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Shawnee Tribe

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Shawnee Indians (from shawŭn, ‘south’; shawŭnogi, ‘southerners.’ ). Formerly a leading tribe of South Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. By reason of the indefinite character of their name, their wandering habits, their connection with other tribes, and because of their interior position away from the traveled routes of early days, the Shawnee were long a stumbling block in the way of investigators. Attempts have been made to identify them with the Massawomec of Smith, the Erie of the early Jesuits, and the Andaste of a somewhat later period, while it has also been claimed that they originally formed one tribe with the Sauk and Foxes. None of these theories, however, rests upon sound evidence, and all have been abandoned. Linguistically the Shawnee belongs to the group of Central Algonquian dialects, and is very closely related to Sauk-Fox. The name “Savanoos,” applied by the early Dutch writers to the Indians living upon the north bank of Delaware river, in New Jersey, did not refer to the Shawnee, and was evidently not a proper tribal designation, but merely the collective term, “southerners,” for those tribes southward from Manhattan island, just as Wappanoos, “easterners,” was the collective term for those living toward the east. Evelin, who wrote about 1646, gives the names of the different small bands in the south part of New Jersey, while Ruttenber names those in the north, but neither mentions the Shawnee.

Shawnee History

Payta Kootha
Payta Kootha, Shawanoe Warrior (Shawnee)
Flying Clouds or Captain Reed

The tradition of the Delawares, as embodied in the Walam Olum, makes themselves, the Shawnee, and the Nanticoke, originally one people, the separation having taken place after the traditional expulsion of the Talligewi (Cherokee) from the north, it being stated that the Shawnee went south. Beyond this it is useless to theorize on the origin of the Shawnee or to strive to assign them any earlier location than that in which they were first known and where their oldest traditions place them in the Cumberland basin in Tennessee, with an outlying colony on the middle Savannah in South Carolina. In this position, as their name may imply, they were the southern advance guard of the Algonquian stock.

Their real history begins in 1669-70. They were then living in two bodies at a considerable distance apart, and these two divisions were not fully united until nearly a century later, when the tribe settled in Ohio. The attempt to reconcile conflicting statements without a knowledge of this fact has occasioned much of the confusion in regard to the Shawnee. The apparent anomaly of a tribe living in two divisions at such a distance from each other is explained when we remember that the intervening territory was occupied by the Cherokee, who were at that time the friends of the Shawnee. The evidence afforded by the mounds shows that the two tribes lived together for a considerable period, both in South Carolina and in Tennessee, and it is a matter of history that the Cherokee claimed the country vacated by the Shawnee in both states after the removal of the latter to the north. It is quite possible that the Cherokee invited the Shawnee to settle upon their eastern frontier in order to serve as a barrier against the attacks of the Catawba and other enemies in that direction. No such necessity existed for protection on their northwestern frontier. The earliest notices of the Carolina Shawnee represent them as a warlike tribe, the enemies of the Catawba and others, who were also the enemies of the Cherokee. In Ramsey’s Annals of Tennessee is the statement, made by a Cherokee chief in 1772, that 100 years previously the Shawnee, by permission of the Cherokee, removed from Savannah river to the Cumberland, but were afterward driven out by the Cherokee, aided by the Chickasaw, in consequence of a quarrel with the former tribe. While this tradition does not agree with the chronological order of Shawnee occupancy in the two regions, as borne out by historical evidence, it furnishes additional proof that the Shawnee occupied territory upon both rivers, and that this occupancy was by permission of the Cherokee.

De l'Isle Map Detail 1700
De l’Isle’s map of 1700 places the “Ontouagannha.” which here means the Shawnee, on the headwaters of the Santee and Pedee rivers in South Carolina, while the “Chiouonons” are located on the lower Tennessee river.

De l’Isle’s map of 1700 places the “Ontouagannha.” which here means the Shawnee, on the headwaters of the Santee and Pedee rivers in South Carolina, while the “Chiouonons” are located on the lower Tennessee river. Senex’s map of 1710 locates a part of the “Chaouenons” on the headwaters of a stream in South Carolina, but seems to place the main body on the Tennessee. Moll’s map of 1720 has “Savannah Old Settlement” at the mouth of the Cumberland1, showing that the term Savannah was sometimes applied to the Western as well as to the eastern band.

The Shawnee of South Carolina, who included the Piqua and Hathawekela divisions of the tribe, were known to the early settlers of that state as Savannahs, that being nearly the form of the name in use among the neighboring Muskhogean tribes. A good deal of confusion has arisen from the fact that the Yuchi and Yamasee, in the same neighborhood, were sometimes also spoken of as Savannah Indians. Bartram and Gallatin particularly are confused upon this point, although, as is hardly necessary to state, the tribes are entirely distinct. Their principal village, known as Savannah Town, was on Savannah river, nearly opposite the present Augusta, Ga. According to a writer of 17402 it was at New Windsor, on the north bank of Savannah river, 7 miles below Augusta. It was an important trading point, and Ft Moore was afterward built upon the site. The Savannah river takes its name from this tribe, as appears from the statement of Adair, who mentions the “Savannah river, so termed on account of the Shawano Indians having formerly lived there,” plainly showing that the two names are synonyms for the same tribe. Gallatin says that the name of the river is of Spanish origin, by which he probably means that it refers to “savanas,” or prairies, but as almost all the large rivers of the Atlantic slope bore the Indian names of the tribes upon their banks, it is not likely that this river is an exception, or that a Spanish name would have been retained in an English colony. In 1670, when South Carolina was first settled, the Savannah were one of the principal tribes southward from Ashley river. About 10 years later they drove hack the Westo, identified by Swanton as the Yuchi, who had just previously nearly destroyed the infant settlements in a short but bloody war. The Savannah seem to have remained at peace with the whites, and in 1695, according to Gov. Archdale, were “good friends and useful neighbors of the English.” By a comparison of Gallatin’s paragraph3 with Lawson’s statements4 from which he quotes, it will be seen that he has misinterpreted the earlier author, as well as misquoted the tribal forms.

1710 Senex Map Portion
Senex’s map of 1710 locates a part of the “Chaouenons” on the headwaters of a stream in South Carolina, but seems to place the main body on the Tennessee.

Lawson traveled through Carolina in 1701, and in 1709 published his account, which has passed through several reprints, the last being in 1860. He mentions the “Savannas” twice, and it is to be noted that in each place he calls them by the same name, which, however, is not the same as any one of the three forms used by Gallatin in referring to the same passages. Lawson first mentions them in connection with the Congaree as the “Savannas, a famous, warlike, friendly nation of Indians, living to the south end of Ashley river.” In another place he speaks of “the Savanna Indians, who formerly lived on the banks of the Messiasippi, and removed thence to the head of one of the rivers of South Carolina, since which, for some dislike, most of them are removed to live in the quarters of the Iroquois or Sinnagars [Seneca], which are on the heads of the rivers that disgorge themselves into the bay of Chesapeak.” This is a definite statement, plainly referring to one and the same tribe, and agrees with what is known of the Shawnee.

On De l’Isle’s map, also, we find the Savannah river called “R. des Chouanons,” with the “Chaouanons” located upon both banks in its middle course. As to Gallatin’s statement that the name of the Savannahs is dropped after Lawson’s mention in 1701, we learn from numerous references, from old records, in Logan’s Upper South Carolina, published after Gallatin’s time, that all through the period of the French and Indian war, 50 years after Lawson wrote, the “Savannahs” were constantly making inroads on the Carolina frontier, even to the vicinity of Charleston. They are described as “northern savages” and friends of the Cherokee, and are undoubtedly the Shawnee. In 1749 Adair, while crossing the middle of Georgia, fell in with a strong party of “the French Shawano,” who were on their way, under Cherokee guidance, to attack the English traders near Augusta. After committing some depredations they escaped to the Cherokee. In another place he speaks of a party of “Shawano Indians,” who, at the instigation of the French, had attacked a frontier settlement of Carolina, but had been taken and imprisoned. Through a reference by Logan it is found that these prisoners are called Savannahs in the records of that period. In 1791 Swan mentions the “Savannas” town among the Creeks, occupied by “Shawanese refugees.”

