The following data is extracted from Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi.
Soon after the transfer of Louisiana to the United States Government several expeditions were sent out to explore the newly acquired domains and to discover the native tribes who claimed and occupied parts of the vast territory. Of these parties, that led by Capts. Lewis and Clark was the most important, but of great interest was the second expedition under command of Lieut. Z. M. Pike, which traversed the country extending from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains, and reached the Pawnee villages near the North Platte during the month of September, 1806. How long the Pawnee had occupied that region may never be determined, but they had evidently migrated from the southwest, probably moving slowly, making long stops on the way. As a tribe they were known to the Spaniards as early as the first half of the sixteenth century, and appear to have been among the first of the plains tribes to be visited by French and Spanish traders.
Unfortunately Pike did not prepare a very extensive account of the Pawnee as they appeared during the autumn of 1806, but wrote in part: "Their houses are a perfect circle, (except where the door enters) from whence there is a projection of about 15 feet; the whole being constructed after the following manner, Viz: 1st. there is an excavation of a circular form, made in the ground, of about 4 feet deep and 60 diameter, where they is a row of posts about 5 feet high, with crotches at the top, set firmly in all round, and horizontal poles from one to the other. There is then a row of posts, forming a circle of about 10 feet width in the diameter of the others, and 10 feet in height; the crotches of those are so directed, that horizontal poles are also laid from one to the other; long poles are then laid slanting, perpendicularly from the lower poles over the upper, and meeting nearly at the top, leaving only a small aperture for the smoke of the fire to pass out, which is made on the ground in the middle of the lodge. There is then a number of small poles put up round the circle, so as to form the wall, and wicker work run through the whole. The roof is then thatched with grass, and earth thrown up against the wall until a bank is made to the eves of the thatch; and that is also covered with earth one or two feet thick, and rendered so tight, as entirely to exclude any storm whatsoever, and make them extremely warm. The entrance is about 6 feet wide, with walls on each side, and roofed like our houses in shape, but of the same materials as the main building. Inside there are numerous little apartments constructed of wicker work against the wall with small doors; they have a great appearance of neatness and in them the members of the family sleep and have their little deposits. Their towns are by no means so much crowded as the Osage, giving much more space, but they have the same mode of introducing all their horses into the village at night, which makes it extremely crowded. They keep guards with the horses during the day. They are extremely addicted to gaming, and have for that purpose a smooth piece of ground cleared out on each side of the village for about 150 yards in length." (Pike, (1), Appendix, p. 15.)
Although Pike's account of this interesting tribe is very brief and unsatisfactory, it was soon to be followed by a more complete and comprehensive description. This refers to the notes prepared by members of the Long expedition, 14 years later.
The expedition under command of Maj. Stephen H. Long arrived at Council Bluff, "so called by Lewis and Clark, from a council with the Otoe and Missouri held there, on the 3rd of August, 1804,'' during the early autumn of 1819. Winter quarters were established at a point about 5 miles lower down the Missouri and at a short distance north of the present city of Omaha, Nebr. This was called Engineer Cantonment, and during the ensuing months many Indians visited the encampment to treat with Maj. O'Fallon, the commissioner.
Leaving the majority of the party in quarters at the cantonment, Maj. Long and others of the expedition, on October 11, "began to descend the Missouri in a canoe, on their way towards Washington and Philadelphia." Returning from the east they reached Engineer Cantonment May 28, 1820, having arrived at St. Louis April 24, "from Philadelphia to Council Bluff, to rejoin the party."
