About Pawnee Bill

Bill was born Gordon Lillie in 1860 and raised in Illinois. When Gordon was 15, he moved to Pawnee, Oklahoma. He became a teacher to the Pawnee Indians who lived there and they gave him the nickname “Pawnee Bill.” In 1883, Pawnee Bill left teaching to join the new Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show to be an interpreter and performer. Lillie’s admiration for Cody began when he was a nine-year-old boy and saw Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, and Texas jack Omohundro in Bloomington, Illinois, where they were playing in the “Scouts of the Prairie”. That admiration lasted throughout Lillie’s life.

While Pawnee Bill was performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, he met a woman named May Manning, a 15-year-old girl from Philadelphia. Soon after they met, May married Pawnee Bill and became May Manning Lillie. Then the couple started their own Wild West show, with May as one of its star performers. May became a very popular act in her own right for her marksmanship and riding. In 1908, Pawnee Bill merged his Wild West show with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show and the combined show became known as “The Two Bills’ Show.” The union was providential for Buffalo Bill. Pawnee Bill paid off his debts and put up the cash needed to keep the Wild West in winter quarters and open it again the following spring.

The great far east show featured a camel caravan, Musical Elephants, acrobatics by Bedouin Arabs and Imperial Japanese, Australian boomerang throwers, a Hindu fakir, Whirling Dervishes, South Sea natives, Moors, Persians, Musselmen, and Syrians. The two Bills remained friends until the end. The show closed in Denver, Colorado, in 1913 after touring for five seasons. Pawnee Bill died in 1942, just eleven days before his 82nd birthday.

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