The name Shawnee (pronounced shaw-NEE ) is from the Algonquian term sawanwa, or “Southern people.” Four separate divisions of the tribe exist today: the Eastern Shawnee, the Loyal Shawnee, the Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma, and the United Remnant Band in Ohio.
The Shawnee moved frequently so it is difficult for historians to trace their movements. Before Europeans arrived in the Americas, the Shawnee lived mainly in southern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. During the 1600s they spread out, and by the late 1600s and early 1700s they resided mostly in eastern Pennsylvania and Ohio. Some Shawnee also lived in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois until the Indian Removal Act (1830) forced them to move to reservations. Another scattering took place before 1750, and many returned to southern Ohio. A third dispersal occurred during the American Revolution (1776–83), when many Shawnee moved westward into Oklahoma. In the mid-2000s the Shawnee lived mainly in Oklahoma and Ohio.
In the 1660s, prior to contact with Europeans, there were anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 Shawnee. In 1825 there were 2,500. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 6,640 people identified themselves as Shawnee. In 2000 that number decreased to 6,001.
Origins and group affiliations
The Shawnee are thought to be one of the Algonquian tribes who moved from Canada’s eastern coast during prehistoric times. They had connections with Sac and Fox, and Kickapoo tribes. Their closest associations were with the Delaware and Creek, and they had generally hostile relations with the Iroquois.
For centuries the Shawnee wandered from place to place, becoming known far and wide for their skill as warriors. Beginning in the 1600s they were often invited to settle among other tribes. In exchange for protecting those tribes they received the use of harvest and hunting grounds. The Shawnee strongly opposed white settlement beyond the original 13 colonies. Because of their ability to recover after bad times, they are currently one of the more prosperous Native American tribes.
Scattering of the Shawnee tribe
The Shawnee first made contact with Europeans in the early 1670s when French trappers and traders came to Tennessee and South Carolina. The Shawnee traded furs and hides to the French, and later to the British, for European goods such as jewelry, glass beads, ribbons, pots, blankets, and steel weapons. By the late 1600s many Shawnee had moved northward into the Ohio Valley and eastern Pennsylvania. There some joined with groups of Delaware Indians (see entry) and lived in what is present-day Indiana.
1670: The Shawnee first encounter Europeans.
1774: The Shawnee take on the British in the Battle of Point Pleasant.
1794: The Shawnee are defeated by U.S. forces at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
1795: The Greenville Treaty opens Shawnee land to white settlement.
1811: Shawnee settlement of Prophet’s Town is destroyed in the Battle of Tippecanoe.
1813: Chief Tecumseh is killed fighting the Americans at Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812.
1830: Most Shawnee leave Ohio.
1936: Two Shawnee groups in Oklahoma organize as one federally recognized tribe.
1937: A third Shawnee group in Oklahoma is federally recognized as the Eastern Shawnee Tribe.
1980: Ohio’s Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band receives state recognition.
2000: The federal government recognizes the Loyal Shawnee.
Return to the homeland
In the 1720s the Wyandot tribe offered the Shawnee a section of land in southern Ohio. Shawnee from all directions welcomed the invitation and gathered there. It was excellent land for hunting and farming, and there was plenty of it. By 1730 most Shawnee had returned to this land in Ohio, probably their original homeland. But because they needed huge tracts of open land for their wandering way of life, they saw the westward expansion by British settlers as a serious threat to their survival.
The French and Indian War
The struggle between the British and French sfor control of the American colonies developed into the French and Indian War (1754–63; a war fought in North America between England and France involving some Native Americans as allies of the French). In 1755 the Shawnee were drawn into the war because of a misunderstanding.Angry British colonists mistakenly believed that the Shawnee were responsible for the murder of British general Edward Braddock (1695-1755) and half of his army of 2,200 men. As a result, when Shawnee representatives went to talk with British officials in Washington regarding another matter they were hanged. The Shawnee then allied themselves with the French and went to war against the British. Shawnee war parties inflicted great punishment on British settlements. When the British won the war in 1763 the Shawnee knew that whites would retaliate and overrun the Shawnee settlements in the Ohio Valley.
Now firmly in control of the American colonies the British treated Native Americans as a conquered people. They stopped supplying the gunpowder and rum that had become important to the Natives. To express their unhappiness, the Shawnee and other tribes burned white settlements and captured colonists. This led in 1763 to the Shawnee’s involvement in the famous Native American uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion. Pontiac (c. 1720–1769) was an Ottawa chief who, angry at the British for taking over Native American lands, united a group of warriors from different tribes in an effort to terrorize white settlers in Western Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. The Shawnee division was commanded by the most important Shawnee chief, Hokolesqua, and his primary war chief, Pucksinwah (died 1774).
In an incident that has gone down in American history as one of the dirtiest tricks of warfare, the British military commander arranged to have smallpox-infected blankets delivered to the Native Americans. The terrible disease spread quickly, and thousands died as a result.
