Information on the Pawnee Indians
Recorded by Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 1804

The following excerpts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and their men present a picture of the Pawnee people as the Anglo-Americans saw them. The modern reader must be careful to understand that what these white men saw and recorded was not necessarily correct from the Indian perspective. The Pawnees lived in earth lodges, conical mounds which housed extended family groups. They farmed the land along the Platte, Loup and Republican rivers in what is now Nebraska and Kansas. Although the Pawnee lived in permanent villages of earth lodges most of the year, they switched to tipis in the summer. By the early 1700s, the Pawnee had divided into four bands, the Skidi, the Grand, the Tapage, and the Republican. They were visited by many early explorers, including the Spanish, by French fur traders, and by the American Zebulon Pike in 1806. By 1832 the Pawnee were suffering due to many changes brought about by Anglo-Americans. Their traditional hunting grounds were invaded by the Delaware, a tribe which had been moved to the West during the systematic relocation program of the U.S. Government. Their numbers had been reduced through diseases introduced by the Anglos, particularly smallpox. The artist George Catlin explained in The Indians of North America that the "Pawnees are a very powerful and warlike nation, living on the river Platte, about one hundred miles from its junction with the Missouri; laying claim to, and exercising sway over, the whole country, from its mouth to the base of the Rocky Mountains. The present number of this tribe is ten or twelve thousand; about one half the number they had in 1832, when that most appalling disease, the small-pox, was accidentally introduced amongst them by the Fur Traders, and whiskey sellers; when ten thousand (or more) of them perished. . . . " Time wore heavily upon the Pawnee, and their many enemies on the plains, the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa and Comanche began to take a toll on their decimated ranks. The Pawnee made friends with the Anglos, despite the fact that they had to cede a large share of their lands and settle on a reservation in Nebraska. They became scouts for the U.S. Army between 1865 and 1885 and guarded railroad construction workers. Later, they were forced to leave their lands in Nebraska and move to Oklahoma, where they continue to live today.

The following passages have been freely adapted and excerpted from the original texts, and the spelling has been corrected to make them easier to read. For students wishing to quote these passages, the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, edited by Gary Moulton and published by the University of Nebraska Press, is the recommended source. For those who wish more in-depth information about Lewis and Clark's relations with various Indian tribes, including background from the Indian perspective, the best book is James P. Ronda's Lewis and Clark among the Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. The very best way to obtain accurate information from the tribal perspective is to contact tribal councils for individual tribes - in other words, to consult the people themselves.

Contact Information:

President, Pawnee Business Council
P.O. Box 470
Pawnee, Oklahoma 74058

Journal Excerpts:

Thursday June 14th 1804
Met 2 canoes with 3 French men and one Negro from the Pawnee Nations. They have been up 3 years with the Indians. 2 of them is half Pawnee.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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