During the absence of the commanding officers some members of the expedition made a short trip to the Pawnee villages, and the following brief account appears in the narrative on May 1, 1820: "At each of the villages, we observed small sticks of the length of eighteen inches or two feet, painted red, stuck in the earth in various situations, but chiefly on the roofs of the houses, each bearing the fragment of a human scalp, the hair of which streamed in the wind. Before the entrance to some of the lodges were small frames, like painter's easels, supporting each a shield, and generally a large painted cylindrical case of skin, prepared like parchment, in which a war dress is deposited. The shield is circular, made of bison skin. and thick enough to ward off an arrow, but not to arrest the flight of a rifle ball at close quarters. The lodges, or houses. of these three villages, are similar in structure, but differ in size. The description of those of the Konzas will apply to them, excepting that the beds are all concealed by a mat partition. which extends parallel to the walls of the lodge, and from the floor to the roof. Small apertures, or doors, at intervals in this partition, are left for the different families, that inhabit a lodge, to enter their respective bed chambers." (James, (1), pp. 367-368.)
After the return of Maj. Long the reunited party left Engineer Cantonment, June 6. 1820, and soon reached the Pawnee villages, situated about 100 miles westward, on the Loup River, a branch of the Platte. The narrative of this part of the journey is most interesting: "The path leading to the Pawnee villages runs in a direction a little south of west from the cantonment, and lies across a tract of high and barren prairie for the first ten miles. At this distance it crosses the Papillon, or Butterfly creek, a small stream discharging into the Missouri, three miles above the confluence of the Platte."
After advancing for several days over the prairie, on June 10, "at sunset we arrived at a small creek, eleven miles distant from the village of the Grand Pawnee, where we encamped. On the following morning, having arranged the party according to rank, and given the necessary instructions for the preservation of order, we proceeded forward and in a short time came in sight of the first of the Pawnee villages. The trace on which we had traveled since we left the Missouri, had the appearance of being more and more frequented as we approached the Pawnee towns; and here, instead of a single footway, it consisted of more than twenty parallel paths, of similar size and appearance. After a ride of about three hours, we arrived before, the village, and dispatched a messenger to inform the chief of our approach. Answer was returned that he was engaged with his chiefs and warriors at a medicine feast, and could not, therefore, come out to meet us. The party which accompanied Major Long, after groping about some time, and traversing a considerable part of the village, arrived at the lodge of the principal chief. Here we were again informed that Tarrarecawaho, with all the principal men of the village, were engaged at a medicine feast.
"Notwithstanding his absence, some mats were spread for us upon the ground, in the back part of the lodge. Upon these we sat down, and after waiting some time, were presented with a large wooden dish of hominy, or boiled maize, In this was a single spoon of the horn of a bison, large enough to hold half a pint, which, being used alternately by each of the party, soon emptied the dish of its contents."
An excellent example of an old spoon similar to the one mentioned in the preceding paragraph is shown in plate 42a (U.S.N.M. 12259). It is about 10 inches in length and much worn from long use. Unfortunately it is not known when or where it was collected, but without doubt it came from the Upper Missouri Valley.
Continuing the narrative: "The interior of this capacious dwelling was dimly lighted from a hole at the top, through which the sun's rays, in a defined column, fell upon the earthen floor. Immediately under this hole, which is both window and chimney, is a small depression in the centre of the floor, where the fire is made; but the upper parts of the lodge are constantly filled with smoke: adding much to the air of gloominess and obscurity, which prevail within. The furniture of Long-hair's lodge consisted of mats, ingeniously woven of grass or rushes, bison robes, wooden dishes, and one or two small brass kettles. In the part of the lodge immediately opposite the entrance, we observed a rude niche in the wall, which was occupied by a bison skull. It appeared to have been exposed to the weather, until the flesh and periosteum had decayed, and the bones had become white.
Our visit to thus village seemed to excite no great degree of attention. Among the crowd, who surrounded us before we entered the village, we observed several young squaws rather gaily dressed, being wrapped in clean and new blankets, and having their heads ornamented with wreaths of gnaphalium and the silvery leaves of the prosalea canescens. On the tops of the lodges we also saw some display of finery, which we supposed to have been made on account of our visit. Flags were hoisted, shields, and bows, and quivers, were suspended in conspicuous places, scalps were hung out; in short, the people appeared to have exposed whatever they possessed, in the exhibition of which, they could find any gratification of the vanity. Aside from this, we received no distinguished marks of attention from the Grand Pawnee." (James, (1), I, pp. 427-437.)
