The Shawnee Tribes were originally an Eastern Woodland tribe native to the Ohio Valley. Also known as the Loyal Shawnee and Absentee Shawnee, and formerly known as the Cherokee Shawnee, the Shawnee Indians include three federally recognized Shawnee tribes, one state recognized tribe, and eighteen unrecognized tribes.
The Shawnee (Shaawanwaki, Ša˙wano˙ki and Shaawanowi lenaweeki) are an Algonquian-speaking ethnic group. In colonial times they were a semi-migratory Native American nation, primarily inhabiting areas of the Ohio Valley, extending from Ohio and Kentucky eastward to West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Western Maryland; south to Alabama and South Carolina; and westward to Indiana, and Illinois in the United States.
Some scholars believe that the Shawnee are descendants of the people of the precontact Fort Ancient culture of the Ohio region.
Although this is not universally accepted. Fort Ancient culture flourished from 1000 to 1650 CE among a people who predominantly inhabited lands along the Ohio River in areas of southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and western West Virginia. They were mound builders. Fort Ancient culture was once thought to have been an extension of the Mississippian culture. But, scholars now believe Fort Ancient culture developed independently and was descended from the Hopewell culture (100 BCE—500 CE), also a mound builder people.
Uncertainty surrounds the fate of the Fort Ancient people. Most likely their society, like the Mississippian culture to the south, was severely disrupted by waves of epidemics from new infectious diseases carried by the first Spanish explorers in the 16th century. After 1525 at Madisonville, the type site, the village’s house sizes became smaller and fewer, with evidence showing the people changed from their previously “horticulture-centered, sedentary way of life.”
There is a gap in the archaeological record between the most recent Fort Ancient sites and the oldest sites of the Shawnee. The latter were recorded by European (French and English) explorers as occupying this area at the time of encounter. Scholars generally accept that similarities in material culture, art, mythology, and Shawnee oral history linking them to the Fort Ancient peoples can be used to support the connection from Fort Ancient society and development as the historical Shawnee society.
The Shawnee traditionally considered the Lenape (or Delaware) of the East Coast mid-Atlantic region, who were also Algonquian speaking, as their “grandfathers.” The Algonquian nations of present-day Canada regarded the US Shawnee as their southernmost branch. Along the East Coast, the Algonquian-speaking tribes were mostly located in coastal areas, from Quebec to the Carolinas.
Europeans reported encountering Shawnee over a widespread geographic area. One of the earliest mentions of the Shawnee may be a 1614 Dutch map showing some Sawwanew located just east of the Delaware River. Later 17th-century Dutch sources also place them in this general location. Accounts by French explorers in the same century usually located the Shawnee along the Ohio River, where the French encountered them on forays from eastern Canada and the Illinois Country.
According to one European legend
Some Shawnee were descended from a party sent by Chief Opechancanough, ruler of the Powhatan Confederacy 1618–1644, to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. The party was led by his son, Sheewa-a-nee. Edward Bland, an explorer who accompanied Abraham Wood’s expedition in 1650, wrote that in Opechancanough’s day, there had been a falling-out between the Chawan chief and the weroance of the Powhatan (also a relative of Opechancanough’s family). He said the latter had murdered the former.
The Shawnee were driven from Kentucky in the 1670s by the Iroquois of Pennsylvania and New York, who claimed the Ohio valley as hunting ground to supply its fur trade. The explorers Batts and Fallam in 1671 reported that the Shawnee were contesting control of the Shenandoah Valley with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Iroquois) in that year, and were losing.
Sometime before 1670, a group of Shawnee migrated to the Savannah River area.
The English based in Charles Town, South Carolina were contacted by these Shawnee in 1674. They forged a long-lasting alliance. The Savannah River Shawnee were known to the Carolina English as “Savannah Indians”. Around the same time, other Shawnee groups migrated to Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other regions south and east of the Ohio country.
d’Iberville, writing in his journal in 1699, describes the Shawnee (or as he spells them, Chaouenons) as “the single nation to fear, being spread out over Carolina and Virginia in the direction of the Mississipi.
The historian Alan Gallay speculates that the Shawnee migrations of the middle to late 17th century were probably driven by the Beaver Wars, which began in the 1640s.
