Pawnee Suffer in a Blizzard

Reports of the suffering of white settlers in winter snowstorms abound in the columns of early Nebraska newspapers. Less common are accounts of the experiences of Native Americans, who endured the same blizzards with fewer resources. One such account was published in the Fremont Tribune on January 27, 1870, following a storm that struck the area on January 16.

The Tribune said: “From Mr. James Bowman, formerly interpreter of the Pawnee nation, we learn the following particulars of the suffering of a war party of Pawnees. A party of Kit-ka-hahs [Kitkehahki or Republican], a band of Pawnees, numbering about twenty braves, under charge of Laich-gett (meaning the man who is not afraid to lead his party) made a raid on their enemies the Sioux, in the vicinity of Medicine Lake, some time since, and succeeded in capturing about forty head of horses-with their plunder they started for the villages of their tribe located on the south side of Platte river nearly opposite Lone Tree Station.

“The party had almost reached its destination when overtaken by the fearful storm of Sunday 16th ins., the storm came on while they were still in camp, but believing they would be able to reach their villages, a start was made. On they traveled in spite of cold and snow, sometimes walking to keep warm, jumping about, etc., but all to no purpose, the cold was too much for either man or beast, and the horses began to give out as well as the men. Finding it useless to attempt further progress, the horses were turned loose to die and the men betook themselves to a snow bank, where with true Indian courage and stoicism they awaited a death by freezing which seemed inevitable.

“One man of the party however, appeared able to stand more exposure than the others and he made heroic efforts to save himself, and pushed his way in the face of the storm to the village, which he reached during Sunday night. Next morning a party from the village started out in search of their comrades and on reaching the snow bank where they had lain down to die, the party of nineteen were found with hands, arms, feet and faces frozen and in some instances frozen up to the knees. Prompt efforts were made and the sufferers carried to the village, where all are now lying in a precarious condition.

“The horses after being turned loose, followed the storm and in this manner many of them got as far south as the Blue river, although but about fifteen have been recovered up to this time, many being found frozen on the line of march.”


Nebraska Pawnee at the entrance to their typical dwelling called an earthlodge. NSHS RG2065-1-12.

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