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Brummett Echohawk: Pawnee Thunderbird and Artist

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A true American hero who earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a Congressional Gold Medal, Brummett Echohawk was also a Pawnee on the European battlefields of World War II. He used the Pawnee language and counted coup as his grandfather had done during the Indian wars of the previous century. This first book-length biography depicts Echohawk as a soldier, painter, writer, humorist, and actor profoundly shaped by his Pawnee heritage and a man who refused to be pigeonholed as an “Indian artist.”

Through his formative war service in the 45th Infantry Division (known as the Thunderbirds), Echohawk strove to prove himself both a patriot and a true Pawnee warrior. Pawnee history, culture, and spiritual belief inspired his courageous conduct and bolstered his confidence that he would return home. Echohawk’s career as an artist began with combat sketches published under such titles as “Death Shares a Ditch at Bloody Anzio.” His portraits of Allied and enemy soldiers, some of which appeared in the Detroit Free Press in 1944, included drawings of men from all over the world, among them British infantrymen, Gurkhas, and a Japanese American soldier.

After the war, without relying on the GI Bill, Echohawk studied at the Art Institute of Chicago for three years. His persistence paid off, leading to work as a staff artist for several Chicago newspapers. Echohawk was also a humorist whose prodigious output includes published cartoons and several parodies of famous paintings, such as a Mona Lisa wearing a headband, turquoise ring, and beaded necklace.

Featuring eight of Echohawk’s paintings in full color, this thoroughly researched biography shows how one unusual man succeeded in American Indian and mainstream cultures. World War II aficionados will marvel at Echohawk’s military feats, and American art enthusiasts will appreciate a body of work characterized by deep historical research, an eye for beauty, and a unique ability to capture tribal humor.

ISBN-13: 9780806148267

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Publication Date: 09-04-2015

Pages: 224

Product Dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Kristin M. Youngbull holds a Ph.D. in history from Arizona State University.

Read an Excerpt

Brummett Echohawk

Pawnee Thunderbird and Artist

By Kristin M. Youngbull


Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5333-9


A Family Tradition

My name is Kit-to-wah-keets So-to-wah-kah-ah. In Pawnee that means Echo Hawk. This is a full blood Indian name. My grandfather won this name in the field of battle. ... The hawk does not sing. It is symbolic in the Kitkahahki [sic] band of Pawnees as a warrior. A warrior who does not sing. So Grandpa Echo Hawk won this name and the name hawk and echo were put together like this: Because he was a man who did not sing of his praises, like the hawk did not sing, but the people echoed everything he did, so thus Echo Hawk, a warrior whose deeds are echoed. That is my name. This is not a stage name. It is a full blood Indian name and I would like for you to know that.... Grandpa Echo Hawk won that, and we in the family attempt to live up to it. A warrior whose deeds are echoed.

— Brummett Echohawk

The story of Brummett T. Echohawk is a family story following four generations and their experiences as the Pawnee people took up arms under the banner of the United States Army, lost their homelands in Nebraska, relocated to present-day Oklahoma, and adjusted to new lands, times, and historical circumstances. The genealogy discussed here presents only a segment of a long line of military and family men. Brummett Echohawk was the son of Elmer Price Echohawk, the grandson of Kutawakutsu Tuwaku-ah (Echo Hawk), and the great-grandson of Te-ah-ke-kah-wah Who-re-ke-coo (He Makes His Enemies Ashamed). Offering a glimpse of those who came before him — those who set forth the standard by which Brummett Echohawk felt compelled to live his life — this chapter serves as the beginning of Echohawk's own story, where he found his beginnings and forged much of his identity.

In the mid- to late nineteenth century, Pawnee people usually had relatively small families, primarily because of the challenging conditions under which they lived. John Brown Dunbar, a historian and ethnographer familiar with the Pawnee people, noted that the average Pawnee family had around four children. He wrote, "A family of eight children, seven sons and one daughter, was so unusual as to become famous as the seven brothers." The family to which Dunbar referred was a Kitkehahki family that rose to prominence during the latter half of the century. Indeed, Pawnee history refers to the family as the Seven Brothers. The youngest of the seven brothers, Te-ah-ke-kah-wah Whore-ke-coo (He Makes His Enemies Ashamed), was born around 1829. He married a Pawnee woman named Ska-sah Re-Wah. He Makes His Enemies Ashamed served with the first company of Pawnee Scouts in 1864. Ska-sah Re-Wah's brother served with the second enlistment. Thus, the children of He Makes His Enemies Ashamed and Ska-sah ReWah had examples from both sides of the family as their father and uncle fought alongside the U.S. Army as scouts.

