About Gordon William "Pawnee Bill" Lillie
Pawnee Bill (1860–1942), born Gordon William Lillie, was a Wild West showman and performer.
Best known for his short partnership with Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill was born February 14, 1860, in Bloomington, Illinois. His father, Newton, operated a flour mill in Bloomington until it 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 work with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as the Pawnee interpreter. This work with the show would give him his nickname Pawnee Bill.
Lillie married young and petite May Manning in 1886. In 1888 the Lillies launched their own Wild West show: "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.
While Gordon Lillie had been on tour, May supervised the buffalo ranch, now known as Pawnee Bill Ranch. The Lillies completed work on their Arts-and-Crafts style home on Blue Hawk Peak in 1910. 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. He died in his sleep in 1942.