Shawnee Indians

Shawnee Tribe: Meaning “southerners,” the best-known variants of the name being the French form Chaouanons, and that which appears in the name of Savannah River. Also called:

  • Ani’-Sawǎnu’gǐ, by the Cherokee.
  • Ontwagana, “one who stutters,” “one whose speech is unintelligible,” applied by the Iroquois to this tribe and many others.
  • Oshawanoag, by the Ottawa.
  • Shawala, by the’ Teton Dakota.

The Shawnee belonged to the Algonquian linguistic stock, their closest relatives being the Fox, Sauk, and Kickapoo.

There was scarcely a tribe that divided so often or moved so much as the Shawnee, but one of the earliest historic seats of the people as a whole was on Cumberland River. (See also Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia.)

Shawnee Tribal Villages

There were five subdivisions of long standing, Chillicothe, Hathawekela, Kispokotha, Mequachake, and Piqua. The Hathawekela, Kispokotha, and Piqua later formed one body known as Absentee Shawnee.

The following names of villages have been preserved:

  • Bulltown, or Mingo, on Little Kanawha River, West Virginia
  • Chillicothe, 3 or 4 towns:
    1. on Paint Creek on the site of Oldtown, near Chillicothe in Ross County, Ohio
    2. on the Little Miami about the site of Oldtown in Greene County, Ohio;
    3. on the Great Miami River at the present Piqua in Miami County, Ohio;
    4. probably the native name of Lowertown (see below).
  • Conedogwinit, location unknown.
  • Cornstalk’s Town, on Scippo Creek opposite Squaw Town, Pickaway County, Ohio.
  • Girty’s Town, on St. Mary’s River, east of Celina Reservoir, Auglaize County, Ohio.
  • Grenadier Squaw’s Town, on Scippo Creek, Pickaway County, Ohio.
  • Hog Creek, on a branch of Ottawa River in Allen County, Ohio.
  • Kagoughsage, apparently in Ohio or western Pennsylvania.
  • Lewistown (and Seneca), near the site of the present Lewistown, Logan County, Ohio.
  • Lick Town, probably Shawnee, on upper Scioto River, probably near Circleville, Ohio.
  • Logstown, with Delaware, and later Iroquois, on the right bank of Ohio River about 14 miles below Pittsburgh, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
  • Long Tail’s Settlement, in Johnson County, Kansas.
  • Lowertown, 2 towns;
    1. on Ohio River just below the mouth of the Scioto and later built on the opposite side of the river about the site of Portsmouth, Ohio;
    2. in Ross County, also called Chillicothe.
  • Mequachake: There were several towns of the name occupied by people of this division; they also had villages on the headwaters of Mad River, Logan County, Ohio.
  • Old Shawnee Town, on Ohio River in Gallia County, Ohio, 3 miles above the mouth of the Great Kanawha.
  • Peixtan (or Nanticoke), on or near the lower Susquehanna River in Dauphin County, Pa., possibly on the site of Paxtonville.
  • Pigeon Town, Mequachake division, on Mad River, 3 miles northwest of West Liberty, Logan County, Ohio.
  • Piqua, 4 towns:
    1. Pequea on Susquehanna River at the mouth of Pequea Creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania;
    2. on the north side of Mad River, about 5 miles west of Springfield, Clark County, Ohio;
    3. Upper Piqua on Miami River 3 miles north of the present Piqua in Miami County, Ohio, and
    4. Lower Piqua, a smaller village on the site of the modern town of that name, Ohio.
  • Sawanogi, on the south side of Tallapoosa River in Macon County, Alabama; but see Muskogee in Alabama.
  • Scoutash’s Town (or Mingo), near Lewistown, Logan County, Ohio.
  • Shawneetown, on the west bank of Ohio River about the present Shawneetown, Gallatin County, Illinois.
  • Sonnioto, at the mouth of Scioto River, Ohio, perhaps the same as Lowertown.
  • Tippecanoe, on the west bank of the Wabash River, just below the mouth of Tippecanoe River in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.
  • Wapakoneta, on the site of the present Wapakoneta, Auglaize County, Ohio.
  • Will’s Town, at the site of Cumberland, Maryland.