The camp of the expedition was a little more than a mile from the village of the Grand Pawnee, and the intervening prairie must have presented an animated sight, being "covered with great numbers of horses, intermixed with men, women, and children." Nearer the village were groups of squaws "busily engaged in dressing the skins of the bison for robes." During the afternoon many Indians arrived at the camp, men wishing to trade horses, the women endeavoring to trade various articles. And on the following morning, June 11, 1820, many groups of women were seen leaving the village, accompanied by their dogs, bound for their fields of corn situated a few miles away.
The expedition next arrived at the village of the Republican Pawnee, 4 miles from that of the Grand Pawnee. Both villages stood on the immediate bank of the stream. Remaining there but a short time, they continued on to the Loup village. Here they encamped during the night of June 12, leaving early on the following morning. On the morning of the 13th many squaws were again observed making their way to the cornfields, with their small children. Some stopped to admire the "novel appearance" of the members of the expedition, many brought various vegetables, jerked buffalo meat and tallow to exchange for whatever they could obtain.
"The three Pawnee villages, with their pasture grounds, and insignificant enclosures, occupy about ten miles in length of the fertile valley of the Wolf river. The surface is wholly naked of timber, rising gradually to the river hills, which are broad and low, and from a mile to a mile and a half distant." (James, (1), I, p. 447.)
During the latter part of the summer of 1833 the small party under the leadership of Commissioner Henry L. Ellsworth reached the Pawnee towns, and in the narrative of the expedition are to be found many references to the customs of the people whose habitations were the primitive earth-covered lodges. The second morning after arriving at the village of the Grand Pawnee several members of the party walked about among the lodges, and at that time, so wrote Irving: "The warriors were collected in small knots of five or six, and by their vehement gestures, were apparently engaged in earnest conversation. The children were rolling and tumbling in the dirt; the squaws were busily engaged. Some were bringing from their lodges large leather sacks of shelled corn; others were spreading it out to dry, upon the leather of their buffalo-skin tents, which had been stretched out upon the ground. Others were cleansing from it the decayed kernels and packing it up in small sacks of whitish undressed leather, resembling parchment. These were then deposited in cache-holes for a winter's store.
"At a distance from the village, a band of females were slowly wending along the top of the low prairie ridges, to their daily labor in the small plantations of corn. These are scattered in every direction round the village, wherever a spot of rich, black soil, gives promise of a bountiful harvest. Some of them are as much as eight miles distant from the town." (Irving, J. T., (1), II, pp. 44 15.)
Later the same day a council was held at the lodge of the chief, attended by the principal men of the village, and it is interesting to read the description of the gathering of those who were to participate: "The lodge had been swept clean; a large cheery fire was crackling in the centre. The rabble crowd of loungers and hangersan had been routed; and besides the family of the chief, we were the only occupants of the spacious building.
"At mid-day the chiefs and braves began to assemble. They were full dressed; many of the young warriors had spent the whole morning in preparation, and now presented themselves, fully ornamented for the meeting.
"As the hour for the opening of the council grew nearer, the tall, muffled warriors poured in, in one continuous stream. They moved quietly to the places allotted them, and seating themselves in silence round the chief, according to their rank. The crowd continued flowing in until the lodge was filled almost to suffocation. As they came in, they seated themselves, until five or six circles were formed, one beyond the other, the last ranging against the wall of the building. In the ring nearest the chiefs, sat the principal braves, or those warriors whose deeds of blood entitled them to a high rank in the councils of the nation. The more distant circles were filled by such young men of the village as were admitted to its councils. The passage leading to the open air, was completely blocked up with a tight wedged mass of women and children, who dared venture no nearer to the deliberations of the tribe." When all had gathered the chief filled a large stone pipe, took a few puffs, then handed it to the members of the commissioner's party, who in turn passed it to the other Indians. The addresses were then made and the council deliberated on the several questions presented.
Source: Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi