Walking West with Robert Campbell

Mile 697– His­toric Pawnee Village

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Artist Depic­tion of the his­toric Pawnee vil­lage site
20th Cen­tu­ry
Dar­rell Combs

After leav­ing the site of mod­ern day Fort Riley, Robert Campbell’s par­ty head­ed north on the Repub­li­can riv­er. They were in for a harsh win­ter, as Robert recalls in his nar­ra­tive the par­ty was low on pro­vi­sions and lost a third of their mules. They even had to send a group back to Saint Louis to resup­ply. While win­ter­ing on the Repub­li­can riv­er, they encoun­tered a Repub­li­can Pawnee mud vil­lage. The tribe mem­bers were away on a buf­fa­lo hunt, and des­per­ate for some sus­te­nance, Robert Campbell’s par­ty dug up a cache of Pawnee corn. Luck­i­ly, the par­ty had mon­ey to repay the Pawnee upon their return. Robert and Jede­di­ah Smith even stayed with Repub­li­can Pawnee chief Ish-Ka-ta-pa in his lodge. Robert’s par­ty sur­vived off of the corn tak­en from the caches and occa­sion­al­ly buf­fa­lo and wild turkey. Robert stat­ed that they suf­fered from a lack of sup­plies that entire win­ter until April when Gen­er­al Ash­ley joined the par­ty with supplies.

This Pawnee vil­lage could have very well been the same site where the Pawnee Indi­an Muse­um State His­toric Site sits today, near mod­ern day Repub­lic, Kansas. This site is list­ed on the Nation­al Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places:

This was the site of a Repub­li­can (Kitke­hah­ki) Pawnee vil­lage in the 1820’s and 1830’s. The earth­lodges were round, dome-shaped struc­tures with a frame­work of heavy tim­bers cov­ered over with sod. They close­ly resem­bled huge mounds of earth. …In this vil­lage two of the twen­ty-two known sites were con­sid­er­ably larg­er. Pre­sum­ably they were the dwellings of more impor­tant fam­i­lies. A muse­um and inter­pre­tive cen­ter was built in 1967 over one of the larg­er lodge sites. On the floor of the lodge vis­i­tors can see remains of burned tim­bers from the col­lapsed walls and the post holes in which roof and wall sup­ports once stood. Ash­es still remain in the hearth. Left where they were found on the floor are remains of stone, bone, and met­al tools and imple­ments, which were left behind when the lodge was aban­doned. Sur­face fea­tures of the site which are vis­i­ble are the loca­tions of lodge floors, stor­age pits, and the remains of the for­ti­fi­ca­tion wall around the village… 

…It is believed to have been the vil­lage vis­it­ed by Jede­di­ah Smith, famed moun­tain man and explor­er, in Jan­u­ary, 1826, when he was on his way west with a par­ty of trappers. 

A Pawnee Mud Vil­lage
Cir­ca 1870