for the plant.

One American referred to this plant in her memoirs.  Elvira Platt said Beaver Creek “was known also as Burr Creek from the innumerable burrs growing along its banks, the Pawnees applying either name as they chose…”  Platt thought “Burr Creek” was the name, but the Pawnee term just referred to the plant – even so, Platt’s version memorializes the fact that each fall the wild licorice plant produces many burrs.

We can suppose that in the last days of the Pawnee dominion on Beaver Creek, at Wild Licorice Creek, Cha-ka-us passed along her stories to her daughters.  Night fell across the city.  People visited in their earthlodges.  And there came an evening when they told their final stories, when they gathered up their belongings, when they passed away into the far-off south.

Many nights rolled onward.  Many years followed.  And several times I journeyed to visit Wild Licorice Creek.  And one evening I paused to ponder the life of my great-great-grandmother.  It is a mystery.  Those elusive glimpses.  But perhaps someday I will learn the meaning of her name.

The opening featured artwork is by Walter R. Echo-Hawk Jr, untitled oil painting of Wild Licorice Creek, circa 1981