In 1873, the new Quaker agent, William Burgess, allowed a party of Pawnees to leave their Nebraska reservation in search of buffalo because, for various reasons, local agriculture and government supplies were inadequate, and meat was needed to stave off hunger. Concerned about too many men leaving at once, the agent only allowed a limited number of Pawnees to go out with the hunting party. He worried that the reservation would become an easy target for marauding Lakota, since the local army garrison had proven insufficient to defend the Pawnee reservation.

After what seemed a successful hunt, the people began the butchering process and events took a grave turn. A large party of Lakota warriors saw the relatively small contingent of Pawnees focused on various duties of the hunt and recognized an opportune moment. They took advantage of their enemy's vulnerability and struck with a vengeance. Brummett Echohawk attempted to describe the battle at Massacre Canyon in an article in which he wrote about a commissioned painting he had made depicting the event. After providing some historical background, he related that "the Sioux swarmed forward with shrieking war cries," and continued with written imagery of the event:

Forming a line behind their men, young women locked arms, swayed and sang the war song of the Pawnee nation. Now the Pawnee men rode up from the canyon, stripped for battle. The laket (leaders) shouted: Tus Chaticks-Si-Chaticks! (We are men of men, Pawnees). With horses prancing, they gave the Pawnee war cry: Kidee didee didee, Kidee didee didee! Then 250 Pawnees charged into the advancing ranks of 1,500 Sioux. Thundering hoofbeats. Gunfire. Dipping lances. Whizzing arrows. Flashing tomahawks. Coup sticks. War clubs. Slashing knives. Tumbling horses. Billowing dust. Screaming children. Fever-pitch singing in the canyon. Dying men. Dying women. Dying children. Dying horses. Then silence in the August heat.

Approximately 156 Pawnees lost their lives. Conditions on the reservation that year continued to decline. The agent described the Pawnees' situation as "worse than ever." "Average" crops, a disastrous buffalo hunt, and intensifying pressure for land combined against them. As early as March 1873, prior to the tragedy at Massacre Canyon, a small group of Pawnees traveled to Indian Territory and made peace with the Kiowas as a means of opening the door to serious consideration of relocation. In August, after Massacre Canyon, the people began discussing relocation more earnestly. In October 1873, prominent warriors Uh sah wuck oo led ee hoor (Big Spotted Horse), Lone Chief, and Frank White asked their agent permission to move to the Wichita reservation in Indian Territory. Approximately 250 of their people followed them, despite the efforts of Chief Pitalesharo (one of the primary chiefs), who contested their decision to go. Small groups of Pawnees continued to slip away to join those already on the Wichita reservation. Those who settled among the Wichita during this time period, including Big Spotted Horse, continued to enlist as scouts for the army, and served in the Red River War of 1874.

After their victory at Massacre Canyon, the Lakotas impeded the subsequent winter hunt in 1873 and raided Pawnee villages in January 1874. Then, to reinforce agrarian and assimilationist values promoting stronger reliance on agriculture, the Pawnee agent forbade the people to organize a hunt the following summer. Making matters worse, drought and pests caused crop failure in 1874. Increasing numbers of the Pawnees in Nebraska viewed relocation as an acceptable option. On October 8, 1874, the Pawnees met in council with government officials, including Agent Burgess and Barclay White, who headed the Northern Superintendency of the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs. They requested to sell their land in Nebraska in return for a place in Indian Territory.

