Members of Pawnee Nation Hold Dance at Historic Trail Site

Date: October 8, 2014
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Members of the Pawnee Nation Hold a Dance at a National Historic Trails Site in Kansas

MARYSVILLE, KS – Pawnee Nation tribal members from Pawnee, Oklahoma, performed traditional dances at a public event on September 27th at Alcove Spring Park—a historic site on the Oregon and California national historic trails in Marshall County, Kansas.

More than 300 people attended the event, which was the highlight of a two-day symposium featuring speakers on tribal history and trails topics, as well as presentations on improvements and events planned for the park. The event was organized by the Alcove Spring Historical Trust, the Kanza Chapter of the Oregon-California Trails Association, and numerous local volunteers, with technical and financial support from National Trails Intermountain Region National Park Service, and the National Park Foundation’s Active Trails program.

Special thanks go to the Pawnee Nation tribal members who generously made the trip from Oklahoma to share some of their traditions with the local community and other visitors. The Pawnee used northeast Kansas as a hunting ground, but the arrival of emigrants and settlers in the mid-1800s led to competition for resources. In 1875, the tribe was forced to move to a reservation in Oklahoma. It is unknown when tribal members last visited present-day Alcove Spring Park.

Alcove Spring was an important landmark for travelers on the Oregon and California trails, as emigrants were often stranded near the spring for days, waiting for flood waters on the Big Blue River to recede. Today, the spring is part of a 240 acre park owned and managed by the Alcove Spring Historical Trust. It was little known or visited until the early 1990s, when a group of local citizens formed the trust to purchase the land and open the site to the public.

At the park, one can visit the spring to see rock carvings left by emigrants in the 1840s and 50s, view the many visible wagon swales leading down to the historic river crossing, or just enjoy the outdoors on over five miles of hiking trails through woodland and natural prairie. Alcove Spring Park is the largest publicly accessible open space in Marshall County.

“We’ve managed to, after all these years, hold onto a lot of what sets us apart as American Indians,” said Pawnee Head Chief Junior Pratt, one of the dancers. “We have a very specific land attachment. All of this area here at one time was Pawnee land. Our people lived here, maybe up there on that hill. . .This is also, like my dad was saying, a reminder of where we’re from.”

NTIR administers the Oregon and California national historic trails (designated by Congress as part of the National Trails System) as well as seven other national historic trails and the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. For more information, see these websites:

Last updated: October 14, 2016