More than a century of Easters: The Pawnee Bill egg hunt continues

PAWNEE, Okla. -- The grass is cut. The grounds are ready.

Pawnee Chamber of Commerce Manager Tom Briggs and Pawnee Bill Ranch Manager Ronny Brown spent Thursday morning talking about what remained to do to get the place ready for hundreds of kids hunting for thousands of eggs.

"It is a sight to see," says Briggs. "It takes about an hour and a half to put out the eggs. They harvest them in about 15 minutes."

The annual Pawnee Egg Hunt has a history longer than the state itself.

Major Gordon Lilly and his wife May, who both entertained children all over the world with his wild west shows, started inviting kids from town out to the ranch more than a century ago.

Briggs continues, "It was a great occasion because a lot of people came to Pawnee to see this."

The Lillys had one child of their own, a boy who died as an infant.

They adopted 'little Billy' in 1917 and he hunted eggs on Blue Hawk's Peak.

When he died in a tragic accident before his 9th birthday Bill and May kept on.

Brown says, "Pawnee Bill and May erected a cross on the windmill tower and it's still there. We light it at Christmas and Easter."

Pawnee Bill was a member of the Lion's Club so he opened the ranch for hunts when that organization took over in 1929.

The Lions Club moved the hunt after May died in 1936, holding it at the local fairgrounds and the high school football field.

Ronny Brown remembers collecting eggs as a kid.

"It's what every kid in Pawnee does," he says.

Then, in 1998, the ranch, now a state historic site, and organizers got back together.

The egg hunt came home.

"When we came back to the ranch everybody was just elated," says Briggs.

Resurrected from tragedy, saved from moves and a series of sponsors, from generation to generation.

The annual hunt survives today because enough folks from Pawnee thought it was just too important, and too fun to let it go away.

"It's part of everyone's history here," says Briggs.

The 2019 Pawnee Easter Egg hunt for 2019 starts at exactly 10:00AM on Saturday, April 20.

More than 5,000 eggs will be scattered across four different hunt areas segregated by age group.

A Pawnee Bill re-enactor will start the hunt by firing his six-shooter into the air.

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