Lillie, Gordon William

Lillie, Gordon William (“Pawnee Bill”)

(1860–1942) frontiersman, showman; born in Bloomingdale, Ind. Enchanted by stories of the Old West, he left home at age 15 and lived among the Pawnee Indians and learned their language. He held various jobs in Oklahoma and Texas—buffalo hunter, teacher, cattle rancher—and after 1883 he traveled with Buffalo Bill's show and similar "wild west" shows as an interpreter and guardian of the Pawnee who were with the shows. In 1888 he set out with his own show, "Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West," but it soon failed. Settling in Wichita, Kans., he led "boomers" in the opening of the Oklahoma Territory (1889). He regrouped his wild west show in 1890 and it was extremely popular until 1909, when it merged with Buffalo Bill's. He feuded with Buffalo Bill and in 1913 retired to his 2,000 acre ranch near Pawnee, Okla., where he bred cattle and participated in civic affairs.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.