Under the Sun and Moon, In Silver and Gold

After Pipe Chief came of age, inspired by his friend Spotted Horse, he endured the ordeal of initiation into his chosen fraternal society.   “I was of those who looked at the Sun and the Moon,” he said, telling the story to George Bird Grinnell one night long ago in Pawneeland.  He soon joined a raiding expedition led by Spotted Horse.  They traveled up the Flat River and down the south fork to the foothills of the Distant Rocks in a Line.  There they found the Sáhi, and they captured 300 horses.

Pipe Chief was born about 1836, so this memorable event in his youth probably happened during the 1850s.  He eventually became a priest and leader among the Skidi.  A man who went by that name appeared in several photos taken around 1870.  I don’t know if he was this particular Pipe Chief since versions of that name were held by different men.  But I have lately become aware of a photo that can be identified with more certainty as Pipe Chief.  It was taken just a couple years after he told the story of his youth to Grinnell.

It is not certain what year William Prettyman and his apprentice George Cornish took the photo.  Most descriptions of the photo say 1889.  But this is too early.  Internal evidence tells us that it was more likely taken in late 1890 or early 1891.  The scene shows an open tipi with seven people inside.  Four women sit on the ground; two men have seats of some kind; a young child stands in front of one of the men.

Pipe Chief Family 1891

In 1891 Prettyman apparently sent a print of this tipi portrait with several others to the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions at Marquette University.  It bore a caption: “Tepee Indian Summer House.”  If this accession information is accurate, it frames the latest possible date for the image as 1891.

The print entered the collections in company with another photo taken during the same period.  This second photo showed four women and two children in a camp.  There is a tipi and a tent and a caption: “Pawnee Indians, Located 70 Miles South of Arkansas City.”   Three of the women and one of the children can also be seen in the other photo, the tipi portrait.  In 1895 the camp scene was published in a book by George Bird Grinnell, The Story of the Indian, captioned as “Pawnee woman dressing a hide.”

Skidi Camp 1891

The tipi portrait can be found on the website for the Oklahoma Historical Society where it is identified as a photo taken in 1889 by Prettyman and Cornish, showing Pawnees in a tipi with Baptiste Bayhylle.  Studying a magnified version of the image, an old man can indeed be made out, partially obscured by a tipi pole – he does look like Baptiste Bayhylle.  A child stands in front of his knees.  One of the women is peering over at them.

Then I found the same two photos on the website of an auction house.  Cowan’s Auctions offered for sale an albumen print of the tipi portrait photo, and this print featured a handwritten caption, “Pipe Chief & family” with the date “1889” written in another hand.  Another note appeared in pencil, perhaps in the same hand as the 1889 date: “Ben Gover and mother at left of Pipe Chief.”

The writing is faint.  We have no indication of who wrote this information or when it was set down.  Prettyman and Cornish made prints from their plates.  In this case they used the albumen process to create the images that ended up in the hands of the Cowan auctioneers – the process used silver nitrate; gold was used for toning.  These Cowan versions both come with interesting caption information.

The image showing a camp scene with four women and two children has a pencil inscription on the verso: “Mrs. Lizzie Leading Fox; & mother Mrs. Sky Seeing [with a Cowan note stating she is using “an implement of elk antler with a steel blade to chip the dried cow hide to an even thickness…”]; Mrs. Clora Gover Yellow Horse and Ben Gover; and Harry Coon’s aunt.”  There are also two pencil inscriptions on the recto margin: “Harry Coons” and “Mose Yellow Horse” with an arrow pointing toward “Clora” and “Harry Coon’s aunt.”

This information is interesting and puzzling.  Clara has been identified by some as the mother of Mose Yellow Horse, though she might have been his stepmother.  But since he was born about 1897, he was not the infant child in the photo.  Someone wrote his name on the print after that date, well after the photo was taken.  The unnamed woman, “Harry Coon’s aunt,” appeared in both photos.