Having shown that the Savannah and the Shawnee are the same tribe, it remains to be seen why and when they removed from South Carolina to the north. The removal was probably owing to dissatisfaction with the English setters, who seem to have favored the Catawba at the expense of the Shawnee. Adair, speaking of the latter tribe, says they had formerly lived on the Savannah river, “till by our foolish measures they were forced to withdraw northward in defense of their, freedom.” In another place he says, “by our own misconduct we twice lost the Shawano Indians, who have since proved very hurtful to our colonies in general.” The first loss referred to is probably the withdrawal of the Shawnee to the north, and the second is evidently their alliance with the French in consequence of the encroachments of the English in Pennsylvania.

Their removal from South Carolina was gradual, beginning about 1677 and continuing at intervals through a period of more than 30 years. The ancient Shawnee villages formerly on the sites of Winchester, Virginia, and Oldtown, near Cumberland, Maryland, were built and occupied probably during this migration. It was due mainly to their losses at the hands of the Catawba, the allies of the English, that they were forced to abandon their country on the Savannah; but after the reunion of the tribe in the north they pursued their old enemies with unrelenting vengeance until the Catawba were almost exterminated. The hatred cherished by the Shawnee toward the English is shown by their boast in the Revolution that they had killed more of that nation than had any other tribe.

The first Shawnee seem to have removed from South Carolina in 1677 or 1678, when, according to Drake, about 70 families established themselves on the Susquehanna adjoining the Conestoga in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, at the mouth of Pequea creek. Their village was called Pequea, a form of Piqua. The Assiwikales (Hathawekela) were a part of the later migration. This, together with the absence of the Shawnee names Chillicothe and Mequachake east of the Alleghanies, would seem to show that the Carolina portion of the tribe belonged to the first named divisions. The chief of Pequea was Wapatha, or Opessah, who made a treaty with Penn at Philadelphia in 1701, and more than 50 years afterward the Shawnee, then in Ohio, still preserved a copy of this treaty. There is no proof that they had a part in Penn’s first treaty in 1682.

In 1694, by invitation of the Delawares and their allies, another large party came from the south probably from Carolina and settled with the Munsee on the Delaware, the main body fixing themselves at the mouth of Lehigh river, near the present Easton, Pennsylvania, while some went as far down as the Schuylkill. This party is said to have numbered about 700, and they were several months on the journey. Permission to settle on the Delaware was granted by the Colonial government on condition of their making peace with the Iroquois, who then received them as “brothers,” while the Delawares acknowledged them as their “second sons,” i. e. grandsons. The Shawnee to-day refer to the Delawares as their grandfathers. From this it is evident that the Shawnee were never conquered by the Iroquois, and, in fact, we find the western band a few years previously assisting the Miami against the latter. As the Iroquois, however, had conquered the lands of the Conestoga and Delawares, on which the Shawnee settled, the former still claimed the prior right of domain. Another large part of the Shawnee probably left South Carolina about 1707, as appears from a statement made by Evans in that year5, which shows that they were then hard pressed in the south. He says: “During our abode at Pequehan [Pequea] several of the Shaonois Indians from ye southward came to settle here, and were admitted so to do by Opessah, with the governor’s consent, at the same time an Indian, from a Shaonois town near Carolina came in and gave an account that four hundred and fifty of the flat-headed Indians [Catawba] had besieged them, and that in all probability the same was taken. Bezallion informed the governor that the Shaonois of Carolina he was told had killed several Christians; whereupon the government of that province raised the said flat-headed Indians, and joined some Christians to them, besieged and have taken, as it is thought, the said Shaonois town.” Those who escaped probably fled to the north and joined their kindred in Pennsylvania. In 1708 Gov. Johnson, of South Carolina, reported the “Savannahs” on Savannah river as occupying 3 villages and numbering about 150 men6. In 1715 the “Savanos” still in Carolina were reported to live 150 miles northwest of Charleston, and still to occupy 3 villages, but with only 233 inhabitants in all.

The Yuchi and Yamasee were also then in the same neighborhood7.

A part of those who had come from the south in 1694 had joined the Mahican and become a part of that tribe. Those who had settled on the Delaware, after remaining there some years, removed to the Wyoming valley on the Susquehanna and established themselves in a village on the west bank near the present Wyoming, Pennsylvania. It is probable that they were joined here by that part of the tribe which had settled at Pequea, which was abandoned about 1730. When the Delawares and Munsee were forced to leave the Delaware river in 1742 they also moved over to the Wyoming valley, then in possession of the Shawnee, and built a village on the east bank of the river opposite that occupied by the latter tribe. In 1740 the Quakers began work among the Shawnee at Wyoming and were followed two years later by the Moravian Zinzendorf. As a result of this missionary labor the Shawnee on the Susquehanna remained neutral for some time during the French and Indian war, which began in 1754, while their brethren on the Ohio were active allies of the French. About the year 1755 or 1756, in consequence of a quarrel with the Delawares, said to have been caused by a childish dispute over a grasshopper, the Shawnee abandoned the Susquehanna and joined the rest of their tribe on the upper waters of the Ohio, where they soon became allies of the French. Some of the eastern Shawnee had already joined those on the Ohio, probably in small parties and at different times, for in the report of the Albany congress of 1754 it is found that some of that tribe had removed from Pennsylvania to the Ohio about 30 years previously, and in 1735 a Shawnee band known as Shaweygria (Hathawekela), consisting of about 40 families, described as living with the other Shawnee on Allegheny river, refused to return to the Susquehanna at the solicitation of the Delawares and Iroquois. The only clue in regard to the number of these eastern Shawnee is Drake’s statement that in 1732 there were 700 Indian warriors in Pennsylvania, of whom half were Shawnee from the south. This would give them a total population of about 1,200, which is probably too high, unless those on the Ohio are included in the estimate.

Having shown the identity of the Savannah with the Shawnee, and followed their wanderings from Savannah river to the Ohio during a period of about 80 years, it remains to trace the history of the other, and apparently more numerous, division upon the Cumberland, who preceded the Carolina band in the region of the upper Ohio river, and seem never to have crossed the Alleghanies to the eastward. These western Shawnee may possibly be the people mentioned in the Jesuit Relation of 1648, under the name of “Ouchaouanag,” in connection with the Mascoutens, who lived in northern Illinois. In the Relation of 1670 we find the “Chaouanon” mentioned as having visited the Illinois the preceding year, and they are described as living some distance to the south east of the latter. From this period until their removal to the north they are frequently mentioned by the French writers, sometimes under some form of the collective Iroquois name Toagenha, but generally under their Algonquian name Chaouanon. La Harpe, about 1715, called them Tongarois, another form of Toagenha. All these writers concur in the statement that they lived upon a large southern branch of the Ohio, at no great distance east of the Mississippi. This was the Cumberland river of Tennessee and Kentucky, which is called the River of the Shawnee on all the old maps down to about the year 1770.

When the French traders first came into the region the Shawnee had their principal village on that river near the present Nashville, Tennessee. They seem also to have ranged northeastward to Kentucky river and southward to the Tennessee. It will thus be seen that they were not isolated from the great body of the Algonquian tribes, as has frequently been represented to have been the case, but simply occupied an interior position, adjoining the kindred Illinois and Miami, with whom they kept up constant communication. As previously mentioned, the early maps plainly distinguish these Shawnee on the Cumberland from the other division of the tribe on Savannah river.