Shawnee History

Tradition and the known linguistic connections of the Shawnee indicate that they had migrated to the Cumberland River Valley from the north not long previous to the historic period. They were on and near the Cumberland when French explorers first heard of them, although there are indications that they had been in part on the Ohio not long before. Shortly after 1674 the Hathawekela or that part of the Shawnee afterward so called, settled upon Savannah River, and in 1681 they proved of great assistance to the new colony of South Carolina by driving a tribe known as Westo, probably part of the Yuchi, from the middle Savannah. Early in the following century, or possibly very late in the same century, some of these Hathawekela began to move to Pennsylvania and continued to do so at intervals until 1731. Meanwhile, however, immediately after the Yamasee War, a part had retired among the Creeks, settling first on Chattahoochee River and later on the Tallapoosa, where they remained until some years before the removal of the Creeks to the west. Of the remaining bands of Shawnee those which had stayed upon the Cumberland part of the Piqua moved eastward into Pennsylvania about 1678, and more in 1694, so that they were able to welcome their kinsmen from the south a few years later. A French trader named Charleville established himself at Nashville among the rest of the tribe, but soon afterward they were forced out of that region by the Cherokee and Chickasaw. They stopped for a time at several points in Kentucky, and perhaps at Shawneetown, Ill., but about 1730, by permission of the Wyandot, collected along the north bank of the Ohio between the Allegheny and Scioto Rivers. Shortly after the middle of the eighteenth century they were joined by their kinsmen who had been living in Pennsylvania. One Pennsylvania band continued on south to the Upper Creeks with whom they lived for several years before returning north. Their return must have occurred soon after 1760, and they are said to have settled for a time in the old Shawnee country on the Cumberland but were soon ejected by the Chickasaw, this time unassisted by the Cherokee. From the beginning of the French and Indian War to the treaty of Greenville in 1795 the main body of Shawnee were almost constantly fighting with the English or the Americans. They were the most active and pertinacious foes of the Whites in that section. Driven from the Scioto, they settled upon the headwaters of the Miami, and later many of them assisted the Cherokee and Creeks in their wars with the Americans. In 1793, however, one considerable body, on invitation of the Spanish Government, occupied a tract of land near Cape Girardeau, Mo., along with some Delaware. After the treaty of Greenville, the Shawnee were obliged to give up their lands on the Miami, and part retired to the headwaters of the Auglaize, while the more hostile element swelled the numbers of those who had gone to Missouri. In 1798 a part of the Shawnee in Ohio settled on White River, Ind., by invitation of the Delaware. Shortly afterward a Shawnee medicine man named Tenskwátawa, known to the Whites as “the Shawnee prophet,” began to preach a new doctrine which exhorted the Indians to return to the communal life of their ancestors, abandoning all customs derived from the Whites. His followers increased rapidly in numbers and established themselves in a village at the mouth of Tippecanoe River, Indiana. Their hostile attitude toward the Whites soon becoming evident, they were attacked here in 1811 by Gen. W. H. Harrison and totally defeated. While this war was going on Tecumseh, Tenskwátawa’ s famous brother, was in the south endeavoring to bring about an uprising among the tribes in that section. In the war between the Americans and British which broke out in 1812, Tecumseh acted as leader of the hostiles and was killed at the battle of the Thames in 1814. In 1825 the Shawnee in Missouri, who are said to have taken no part in these wars, sold their lands, and most of them moved to a reservation in Kansas, but a large part had previously gone to Texas, where they remained until expelled by the American colonists in 1839. About 1831 the Shawnee still in Ohio joined those in Kansas, and about 1845 the Hathawekela, Kispokotha, and Piqua moved from Kansas to Oklahoma and established themselves on Canadian River, becoming known later as the Absentee Shawnee. In 1867, a band which had been living with the Seneca also moved to what is now Oklahoma and came to be known as Eastern Shawnee; and still later the main body became incorporated with the Cherokee. One band, known as Black Bob’s band at first refused to remove from Kansas, but later joined the rest. All have now  become citizens of Oklahoma.

Shawnee Population: Owing to the number of separate bodies into which of this tribe became divided, and their complex history, Shawnee population in early times are difficult. Mooney (1928) places their entire number at 3,000 in 1650. Estimates made by various writers during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries vary between 1,000 and 2,000, 1,500 being the favorite figure. In 1760 the Abihka and Tallapoosa bands numbered 100 warriors. In 1909 the Eastern Shawnee numbered 107; the Absentee Shawnee, 481; and those incorporated with the Cherokee Nation about 1,400. The census of 1910 returned only 1,338. In 1923, 166 Eastern Shawnee were enumerated and 551 Absentee, but no figures were given for that part of the tribe in the Cherokee Nation. The census of 1930 gave 1,161, most of whom were in Oklahoma. There were 916 in Oklahoma in 1937.

Connection in which the Shawnee have become noted: Although prominent by virtue of its size, the Shawnee tribe is noteworthy rather on account of numerous migrations undertaken by its various branches and the number of contacts established by them, involving the history of three-quarters of our southern and eastern States. They constituted the most formidable opposition to the advance of settlements through the Ohio Valley, and under Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa attempted an extensive alliance of native tribes to oppose the Whites. The name Shawnee is preserved in various forms in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kansas, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois, and most conspicuously of all, perhaps, in the name of the river Savannah and the city of Savannah, Georgia. There are places called Shawnee in Park County, Colorado; Johnson County, Kansas; Perry County, Ohio; Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma; and Converse County, Wyoming; Shawnee-on-Delaware in Monroe County, Pennsylvania; Shawanee in Claiborne County, Tennessee; Shawanese in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania; Shawano in Shawano County, Wisconsin; Shawneetown in Gallatin County, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau County, Missouri.

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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