Harry Coons Jr was born about 1895, the son of Harry Coons and Belle Coons, and Belle had a sister named Stah-kah Coons.  Stah-kah was the first wife of Harry Coons and she could be the unnamed aunt – she was in fact the aunt of Harry Coons Jr.  But the only information I have about her is a vague report that she died about 1887.  If we discount this vague information and theorize that she was still alive in 1890-1891, then Stah-kah Coons could be the aunt in question.

Leading Fox Earthlodge

The Leading Fox earthlodge, with Lizzie and daughter Mattie

So the camp scene includes Lizzie Leading Fox, Kate Sky Seeing, Clara Ricketts and Ben Gover, and maybe Stah-kah Coons with an infant – perhaps Lizzie’s daughter Mattie.  And the tipi portrait includes Baptiste Bayhylle, seated with Ben Gover at his knees; Kate Sky Seeing, seated behind Bayhylle; Susie Lockley Pipe Chief Garcia, sitting beside Kate; Susie’s husband Pipe Chief, wearing his medallion; Clara Gover Ricketts Yellow Horse, sitting on the ground to his left (she is the mother of Ben Gover); and the final person might be the aunt of Harry Coons Jr, Stah-kah Coons.

These two gatherings of Skidis occurred sometime in 1890-1891.  Bayhylle was then about age 60 – we can guess that he was on hand to help interpret for Prettyman and Cornish.   Kate Sky Seeing was about age 48 in 1892, married to a Skidi named Osage Sky Seeing.  In 1891 Clara Ricketts had just been married to one of the Govers and had a son named Ben.  “Ricketts” might have been her maiden name – at least, she went by that name at the time the photo was taken.  She next took up with Thomas Yellow Horse.  They raised a son named Mose who went on to become a famous baseball player.  The mysterious aunt of Harry Coons… if the woman is Stah-kah Coons, we know that she died very soon after the two photos were taken.  Susie Lockley was born about 1861 and she became the fifth wife of Pipe Chief.  They had a daughter named Nellie who married Frank Murie and then John Jake.  Pipe Chief died in 1898, and by 1914 Susie had become Susie Garcia.  All this happened in Pawneeland.

Pipe Chief was a ceremonialist.  James R. Murie wrote down an account of the Skidi New Fire Ceremony, mentioning Pipe Chief and his friend Spotted Horse.  It is a detailed memoir of a ceremony that might have been held last during the early 1870s.  In the course of the preliminary sequence of activities, Pipe Chief conducted a smudge of some sacred objects, an offering of “sweet-smelling smoke to Tirawahat.”  He finished that rite and then he “passed his hands through the smoke and down his body and returned to his place.”  He sat down as the offerings continued, the preparations for the New Fire Ceremony in Pawneeland.

And during the fall the Skidis left their earthlodge city and set up their tipis and they hunted.  And in the spring in their earthlodge city, after the distribution of seeds, after the doctor dances, then would follow the New Fire Ceremony.  The Skidis would offer gifts to the stars; gifts to the sun and moon.  They would enact the creation of life in the world.  And if they wished, they would take new names.  All of these things happened long ago in Pawneeland.

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The Ghost in the Glass

RevenantEarthlodgeCity

I saw The Revenant yesterday.  My overall impression… I guess it was as if I had visited the ancestral world that would eventually give rise to the world of Mad Max.  Fur-clad protagonists who wallow in the churning machinery of savagery will surely give birth to futuristic protagonists wallowing in the slow-motion disintegrating machinery of slaughter.  The Revenant and Mad Max imagine very similar worlds.  A brute grotesque vision of humankind.  Dark dystopian fantasies.  Parched outbacks and snowbound mountains provide the mythic vistas that generate one epic downfall after another.  The savage people.  The savage animals.  The savage guns and gears.  We find ourselves cast into sand storms, furiously gritty, and into rivers, furiously frigid.  But we who enter such realms… we must endure scene after scene until the end comes for us all at last.  When you leave this kind of theater, don’t bother looking back to ponder the bloody footprints at your heels.

