The last stop on the final day of the 2018 ALHFAM conference will be the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum located on Blue Hawk Peak in Pawnee, Oklahoma. Gordon W. Lillie, known around the world as “Pawnee Bill,” exemplified The Wild West. Pawnee Bill produced one of the world’s three largest Wild West Shows.
Born in 1860 in Bloomington, Illinois, Lillie developed a fascination for the American West as he read dime novels. After their flour mill burned, his family moved to Kansas, where the Pawnee Indians were wintering during their removal from Nebraska to Indian Territory. Lillie befriended a Pawnee named Blue Hawk and traveled with him to the Pawnee reservation. He made his home with the Pawnee, learning to speak their language and becoming a teacher. In 1883 Lillie and a troupe of Pawnees were recruited by Buffalo Bill to perform across the nation in the newly-formed Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
In 1888 Lillie, now known as Pawnee Bill, started his own touring Wild West Show, and his wife May Lillie became a star in the show with her marksmanship and expert riding. In 1908, Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill merged their two shows forming Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East—informally known as The Two Bill’s Show. The Two Bills spent five years entertaining audiences with a mix of realism and fantasy that was the Wild West Show. In 1913 Buffalo Bill took out a short-term loan from a Denver executive, who foreclosed on the show. The show was no more, but Pawnee Bill had earned a reputation as an international showman.
Lillie came back to live on Blue Hawk Peak with May in the Tudor-style Arts and Crafts home they built in 1910. Here, Pawnee Bill and May turned their attention to real estate, oil, banking, and film production in addition to ranching. Pawnee Bill was deeply involved in efforts to preserve the bison, which teetered on the verge of extinction. The Lillies had one of the largest privately-owned bison herds in the world.
You will have the opportunity to tour their mansion, complete with the original furnishings and finishes, take a tour of the buffalo pasture, and wander through the museum. The annual game of town ball will be on the grounds, as will the plowing contest.
After a dinner of Cowboy Nachos consisting of delicious smoked BBQ brisket with fresh pico de gallo, beans, and Monterey Jack cheese over tortilla chips, you are in for a very special treat. Each year during the first weekend in June, which just happens to be the weekend following ALHFAM, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Pawnee Bill Ranch Association produce a Wild West Show. Some members of this year’s show will be on hand in the arena to demonstrate a few of their acts for ALHFAM!