Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

PITARESARU (ca. 1823-1874)

Pitaresaru (Petalesharo) is a Pawnee name meaning "Chief of Men" or "Man Chief." Two or more outstanding chiefs of this name were members of the Chaui band of the Pawnee (there was also a famous Skiri Pawnee chief named Pitaresaru who died in the devastating smallpox epidemic of 1830–31). The elder Pitaresaru of the Chaui band was born in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. His name is on the 1833 treaty whereby the Pawnee ceded what is now southern Nebraska to the United States. His son is believed to have been born around 1823 and died as head chief in 1874 in Nebraska, the Pawnee tribal homeland.

The younger Pitaresaru was described as being over six feet tall and of good appearance. He became a chief when he was twenty-nine. He devoted his life to the good of his people, and, as an excellent orator, he attempted to mollify the U.S. government in its often unreasonable demands and treatment. Pitaresaru's name appears first–indicating his primary importance among all four Pawnee bands–on the 1857 treaty in which the Pawnees ceded the balance of their ancestral lands, retaining only a small reservation on the Loup River. Although honoring his own culture, Pitaresaru accepted U.S. government schools so that Pawnee children could learn to read and write the white man's words. He sought to maintain the sovereignty of tribal leaders and forcefully criticized negligent and dishonest agency employees. When his reservation-bound people endured hunger in the 1860s, he successfully pleaded that the tribe be allowed to go on the bison hunt, an activity that countered government policy of spatial restriction and conversion of the Pawnees into farmers.

When pressure came for the removal of the Pawnees from Nebraska to Indian Territory, at first he was resolutely against it, but later he agreed to the removal with a heavy heart. In 1874, before this sad migration was made, Pitaresaru died under mysterious circumstances; he was shot in the leg by parties unknown and subsequently perished from gangrene.

It was later said by a Skiri Pawnee that Pitaresaru ruled all the bands and was a great man. Today, some of his warrior songs are still sung by the Pawnee people in Oklahoma.

Martha Royce Blaine

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Blaine, Martha Royce. Pawnee Passage: 1870–1875. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Dunbar, John B. "Pitalesharu." American History Magazine 5 (1880): 340–42.

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