The Shawnee people originally lived in southern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. They were driven out by the Iroquois during the Beaver Wars of 1630-1700 and scattered. Most eventually returned to their home lands, but were later driven out by white settlement and war. The main body of Shawnee now live in Oklahoma. The original Shawnee population was probably somehwere around 10,000 souls. The numbers dropped dramatically following wars and epidemics, but the Shawnee tribe today counts around 14,000 members strong. The Shawnee people say they are descended from the Delaware, and were once the same tribe as the Kickapoo. Their language is an Algonquin dialect closely related to Kickapoo, Sauk, and Fox.

By the time the white men were taking notes, the Shawnee were pretty much a wandering tribe, but this was due to the loss of their homeland. They gathered into large villages during the summer centered around a council house, and broke into smaller hunting camps during the fall which consisted of extended family. Because the Shawnee had separated into five different sub-nations following their expulsion from the Ohio Valley, the entire tribe had no central government. Each sub-nation had a civil chief, and the position was patriarichal and hereditary. Shawnee men were warriors, hunters, and sometimes shamans. The women sowed and cared for cornfields and fulfilled domestic duties.

During the 1660s, the Shawnee were driven from the Ohio Valley by the Iroquois, who wanted the land as a hunting ground. They split up into four different groups, with two groups going to Tennessee, one going to southern Pennsylvania, and one going to Illinois. The Illinois group had some problems with the local tribes and eventually joined their relatives in Tennessee.

Although the various groups of Shawnee were initially welcomed by local tribes, they soon grew strong enough to become a threat. After extensive problems with their neighbors, each of the four groups eventually returned to the Ohio Valley about a century after they left it. There were some problems with this, though. The area in which they lived was claimed by three separate groups: the Iroquois, the French ("by right of discovery"), and the British. At the time they moved in, however, nobody objected to their presence in Ohio. There was a short period of peace.

In 1754, the trouble began. The French attacked a Miami village in Ohio. The Brits sided with the Miami, the Detroits sided with the French, and things went downhill from there. The Shawnee pretty much stayed out of the fracas until The Pride, a captured Shawnee chief, died in a British prison. They retaliated with raids against the frontierspeople. This was the first instance in which Shawnee warriors attacked European settlers.

More organized resistance to the British was to follow, and there were periods of peace punctuated by war for many years. At one point, the British deliberately sent blankets contaminated with smallpox to the Shawnee, and the epidemic ended up spreading throughout Ohio, Tennessee, and the entire southeast, killings thousands of people.

By the 1770s, tens of thousands of frontiersmen had moved west of the Appalachians; they were known as Long Knives. The Long Knives were overly eager to fight the Native Americans, and massacred several peaceful villages before the Shawnee fought back in Lord Dunmore's War of 1774. The Shawnee and other tribes lost this war and relinquished their claims on lands south of the Ohio River.

During the Revolutionary War, the British paid individual Shawnee warriors to fight against the Americans. When Cornstalk, a fairly peaceful Shawnee chief, went to warn the Americans about impending attacks, the Americans murdered him. Cornstalk's successor, Blackfish, decided peace was out of the question and retaliated with extensive raids against the Americans. While the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the war between the Shawnee and the Long Knives continued unabated until 1795. The Shawnee joined an alliance of fourteen tribes to hold back the American invasion, but divisions in the alliance proved to undermine its effectiveness.

In 1795, the members of the alliance, including the Shawnee (headed by Chief Black Hoof), signed a treaty with the American government in which the Shawnee ceded most of their lands in Ohio. A minor Shawnee chief named Tecumseh was absent from the signing, but the Americans wouldn't take note of this until it was too late.

Black Hoof traveled to Washington to ask the government for a deed to the remaining Shawnee lands in Ohio, but his request was denied. Tecumseh decided he'd had enough and started building a new alliance of tribes to resist American invasion. His brother, Tenskwautawa, also known as The Prophet, added a religious element to the alliance; his accurate prediction of a solar eclipse solidified his position as a religious leader among the tribes. Tecumseh's warriors fought with the British against the Americans during the War of 1812 and had a few notable victories, including one against General William Hull. However, when the British Colonel Henry Proctor abandoned Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames (Moraviantown 1813), the alliance suffered its greatest - and final - defeat: Tecumseh died on the battlefield. With his death, the alliance and any hope of organized resistance to American occupation died with him.

In 1817, the Shawnee signed a treaty exchanging their remaining lands for reservations. By 1837, all of the Shawnee had given up their Ohio lands for reservations in Kansas, with the exception of a few who were already living in Oklahoma and Texas. A slow trickle of Shawnee continued to move onto reservations in Oklahoma for many years.

During the Civil War, most Shawnee in Kansas sided with the Union. However, after Kansas achieved statehood in 1861, the white population made it increasingly clear that "Indians" were not welcome. In 1867, the Shawnee surrendered their remaining lands in Kansas and moved onto reservations in Oklahoma.

Major source: "Shawnee History" by Lee Sultzman.

Shaw`nees" (?), n. pl.; sing. Shawnee (). Ethnol.

A tribe of North American Indians who occupied Western New York and part of Ohio, but were driven away and widely dispersed by the Iroquois.


© Webster 1913.

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