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

The Wind Inside the World

Arikara-Pawnee earthlodge

Wyoming felt as if it had always been waterless, profoundly arid.  A parched specter of a seafloor slept unconscious at the bottom of an ocean of sunlight.  Nothing moved from horizon to horizon.  Not even the wind moved.  It stood there in Wyoming looking back at very faint footprints stretching back to the greenways of Nebraska.  Why had it come here, anyway?

Driving through this land last Friday afternoon, I wondered what manner of folk had ever walked here.  Who had sat upon a horse and ridden across this arid thirsty world.  Why would anyone think to get into a wagon and say, “I think I’ll drive this thing across Wyoming in the middle of another scorching summer!”

A lonely antelope stood motionless beside the road, standing next to the motionless wind.  It was thinking, someone decided to put a road right here, hoping that people would someday find it and plan their day around driving down it.  Look!  There goes one of them now!  I turned up the air conditioning until I could feel it wafting across my arms.

Great Platte River Road Archway

I stopped in Kearney, Nebraska.  The next morning I found my nephew sweeping out the Arikara-Pawnee earthlodge;  Bob Frazier and his girlfriend Jazmin Lorentz helped to build this earthlodge in 2010.  The Great Platte River Road Archway sponsored the project under the leadership of Ronnie O’Brien, Director of Cultural Education.  The presence of this earthlodge – built by Arikara and Pawnee volunteers – reflects the recent return of the Pawnee Nation to our ancient Central Plains homeland.

Bob Frazier and Jazmin Lorentz

The day was warm already, but the interior of the earthlodge felt cool.  A traditional solar lighting panel (a hide stretched on a frame) lit the interior.  Bob moved it every so often to keep it positioned under the sunrays that fell upon it from the smoke hole.  I spent several hours talking with him and Jazmin about Pawnee history and earthlodges.

It was a very large earthlodge.  In a Pawnee earthlodge city of circa 1850, a structure this size would have been built by one of the leading families to double as a ceremonial sanctuary.  In The Lost Universe Gene Weltfish describes the kind of ceremony that would have happened in an earthlodge like this.

The garden beyond the earthlodge

The Skidi Awari Groundbreaking Ritual occurred in the spring after the first willow leaves appeared.  Women played a central role in this ceremony because it signaled the germination of life in seeds and provided a religious context for the spring planting of corn and other crops.  Weltfish offers an interesting note on the name of the ceremony:

The term awari is a compound stem, the first part a- signifying “being” or “living” and the second part, -wari, to go actively about, such as traveling.  The Pawnee used this stem as we do “up and about” meaning to be in good health.  The combination awari indicates the principles of life and motion… the vigor of life.

The idea is that independent motion signifies the essence of life, the life force that exists in the universe.  The Awari Ceremony offered an organized way to express respect for this life-force.  Life moves in seeds and they germinate and a living plant pushes up into the sunlight.  The mystical connection of life and motion beautifully articulates the spiritual mystery that links us all with living things.  We move; we live.

The traditional Pawnee concept of the origin of life is that it flowed into things from a form of celestial spiritual energy, out of Tirawahut – a divine life-force that was not anthropomorphized into a human-like god but was instead envisioned as a kind of vastness in the heavens.  Life exists as a consequence of this invisible mysterious life-force.  It slowly surges throughout the universe, powering the celestial motion of all the stars and planets and all the living things of the earth.

Speak Friend and Enter

Later that day, driving back to the far western edge of the ancient Pawnee homeland, I kept thinking about things moving.  In Nebraska the highway ran alongside the Flat River across old Pawnee hunting regions full of flying birds and wandering animals – a slender living greenbelt made its way across the middle of the Plains.  Getting out of my car in Wyoming, now the wind blew across this bleak corner of the world.  It wasn’t lifeless.  Just arid; a living expanse filled with its own kinds of mysterious motion.

Sunset in Nebraska