But The Revenant was nice, in a way.  It was wonderful to see cinematic Pawnees who were not murderous, who were not bent on terrorizing the innocent.  Hugh Glass is given a sweet Pawnee wife – an anonymous dreamlike Mrs. Glass who floats in & out of the movie.  Hugh misses her.  It is terribly sad, the way she was murdered by unhistorical soldiers who senselessly savage a Pawnee city in an unhistorical massacre – it never happened in actual history, but it is a moment that fits seamlessly into our preferred pro-race mythmaking.  And they have a son.  “Hawk” is quite a well-chosen name – very common for Pawnee boys of that time.  Hawk loves his father.  He is loyal and caring and a little sad.  He is so easily murdered in this dark fairytale.

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Grace Dove as Mrs. Glass

Such humanized Pawnees are strangely absent from cinema.  Not long ago I noticed a few Pawnees in The Homesman, a 2014 film by Tommy Lee Jones.  When those Pawnees ride into the movie, the homesman grabs all his weaponry.  He wisely hands a gun to the woman he’s traveling with, and he counsels her to blow her own brains out if he doesn’t survive the coming desperate negotiations.  To fall into Pawnee hands… too horrible!  And I haven’t even mentioned the nightmarish Pawnees of Dances with Wolves.

I long ago read a book by John Myers Myers about Hugh Glass and I always felt suspicious of his colorful tale – the part about Hugh Glass living among the Skidi Pawnees.  That particular twist was based on notes made from interviews with a fur trade employee named George Yount.  Seventy-some years later those interview notes were gathered, edited, and published, and I have no idea how those filters affected the story told by Yount.  But the way the account framed Pawneeland has always felt to me like artifice warped for dramatic effect, not like history.

Perhaps Glass knew the Pawnees.  The fur trade was very active in Pawneeland for decades before 1825.  American fur trade corporations centered in St. Louis typically sent expeditions to Pawneeland to set up shop in the different cities.  The association of Glass with the Skidi Pawnees was just a speculative interpretation of the Yount tale – a hyperventilated twist introduced by Myers.  I don’t see how it is trustworthy in any way.  The Yount / Myers tale has Glass as a prisoner who wins his way into the hearts of the Pawnees.  But by the time Glass happened onto the scene, it wasn’t like he could have been held in a secret Pawnee prison for months or years.  Pawneeland wasn’t really a realm that teetered at the mysterious edge of everything else.  It was instead a close-knit alliance of four Pawnee sovereignties that had long before become interlocked in the global patterns of commerce and politics and intermarriage.

It is a shame that The Revenant makes us believe in its exquisitely detailed version of the past, its compelling Mad Maximum narrative truths, the frenzied whiplash thrills of maybe having to chop off a few fingers for good wholesome reasons, the next vastly defining moment of blood lost forever in endless snow.  Despite all this gruesome drama, we are somehow wafted into a haunting world.  And this is the first movie that has ever happened in my lifetime that shows Pawnees as people… And yet, well, it seems a shame.  I find myself wondering… will I ever want to visit that version of the world again?

RevenantForrestGoodluck

Forrest Goodluck as Hawk

 

Tolkien in Pawneeland

Real Myth and Mithril, May 19, 2013 (Photo by Linda Echo-Hawk)

Real Myth and Mithril, May 19, 2013
(Photo by Linda Echo-Hawk)

One of my grandmothers was Skidi, and my other grandmother had English and German ancestry.  So I found it fascinating and meaningful when I discovered that my favorite author, JRR Tolkien (who was English with German ancestry), made use of certain obscure Skidi traditions in his writings.  As I studied the evidence for this, I slowly came to the conclusion that between 1919 and 1942 Tolkien drew on at least six Skidi Pawnee stories to sculpt subtle aspects of characters and events in The Book of Lost Tales, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.

