The Pawnee were among the strongest of all the Plains Indians. Their influence stretched west into present-day Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of the Colorado prairie. They lived half the year in semi-permanent villages consisting of earth-covered habitations. A short passage entrance led into the rounded, dome-shaped lodges. Entire Pawnee families, along with their favorite dogs and pet animals shared the inside of the lodges. Horses were kept in corrals outside the village, ready for battle. Under an open-air roof the elders would smoke their pipes, make decisions for the tribe, and pray to their supreme god Tirawahat. The most important gathering of the Skidi band of Pawnees was the fertility ritual called the Morning Star Ceremony. This ritual placed a strong emphasis on astronomical phenomena and occasionally permitted human sacrifice, usually a captured female. The Pawnee Indians held a deep reverence for the stars and thus were considered the “Astronomers of the Great Plains.”
Pawnee Spirit Sites were natural features on the landscape that resembled their earthen lodges, usually taking the appearance of prominent hills or artesian springs. To Plains Indians, a natural spring was considered a shrine in which offerings of various kinds were thrown in for good fortune. One such spring, Kicawi’caku, whose name translates “spring on the edge of a bank,” was a large artesian pool occupying the top of a limestone mound that vaguely resembled a Pawnee earthen lodge. The water level fluctuated depending on the season, but sometimes overflowed the rim. It was highly revered as a sacred source of mineral water. When the pool was cleaned out during its years as a modern health spa it yielded numerous Native American relics. Beads, weapons, moccasins, and assorted artifacts were deposited as offerings by passing bands of Indians, including the Pawnee and many other tribes of diverse linguistic affiliations. When white settlers moved into the region, they renamed it Waconda, based on the name “Great Spirit Spring.” As early as the 1870s, bottled water was sold under the name Waconda Flier, and in 1884, construction of a health spa was begun. Today, the entire spring and surrounding spa is submerged under the waters of Glen Elder Reservoir.
The Pawnee considered certain natural mounds on the prairie to be “animal lodges,” a place where their four-legged relatives held councils of their own. Most of the animal lodge openings were orientated to the Morning Star in the north by northeastern night sky. One such mound, Pa-hur, or “the hill that points the way,” had a large hole in its side where the miraculously endowed animals would gather and discuss various topics, just as their Pawnee two-legged kin did in their earthen lodges. Pa-hur has been renamed in English as Guide Rock, a town across the Republican River in Nebraska about a mile north of the animal lodge. Another famous site, also in Nebraska, is Curaspa ko, or “Girl Hill” and it too is shaped like an earth lodge, even featuring a vestibule entrance. Girl Hill derives its name from a time when young Pawnee girls gathered on the hill to watch the men of their village hunt buffalo.
Getting to Pawnee Spirit Sites
The Pawnee Indian Village State Historic Site and Museum is located 7 miles (10 km) north of U.S. 36 on Kansas Highway 266 near the town of Republic, and 22 miles (37 km) north of Belleville. The Pawnee Village is on the site where 2,000 Pawnees lived in the 1820s. At its height the village contained more than 40 lodges. The museum encloses the excavated floor of one of the largest lodges, with the remains of other houses dotting the ground. Pa-hur lent its name to the town Guide Rock, just over the Kansas border, but the hill itself is very difficult to locate because much of it has been torn down for road and canal construction. The Girl Hill animal lodge is located roughly 2.75 miles (4.5 km) between the towns of Hordville and Clarks, Nebraska, along the southern bluff of the Platte River. Kicawi’caku, also known as Waconda Spring, was located on the banks of the Solomon River, just southeast of Cawker City, Kansas. Similar to the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, the Glen Elder Reservoir flooded the site and Waconda was lost forever.
This is a excerpt from Sacred Places North America: 108 Destinations.