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Notes on the Life of Baptiste Bayhylle

Roger Echo-Hawk
April 2009

The genealogical roots of many Pawnee families today trace back to Baptiste Bayhylle, a Skidi Pawnee. Two of the many branches of the Echo Hawk family are descended from him – my grandmother, Lucille (Shunatona) Echo Hawk, was one of his granddaughters. Born sometime around 1831, Bayhylle had a prominent presence in the Pawnee world during the second half of the 19th century.
We know little of his ancestry. The oral traditions of the Echo Hawk family and the Shunatona family all agree that Baptiste had a Skidi mother, but his father’s ancestry is a matter of unsettled debate, with French, Spanish, and Skidi parentage put forward in various combinations. During the 1980s two of his grandchildren, Nora Keys and Charles Shunatona, told me that little is known of Bayhylle’s father, but they believed that he may have been Spanish. In their account of his life, Bayhylle left Pawneeland in his youth and went to live among his father’s family until he became an adult. They believed that he lived somewhere in Mexico during this time – Nora Keys described his father’s home as a “big hacienda in Mexico.”
In the 1980s Willard Hines obtained this account of that story: “Grandma Lizzie Tilden... told Aunt Katheryn de la Motte Stoeffel Kirmse... in the 1970s, that she put her thumbprint to an affidavit which stated that Baptiste was a good Pawnee man, a fullblood Skidi who had left the tribe at an early age to reside in Mexico for several years” and that he “was referred to by some as Mexican because of this.”
Baptiste Bayhylle’s son, Louis, recalled in heirship testimony given in February 1915 that his father “used to talk about his St. Louis life....” Based on this statement, it appears that Baptiste lived with his father’s family in St. Louis, Missouri. This helps to make sense of the various family oral traditions, since St. Louis was a cosmopolitan city that included American, French, and Spanish families. Bayhylle’s father was most likely associated with the St. Louis fur trade in some fashion. He probably had both French and Spanish ancestry, and given the fact that several early St. Louis families intermarried with Pawnees, Bayhylle’s father could have had some Pawnee ancestry.
Baptiste had a complicated family among the Pawnees. Various records indicate that he was born between 1829 and 1833, and he had at least one older brother, Frank Bayhylle (also known as Francisco, born about 1822), three sisters, and an older half-brother named Frank Deteyr (also “Tatahyee”). This family was also related to the later Lone Chief family, the Pearson family, and the Washington family. These were leading Skidi families of Tuhwahukasa Clan and Pahukstatu Clan.
When St. Louis fur traders came to visit in Pawneeland, they typically stayed in the homes of the leading families and traded out of their earthlodges. The host would sometimes give a wife in marriage to traders, and it appears that Bayhylle’s St. Louis father married a woman in one of these prominent households and had as many as five Pawnee children during the 1820s and 1830s.
Searching early St. Louis history, the Bayhylle name has not turned up. But one name that does appear is the Spanish name “Vigil” (pronounced Bee-hill). It is possible that “Bayhylle” represents a version of “Vigil” or some other Spanish or French name.
It appears that Baptiste Bayhylle lived among his Skidi relatives in Pawneeland until the early 1840s. From his early teens into his twenties, he dwelt in St. Louis with his father’s kin. In Echo Hawk family traditions, he was a fluent speaker of Pawnee, Spanish, French, and English.
According to Charles Shunatona, it was in St. Louis that Baptiste Bayhylle met and married his first wife, a “white woman.” When he brought his spouse up the Missouri River to Nebraska, he didn’t settle in Pawneeland with her; instead, they dwelt in one of the new towns that had recently sprung up.
According to testimony given in March 1915 by Baptiste’s cousin, Emily (Pappan) Fontinelle, this first wife’s name was Virginia, and “she was half Mexican and half French.” She had three children with Baptiste: William Bayhylle, Julia Bayhylle, and a baby who died in infancy. Emily knew the family when they first appeared from St. Louis: “They came from St. Louis and they landed in a little town named St. Mary, and settled on that little town, and we [Emily and her husband] were only three miles from that little town.”
Emily lived in Bellevue, Nebraska from 1846 until her marriage to an Omaha named Henry Fontinelle in 1855. It is likely that Emily and her husband moved across the river to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Through her father, LaForce Pappan – a St. Louis fur trader – Emily was related to a man named Peter Sarpy, her cousin (The Story of Omaha, Alfred Sorenson, 1923 edition, p. 18). Just a few miles south of Council Bluffs, Sarpy founded a small town in 1854 called St. Mary. Hiram Chittenden mentions this town in his biography of Joseph La Barge (describing the building of a steamboat): “La Barge supervised her completion and named her the St. Mary, after a new town which P. A. Sarpy had just laid out a few miles below the modern Council Bluffs, Iowa, and which has been long since entirely washed into the river” (Chittenden, History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River, 1903, p. 201).
Bayhylle’s marriage to Virginia didn’t last. She returned to St. Louis sometime around 1860, taking her two surviving children, William and Julia. In the late 1860s William reappeared in Pawneeland in Nebraska; he married a Skidi woman and lived thereafter among his Pawnee kin.
Baptiste Bayhylle and his half-brother, Frank Deteyr, appear in an account of the founding of the Pawnee Reservation in 1859. They served as interpreters for the Pawnees, and when Frank was killed by the Sioux in 1861, Baptiste took on more responsibility as an interpreter.
Baptiste enlisted as a Pawnee Scout in 1867 and served as a sergeant in Company C, the Skidi company. One of his exploits during his scouting days is recounted by George Bird Grinnell in Blackfoot Lodge Tales (1962:247-248).
Sometime during the early 1870s Baptiste Bayhylle married his second wife at the Pawnee Agency boarding school. Isabelle (Luper) Bayhylle was born about 1854 to Skidi Pawnee parents. According to Susan Coons, Isabelle was part Spanish and she was originally known as Isabella – her name appears this way in various records.
According to granddaughter Nora Keys, Isabelle’s Pawnee name was Tsa ta ra huddi, Woman Dust Cloud, referring to when the people set forth on the buffalo hunt. She became known as Belle Bayhylle among her family and among her many descendants. Baptiste Bayhylle’s Pawnee name was Risaru Siritiriku, a name later held by his grandson, Charles Shunatona, who translated it literally as “Chief-They-See,” and more freely as “The Chief They All Look To.”
By the time the Bayhylle family departed from Nebraska with the final group of Pawnees, they had several young children. Many more children followed after settling in Oklahoma. Six of their children survived into adulthood, and according to grandson Charles Shunatona, five more children died in infancy.
After Baptiste Bayhylle died on October 25, 1897, Belle married another Skidi man named Mark Evarts. Nora Keys spoke to me with some fondness of her childhood memories of sitting with Grandpa Evarts while he pointed out stars in the night sky and told her stories. Belle died on August 7, 1910.
The branches of the Bayhylle family tree have today grown to include a large number of Pawnees. In the history of the Pawnee Nation, Baptiste Bayhylle led a fascinating life, and he deserves to be remembered.