In the course of this research, I was fortunate to have the support of the Grey Havens Group – a circle of friends who gathered each week to discuss and appreciate Tolkien’s writings.  They encouraged me to present my ideas in May 2013 at our symposium, Real Myth and Mithril.  I followed this with a longer talk in July 2013 at Mythcon 44, an annual conference of the Mythopoeic Society.

RealMyth21b

The Pawnee oral traditions that inspired Tolkien were preserved through the efforts of a Skidi named James R. Murie.  He narrated stories to the staff of the Field Museum of Natural History, and an anthropologist there edited and published them in a 1904 book called Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee.  A copy of this book made its way across the Atlantic Ocean and into the collections of Oxford University in England.  And in 1919, after Tolkien began working as a researcher at Oxford, echoes of various Skidi narratives began to enter his writings.

Roaming Scout

Roaming Scout

Two of the stories that interested Tolkien were told to Murie by an old man named Roaming Scout, a leading kurahus or priest.  Roaming Scout was born about 1839, a member of a royal family among the Skidi and a son of a priest named Mud Bear.  He held the name Tah-whoo-kah-tah-wee-ah, and in the late 1880s he married a young woman named Stah-pe-chicks-sah.  If they had any children, none survived into adulthood.

It must have been about the time of the 1892 allotment that Tah-whoo-kah-tah-wee-ah took the name Kee-lee-kee-lee-soo-lah-kah-wah-lee, or Roaming Scout.  In A Dictionary of Skiri Pawnee linguist Douglas Parks renders the name as Kirikiirisu Rakaawarii, meaning Scout Roaming the World.  Among the Americans, Roaming Scout also became known as Pawnee Tom.  Confusion grew around his Pawnee name because he had a nephew known as Running Scout who died in October 1888 – many Pawnees today are descended from this nephew.  Roaming Scout died in June 1914.

In 1906 Murie recorded Roaming Scout’s life story on wax cylinders at the American Museum of Natural History.  This autobiography begins with a story about a party of men who suffer from hunger.  As they kill and cook an animal they engage in a philosophical debate on the role of faith versus a lack of faith.  Their debate centers on a concept termed “kawaharu,” a spiritual power in the universe that can bestow both blessings and punishment upon humankind.  As Roaming Scout relates in the story, “We are not the ruling power, we people who are living, it is the power in the heavens, Tirawa[hut], and the power ready to give, Kawaharu, they are the powers who send forth game to us and through them we eat.”

Sharing his stories and the events of his life with James R. Murie, Roaming Scout sought to pass along his sense of piety and his perspective on life.  He had been born in a time when thousands of Pawnees had built earthlodge cities in their ancient homeland.  And he had witnessed the evaporation of this realm all through his life.  By 1900 it seemed fitting to predict a continuing decline of the Pawnee population and to foretell the end of the religious traditions that he treasured.  These circumstances must account for Roaming Scout’s willingness to share what he knew with Murie, to record his stories and memoirs.

Pawnee Earthlodge Art

One day in early 1919, just a few years after Roaming Scout died, my research shows that JRR Tolkien opened the pages of Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee.  What he found there intrigued him.  And in the decades that followed, he drew from two of Roaming Scout’s stories and from a handful of other Skidi traditions to shape various details in his emerging mythology of Middle-earth.

I believe that Tolkien borrowed from these Skidi narratives in order to add a certain antiquarian tone to his storytelling.  Some of the stories touched by Skidi colorations include Tolkien’s creation story in The Book of Lost Tales, the story of Beorn in The Hobbit, and the construction of aspects of Gandalf in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I do not know what Roaming Scout would have thought about Tolkien’s use of his narratives.  But in many ways the two men were kindred spirits.  Roaming Scout was a veteran of a bitter total war, a prominent ceremonial leader, and a renowned storyteller.  Tolkien saw military service in the trenches of World War I; he was a life-long devout Christian; and he became a world-famous storyteller.  Both men were highly respected teachers of tradition in their different worlds.

