The Pawnee Mythology

The Pawnee Mythology

The Pawnee Mythology

The Pawnee Mythology


The Pawnee Mythology, originally published in 1906, preserves 148 tales of the Pawnee Indians, who farmed and hunted and lived in earth-covered lodges along the Platte River in Nebraska. The stories, collected from surviving members of four bands - Skidi, Pitahauirat, Kitkehahki, and Chaui - were generally told during intermissions of sacred ceremonies. Many were accompanied by music. George A. Dorsey recorded these Pawnee myths early in the twentieth century after the tribe's traumatic removal from their ancestral homeland to Oklahoma. He included stories of instruction concerning supernatural beings, the importance of revering such gifts as the buffalo and corn, and the results of violating nature. Hero tales, forming another group, usually centered on a poor boy who overcame all odds to benefit the tribe. Other tales invited good fortune, recognized wonderful beings like the witch women and spider women, and explained the origin of medicine powers. Coyote tales were meant to amuse while teaching ethics.


Douglas R. Parks

During the waning decades of the nineteenth century, when Plains Indian tribes were still adapting to new lives on reservations and to the strong acculturative pressures of a dominant American society, anthropology as a science of humankind--as a profession committed to documenting and studying human diversity--was developing in two complementary contexts, museums and universities. the earlier of those contexts was museums, and dominant among them was the Smithsonian Institution in the nation's capital, founded in 1849. Joseph Henry, its first secretary, as part of his plan for the development of American science, committed the new institution to the study of the linguistics, archaeology, and ethnology of America's native peoples; and later, in 1879, the great naturalist John Wesley Powell established within the Smithsonian the Bureau of Ethnology (later the Bureau of American Ethnology), which served as the sponsor of massive field studies and publication projects documenting American Indian life, producing records that today are among the richest sources on the native peoples of the Americas.

Nearly simultaneous with the founding of the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology was the development of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, the first university museum in the United States. Beginning in 1874 under the direction of Frederick Ward Putnam, an archaeologist, the museum not only sponsored field studies, developed collections, and mounted exhibits, but equally importantly established a close association with an anthropology program at Harvard that Putnam himself established in 1890. His commitment to a close association between a museum, with its research and curatorial activities, and an academic program that provided professional anthropological training became a model that would later be followed by other American universities in which museums were established as adjuncts to anthropology programs or departments.

Putnam's influence in the development of American anthropology was not limited to the creation of museums in academic contexts; in the closing decade of the nineteenth century he was equally responsible for implementing vigorous, far-sighted anthropological programs in the two greatest public natural history museums in the United States . . .

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