Nebraskans work to grow Pawnee corn

Pure Nebraska
Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 2:21 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2023 at 2:47 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SHELTON, Neb. (KOLN) - Several people across the state are part of a project to grow corn the Pawnee nation once produced while living on the Great Plains.

When the Pawnee Nation was forced from its homeland to an Oklahoma reservation in the 1870s, they lost nearly all of their corn seed over time. Ronnie O’Brien of rural Shelton is part of a group called the Pawnee Seed Preservation Society. They are currently growing Pawnee corn. They are hoping to continue bringing it back, and when the corn is harvested, the seed goes back to the Pawnee. The society is in its 20th year of growing the seed.

“If you think about wild plants in Nebraska, such as wild onions or turnips, this is the closest thing to wild corn,” O’Brien said. “This is the first corn that grew in Nebraska, and it was grown by the Pawnee for a thousand years. When they left here in the 1870s, they took their seeds with them. But their seed stock dwindled when they were forced from their Nebraska homeland to Oklahoma.”

O’Brien had contacted the Pawnee to do a historical program at one point while working at The Archway in Kearney. She was a gardener and wanted to include gardening in the program. “When I called the Pawnee, their education director asked me if we’d be willing to grow some Pawnee corn in its native soil here in Nebraska,” O’Brien said. “That was 20 years ago, and here we are, continuing to bring the corn back.”

There are other efforts going on to grow vegetables that the Pawnee grew. At Fort Kearny, superintendent Gene Hunt is growing two gardens with squash, pumpkins and other items. He is growing the produce for a feast that will be held Oct. 7 at Fort Kearny. The Pawnee corn being grown around the state will also be on display at this event as well. The event involves recognizing the Pawnee Scouts who served at Fort Kearny. It’s the first time the scouts’ descendants will come back as a group. That will be celebrated, along with the 20th anniversary of growing Pawnee corn through the Pawnee Seed Preservation Society. For more information on this event, call Fort Kearny State Historical Park at (308) 865-5305.