Pawnee (pônēˈ) [key], Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Caddoan branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). At one time the Pawnee lived in what is now Texas, but by 1541, when Coronado visited Quivira, they seem to have been settled in the valley of the Platte River in S Nebraska. By the early 18th cent. the Pawnee had divided into four groups: the Skidi (or Wolf), the Grand, the Republican, and the Tapage (or Noisy). They then numbered some 10,000. By the time French traders settled (c.1750) among them, the Pawnee had extended their territory to the Republican River in N Kansas and the Niobrara River in N Nebraska. In 1806, Spanish soldiers visited the Pawnee just before the arrival of the expedition of Zebulon M. Pike.
In material culture the Pawnee resembled other Native Americans of the Plains area but they had an elaborate set of myths and rituals. Their supreme god was Tirawa (the sun), who with Mother Earth conceived Morning Star. Morning Star was the rising and dying god of vegetation. The Pawnee periodically sacrificed a young woman to Morning Star. This custom, one of the few examples of human sacrifice N of Mexico, was, however, ended by the great Pawnee chief Pitalesharo (b. c.1797).
The Pawnee were hostile to the Sioux and the Cheyenne, although friendly toward the Oto. They were fierce fighters, but they never warred against the United States, even when treated unjustly by the government. In fact, the Pawnee provided scouts for the U.S. army in the Indian wars as well as protecting the Union Pacific RR from the depredations of other Native Americans. Pawnee population was reduced by wars with the Sioux and by the smallpox and cholera epidemics of the 1830s and 1840s. By a series of treaties begun early in the 19th cent. the Pawnee ceded all of their land in Nebraska and in 1876 moved to a reservation in Oklahoma, where they were granted the right to own their land individually. In 1990 there were over 3,300 Pawnee in the United States.
See R. Linton, The Sacrifice to the Morning Star by the Skidi Pawnee (1922); W. Wedel, An Introduction to Pawnee Archeology (1936); G. Weltfish, The Lost Universe (1965); G. E. Hyde, The Pawnee Indians (rev. ed. 1973).