The Shawnees

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

The Shawanees (Shawnees) were a very extensive and warlike tribe. They were, according to Indian tradition, originally from the south, having inhabited the country in the vicinity of Savannah, in Georgia, and a portion of West Florida. Being engaged in continual war with the Creeks and other southern nations, and being of an adventurous and roving disposition, they finally emigrated northward, and were received upon terms of friendship by the Delawares. They settled in Western Pennsylvania, extending themselves gradually farther west, and mingling with other neighboring nations. Their head-quarters were, in early times, not far from Pittsburgh. In their new homes they prospered and increased, and long remained one of the most formidable nations of the west. They united with the Delawares in hostilities against the southern tribes.

In after-times, thrilling legends of war and massacre in “the dark and bloody ground,” and throughout the western border, attest the active and dangerous spirit of this warlike and implacable tribe. In the French and Indian wars, and in the long struggle which resulted in our national independence, they were so mingled with other western tribes, that we shall not attempt to distinguish them, nor shall we devote that space to the biography of many of their chiefs and warriors which their prowess might demand in a more extended work. We shall give, in their order, some of the more celebrated Indian campaigns at the west, with various incidents connected with the first settlement of the western states.

About the middle of the eighteenth century, the French, as already mentioned, had, in strengthening their cordon of posts between their settlements in Canada and Louisiana, formed alliance with many Indian tribes to whom they were brought in proximity. Their nearest and most dangerous approach to the English establishments, was in the erection of the military stronghold called Fort Duquesne, at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela. In the attempt to dislodge them from this post the military talents of George Washington were first exhibited. After distinguishing himself by his bravery and prudence in contests with the Indians and French, which, owing to an insufficiency of force, resulted in nothing decisive or materially advantageous, he was attached to the powerful army under General Braddock, in the capacity of aid-de camp to the commanding officer.

With a force of more than two thousand men, besides some Indian allies, the British general set systematically about the reduction of the French fort. Leaving a large body of troops under Colonel Dunbar, at Great Meadows, he marched in compact military array to the attack. No one doubts the courage of General Braddock, or his capacity to have conducted a campaign in an open and inhabited country, but his dogmatic obstinacy and adherence to established tactics proved, upon this occasion, the destruction of himself and his army.

When Washington, then only twenty-two years of age, respectfully represented to his superior the danger of an exposed march through a country like that they were traversing, and suggested the necessity for providing a sufficient party of scouts acquainted with the locality to guard against surprise, he was insultingly checked by the ejaculation: “High times! high times! when a young Buck skin teaches a British general how to fight.”

It was on the 9th of July, 1755, that the engagement took place. Captain Contracceur, who had command of the fort, had obtained information of the advance upon the previous day, and dispatched M. de Beaujeu, with all the troops he could muster, to meet the enemy. His whole available force consisted of from five hundred to one thou sand men, of whom the majority were Indians, but a knowledge of the ground, and the gross error of the English commander, more than compensated for the disparity in numbers and discipline. An ambush was formed where a ravine led from a plain into a high wooded piece of ground. The advancing column had no sooner penetrated into this defile than the attack commenced.

A most appalling carnage ensued: the Indians, firing from covert upon the closely marshaled ranks of the regulars, soon threw them into utter confusion. M. Beaujeu was, indeed, killed at the first onset, but his lieutenant, Dumas, continued to inspire his troops, and cheer them on to their now easy victory. A complete rout ensued, and the Indians, rushing from their places of concealment, fell upon the panic-stricken fugitives with their deadly tomahawks. The Virginians alone proved in any degree effective in resisting the enemy and covering the disorderly retreat. The loss, on the part of the British, in killed, wounded and prisoners, was not far from eight hundred. All the artillery and baggage fell into the hands of the French, who, with their Indian allies, remained in undisputed possession of the field.

Falling back upon Colonel Dunbar s reserve, instead of making a renewed stand, the whole army continued a precipitate retreat into Virginia. In this action most of the Virginia troops, who, adopting the Indian manner of war fare, betook themselves to sheltered positions when the fight commenced, fell victims to their constancy and bra very. Colonel Washington had not fully recovered from a severe attack of illness at the time, and was with great difficulty able to undergo the fatigues incident to his position. He had two horses shot under him, and received four bullets through his coat, but escaped from the conflict unwounded. General Braddock died a few days after, of a wound in the lungs.

The Delawares, and more especially the Shawanees, were implicated in the extensive conspiracy excited by the renowned Pontiac, in the year 1763. It was in this year that a cruel and disgraceful outrage was perpetrated upon a peaceful community of Indians at Canestoga, near Lancaster. No sooner had news of Indian murders and ravages been spread among the white settlements, than a determination was evinced by certain miscreants to destroy these harmless people, upon suspicion or pretense that they were concerned, in some way, in the recent border outrages.

Massacre Of The Conestoga Indians

The Conestoga Indians were few in number, and perfectly peaceful and inoffensive. They had inhabited the same little settlement for more than a century, and, according to Heckewelder, “their ancestors had been among those who had welcomed William Penn, on his first arrival in this country; presenting him, at the time, with venison, &c.”