Pontiac’s Rebellion was not a military victory for the Native Americans, but it resulted in an important agreement with the British. Called the Royal Proclamation of 1763, it set limits to the growth of the colonies. It also made all lands west of the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania Indian Territory, where Native American people were to be left “unmolested.” The document stated that Native nations had aboriginal title to their lands, and only the British Crown, not the colonists, could buy land from them. The proclamation also described the proper way to make treaties and appointed two ambassadors to handle relations between the British king and Native American leaders. But that agreement, like many other agreements between Natives and whites over the next century, did not last long. White settlement continued to expand into Shawnee lands.
Whites adopted by tribe
The Shawnee did not give up their land without a fight. The tribe became feared for its practice of kidnapping and torturing whites who tried to settle on Shawnee land. Not all white settlers were killed, however. Some learned to appreciate the Shawnee way of life and were adopted by the tribe. One famous captive was the legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734–1820), who stayed with the Shawnee for several months until he escaped.
Battle of Point Pleasant
In 1774 tensions between the Shawnee and the British increased again after the governor of the Virginia colony announced a plan to open land on both sides of the Ohio River to British settlers. The land he meant was the heart of Shawnee territory. The governor sent three thousand soldiers with orders to invade Shawnee land and attack Shawnee villages. Before they could carry out this order a Shawnee war party led by Chief Pucksinwah and war leader Blue Jacket (c. 1745–c. 1810) attacked the British forces. During the battle, later named the Battle of Point Pleasant, Chief Pucksinwah was killed. The battle ended without a clear victory for either side, and by then everyone’s attention had turned to the larger fight between the colonists and the British.
American Revolution divides the tribe
The colonists declared their independence from England in 1776, sparking the American Revolution (1776–1783). The Shawnee argued among themselves about which side to support, but they could not agree. To avoid being drawn into the fight, nearly half of the Shawnee moved west into what is now Missouri. The rest decided to support England against the colonists. They believed that England would reward them after the war by protecting their homelands from white settlement. In the spring of 1782 Shawnee and Delaware warriors ambushed and defeated five hundred colonial soldiers and tortured their leader to death. But their support of the British yielded them nothing because the British lost the war.
Victory and retaliation
After the war Blue Jacket and Chief Tecumseh (1768–1813), the son of Chief Pucksinwah, continued the fight against American settlement of Native lands. In 1791 Blue Jacket led a large force of Native Americans from several tribes in a surprise attack against American forces along the Wabash River in Indiana. The Native Americans killed some 630 men and wounded 300 more. Only 21 Native Americans were killed, while 40 were wounded. This incident was the greatest victory in the history of Native American resistance to white settlement.
In response President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) sent another army to put down the Native Americans in 1794. Under the command of General “Mad Anthony” Wayne (1745–1796) this larger force defeated Blue Jacket and his allies at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near present-day Toledo, Ohio. Wayne and his men burned Shawnee villages and destroyed the Native Americans’ crops.
With the defeat at Fallen Timbers, Native American resistance to white settlement began to crumble. Now facing starvation at the hands of the American army, 91 Native American chiefs representing 12 nations were convinced to sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. As a result of the treaty the Shawnee lost more land than any other tribe. Many stayed in Ohio and agreed to abide by the terms of the treaty.
For the next ten years the Shawnee, under the leadership of Chief Tecumseh, watched white settlers moving into their lands and saw their resources being depleted. In 1805 Tecumseh’s younger brother, Lalawethika (1775–1834), started a religious revival that attracted large numbers of followers from various tribes to a community in Ohio he had established. He preached a return to traditional Native American values and a rejection of the ways of white people; he insisted that the whites had no right to the lands they had taken. Lalawethika then changed his name to Tenskwatawa (pronounced TENS-kwa-TAH-wuh, meaning “the open door”). He was also known as the Shawnee Prophet.
Tecumseh joined his brother and worked to change this movement from religious to political. He wished to see all remaining Native American lands under the common ownership of tribes, and he wanted to form a military and political confederacy to unite many tribes to fight the white invasion. To the concern of government officials, a growing number of warriors moved into the new community. In 1808 Tecumseh built a new village called Prophet’s Town near Ohio’s Tippecanoe Creek. Native people who wanted to protect their homelands and preserve their Native American ways came to Prophet’s Town. Tecumseh traveled far and wide to recruit tribes to join his confederacy to halt the spread of white settlements.
While Tecumseh was away on one of these journeys, William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), governor of the Indiana Territory, put pressure on several chiefs to sell three million acres of Native American lands for white settlement. As word of this loss spread among the northwestern tribes, a flood of warriors joined Tecumseh’s cause. When Tecumseh returned he told Harrison of his anger and opposition to the sale. Harrison waited until Tecumseh left on another journey and set off with one thousand men to attack Prophet’s Town. In the battles that followed Harrison burned Prophet’s Town to the ground.
The death of Tecumseh
After their defeat in the American Revolution, the British retained territory in Canada and claimed a section of land in Maine. Relations between the United States and Britain were uneasy, and war between them broke out again in 1812.
During the War of 1812 (1812–14) the Shawnee again fought on the side of the British. Tecumseh, still hoping the British would preserve Native American homelands against American settlers, led a force of warriors from many tribes. He was defeated and killed in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada. Thus, the last major combined Indian resistance to American expansion ended.