The Shawnee became known for their widespread settlements, extending from Pennsylvania to Illinois and to Georgia. Among their known villages were Eskippakithiki in Kentucky, Sonnionto (also known as Lower Shawneetown) in Ohio, Chalakagay near what is now Sylacauga, Alabama, Chalahgawtha at the site of present-day Chillicothe, Ohio, Old Shawneetown, Illinois, and Suwanee, Georgia.
Their language became a lingua franca for trade among numerous tribes. They became leaders among the tribes, initiating and sustaining pan-Indian resistance to European and Euro-American expansion.
In the late 18th century, European-American encroachment crowded Shawnee lands in the East, and one band migrated to Missouri — eventually becoming the Absentee Shawnee. Three reservations were granted to the Shawnee in Ohio by the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs: Wapakoneta, Lewistown, and Hog Creek.
After the Indian Removal Act of 1830 passed, another Shawnee band relocated to Indian Territory in July 1831. The final band, who would become the Shawnee Tribe, relocated to Kansas in August 1831. Their Kansas lands were drastically reduced in 1854 and broken up into individual allotments in 1858.
During the Civil War many of the Shawnee Tribe fought for the Union, which inspired the name, “Loyal Shawnee.”
Instead of receiving compensation or honors for their service, they returned to their Kansas lands, only to find much of it taken over by non-Indian homesteaders. Settlers were granted 130,000 acres (530 km2) of Shawnee land, while 70,000 acres (280 km2) remained for the tribe, of which 20,000 acres (81 km2) were granted to the Absentee Shawnee.
In 1861 Kansas became a state, and the non-Indian people of Kansas demanded that all Indian tribes must be removed from the state. The Loyal Shawnee made an agreement with the Cherokee Nation in 1869, allowing 722 to gain citizenship within the Cherokee tribe and receive allotments of Cherokee land.
They predominantly settled in what is now Craig and Rogers County, Oklahoma. They became known as the “Cherokee Shawnee,” primarily settling in the areas of Bird Creek (now known as Sperry); Hudson Creek (now known as Fairland); and White Oak. The Shawnee Reservation in Kansas was never legally dissolved and some Shawnee families still hold their allotment lands in Kansas.
Some Shawnee occupied areas in central Pennsylvania. Long without a chief, in 1714 they asked Carondawana, an Oneida war chief of the Iroquois, to represent them to the Pennsylvania provincial council, which accepted the Shawnee choice. About 1727 Carondawana and his wife, a prominent interpreter known as Madame Montour, settled at Otstonwakin, on the west bank at the confluence of Loyalsock Creek and the West Branch Susquehanna River.
By the time European-American settlers began to arrive in the Shenandoah Valley (c. 1730) of Virginia, the Shawnee were the main residents of the northern part of the valley. They were claimed as tributaries by the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations of the Iroquois, who had helped some of the Tuscarora people from North Carolina resettle in the vicinity of what is now Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Also at this time, Seneca and Lenape war parties from the north often fought pitched battles with pursuing bands of Catawba from Virginia, who would overtake them in the Shawnee-inhabited regions of the Valley.
By the late 1730s pressure from colonial expansion produced repeated conflicts.
Shawnee communities were affected by the fur trade in which furs were often traded to European traders for rum or brandy, leading to serious social problems related to alcohol abuse. Several Shawnee communities in the Province of Pennsylvania, led by Peter Chartier, a métis trader, opposed the sale of alcohol in their communities, resulting in a conflict with colonial Governor Patrick Gordon. As a result, in 1745 some 400 Shawnee migrated from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama and Illinois.
Prior to 1754, the Shawnee had a headquarters at Shawnee Springs at modern-day Cross Junction, Virginia near Winchester. The father of the later chief Cornstalk held his council there. Several other Shawnee villages were located in the northern Shenandoah Valley: at Moorefield, West Virginia, on the North River, and on the Potomac at Cumberland, Maryland.
In 1753, the Shawnee on the Scioto River in the Ohio country sent messengers to those still in the Shenandoah Valley suggesting that they leave Virginia and cross the Alleghenies to join the people further west, which they did the following year. The community known as Shannoah (Lower Shawneetown) on the Ohio River reached a population of around 1,200 by 1750.
Ever since the Beaver Wars, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (“Five Nations”) had claimed the Ohio Country as their hunting ground by right of conquest, and treated the Shawnee and Lenape who resettled there as dependent tribes. Some independent Iroquois bands from various tribes also migrated westward, where they became known in Ohio as the Mingo.