These western Shawnee are mentioned about the year 1672 as being harassed by the Iroquois, and also as allies and neighbors of the Andaste, or Conestoga, who were themselves at war with the Iroquois. As the Andaste were then incorrectly supposed to live on the upper waters of the Ohio river, the Shawnee would naturally be considered their neighbors. The two tribes were probably in alliance against the Iroquois, as we find that when the first body of Shawnee removed from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, about 1678, they settled adjoining the Conestoga, and when another part of the same tribe desired to remove to the Delaware in 1694 permission was granted on condition that they make peace with the Iroquois. Again, in 1684, the Iroquois justified their attacks on the Miami by asserting that the latter had invited the Satanas (Shawnee) into their country to make war upon the Iroquois. This is the first historic mention of the Shawnee evidently the western division in the country north of the Ohio river. As the Cumberland region was out of the usual course of exploration and settlement, but few notices of the western Shawnee are found until 1714, when the French trader Charleville established himself among them near the present Nashville. They were then gradually leaving the country in small bodies in consequence of a war with the Cherokee, their former allies, who were assisted by the Chickasaw. From the statement of Iberville in 17028 it seems that this was due to the latter’s efforts to bring them more closely under French influence. It is impossible now to learn the cause of the war between the Shawnee and the Cherokee. It probably did not begin until after 1707, the year of the final expulsion of the Shawnee from South Carolina by the Catawba, as there is no evidence to show that the Cherokee took part in that struggle. From Shawnee tradition the quarrel with the Chickasaw would seem to be of older date. After the reunion of the Shawnee in the north they secured the alliance of the Delawares, and the two tribes turned against the Cherokee until the latter were compelled to ask peace, when the old friendship was renewed. Soon after the coming of Charleville, in 1714, the Shawnee finally abandoned the Cumberland valley, being pursued to the last moment by the Chickasaw. In a council held at Philadelphia in 1715 with the Shawnee and Delawares, the former, “who live at a great distance,” asked the friendship of the Pennsylvania government. These are evidently the same who about this time were driven from their home on Cumberland river.

Moll Map of 1720
Moll’s map of 1720 has “Savannah Old Settlement” at the mouth of the Cumberland, showing that the term Savannah was sometimes applied to the Western as well as to the eastern band.

On Moll’s map of 1720 we find this region marked as occupied by the Cherokee, while “Savannah Old Settlement” is placed at the mouth of the Cumberland, indicating that the removal of the Shawnee had then been completed. They stopped for some time at various points in Kentucky, and perhaps also at Shawneetown, Ill., but finally, about the year 1730, collected along the north bank of the Ohio river, in Ohio and Pennsylvania, extending from the Allegheny down to the Scioto. Sawcunk, Logstown, and Lowertown were probably built about this time. The land thus occupied was claimed by the Wyandot, who granted permission to the Shawnee to settle upon it, and many years afterward threatened to dispossess them if they continued hostilities against the United States. They probably wandered for some time in Kentucky, which was practically a part of their own territory and not occupied by any other tribe. Blackhoof (Catahecassa), one of their most celebrated chiefs, was born during this sojourn in a village near the present Winchester, Kentucky. Down to the treaty of Greenville, in 1795, Kentucky was the favorite hunting ground of the tribe. In 1748 the Shawnee on the Ohio were estimated to number 162 warriors or about 600 souls. A few years later they were joined by their kindred from the Susquehanna, and the two bands were united for the first time in history. There is no evidence that the western band, as a body, ever crossed to the east side of the mountains. The nature of the country and the fear of the Catawba would seem to have forbidden such a movement, aside from the fact that their eastern brethren were already beginning to feel the pressure of advancing civilization. The most natural line of migration was the direct route to the upper Ohio, where they had the protection of the Wyandot and Miami, and were within easy reach of the French.

For a long time an intimate connection existed between the Creeks and the Shawnee, and a body of the latter, under the name of Sawanogi, was permanently incorporated with the Creeks. These may have been the ones mentioned by Pénicaut as living in the vicinity of Mobile about 1720. Bartram9, in 1773, mentioned this band among the Creeks and spoke of the resemblance of their language to that of the Shawnee, without knowing that they were a part of the same tribe. The war in the northwest after the close of the Revolution drove still more of the Shawnee to take refuge with the Creeks. In 1791 they had 4 villages in the Creek country, near the site of Montgomery, Alabama, the principal being Sawanogi. A great many also joined the hostile Cherokee about the same time. As these villages are not named in the list of Creek towns in 1832 it is possible that their inhabitants may have joined the rest of their tribe in the west before that period. There is no good evidence for the assertion by some writers that the Suwanee in Florida took its name from a band of Shawnee once settled upon its banks.

