Pawnee Bill (1860–1942), born Gordon William Lillie, was an American showman and performer who specialized in Wild West shows and was known for his short partnership with Buffalo Bill.
Early life and family
Pawnee Bill was born February 14, 1860, in Bloomington, Illinois. His father Newton operated a flour mill in Bloomington; the mill burned to the ground in the 1870s. The family then moved to Wellington, Kansas where Gordon developed a love for the West. By the age of 19, he was working on the Pawnee Indian agency in Indian Territory. In 1883, he was given the chance to work as the Pawnee interpreter with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. His work with the show was the origin of his nickname as "Pawnee Bill." 
After courting for two years, Lillie married May Manning in 1886, a petite Quaker from Pennsylvania; she was younger than he. In 1888 the Lillies launched their own Wild West show, which they called "Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West". May starred in the show as the “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.” Their first season was a financial disaster. They re-organized as a smaller operation called “Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show.” The show was popular and financially successful.
Gordon Lillie added Jose Barrera to the cast; he was widely popular performing as "Mexican Joe". In 1907 Lillie hired performers from a variety of backgrounds. The show included Mexican cowboys, Pawnee, Japanese performers, and Arab jugglers. The ensemble debuted as “Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East Show.” In 1908 Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill joined forces and created the "Two Bills' show. That show was foreclosed on when it was playing in Denver, Colorado.
Pawnee Bill invested in banking, real estate, and oil. He operated various business interests and dabbled in film making at his ranch. In 1930 May and Pawnee Bill opened Pawnee Bill’s Old Town near the ranch. They sold Indian and Mexican crafts, and featured annual rodeos. That enterprise burned to the ground in the 1940s and was never rebuilt.
In 1936 the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Taos, New Mexico. In September of that year they attended a local celebration in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While driving back to their ranch that night, Pawnee Bill lost control of their vehicle. May died as a result of her injuries and Pawnee Bill never fully recovered.
A newspaper clipping by the (AP) at the time of his demise, listed this article in the newspaper entitled: "Pawnee Bill" Dies; Was Frontiersman
Quote: "Pawnee Okla.,Feb 4---(AP)----"Maj. Gordon W. "Pawnee Bill" Lillie, frontiersman, wild west showman and last surviving leader of the Oklahoma boomers, is dead.
The stocky, white-haired old veteran died last night at his buffalo ranch. He would have celebrated his 82nd birthday On Valentine's Day.
He has been an invalid since 1936, when he was injured in an automobile accident near Cleveland, Oklahoma. His wife Lilly, was killed.
Pawnee Bill was captain of the boomer movement, which had for its purpose the colonization of Oklahoma Territory.The boomers had become a menace to the peace of the communities along the border of Oklahoma territory and in 1888 Pawnee Bill was employed by the Wichita, Kansas, Chamber of Commerce to organize the scattered bands and lead them into the new country.
Lillie, who took the job because the show business was in a slump, assembled about 4000 followers and moved to Caldwell Kansas, preparatory to an invasion of Oklahoma. The pressure of this group was credited with speeding through Congress a bill opening Oklahoma for settlement in 1889.
Pawnee Bill was a colorful showman.
Once, when playing to empty houses in Belgium, he saw that a balloon ascension was getting a big play. He got on it. The balloon broke away and for three days he and the balloonist sat in the basket and gestured at each other. Neither spoke the others language"...End of quote.
He died in his sleep in 1942, at the age of 81.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pawnee Bill.|
- Farnum, A. "Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West" (1992).
- Hyde, G. Hyde and Savoie Lottinville. The Pawnee Indians: Civilization of the American Indian Series, ( 2007).
- Moses, L.G. Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883-1933. University of New Mexico Press, 1999.
- Shirley, Glenn. Pawnee Bill, a Biography of Major Gordon W. Lillie. Western Publications, Stillwater, OK. 1993.
- Wallis, Michael. The Real Wild West, The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West. St. Martin's Press, New York. 1999.
- Weltfish, G. The Lost Universe: Pawnee Life and Culture ( 1990).
- Thomas A. Link, from Greenville, Darke County, Ohio, shared a newspaper article on Pawnee Bill passed down through the years by a Native American "OTTAWA"; Ruth Johnston, his grandmother, was from Northeastern Oklahoma.
- Shirley, Glenn, The Biography of Gordon W. Lillie.
- Pawnee Bill's Historic Wild West by Allen Farnum,(1992).
- The Honorable Cody by Richard Wheeler (2006).
- Circus World Museum 
- National Cowboy & Western Heritage 
- Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum 
- Pawnee Bill - Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL newspaper)