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Wichita Music: Looking to the Past, Present and Future

WYMS Big Wolf Songs

The Wichita Young Man Society singing Big Wolf Songs at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair on April 3, 2018. Clockwise from left: James Marquez, Dominic Blindwoman, Caleb Holman, Kevin Marquez and Kody McAdams. (Photo by Matthias Daffron)

 

In the March 2018 issue of Wichita Tribal News, the first of a two-part story on Wichita music discussed the importance of Wichita singing, with an emphasis on songs used at the drum. This second part will focus on singers from generations past, the relationship to Pawnee songs and the Wichita Young Man Society members doing their best to learn.

 

Remembering the past Wichita Singers…

 

WhenWichita Tribal Newsinterviewed Gary McAdams, Jimmy Reeder and Stuart Owings on Jan. 26, 2018, many Wichita singers from the past were mentioned in conversation. For Owings, this includes his grandfather, Hugh Miller, and his uncle, Wallace Miller.

Other Wichita mentioned by Owings as singers include Max Thomas, Walter Lamar, Joe Wheeler and McCarty Stephenson, as well as Leroy and Kenneth Miller.

 

Owings also spoke of Wichita women who sang but "would stay on the sides," including his mother, Faye Miller Owings, as well as Ethel Wheeler and Helen Querdibitty.

 

McAdams added additional singers such as Rollin Stephenson, Houston Miller, Frank Swift and John Thomas.

 

 

Sharing with Pawnee Relatives…

 

Drum from Alex Mathews

 

(An inscription on a drum given to the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes on April 21, 2001, by Pawnee Nation President Alexander Mathews.)

 

In addition to speaking about Wichita singers, many Pawnee singers were also listed for being frequent singers in the Wichita community. This included not only Visitation but also other dances held at Camp Creek. For Owings, these Pawnee singers include Wilson Moore, Herb Adson, Adam Pratt, Andy Pratt and Delbert Goodchief. In many cases, songs between the two nations are shared in common.

 

"There's a couple that are the same, that are interchangeable, like the war dance and the handgames and all those," Owings said about Wichita and Pawnee songs. "The Big Wolf Songs is what we call them, and the Pawnees call them Young Dog Dance. But it's the same."

 

McAdams said that the Pawnee "know some of our songs, but I don't think they sing them a lot except when we're there during the Visitation."

 

"In the past, they might have used them more, because there were more Pawnee singers that took part in the Visitation and would come around to other Wichita doings," McAdams added. "Pawnee singers back then were exposed to more Wichita songs than like the ones today. There's not many Pawnee singers that come down [now] during the Visitation. When they're here, we sing mostly Wichita songs. We'll sing some Pawnee too. At the same time, when we go up there, there will be mainly Pawnee songs and, of course a few Wichita songs will be sung. There's not that many that get exposed to the way they used to in the past."

 

Reeder said that Wichita songs were used during a Young Dog Dance session that he attended over 15 years ago. He said there was one session reserved for Wichita songs, and he was asked by the Pawnee to sing them.

 

An additional observation by McAdams is that the Pawnee Flag Song shares the same tune as a Wichita Prayer Song.

 

Raising a New Generation of Singers…

 

As mentioned in Part I of this story from the last WTN issue, Owings, Reeder and McAdams are the three primary adult male Wichita singers today. The singers recognize the need to teach these songs to the youth. The key component of teaching a new generation, then, goes on the shoulders of the Wichita Young Man Society.

 

"The various songs we've got, we try to sing them and pass them down to the younger fellas-the Young Men's Group," Reeder said. "I'm grateful that I can take part with that-sing and share. We're not going to be around forever. That's the cycle-push it on the kids, spill this knowledge over to them. It takes time. They'll get there. Get them in the forefront maybe one day."

 

In addition to singing at events such as the Wichita Annual Dance, members of the WYMS also compete in the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, held annually on the first Monday and Tuesday of April at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman, Okla. Last year, WYMS placed third in the 6th-8th Grade Small Group Traditional Song category. This year, on April 3, 2018, WYMS placed third, this time in the 9th-12th Grade Small Group Traditional Song category with Wichita Big Wolf songs.

 

Two of the singers are brothers Kevin and James Marquez. Kevin, 14, said that he began singing at age 12. Younger brother James, 12, said he began at seven years of age. Both of them said that they sing Big Wolf, Round Dance and War Dance, with both also stating that Big Wolf is their favorite. James Marquez said that he enjoys the Big Wolf Songs "because you get to howl at the end."

 

When asked about the importance of younger Wichita learning the songs, Kevin Marquez stated "because one day, those songs, they're going to be gone if we don't remember them."