Shawnee move to Oklahoma
The Shawnee moved frequently and far after the War of 1812, often splitting up and then coming back together. Finally most of them settled on reservation land in Oklahoma.
Life in Oklahoma was not easy for the Shawnee people, who tried to make their living by farming and ranching. Gas and petroleum were found on Native American land in the early 1900s, and many Shawnee were pressured into selling their land to whites. They were often paid less than its value, and they ended up in poverty. Tribal unity was disrupted as the people divided into the groups in which they live today.
Population of Shawnee Tribes: 2000 Census
Most Shawnee live in Oklahoma, where they are divided into three groups. The Absentee Shawnee live near Shawnee, Oklahoma. The Eastern Shawnee live in Ottawa County in northeastern Oklahoma. The Loyal Shawnee mostly live in the town of Whiteoak in northeastern Oklahoma. In the 2000 U.S. Census the Shawnee identified themselves this way:
“2000 Census of Population and Housing. Matrix 7: American Indian and Alaskan Native summary file.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Data User Services Division, American FactFinder, 2004.
The Shawnee recognized a Great Spirit and worshipped the spiritual qualities in all natural things. The people believed they had been created by a female god, called Our Grandmother, who someday would gather them up in a huge net and take them to heaven. Each tribal group had a sacred bundle that contained holy objects, and used it to bring good harvests, success in battle, or help for the sick. Only the most important men and women in the tribe knew the contents of the bundles. The people sought the aid of the spirits through dances, chants, and songs. Later Baptist missionaries in Oklahoma converted many Shawnee, and the Baptist religion remains a presence there.
The Shawnee language is considered endangered, but is still spoken by some Shawnee in Oklahoma, who are teaching it to Shawnee children. The reservations have language classes so that the language can be passed on to future generations.
Tribal chiefs were men and women who had inherited their life-long positions. Peace chiefs served as spiritual leaders. War chiefs, who were chosen for their skill and bravery in battle, planned raids on the enemy. Decisions were made after discussions that continued until everyone agreed on a matter. Women served as important advisors during war and peacetime, and female elders were often in charge of determining the fate of captives.
In the mid-2000s each of the three Oklahoma tribes had its own elected tribal council that made decisions for the tribe. Each tribe also had a chief who led ceremonies.
The Oklahoma Shawnee
There are three groups of Shawnee in Oklahoma: the Absentee Shawnee, the Eastern Shawnee, and the Loyal Shawnee.
In 1845 a group of Shawnee left the Shawnee reservation in Kansas. They relocated to Indian Territory (now the state of Oklahoma) and came to be known as the Absentee Shawnee. In 1872 the U.S. government gave the Absentee Shawnee land on a reservation near present-day Shawnee, Oklahoma. The Citizen Band of Potawatomi also occupied this reservation. The Absentee Shawnee gradually split into two groups. One group, The White Turkey band, was more willing to adopt white ways, while the Big Jim Band refused to do so. Although relations between the two groups were troubled, they organized as one tribe under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act in 1936.
In the mid-2000s the Absentee Shawnee lived in south central Oklahoma, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City. The tribe remained divided into the Big Jim Band and the White Turkey Band. Members totaled about 1,700 people and they lived in two different counties in Oklahoma.
In 1832 most of the Shawnee in Ohio moved to a reservation in Oklahoma where they joined a small group of Seneca (see Iroquois entry) to form the United Nation of Seneca and Shawnee. In 1937 this group of Shawnee officially separated from the Seneca and became the federally recognized Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. They have about one thousand members.
Most Eastern Shawnee lands are located in far northeastern Oklahoma near the Missouri border, with headquarters in West Seneca, Oklahoma.
Loyal, or Cherokee, Shawnee
The Loyal Shawnee lived in Kansas when the American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery) began. They received their name because of their loyalty to the North during the war. But their loyalty benefited them little because after the war U.S. officials forced them off their Kansas lands.
In 1869 they purchased land from the Cherokee (see entry) in northeastern Oklahoma and still live with the Cherokee Nation. They kept their own identity, though, and in 2000 Congress recognized them as a separate tribe. Their tribal headquarters is in Whiteoak, Oklahoma, but tribal members are scattered around the United States. While federal government officials and others sometimes call them the “Cherokee Shawnee,” they refer to themselves as the Loyal Shawnee.
The Shawnee economy centered on hunting, farming, and food gathering. Beginning in the early eighteenth century fur trading with the French became very important to the economy. Men hunted, traded, and fought in wars. Women gathered food, farmed, and made craft items used by the tribe. In springtime men cleared fields, then women and children planted and tended the crops. Individual households owned farming fields.
In 2007 many Absentee Shawnee in Oklahoma received income from farming and livestock, oil- and gas-related businesses, and small businesses. A major source of funds was the tribe’s Thunderbird Entertainment Center, which features bingo. The tribe also owned a site with several manufacturing plants, a medical supplies plant, a shopping mall, smoke shops, and a convenience store.