Pondering what my discovery might signify, I traveled with colleagues from Grey Havens to Mythcon 44 in Lansing, Michigan.  I thought of my two grandmothers as I sat down to reveal what I had learned.  The discussion that followed was very positive and lively, and through the rest of the conference a steady succession of people introduced themselves to me, saying they either attended my talk or heard about it. All the folk of Mythcon were extraordinarily gracious and amiable.  And they all seemed to grasp what my paper signified.

Drawing inspiration from the Skidi stories to enrich the artistry of his mythmaking, Tolkien created a marvelous legacy of writings that slowly grew into a world mythology.  And with my discovery of the Skidi elements in his tales, it has become evident that Tolkien integrated Pawnee and Northern European traditional literature into a unique mythological legacy, a new narrative of global culture.  In this narrative we glimpse a social world shaped by a sharing of symbolic essences that transcend our notions of nationhood and ethnicity.

The literary endeavors of JRR Tolkien have woven together the mythological truths of Middle-earth and Pawneeland.  In this weaving of culture, when we open the pages of Tolkien’s books, we encounter a subtle Pawnee magic that has the power to enchant the imaginations of people worldwide.

When Roaming Scout sat down long ago to tell his stories to James R. Murie, he could not know what the future would hold for the stories he told.  But he was a very religious man.  He saw the mysticism of kawaharu in every aspect of life.  And I suspect that he would be pleased to see how Skidi traditions have changed the world.

Itskari, Many Wild Potatoes River, July 2013

Itskari, Many Wild Potatoes River, July 2013

White Fox the Indianer

When three Skidi Pawnees traveled to Sweden in the summer of 1874, they entered an interesting moment in Pawnee history.  They found that people saw them not as Pawnees – and certainly not as Skidi Pawnees – but rather as Indians.  They saw themselves that way, too.  As Indians.  But in Sweden, in those days, they encountered a whole new level of enthusiasm for race.  After two of these Skidis returned to Pawneeland, they helped to lead the Pawnee people into the heart of the American racial agenda.

White Fox probably thought of himself as an Indian when he traveled to Sweden with his relatives White Eagle and John Box.  But we can only vaguely glimpse the options of identity that shaped his social world.  We know that White Fox was born about 1846.  He grew up as a member of an extended Skidi family, probably Pumpkin Vine Skidi, and he was a citizen of the Pawnee Confederacy.  As an adult he took up doctoring and he served in the Pawnee Scouts.  And in the final days of his life he became one of the Pawnee discoverers of Sweden.

We construct identity from ephemeral slippery surfaces.  And negotiating the fickle meanings of identity, selfhood is completely dependent upon a sense of history.  When our sense of history is complex and nuanced, we have complex and nuanced options for being and becoming.

But peering back at people in the past, when we can only glimpse a few details of their lives, we necessarily must guess at what circles of identity they surrounded themselves with in life.  Yet we can consult history to fill in that picture.  In so doing, we tend to look for the threads that most clearly connect the past to our sense of the present.

Today racial identity systems provide a primary thread that links the Pawnees to their past.  Believing that today one cannot be Pawnee without also being Indian – meaning an adherent to the identity system of racial Indianhood – it is easy to suppose that this has always been true.  But in the days of White Fox, this racial system was not at all what it is today, here in the second decade of the 21st century.

This is due in large part to a war that the Pawnees fought during White Fox’s lifetime.  Since racial identity consists of the production of bonding processes, to be Indian one must engage in bonding activities with other Indians.  But in the case of White Fox and his contemporaries, they fought and killed Sioux enemies and they rejected the idea of bonding with the Sioux through race.  Resisting the invasion of the Sioux empire, the Pawnees instead formed political and military bonds with the American empire.  This necessarily inserted ambiguity in the meanings of racial Indianhood.