The decision to move came at a time when the army left the Pawnee Scouts inactive. While living in Nebraska, the scouts served regularly throughout the 1860s, but after 1870 the U.S. Army did not employ them until the 1876–77 campaign against the Sioux, and that round of enlistments only allowed for one company of Pawnees. Despite being recently dispossessed by the United States of their homelands in Nebraska and relocated to Indian Territory, and having suffered significant loss of life in addition to the loss of lands, in 1876 Pawnee men volunteered to travel north, on foot if necessary, to fight the Lakotas for the army. Many of the men volunteering for service suffered from extremely poor health. Much of the Pawnee community faced typhoid and malaria in the new climate and poor conditions of Indian Territory. The army took the healthiest men until their ranks were full, but many more wished to join them because participation in this campaign against their longtime enemies would provide opportunity for both retribution and a return to their homelands. A sizeable contingent of the men refused by the army followed the column north as far as they could, hoping that somehow they would be allowed to participate. Brummett Echohawk's grandfather, the son of He Makes His Enemies Ashamed, joined the ranks of those accepted for service and allowed to go north with the army. When he enlisted for the Sioux campaign, he used the name Tawihisi (also spelled "Tow we his ee," meaning "Head of the Group" or "Leader of the Group"). His participation in the Sioux campaign added him to the tradition, begun by his father and uncle, of serving in the United States military.

Born around 1855, Tawihisi grew up in Nebraska's Pawnee homelands. He made the trek to Indian Territory as a young man. He knew firsthand the misery his people endured in their last years in Nebraska, and was all too familiar with the poor conditions and suffering they faced after relocating to Indian Territory. When Tawihisi enlisted with the Pawnee Scouts as a young man in 1876, he had the opportunity to return and fight the age-old enemies of the Pawnees in the campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne. Tawihisi won the name Kutawakutsu Tuwaku-ah, which translates as "Hawk Echoing" or "Echo Hawk" as a warrior. After serving with the scouts, he returned to Indian Territory, where he raised what became a sizeable family. Around the turn of the century, he used the name Kaka Rarihuru (Big Crow), but as the Pawnees underwent the allotment process, he insisted that he wanted his family to use the name he had as a warrior rather than adopt a white neighbor's surname as encouraged by the allotment agent. Thus, he became Howard Echo Hawk.

Echo Hawk's grandson Brummett described him as "just over six feet in moccasin feet," and "ramrod straight." Echo Hawk was one of the old men who still wore their hair long in well-kept braids and maintained a dignified, soldierly appearance. Brummett Echohawk wrote of his grandfather: "He raised horses. Gave many to needy members of the tribe. He also gave horses to his former enemies, the Cheyennes who lived in western Oklahoma. He had two names. One was Sereh-reetahwee, which meant They All Know Him. Echo Hawk was his warrior name. To the Pawnees the hawk was a silent and efficient warrior. The hawk never sings. Such was Grandpa Echo Hawk. He never sang his own praises. But the tribe did. They echoed his deeds and actions. Thus the hawk whose deeds are echoed — Echo Hawk."

Brummett Echohawk once wrote, "I can tell you about the Pawnee Scouts who served the United States government during the Indian Wars. I can tell you because Grandpa Echo Hawk was one of them.... Some of the Pawnee Scouts I saw and remembered. Others I knew by reputation. Still others were legendary.... Our people held the Pawnee Scouts in great respect." The Pawnee Scouts left an indelible impression on Brummett Echohawk, and he revered these elders all his life. He identified with their stories and wished to add his name to the ranks of great warriors among his people. He admired them as military men — men who fought to preserve something special, a way of life and their homelands. As a young child, he watched how these warriors of the old school navigated the ever-changing world they lived in. Most of them had a tenacious quality about them, even in their twilight years. He wrote about a number of the old men, for he had heard the stories of their younger days, but he knew them as old men.

Brummett Echohawk wrote about some of his experiences with the old scouts. "I knew Dog Chief well," he recalled. "He gave me his old cavalry hat. There was a crude writing on the inside. The best I could make out was 'Simon Adams, U.S. Indian Scouts.' Simon Adams was the name Dog Chief enlisted under when he rode for Maj. North." As a young boy, Echohawk took great pride in that battered gray hat. He also knew High Eagle, once a participant in the 1876 campaign against the Sioux and a fine horseman. High Eagle apparently took an interest in the youth of the tribe. He, and many of the older generation, encouraged the young people to learn and maintain their Pawnee language. Echohawk distinctly remembered an incident when as a young boy at the boarding school he received a silver dollar from High Eagle for correctly answering a "tricky" question in the Pawnee language. High Eagle asked young Echohawk if he wanted money or nails. Echohawk wrote, "The Pawnee words for money and nails are the same except for a slight inflection, depending on the situation. High Eagle carried a few shingle nails in his pocket to make sure we learned correctly."