The Eastern Shawnee owned Bowdertown Casino and Travel Center, which includes a convenience store, gift shop and smoke shop. Proceeds from these operations funded community programs like health care, childcare, education, and social services for the tribe. The Eastern Shawnee also maintained partial ownership in several oil wells near the reservation.
In 1996 the United Remnant Band purchased the Zane Shawnee Caverns and acreage surrounding it. They opened the cave to the public and constructed a camping and retreat center. In addition they developed a small settlement on the site, similar to a reservation. However, because the settlement is not managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs it is not officially considered a reservation.
The three Oklahoma groups are striving for economic self-sufficiency and meeting with success. They are better off than many tribes and have better housing. Casinos help to fund programs to improve the lives of tribe members and provide employment for some of their people.
The Shawnee lived in small groups of extended families made up of mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and in-laws. They lived together in one big dwelling or in houses located near one another.
In warm weather the Shawnee lived in summer villages of twenty to three hundred people. Each village had a large log council house used for religious and political gatherings; it provided protection when villagers came under enemy attack. Palisades, fence-like structures, surrounded the village for protection. Shawnee homes were made of saplings (young trees) tied to form a frame and covered by sheets of bark or animal skins. A hole in the roof allowed smoke to escape.
During the fall and winter the Shawnee set off on long hunting and gathering trips. Their cold-weather dwellings were much smaller, often holding only one or two persons. Unlike other wandering tribes the Shawnee did not carry their houses with them,because building materials could be found almost anywhere they went.
Clothing and adornment
The Shawnee wore buckskin clothing. In winter men and women wore shirts, leggings, fur cloaks, and moccasins. Summer clothing consisted of simple breechcloths (flaps of material that covered the front and back and hung from the waist) for men and wrap skirts for women. Women also wore moccasins trimmed with bells that jingled when they walked. Children dressed like their parents. Most garments were decorated with dyed porcupine quills, beads, or feathers. After they began to trade for European goods the Shawnee developed a fondness for silver pins, beads, necklaces, and bracelets. Shawnee men could be recognized by their silver nose rings and earrings.
The tribe painted their faces and bodies for ceremonies. Men wore headbands made of animal fur trimmed with one or more feathers from a hunting bird, such as an eagle, hawk, or owl. The women wore their long hair parted in the middle and rolled into buns, kept in place by silver combs. Some painted small red dots on their cheeks.
Corn, the staple crop, was eaten as a vegetable or used to produce hominy (a hot cereal) or bread flour. The name “johnny cake,” still used for cornbread, probably comes from the name “Shawnee cake.” The Shawnee grew beans, squash, and pumpkins and gathered wild rice. Women made maple syrup and gathered persimmons, wild grapes, nuts, berries, roots, and honey. They used dried onions to season meat and cooked it over different types of wood. Maple, hickory, or cherry wood smoke added special flavorings.
Men hunted year-round for deer, elk, bear, turkeys, pheasants, and small fur-bearing animals. Shawnee hunters imitated animal calls. They disguised themselves so that they could approach their prey and shoot it with a bow and arrow or knock it on the head with a club. No part of an animal went to waste. Shawnee used the skins for clothing, bones for tools, tendons for thread and bindings, and fat for cooking and skin ointment.
The elders of the tribe were greatly respected. They formed close relationships with the children and taught them Shawnee ways. Children learned that honesty was good, and lying was a crime.
Traditional ceremonies, songs, dances, and crafts are kept alive through education and practice. Tribal members ensure that these rituals and skills are passed down from generation to generation.
In the mid-2000s most Shawnee children attended public schools. The Loyal Shawnee of Big Cabin, Oklahoma, offer educational programs for children. When they purchased the Zane Shawnee Caverns, the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band of Ohio established a Shawnee Village, a Colonial Village, and the Native American Woodland Museum to provide information about Shawnee culture and history.
Shawnee healers used herbs and rituals to cure illnesses, which they believed were caused by evil spirits. The Shawnee “toughened” babies by briefly dipping them in cold water or snow every day for a few months. Both sexes purified themselves in sweat lodges where steam was produced by pouring water over hot stones. Then the bathers jumped into a cold river or stream.
In 2007 the Absentee Shawnee received their health care mainly from a tribal clinic located on the reservation. The Eastern Shawnee had access to government-run facilities located near the reservation and through Indian Health Care Service facilities located nearby.
During winter the Shawnee dressed in animal robes and gathered around the fire to hear elders tell stories of their past triumphs or tales about the gods.
An often-repeated story told of the Shawnee long ago crossing an ocean or “sea of ice.” Anthropologists (people who study ancient cultures) believe this could have been one of the Great Lakes or a lake farther north in Canada that they would have crossed as they journeyed southward.
The Celestial Sisters
The Shawnee tell of Waupee, or White Hawk, who saw a basket descending from heaven filled with twelve beautiful sisters. To get close to them he turned himself into a mouse. As the younger sister chased him, he changed back into himself, and the girl became his bride.
