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Sacred Pawnee Bundle

Pawnee bundle

Passed down through the generations, this bundle is a collection of precious objects from a Pawnee family.

A thousand Sioux warriors swarmed around the band of four hundred Pawnee men, women, and children. Even with the added protection of the canyon into which they had fled, the Pawnees were overwhelmed. Their hunting bows were no match for Sioux rifles.

The Pawnees had been returning from the summer buffalo hunt when they were attacked by their traditional enemies, the Sioux. It was an August day, probably a hot one, in 1873 and their earth lodges on the Loup River in central Nebraska still lay a week's journey to the northeast. Their horses were loaded down with buffalo meat. Prospects were bright until they were shattered by the one-sided fight at "Massacre Canyon."

In the heat of battle, a Pawnee father lashed his five-year-old daughter to his horse, slipped a treasured peace medal around her neck, and bound his sacred bundle to her back. "Take care of this bundle and it will take care of you," he said as he smacked the horse, sending the little girl to safety through the enemy ranks. Perhaps the bundle did take care of her, for she was among the few Pawnees to survive that day.

Following the attack by the Sioux, young Sadie found her way back to her village. Other survivors straggled in but her parents were not among them; they had been killed. Heeding her father's admonition, Sadie took care of the sacred bundle and later passed it down to her own daughter as was the Pawnee custom. Tragically, the ritual use of the bundle was lost with her father because only he knew the proper ceremonies.

Sacred bundles were a powerful part of Pawnee ceremonies linked to planting and harvesting. They contained tools necessary to those ceremonies, and the rituals and ceremonies associated with them were passed from generation to generation along with the bundles. Bundles were owned by women and inherited through the female line, but could be used by men only. To open or use a bundle without the proper ritual and ceremony invited disaster.

Bundle contents changed from ritual to ritual. The Society's bundle is a collection of precious objects wrapped in an ocher-stained bison hide. On the outside of the bundle are tied several ceremonial objects: a long pipe, arrow fragments, a meat fork tipped with a raccoon bone, and small American flags. X-ray analysis indicates that inside are stuffed bird bundles, hawk bells, counting sticks, and glass beads sewn on a leather strip.

Sadie's bundle was believed to be sleeping after her father placed it in her care. It could not be opened and revitalized by the addition of a "perfect" ear of corn as formerly had been done after each harvest. The power of its ritual objects could no longer be tapped, but the bundle remained as a symbol of the family's spiritual history. Sadie and her female descendants were careful to hang the bundle above the altar in the sacred area of their old earth lodge.

Sadie's daughter Dolly kept the bundle until her death in 1971. By then the Pawnees had lived in Oklahoma (Indian Territory) for nearly one hundred years. They and most other Plains Indians had been removed to make way for white settlement.

During one of her trips to the old Pawnee homeland in Nebraska, Dolly visited the Pawnee Indian Museum State Historic Site near Republic, Kansas. She was so struck by the importance of the site to her people that she wanted the sacred bundle to be housed there when her family could no longer care for it. This wish was fulfilled in 1987 when Dolly's daughter Elizabeth presented the bundle to the Kansas Historical Society.

Sadie's sacred bundle hangs today above the remains of the lodge's altar at the Society's Pawnee Indian Museum, much as it would have hung at its original site on the Loup River in nearby Nebraska.