These three tribes—the Shawnee, the Delaware, and the Mingo— became closely associated with one another, despite the differences in their languages. The first two were Algonquian speaking and the third Iroquoian.
After taking part in the first phase of the French and Indian War (also known as “Braddock’s War”) as allies of the French, the Shawnee switched sides in 1758.
They made formal peace with the British colonies at the Treaty of Easton, which recognized the Allegheny Ridge (the Eastern Divide) as their mutual border. This peace lasted only until Pontiac’s War erupted in 1763. Later that year, the Crown issued the Proclamation of 1763, legally confirming the 1758 border as the limits of British colonization, with the land beyond reserved for Native Americans. But, it had difficulty enforcing the boundary, as European colonists continued to move westward.
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 extended that line westward, giving the British colonists a claim to what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. The Shawnee did not agree to this treaty: it was negotiated between British officials and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (“Six Nations”), who claimed sovereignty over the land, although Shawnee and other Native American tribes also hunted there.
After the Stanwix treaty, Anglo-Americans began pouring into the Ohio River Valley for settlement. Violent incidents between settlers and Indians escalated into Dunmore’s War in 1774. British diplomats managed to isolate the Shawnee during the conflict: the Iroquois and the Lenape stayed neutral. The Shawnee faced the British colony of Virginia with only a few Mingo allies.
Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, launched a two-pronged invasion into the Ohio Country. The Shawnee chief Cornstalk attacked one wing but fought to a draw in the only major battle of the war, the Battle of Point Pleasant.
In the Treaty of Camp Charlotte ending this war (1774), Cornstalk and the Shawnee were compelled by the British to recognize the same Ohio River boundary as that established with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (“Six Nations”) by the 1768 Fort Stanwix treaty. The Shawnee ceded all claims to the “hunting grounds” of West Virginia and Kentucky. Many other Shawnee leaders refused to recognize this boundary, however.
A Shawnee party attacked Daniel Boone in Kentucky in 1775.
When the United States declared independence from the British crown in 1776, the Shawnee were divided. They did not support the American rebel cause, but Cornstalk led the minority who wished to remain neutral. The Shawnee north of the Ohio River were also unhappy about the American settlement of Kentucky. Colin Calloway reports that most Shawnees allied with the British against the Americans.
War leaders such as Chief Blackfish and Blue Jacket joined Dragging Canoe and a band of Cherokee people along the lower Tennessee and Chickamauga Creek against the colonists in that area. Some colonists called them Chickamauga because they lived along that river at the time of what became known as the Cherokee–American wars, during and after the American Revolution.
The Shawnee later combined with the Miami into a great fighting force in the Ohio Valley, after the Revolution, during the Northwest Indian War between the United States and a confederation of Native American tribes. After being defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, most of the Shawnee bands signed the Treaty of Greenville the next year. They were forced to cede large parts of their homeland to the new United States.
Other Shawnee groups rejected this treaty, migrating independently to Missouri west of the Mississippi River, where they settled near Cape Girardeau.
The Shawnee in Missouri became known as the “Absentee Shawnee” after migrating from the United States into Mexico, in the eastern part of Spanish Texas. They were joined in the migration by some Delaware. Although they were closely allied with the Cherokee led by The Bowl, their chief John Linney remained neutral during the 1839 Cherokee War.
In appreciation, in the late 1840s Texan president Mirabeau Lamar fully compensated the Shawnee for their improvements and crops at the time of forcing their removal from Texas north to Arkansas Territory. The Shawnee settled close to present-day Shawnee, Oklahoma. They were joined by Shawnee pushed out of Kansas (see below), who shared their traditionalist views and beliefs.
In 1817, the Ohio Shawnee had signed the Treaty of Fort Meigs, ceding their remaining lands in exchange for three reservations in Wapaughkonetta, Hog Creek (near Lima), and Lewistown, Ohio. They shared these lands with some Seneca who had migrated west from New York.
Missouri joined the Union in 1821. After the Treaty of St. Louis in 1825, the 1,400 Missouri Shawnee were forcibly relocated from Cape Girardeau to southeastern Kansas, close to the Neosho River.