Winter and summer passed rapidly away, and their happiness was increased by the addition of a beautiful boy to their lodge. Waupee’s wife was a daughter of one of the stars, and as the scenes of earth began to pall upon her sight, she sighed to revisit her father. But she was obliged to hide these feelings from her husband. She remembered the charm that would carry her up, and took occasion, while the White Hawk was engaged in the chase, to construct a wicker basket, which she kept concealed. In the meantime she collected such rarities from the earth as she thought would please her father, as well as the most dainty kinds of food. When all was in readiness, she went out one day, while Waupee was absent, to the charmed ring, taking her little son with her. As soon as they got into the car [basket], she commenced her song and the basket rose.…
[Waupee] mourned his wife’s loss sorely, but his son’s still more. In the meantime his wife had reached her home in the stars, and almost forgot, in the blissful employments there, that she had left a husband on earth. She was reminded of this by the presence of her son, who, as he grew up, became anxious to visit the scene of his birth. His grandfather said to his daughter one day, “Go, my child, and take your son down to his father, and ask him to come up and live with us. But tell him to bring along a specimen of each kind of bird and animal he kills in the chase.” She accordingly took the boy and descended. The White Hawk … heard the message of the Star, and began to hunt with the greatest activity, that he might collect the present. He spent whole nights, as well as days, in searching for every curious and beautiful bird or animal. He only preserved a tail, foot, or wing of each, to identify the species; and, when all was ready, they went to the circle and were carried up.
Great joy was manifested on their arrival at the starry plains. The Star Chief invited all his people to a feast, and, when they had assembled, he proclaimed aloud, that each one might take of the earthly gifts such as he liked best. A very strange confusion immediately arose. Some chose a foot, some a wing, some a tail, and some a claw. Those who selected tails or claws where changed into animals, and ran off; the others assumed the form of birds, and flew away. Waupee chose a white hawk’s feather. His wife and son followed his example, when each one became a white hawk. He spread his wings, and, followed by his wife and son, descended with the other birds to the earth, where his species are still to be found.
Williams, Mentor L. “The Celestial Sisters.” Schoolcraft’s Indian Legends. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1962.
The Shawnee created baskets that were so tightly woven they could hold water. They also fashioned wampum (beads made from shells) belts about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide decorated with symbols, designs, and special colors.
Shawnee society had five divisions, each with its own particular purpose. For example, the Pekowi division took charge of religious duties, while the Kishpoko handled war duties, and the Mekoche took care of health and healing practices. Both the Thawikila and Chalaakaatha divisions took care of political matters. Tribal chiefs came from one or the other of these last two divisions.
Birth and naming
Women gave birth in a small hut where the mother and baby remained for ten days until the baby was named at a special naming ceremony. Parents and tribal elders suggested names that would bring the bearer good luck or would guarantee certain skills.
Childhood and puberty
The Shawnee did not physically punish children, but encouraged them to behave by praising them for good actions and shaming them for bad behavior.
Many tribes sent boys on a vision quest at puberty, but Shawnee boys undertook their quest at a younger age. A boy on a vision quest went off by himself, usually under strenuous circumstances, to seek the spirit that would guide him through life. In one example of a vision quest, the boy rose each morning at dawn, ran naked through the snowy woods, dove to the bottom of a frigid pond (cracking the ice first if necessary), and then returned to camp. On his last day he was told to grasp the first object he touched at the bottom of the pond, often a stone, and this became his “power object,” which he wore around his neck on a string. The object brought him courage, strength, and wisdom.
Although drums and gourd rattles often accompanied the dancers, most Shawnee preferred singing to musical instruments. Men attached deer hooves and dewclaws (two horn-like “toes” located on the ankle above the hoof) to the bottoms, sleeves, and shoulder fringes of their shirts and garters to make noise as they moved. Later the people used sleigh bells and metal cylinders to decorate costumes and to provide musical sounds while dancing.
Special ceremonies marked the changes in the seasons. The most important was the spring Bread Dance when women were honored for their farming and gathering skills, and everyone prayed for an abundant harvest. At the autumn Bread Dance, the tribe celebrated the man’s role as hunter and gave thanks for the crops.
A Green Corn Dance took place in August. During that seven-day celebration of the harvest dances were performed to music from flutes, drums, and deer-hoof rattles, and all persons accused of minor crimes were forgiven.
In modern times the Big Jim band of Absentee Shawnee holds Green Corn Dances during the spring and fall, and a ceremonial war dance is held in August. The Eastern Shawnee host an annual powwow during the third weekend in September. A powwow is a celebration at which the main activity is traditional singing and dancing.
Warfare was a way to show courage and to gain honor. Shawnee councils gathered to decide whether or not the tribe would go to war. If the answer was yes, they sent tomahawks covered with red clay to neighboring villages as an invitation to join a war party. Dances and feasts were held before a battle. If prisoners were taken, they had to “run the gauntlet” past a line of warriors who beat them with guns and sticks as they passed.
Courtship and marriage
Marriage was usually arranged by families, and the only ceremony was a gift exchange. The bride usually went to live with her husband’s family. By the 1820s Shawnee marriages no longer included a gift exchange.
After a member of the Shawnee tribe died, attendants dressed the corpse in clean clothes and painted it. As payment the attendants received some of the deceased’s possessions. Mourners grieved for 12 days and during that time did not engage in their normal tasks. Then a feast was held, and the people returned to their daily activities. Spouses who lost a mate could not wear jewelry or body paint for a year.