Prophet's Rock view
The view from Prophet’s Rock, a stone outcropping in rural Tippecanoe County, Indiana near Battle Ground. The Shawnee leader Tenskwatawa (“The Prophet”), brother of Tecumseh, sang from this site to encourage his fellow warriors during the fight against William Henry Harrison’s soldiers at the Battle of Tippecanoe, November 7, 1811. Photo looks southeast across Prophet’s Rock Road toward Burnett’s Creek and the battlefield site beyond.

The history of the Shawnee after their reunion on the Ohio is well known as a part of the history of the Northwest territory, and may be dismissed with brief notice. For a period of 40 years from the beginning of the French and Indian war to the treaty of Greenville in 1795 they were almost constantly at war with the English or the Americans, and distinguished themselves as the most hostile tribe in that region. Most of the expeditions sent across the Ohio during the Revolutionary period were directed against the Shawnee, and most of the destruction on the Kentucky frontier was the work of the same tribe. When driven back from the Scioto they retreated to the head of the Miami river, from which the Miami had withdrawn some years before. After the Revolution, finding themselves left without the assistance of the British, large numbers joined the hostile Cherokee and Creeks in the south, while a considerable body accepted the invitation of the Spanish government in 1793 and settled, together with some Delawares, on a tract near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, between the Mississippi and the Whitewater rivers, in what was then Spanish territory. Wayne’s victory, followed by the treaty of Greenville in 1795, put an end to the long war in the Ohio valley. The Shawnee were obliged to give up their territory on the Miami in Ohio, and retired to the headwaters of the Auglaize. The more hostile part of the tribe crossed the Mississippi and joined those living at Cape Girardeau. In 1798 a part of those in Ohio settled on White River in Indiana, by invitation of the Delawares. A few years later a Shawnee medicine-man, Tenskwatawa, known as The Prophet, the brother of the celebrated Tecumseh, began to preach a new doctrine among the various tribes of that region. His followers rapidly increased and established themselves in a village at the mouth of the Tippecanoe River in Indiana. It soon became evident that his intentions were hostile, and a force was sent against him under Gen. Harrison in 1811, resulting in the destruction of the village and the total defeat of the Indians in the decisive battle of Tippecanoe. Tecumseh was among the Creeks at the time, endeavoring to secure their aid against the United States, and returned in time to take command of the northwest tribes in the British interest in the War of 1812. The Shawnee in Missouri, who formed about half of the tribe, are said to have had no part in this struggle. By the death of Tecumseh in this war the spirit of the Indian tribes was broken, and most of them accepted terms of peace soon after. The Shawnee in Missouri sold their lands in 1825 and removed to a reservation in Kansas. A large part of them had previously gone to Texas, where they settled on the headwaters of the Sabine river, and remained there until driven out about 1839 (see Cherokee). The Shawnee of Ohio sold their remaining lands at Wapakoneta and Hog Creek in 1831, and joined those in Kansas. The mixed band of Seneca and Shawnee at Lewistown, Ohio, also removed to Kansas about the same time.

A large part of the tribe left Kansas about 1845 and settled on Canadian river, Indian Territory (Oklahoma), where they are now known as Absentee Shawnee. In 1867 the Shawnee living with the Seneca removed also from Kansas to the Territory and are now known as Eastern Shawnee. In 1869, by inter-tribal agreement, the main body became incorporated with the Cherokee Nation in the present Oklahoma, where they are now residing. Those known as Black Bob’s band refused to remove from Kansas with the others, but have since joined them.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Shawnee as both an ethnological study, and as a people.

Footnotes

  1. Royce in Abstr. Trans. Anthr. Soc. Wash., 1881 
  2. Ga. Hist. Soc. Coll., ii, 72, 1842 
  3. Trans. Am. Antiq. Soc., ii, 66, 1836 
  4. Lawson, Hist. Car., 75, 279-280, ed. 1860 
  5. Day, Penn, 391,1843 
  6. Johnson in Rivers, S. C., 236, 1856 
  7. Barnwell, 1715, in Rivers, Hist. South Carolina, 94, 1874 
  8. Margry, Déc., iv, 519, 1880 
  9. Bartram, Travels, 464, 1792 

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