White Fox bookIt would have been consistent with Pawnee war practices of his day for White Fox to have killed and scalped enemies on the battlefields of the Pawnee homeland.  It seems likely that White Fox scalped one or more enemies, given the fact that he wore a war shirt to Sweden – a shirt with pieces of human scalp attached.  This means that he would have slain or wounded an enemy.  With a knife he made a deep incision around the hairline down to the skull.  Grasping the hair, White Fox pulled vigorously to tear the hair and flesh away from the underlying bone.

Pawnee members of the hereditary ruling class engaged in war, but they were generally expected to bend their thoughts and intentions to less gruesome interests.  Gene Weltfish discusses this in The Lost Universe (p. 354-355).  A leader named Eagle Chief tells a story about striking an enemy with a pipestem taken from a Pipe Dance bundle.  But the next storyteller was “a rough character” named War Cry who “was a brave and his whole outlook was toward aggression and violence compared with a chief who was a man of peace and conciliation.”

The spectrum of cultural options among the Pawnees during the mid-19th century was real, just as it is real today.  And in terms of racial identity, there was not just one way of being “Indian” among the Pawnees then, just as there is not merely one way of being “Indian” today.  I presume that as late as the 1870s, some Pawnees did not identify as Indian, or did so very rarely in their daily lives.  Today, however, to be Pawnee one must also be an Indian.

When White Fox, White Eagle, and John Box traveled to Sweden in 1874, they journeyed deep into the world of race.  There in that alien realm they were not Skidi; nor were they Pawnee.  In Sweden they were “Indianer” – the Swedish term for Indian.  Race in Europe in those days had become a powerful shaper of society, a weighty matter of much discussion in the academies and streets of Europe.

In the streets and intellectual forums of Pawneeland, race had less authority.  Racial Indianhood was merely an optional identity – something that happened in specific situations, rather than a matter of daily life.

Among the ideas that gave shape to race in European and American lifeways, by the time the Pawnees discovered Sweden, a thriving debate had to do with the extent to which races and nations could be conflated, and whether language groupings could be described in terms of race.  It became popular, for example, to compare and contrast the idea of a “Nordic” race versus the idea of a “Celtic” race.

Academicians encouraged one another to inquire into these matters through scientific means.  So when White Fox took sick and died in Sweden in January 1875, Swedish authorities responded by turning over his remains to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, their leading scientific institution for anatomical study.

According to an article written by researcher Dan Jibréus (translation provided by Ivona Elenton), a physician / ethnographer named Gustaf von Dubën removed the skin of White Fox’s upper torso and head and set this flesh on a plaster cast.  Several months later von Duben used this gruesome bust to illustrate a lecture on “the general characteristics of the North American Indians.”

In the decades that followed the death of White Fox the Indianer, the Pawnees gave up the grisly custom of scalping enemies.  But after race suggested to the Swedes that they ought to skin White Fox and remake him in the image of race – a particularly grisly image – race decided that it didn’t want to stop there.

White Eagle and John Box returned to Pawneeland in 1875 without White Fox.  They joined the last group of Pawnees to leave Nebraska for Oklahoma.  And in that realm, in a new homeland between the Long River and the Salt River, the Pawnees slowly wandered into a strange moment in Pawnee history.  They found themselves listening to what race said to them, and they liked what they heard.

In Oklahoma they heard again and again the sayings of race.  Race slowly remade all the Pawnee people.  And long before I was born, the Pawnees began to say that they had always been on this journey.  Now they believed they had always said the racial things that everyone said to each other in Oklahoma.  This meant something very interesting.  It meant they were not just Pawnees anymore.  The Pawnees had all become Pawnee Indians.

Newspaper report of a 1994 exhibit involving White Fox in Sweden (courtesy of Katarina Moro)