Little-known history of ‘Pawnee Scouts,’ harvest of Pawnee corn, to be celebrated at Fort Kearny on Oct. 7

By: - September 5, 2023 3:00 am
Pawnee scouts

An estimated 1,000 Pawnees served as allies of the U.S. troops at Fort Kearny from 1864-1877. A recognition of their service is planned at the fort on Oct. 7. Pictured are Pawnee Scouts Roan Chief, Knife Chief, Charlie Brave Chief and Young Chief. (Courtesy of Nebraska History)

LINCOLN — As the U.S. military worked to protect early settlers and expansion of the railroad on the plains of central Nebraska, they had an important ally — members of the Pawnee Indian tribe.

An estimated 1,000 Pawnees assisted local troops from 1864-1877, including several who served as scouts for the military based at Fort Kearny, located along the Oregon Trail route southeast of modern-day Kearney.

The Pawnee knew the terrain and were well aware of the battle tactics of their rivals, the Lakota and Cheyenne, according to Mark van de Logt, a historian who has written a book, “War Party in Blue,” about the Pawnee scouts.

pawnee corn
“Eagle corn” is one of the Pawnee corn varieties being grown in Nebraska in collaboration with the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. It is so named for the dark images on the white kernels that resemble eagles. (Courtesy of Lori Potter)

On Oct. 7, a long-overdue recognition of the Pawnees’ service will be held at the fort, now a state historical park, as well as at an adjacent state recreation area. 

Descendants of the Pawnee Scouts are planning to attend, and the event will include a harvest of Pawnee crops and a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the “Pawnee Seed Preservation Society.”

That is a collaboration between Nebraska growers and the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma to restore the more than 20 corn varieties grown by the tribe.

 “If there is such a thing as current history, this is it,” said Ronnie O’Brien of Shelton, coordinator of the Nebraska growers of Pawnee corn.

The event is part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the founding of the City of Kearney. This year is also the 175th anniversary of the construction of Fort Kearny, which sits along the Platte River southeast of the city.

Events on Oct. 7 will include history re-enactors and displays at Fort Kearny State Historical Park from 9 a.m. to noon, and Pawnee singers, drummers and dancers will perform.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from the Pawnee about how important the Pawnee Scouts and their sacred corn are to their culture,” said Gene Hunt, superintendent of the two parks.

The events are free of charge, but a state park entry permit is required to enter the two parks. Visitors are urged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.