During 1833, only Black Bob’s band of Shawnee resisted removal. They settled in northeastern Kansas near Olathe and along the Kansas (Kaw) River in Monticello near Gum Springs. The Shawnee Methodist Mission was built nearby to minister to the tribe. About 200 of the Ohio Shawnee followed the prophet Tenskwatawa and joined their Kansas brothers and sisters here in 1826.
The main body of Shawnee in Ohio followed Black Hoof, who fought every effort to force the Shawnee to give up their homeland. After the death of Black Hoof, the remaining 400 Ohio Shawnee in Wapaughkonetta and Hog Creek surrendered their land and moved to the Shawnee Reserve in Kansas. In 1831, the Lewistown group of Seneca–Shawnee had left for the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).
In the 1853 Indian Appropriations Bill, Congress appropriated $64,366 for treaty obligations to the Shawnee such as annuities, education, and other services. An additional $2,000 was appropriated for the Seneca and the Shawnee together.
During the American Civil War, Black Bob’s band fled from Kansas and joined the “Absentee Shawnee” in Oklahoma to escape the war. After the Civil War, the Shawnee in Kansas were expelled and forced to move to northeastern Oklahoma. The Shawnee members of the former Lewistown group became known as the “Eastern Shawnee”.
The former Kansas Shawnee became known as the “Loyal Shawnee” (some say this is because of their allegiance with the Union during the war; others say this is because they were the last group to leave their Ohio homelands). The latter group appeared to be regarded as part of the Cherokee Nation by the United States because they were also known as the “Cherokee Shawnee” and were settled on some of their land in Indian Territory.
Beginning in the 1980s, the Shawnee Tribe began an effort to regain their own tribal status, independent of the Cherokee Nation.
In 2000 the “Loyal” or “Cherokee” Shawnee finally received federal recognition independent of the Cherokee Nation. Congress passed Public Law 106-568, the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000, and the Shawnee Tribe was able to organize as their own autonomous, federally recognized tribe. They are now known as the “Shawnee Tribe.” Today, most members of the three tribes of the Shawnee nation reside in Oklahoma.
Federally Recognized Shawnee Tribes:
The 3 federally recognized Shawnee tribes are all located in Oklahoma today.
- The Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, consisting mainly of Hathawekela, Kispokotha, and Pekuwe divisions;
- The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, mostly of the Mekoche division; and
- The Shawnee Tribe, formerly considered part of the Cherokee Nation, mostly of the Chaalakatha and Mekoche divisions.
State Recognized Shawnee Tribe:
The Piqua Shawnee Tribe is a state-recognized tribe in Alabama, recognized by the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission under the Davis-Strong Act. This tribe is also recognized in an honorary manner by Ohio in Ohio Senate Resolution 188, adopted February 26, 1991, and by the Ohio House of Representatives 119th General Assembly Resolution No. 83, adopted April 3, 1991; and in Kentucky, by Governor’s Proclamation dated August 13, 1991. Neither Ohio or Kentucky have a formal process for recognition of tribes, but their legislatures have acknowledged some groups in an honorary way by resolution.
Unrecognized Shawnee Tribes:
Self identified groups that claim Shawnee descent.
- Chickamauga Keetoowah Unami Wolf Band of Cherokee Delaware Shawnee of Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia.
- East of the River Shawnee, Ohio
- Kispoko Sept of Ohio Shawnee, Louisiana
- Kispoko Sept of Ohio Shawnee (Hog Creek Reservation), Ohio
- Lower Eastern Ohio Mekoce Shawnee, Ohio Letter of Intent to Petition 3/5/2001.
- Lower Eastern Ohio Mekojay Shawnee, Ohio
- Morning Star Shawnee Nation, Ohio
- Platform Reservation Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation
- Shawnee Nation Blue Creek Band, of Adams County, Ohio. Letter of Intent to Petition 8/5/1998.
- Piqua Sept of Ohio Shawnee Tribe—Letter of Intent to Petition 04/16/1991.
- Ridgetop Shawnee, Kentucky. In 2009 and 2010, the State House of the Kentucky General Assembly recognized the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians by passing House Joint Resolutions 15 or HJR-15 and HJR-16.
- Southeastern Kentucky Shawnee, Kentucky
- United Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation, Ohio
- United Tribe of Shawnee Indians, Kansas
- Upper Kispoko Band of the Shawnee Nation, Indiana
- Vinyard Indian Settlement of Shawnee Indians, Illinois
- Youghiogaheny River Band Of Shawnee Indians, Maryland