Current tribal issues
Despite the many migrations and upheavals of their history, the three Shawnee tribes in Oklahoma, the Absentee Shawnee, the Loyal Shawnee, and the Eastern Shawnee, are known for their efforts to preserve their culture. In her book The Shawnee, Janet Hubbard-Brown states, “While many other tribes in Oklahoma have completely forgotten their traditional ceremonies, the Shawnees … still know their complete annual cycle of ceremonial dances.”
By the end of the twentieth century the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band in Ohio had set about purchasing tracts of property associated with Shawnee history. By the mid-2000s they owned 180 acres near their former homelands in Ohio. There they hold meetings, ceremonies, and youth education activities.
Chief Tecumseh (1768–1813) is best known for organizing and leading Native American resistance to white settlement in America. An eloquent speaker and statesman, he urged Native Americans of all tribes to unite against the threat to their way of life. Tecumseh’s younger brother, Tenskwatawa (called the Shawnee Prophet; 1775–1834), began a religious revival movement that advocated returning to traditional Native American ways. Even though the two brothers managed to win the loyalty and support of more than fifty other tribes, many chiefs among the Shawnee became jealous of the brothers; they also had few followers among their own tribe.
Other notable Shawnee include: Shawnee/Cayuga poet and teacher Barney Furman Bush (1945–), whose several books of poetry deal with nature and family; Tecumseh’s father, War Chief Pucksinwah (d. 1774), who fought to help preserve Shawnee lands; and Shawnee-Sauk/Fox-Creek-Seminole professor Donald L. Fixico (1951–), a national expert on Native American issues and government policy towards Native Americans.
Flanagan, Alice K. The Shawnee. New York: Children’s Press, 1998.
Hubbard-Brown, Janet. The Shawnee. New York: Chelsea House, 1995.
Noe, Randolph. The Shawnee Indians: An Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001.
O’Neill, Laurie A. The Shawnees. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1995.
Thom, Dark Rain., and James Alexander Thom. Warrior Woman: A Novel, Based on the Life of Nonhelema, Shawnee Indian Woman Chief. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.
Warren, Stephen. The Shawnees and Their Neighbors, 1795–1870. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2005.
AAANativeArts.com. (accessed on July 16, 2007).
Absentee Shawnee Tribe (accessed on July 16, 2007).
“American Indians in Ohio.” Ohio Historical Society. (accessed on July 16, 2007).
Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. (accessed on July 16, 2007).
Sultzman, Lee. “Shawnee History.” First Nations: Histories Site. (accessed on July 16, 2007).
George Cornell, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, History and American Studies, Michigan State University; Director, Native American Institute
John H. Moore, Ph.D., Anthropology Department University of Florida, Gainesville
SHAWNEE. The Shawnee Indians were a large and strategically significant Algonkian-speaking Indian nation that dominated the Ohio River Valley during the eighteenth century. The Shawnee were generally hostile to British and then American incursions into the Ohio Valley during the middle decades of the eighteenth century. During the War of the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath, the Shawnee would lead armed resistance against American settlements in Virginia's Kentucky District. Shawnee warriors, notably Tecumseh, would continue to fight against the United States intermittently through the end of the War of 1812.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Shawnee were a mobile and divided people. The Shawnee were divided into five units, or divisions, each centered on a town named after the division. The five divisions were Chillicothe, Thawekila, Maquachake, Kispoki, and Piqua, although transliterations of these names vary from source to source. The Shawnee had close relationships with the Creek, the Delaware, and the Iroquois League, although relations with the Iroquois League were often hostile, with the Iroquois pushing the Shawnee out of the Ohio Valley during the Beaver Wars of the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Shawnee had returned to the Ohio Valley, migrating from modern-day Pennsylvania to modern-day Ohio. Shawnee towns oscillated between alliance with the French and the English during the 1750s, but most Shawnee ultimately fought on the British side during the Seven Years' War.
After the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768), in which the Iroquois League sold to Virginia title to the Ohio Valley (claiming ownership of the land by right of conquest from its seventeenth century victories over the Shawnee), Virginian settlers began moving through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky in the early 1770s. Kentucky, although not home to Shawnee towns, was a prime hunting ground, and Virginian settlements threatened to disrupt Shawnee subsistence. The Shawnee actively sought to push Virginian settlers out of the Ohio Valley. The culmination of this incipient conflict was Lord Dunmore's War (1774), in which Virginia's governor backed the initiatives of settlers and speculators to claim Ohio Valley lands. No other Indian nation would ally with the Shawnee during Lord Dunmore's War, and Shawnee leaders were forced to accept the Ohio River as a boundary between Indian and European settlement. Tensions between settlers in Kentucky and the Shawnee towns in Ohio never really abated.