Pawnee Scout Howard Echo Hawk left his Nebraska home with the third, most reluctant wave of Pawnee people and headed to Indian Territory. Howard had a large family. From family history, federal censuses, and Indian census records, he had four wives (some simultaneously; the older Pawnees practiced polygamy) and at least fourteen children — many of whom did not survive to adulthood. He married Susan or "Susie" around 1872 in Nebraska. The following year, he married her sister, Annie Keller, but the two divorced. The two sisters belonged to the Kitkehahki band and had a brother named Bromet Taylor. Howard Echo Hawk also married Choorix Taylor in Nebraska, but the date is unknown. Among their children, Howard and Choorix had two sons. Elmer Price arrived on May 18, 1892; Choorix gave birth to his brother, George Thomas, on December 27, 1899. Choorix passed away in December 1902. Howard then married Carrie West around 1903.

According to family history, after leaving Nebraska, Howard Echo Hawk's family belonged to the Kitkehahki camps on the Cimarron River. When the allotment of Pawnee lands began in 1893, rather than immediately settle in the fashion of whites, Howard's family lived for years at a campsite. Howard moved his family into a permanent house around 1920. Taking time to move into a home deemed acceptable by government officials proved fairly common among the Pawnee people in Indian Territory. In the 1880s, officials instructed the Pawnees to cease their old ways of building earth lodges, but their situation made it difficult financially and otherwise to procure the materials necessary to build the type of homes required. So some lived in canvas tipis, and others defied the rules and built earth lodges anyway.

Echohawk related, "The transition for the Pawnees in the 1880s was disheartening." The process by which one was to become "civilized" remained a bit unclear for most. The government made rules that were often impractical; the local agent often did the same. Many officials meant well, but their programs and rules often brought about more frustration than progress. Old enemies of the Pawnee people, the Osages, occupied a reservation directly north of the Pawnees, on the other side of the Arkansas River. Close proximity made Pawnee-owned livestock prime pickings. White rustlers also posed a threat. Agency regulations forbade the Pawnees to retaliate against their offenders. Instead, the best they could do was escort the Osages home and complain about the white thieves. The Pawnees, and other tribes, had run-ins with immigrants as well as outlaws. Although a great deal of land was lost during the general allotment process, many Pawnees worked hard on the lands they managed to retain and found themselves forced to defend their property from time to time. Howard Echo Hawk was no exception. Despite agency rules, Brummett Echohawk described his grandfather as "old school." He was "Chaticks-Si-Chaticks [Men of Men] ... an old pro from the Pawnee Scouts."

When Howard Echo Hawk's sons George and Elmer reached school age, they, like most other Pawnee children, left home to attend the Pawnee Agency boarding school. Echo Hawk enrolled Elmer in the Pawnee "training" school in 1898. He attended until fifth grade when he, like a number of the older children, transferred from the Pawnee school to the United States Indian school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where it is said he roomed for a time with the now-famous athlete Jim Thorpe. He arrived at Carlisle Indian Industrial School on September 11, 1907, and signed up for three years' enrollment. Even though he had first attended the Pawnee boarding school, Elmer's transition to Carlisle proved difficult. In 1882, the government had begun more intently implementing a policy of sending older children away for education, and many students struggled terribly with homesickness. Brummett Echohawk described some of the homesick Pawnee children as "young homing pigeons," who "set off ... for the Cimarron country hundreds of miles away." Of course, Pawnee children were not the only ones who felt compelled to run. Most often, school officials caught up to the children before they made it very far. Authorities in neighboring towns often aided in the capture of runaways. "I don't know how old my father was then," his son wrote, "but he was one of them that had a strong feeling for home."

Elmer's school records note that he ran away July 13, 1909, and under the column for "special remarks" in bright red ink is the label "deserter." After getting clear of the vicinity of Carlisle, Elmer worked odd jobs to earn his fare home. "When he got home his father raked him back. This time my father stayed. He did well. And we in the family always agreed that he did well — for that's where he met my mother." Elmer Price Echo Hawk was officially discharged from Carlisle Indian Industrial School on September 30, 1910.


Excerpted from Brummett Echohawk by Kristin M. Youngbull. Copyright © 2015 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1. A Family Tradition,
2. Taking on the Mantle,
3. An American Soldier, a Pawnee Warrior,
4. "Art is long and life is short",
5. More Than an Artist,