In the month of November, (1763,) fifty-seven white savages started from Paxton to destroy this establishment. They murdered all whom they could find, to the number of fourteen, of every age and sex: the remainder (fifteen or twenty) escaped to Lancaster, and were locked up, for safety, in the jail. Hither the “Paxton boys,” as they were termed, pursued the poor creatures, and, breaking into the enclosure, brutally massacred the whole of them. The following is extracted from the letter of an eye-witness to this transaction. .

“I ran into the prison-yard, and there, O what a horrid sight presented itself to my view!! Near the back door of the prison, lay an old Indian and his squaw, (wife,) particularly well known and esteemed by the people of the town, on account of his placid and friendly conduct. His name was Will Sock; across him and his squaw lay two children of about the age of three years, whose heads were split with the tomahawk, and their scalps all taken off. Towards the middle of the jail-yard, along the west side of the wall, lay a stout Indian, whom I particularly noticed to have been shot in the breast; his legs were chopped with the tomahawk, his hands cut off, and finally a rifle-ball discharged in his mouth; so that his head was blown to atoms, and the brains were splashed against, and yet hanging to the wall, for three or four feet around. In this manner lay the whole of them, men, women and children, spread about the prison-yard: shot scalped hacked and cut to pieces.”

The events of Cresap’s war, in which the Shawanees and Delawares were so largely concerned, have been already briefly described, in connection with the history of the Iroquois. After the great battle at Point Pleasant, in which they and their allies were defeated, a short cessation of hostilities between them and the colonists ensued. The breaking out of the revolutionary war revived old animosities, and suggested new motives for contention. The Shawanees were early won over to espouse the British interests: the division of the Delawares upon the question will be hereafter explained.

Daniel Boone

The best information handed down to us concerning the Shawanees, at this period, is to be found in the adventures of the bold pioneer, Daniel Boone. Impatient of the restraints or competitions of an inhabited country, and led by a roving, adventurous spirit, and by an enthusiastic admiration of the beauties and grandeur of the unsettled western wilderness, he forced his way into the trackless solitudes of Kentucky, and laid the foundation of a settlement whose growth and prosperity are almost unparalleled.

On the 8th of February, 1778, Boone was taken prisoner by a strong force of these Indians, then on their march against the settlement at Boonesborough. He was carried to their principal town, Old Chilicothe, on the Little Miami, and there had abundant opportunity for observing their native peculiarities and usages. His character, somewhat analogous to that of Captain John Smith, Benjamin Church, and others, noted for their successes with the Indians, was bold, frank, and fearless. Men of such nature and disposition, however rude and uncultivated, are always the best able to conciliate the affections, as well as exercise control over the minds of savages.

Boone’s captors took such a liking to him that they positively refused to deliver him up to the English, at Detroit, whither he was conveyed with his companions. Leaving the rest of their prisoners at that post, they took him back to Chilicothe, refusing the governor s offer of one hundred pounds if they would part with their favorite. The king of the tribe treated Boone with great courtesy and respect, and he had no reason to complain of his accommodations, as he enjoyed whatever comforts were with in the reach of his masters. He was adopted into a family, according to the usual Indian custom; in which position he says: ” I became a son, and had a great share in the affection of my new parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. I was exceedingly familiar and friendly with them, always appearing as cheerful and satisfied as possible, and they put great confidence in me.”

His captivity lasted until the month of June, when, re turning from a salt-making excursion, on the Scioto, he found four hundred and fifty Shawanee warriors, collected with arms and war paint, and bound on an expedition against Boonesborough. This incited him to attempt an escape, that he might forewarn the settlement of the intent. He fled a little before day, on the 16th, and made the journey, of one hundred and sixty miles, supported by a single meal.

The bold and astonishing defense of the little fort at Boonesborough, in the month of August, against a large force of Indians, accompanied by certain Frenchmen, is simply and unostentatiously described in the autobiography of this redoubted pioneer. The enemy, after a siege of twelve days, in which every expedient of force and treachery failed to dislodge the garrison, were forced to re tire without effecting their purpose. One of their strata gems was as follows: A treaty was proposed by the assail ants, and after the articles were drawn up, in front of the fort, and formally signed, in the words of the narrative: the Indians told us it was customary with them on such occasions for two Indians to shake hands with every white man on the treaty, as an evidence of entire friendship. “We agreed to this, but were soon convinced their policy was to take us prisoners. They immediately grappled us; but, though surrounded by hundreds of savages, we extricated ourselves from them, and escaped all safe into the garrison, except one that was wounded, through a heavy fire from their army.”

Boone took a prominent part in many of the contests which preceded the quiet occupation of the land of his choice, and underwent toils, dangers, and privations seldom awarded to any one man; but he lived to enjoy the fruits of his labors. An old Indian, upon the occasion of one of the more important treaties of cession, after signing the articles, took Boone by the hand, saying: “Brother, we have given you a fine land, but I believe you will have much trouble in settling it.” The old settler adds, speaking of the former appellation bestowed on this “debatable ground “: “My footsteps have often been marked with blood, and therefore I can truly subscribe to its original name. Two darling sons and a brother have I lost by savage hands. Many dark and sleepless nights have I been a companion for owls, separated from the cheerful society of men, scorched by the summer s sun, and pinched by the winter s cold an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness. But now the scene is changed: peace crowns the sylvan shade.”



MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 3 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-shawnees.htm - Last updated on Feb 18th, 2013


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