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May Manning Lillie, ca. 1890, Pawnee Bill Wild West Show
May Manning Lillie, ca. 1890, Pawnee Bill Wild West Show Photo courtesy Oklahoma State Historical Society

Pawnee, Oklahoma: Where the West Remains

The West remains the West in Pawnee, Oklahoma, a small town, pop. 2,200, in north central Oklahoma. Heroes of the old West ride again in the Pawnee Bill Original Wild West Show. Held on the grounds of the 350-acre Pawnee Bill Buffalo Ranch, an Oklahoma State Historical Society site, the show recreates Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show.

Gordon Lille came to Pawnee from Illinois in 1875 as a boy of 15. Appointed as a teacher to the Pawnee Indians in 1979, the tribe gave him the moniker by which the world would know him: Pawnee Bill. Fascinated by the Old West since his boyhood, Pawnee Bill joined the newly formed Buffalo Bill Wild West show in 1883 as an interpreter and performer. Designed to entertain rather than to education, the Wild West shows painted for city slickers a dramatic and thrilling picture of life in the largely mythological West.

In 1886, Pawnee Bill met and married May Manning, a 15-year-old girl from Philadelphia; in 1888, they formed their own Wild West show. May, a proper Eastern lady, learned to ride and shoot and soon became a headliner in the show. The original show featured trick riding, shooting, and roping. During the performance, Pawnee Bill and his cowboys rode to the rescue of passengers on a stage coach being held up by outlaws.

With careful attention to historical detail, these acts, and more, are each summer portrayed in the Original Wild West Show, held under the aegis of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Originally submitted by: James M. Inhofe, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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