Many Shawnee hoped to remain neutral during the American Revolution, but violence perpetrated by American settlers pushed the Shawnee to the British side. One of the loudest advocates for peace and neutrality was the Maquachake chief, Cornstalk, who corresponded regularly with Congressional Indian agent George Morgan. Cornstalk and other Maquachake leaders were so committed to neutrality that they announced plans to separate their peace faction and found a new town. In October 1777, Cornstalk led a peace delegation to Fort Randolph on the Kanawha River. There he was captured and detained by the fort commander, Captain Matthew Arbuckle. Captain Arbuckle then imprisoned Cornstalk's son, Elinipsico, who had come to Fort Randolph to inquire about his father's condition. The Shawnees remained imprisoned through early November 1777, when a party of local militia, seeking retaliation for the death of a white settler, broke into the fort and killed all of the Shawnee under guard, including Cornstalk.
While Cornstalk's death was officially denounced by Congress, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, Shawnee outrage at the chief's killing fueled a wave of retaliation and pushed most Shawnee away from the American side, at least during the Revolutionary war. One noted battle that occurred in the wake of Cornstalk's death was a raid by a Chillicothe war chief, Black Fish, in which he captured Kentucky settler Daniel Boone. Interestingly, Cornstalk's Maquachakes continued to pursue a policy of peace and neutrality with the Americans and the British. Most of the other Shawnee towns relocated closer to Sandusky and Detroit after the winter of 1777–1778. Beyond a faction of the Maquachakes, led by Chief Moluntha, most Shawnee sided with the British.
After the Peace of Paris, most Shawnee kept the United States at arm's length. The Shawnee did not join in the Treaty of Fort McIntosh (1785) and resoundingly rejected the "conquest theory" formulation of sovereignty that the Confederation Congress put forward in 1784 and after. While some Shawnee leaders (mostly Maquachake, Cornstalk's heir as the advocate for peace and coexistence) signed the subsequent Treaty of Fort Finney (1786), the majority still did want a treaty with the Americans. Their forbearance was understandable. As later in 1786, Kentucky militiamen attacked the Maquachake towns and killed chief Moluntha. During the 1790s, the Shawnee formed a large part of the pan-Indian resistance to the federal government led by the Miami chief, Little Turtle. In 1795, the Shawnee signed the Treaty of Greenville, terminating the resistance. However, a minority of the Shawnee, driven primarily by the Kispoki leader, Tecumseh, and his brother Tenskwatawa, would continue the resistance against the Americans until Tecumseh's death in Ontario at the battle of the Thames River (1813) during the War of 1812. After the War of 1812, the Shawnee were removed west of the Mississippi by the United States government, with most ending up in Oklahoma.
Callender, Charles. "Shawnee." Handbook of North American Indians. Edited by Bruce G. Trigger. Vol. 15: Northeast, general editor William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.
Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Hoxie, Frederick E., Ronald Hoffman, and Peter J. Albert, eds. Native Americans and the Early Republic. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Prucha, Francis Paul. American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
SHAWNEE. Ancient residents of the Ohio Valley, the Shawnees ("Shawanos" or "Southerners") are an Alqonquian-speaking people who were living in villages scattered across southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois when they first encountered the French in the 1670s. During the next two decades, as the Iroquois expanded west, part of the Shawnees sought refuge among the Creeks in Georgia and Alabama, while others fled to northern Illinois, where they established new villages near Fort St. Louis, a French post at Starved Rock, on the Illinois River. By 1715, the Shawnees had reassembled in southern Pennsylvania, erecting villages along the Susquehanna and Monongahela rivers. As the Iroquois threat diminished, they gradually reoccupied their old homelands along the Muskingum, Scioto, and Mad Rivers in southern and central Ohio, often crossing the Ohio River to hunt deer and bison in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky.
During the colonial period the Shawnees divided their loyalties between the British and French, often attempting to "play off" both sides to their own advantage. Although ostensibly friendly to the French, they readily accepted presents from colonial legislatures in Pennsylvania and Virginia and welcomed British traders into their villages. At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, the Shawnees participated in Braddock's Defeat and initially raided the Virginia frontier, but after the British captured Fort Duquesne, they temporarily withdrew from the fighting. In 1763 they joined with other tribes to support Pontiac's Rebellion and besieged Fort Pitt, but were defeated by the British at the Battle of Bushy Run (August 1763) and again made a reluctant peace with the Redcoats. Yet in the early 1770s, as the Virginians, or "Long Knives," crossed the mountains onto Shawnee hunting lands in Kentucky, Shawnees resisted, precipitating what the colonists called Lord Dunmore's War. The Shawnees eventually were defeated at the Battle of Point Pleasant (October 1774) and reduced their attacks upon American settlements in the Bluegrass region, but their bitterness toward the Long Knives continued.
The American Revolution provided the Shawnees with arms and allies to renew their war against Virginia. Led by their war chief Black Fish, the Shawnees assisted the British and spearheaded Indian attacks upon the settlements in Kentucky. In return, their villages were attacked by the Americans, and in 1779, about 1,000 Shawnees (one-third of the tribe) abandoned their Ohio villages and migrated to Spanish Missouri. The Shawnees who remained in Ohio continued to raid Kentucky throughout the war, and following the Treaty of Paris, they opposed any American settlement north of the Ohio. During the early 1790s, they combined with other tribes to defeat American armies led by Josiah Harmer (October 1790) and Arthur St. Clair (November 1791). In August 1794, they were defeated by Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and with no prospect of further British support, they signed the Treaty of Greenville, relinquishing most of Ohio to the United States.
In the first decade of the nineteenth century, the Shawnee Prophet and his brother Tecumseh attempted to unite the tribes of the Midwest and Southeast into a pan-Indian coalition designed to prevent the further sale of Indian lands to the government. Their efforts were thwarted by the jealousy of traditional tribal chiefs, and by William Henry Harrison who attacked and destroyed their village, Prophetstown, at the Battle of Tippecanoe, in November 1811. During the War of 1812, part of the Shawnees supported Tecumseh who allied with the British, but the majority of the group followed Black Hoof, who sided with the Americans. When Tecumseh was killed by American militia at the Battle of the Thames (October 1813), Shawnee resistance to the Americans crumbled.
In the decades following the War of 1812, most Shawnees were removed from Ohio to Kansas and Missouri. Some sought temporary refuge with Cherokees in Texas, but after Texas became independent of Mexico, they returned to the United States. In the aftermath of the Civil War, most were assigned reservations in Oklahoma
where they formed three separate bands. Today the Absentee Shawnees maintain a tribal office at Shawnee, Oklahoma; the Loyal Shawnees, closely allied with the Western Cherokees, have a tribal building at White Oak Oklahoma; while the Eastern Shawnee Tribe is headquartered at Seneca, Missouri, near the Oklahoma border. Other small communities of Shawnees, while not officially recognized by the federal government, still reside in Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio.
Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
———. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1984.
Kohn, Rita, and W. Lynwood Montell, eds. Always a People: Oral Histories of Contemporary Woodland Indians. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
McConnell, Michael M. A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its People, 1724–1774. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Sugden, John. Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
———. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Holt, 1998.
ETHNONYMS: Chaouanons, Satana, Shawanah, Shawano, Shawanwa
The Shawnee are an Algonkian-speaking people whose component divisions have been reported as living in many areas of the eastern United States and who apparently were never united into a single society. At the time of contact in the seventeenth century they were living along the Savannah River on the Georgia-South Carolina border, along the Ohio River, in Illinois, and in Maryland. In the eighteenth century they were in eastern Pennsylvania and southern Ohio, and some were with the Creek in Alabama. Later they tended to cluster in southern Ohio where they were for a time a significant obstacle to European migration westward. Various groups then began to migrate westward, ultimately settling in Oklahoma in three major groupings. These are now known as the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, based in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, based in Quapaw, Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Shawnee, now apparently merged with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, based in Tahlequa, Oklahoma. Some Shawnee also live with the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma, based in Miami, Oklahoma. There are probably about four thousand of the descendants of the historic Shawnee now living in the state.
Aboriginally, the Shawnee were divided into two types of groups. One consisted of five divisions, each of which was a descent group in which membership was inherited patrilineally. Each was a territorial unit centering on a town—Chillicothe, Ohio, was named after one such division. The other type consisted of the geographically defined groups into which the tribe was split at various times in their history. These groups could merge or split at any time. In the late nineteenth century these became the three permanent groups now known as Absentee-Shawnee, Eastern Shawnee, and Cherokee Shawnee noted above.
The record of aboriginal Shawnee culture is fragmentary, so that it cannot be described coherently at any specific time or place. Subsistence combined hunting and maize, squash, and bean horticulture with some gathering of wild foods. The economy was also strongly oriented toward the fur trade, with an emphasis on the trading of deerskins. They lived in semipermanent settlements (towns) consisting of bark-covered lodges or longhouses. Each settlement had as its center a wooden building used for council meetings, ritual, and ceremony.
The household seems to have consisted of the nuclear family, and there was a system of patrilineal clans. But notable changes occurred in the system in the nineteenth century, the clans no longer being patrilineal or exogamous. After 1859 the clans evolved into a system of six name-groups, which were not descent units. Political activity was divided between peace and war organizations. The former was apparently based on the five divisions, each with its own chief. There was a single tribal chief with overall authority. Each division also apparently had a war chief, with a single tribal war chief in charge. Both types of chiefs formed a tribal council. There also seems to have been a system of women chiefs operating on the town level.
The Shawnee recognized a supreme being, known as Our Grandmother, as well as a large number of other deities. There may, however, have been an earlier tradition of a male supreme being, the later idea perhaps having been borrowed from the Iroquois. Information on this is uncertain. The annual ceremonial dance cycle formed the main forum for communal worship. Another focus was the five sacred packs, one for each division, about which very little is known.
Callender, Charles (1978). "Shawnee." In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger, 622-635. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
Shaw·nee 1 / shôˈnē/ 1. a city in northeastern Kansas, southwest of Kansas City; pop. 47,996. 2. an industrial city in central Oklahoma; pop. 28,692. Shaw·nee2 • n. (pl. same or -nees ) 1. a member of an American Indian people living formerly in the eastern U.S. and now chiefly in Oklahoma. 2. the Algonquian language of this people. • adj. of or relating to the Shawnee or their language.