Shawnee Indian Tribe

It is said that the name of this most remarkable tribe comes from Shawun, south, or Shawunogi, Southerners. They lived in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states before coming to Kansas. One of their early homes was on the Savannah River, which, indeed, took its name from this tribe. They called themselves Shawano, and “Savannah” is but a corruption of that form of the name.

The Shawnees were the extreme southern people of the Algonquoian family. It is supposed that they settled on the Savannah at the invitation of the Cherokees, who placed them next to the Catawbas as a protection from that fierce Siouan people. The Shawnees removed from that region because of the injustice and discrimination of the English Colonies. They were made welcome by the Delawares, who assigned them a home on the Susquehannah, in what is now Lancaster County, Pa. The first families of this migration arrived about 1678. Others followed for the next forty years. They were gradually pushed to the westward with other tribes, and in 1756 they were established on the Ohio, where they became firm friends and allies of the French.

There was another band of Shawnees—known as the Western Shawnees. They occupied the valley of the Cumberland River. They seem never to have lived east of the Alleghenies. A war broke out between them and the Cherokees. The Chickasaws were in league with the Cherokees. These tribes expelled the Shawnees from the Cumberland. They took refuge on the north bank of the Ohio about 1730. Their towns which later became famous in pioneer annals were set up by these Western Shawnees —Sawcunk, Logstown, the Lower Towns at the mouth of the Scioto, and perhaps others. When the Eastern Shawnees were driven across the Alleghenies, they found their Western brethren already seated on the Ohio, and the two divisions of the tribe were merged into the Shawnees so well known to historians. No other Indians gave the back settlements of the English so much trouble. For thirty years the pioneers of Kentucky suffered at their hands. Their towns shifted from the north bank of the Ohio to the interior waters of what is now the State of Ohio. From these villages warriors were constantly departing to raid the Kentucky settlements.

The Shawnees bore important parts in the wars of the West. They were pushed gradually farther and farther to the westward. It was the Shawnee Prophet who fought the battle of Tippecanoe. They began to cross the Mississippi soon after the French and Indian War. At one time there were hundreds of them around the new post of St. Louis. When the Spaniards owned Louisiana they feared the Osages, and it was to form a bumper between themselves and the Osages that caused them to settle the Shawnees and the Delawares at Cape Girardeau. Bands of both the Shawnees and the Delawares scattered to the Southwest, some drifting as far as Texas. When Louisiana came into possession of the United States the American policy was exercised towards all tribes alike. In 1825, that year fateful to Indian possessions, the Government made a treaty with these Western Shawnees, in the preamble of which it is recited that:

Whereas the Shawnee Indians were in possession of a tract of land near Cape Girardeau, in the State of Missouri, settled under permission from the Spanish Government, given to the said Shawnees and Delawares by Baron de Carondelet, on the fourth day of January, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and recorded in the office of the Recorder of Land Titles at St. Louis, containing about twenty-five miles square, which said tract was abandoned by the Delawares, in the year 1815; and from which the said Shawnees, under assurance of receiving other land in exchange, did remove, after having made valuable and lasting improvements on the same, which were taken of by citizens of the United States, etc.

For the cession of the land above mentioned the Shawnees were given a tract of land equal to fifty miles square out of the land then recently ceded by the Osages. This tract was twenty-five miles north and south by one hundred miles east and west, lying west of the Missouri and south of the present south line of the State of Kansas. Upon examination this tract was not satisfactory. The tribe was permitted to make another selection. The land immediately south of the Kansas River being then unassigned, the Shawnees chose that as their future home, relinquishing the tract specifically given them in the treaty. The accurate description of the lands so selected is set out in the treaty made with the Shawnees, May 10, 1854. The reservation on the south side of the Kansas River was estimated to contain sixteen hundred thousand acres of land. It is one of the most beautiful and fertile tracts in America.

It required some time to settle all the details of changing the reservations. The treaty had been made with the Chillicothe division sometimes called the Meremac band, which, it seems, had crossed the Mississippi at the suggestion of the Spaniards. The Fish band of this division moved to the new reservation in 1828. A few Shawnees had come the year previous, and the old members of the tribe have told this author that a few of their people had been living there some years before the treaty of 1825 was made. Their influence caused the change in the location of the reservation. It is possible that this was the real cause of the change. The first Shawnees to arrive settled on the highlands, in what is now Wyandotte County, and not far from the present town of Turner. Others came slowly. Some were in Missouri, some were in Ohio, some were in Arkansas, some in Texas, and some in what is now Oklahoma. It required ten years to assemble the tribe—then all did not come. In 1830 some of the Ohio Shawnees came. They contracted smallpox in St. Louis, the disease spreading to others living near the present town of Merriam, in Johnson County, and killing many. In 1832 the remainder of the Ohio Shawnees arrived on the Kansas River.

With their coming the tribe was more nearly united than ever before except when they first gathered on the Upper Ohio. They suffered secession, however, for about 1845 a large number of the tribe left the Kansas River reservation and moved to the Canadian, where they were known as the “Absentee Shawnees.”

The Shawnees occupied only a small portion of their Kansas River reservation. Few of them ever lived west of Lawrence. The majority lived in Wyandotte and Johnson counties. The council-house was erected on the southeast quarter of section two (2), township twelve (12), range twenty-four (24), near the present town of Shawnee, Johnson County. It was of logs, but not “chinked and daubed.” There had been an earlier council-house, a temporary one, a small cabin on another site, but it was never regarded as the real seat of the Shawnee government. The missions were near this seat of government. The Prophet, the most distinguished Shawnee ever in Kansas, had a little settlement on the fine plateau back of the present town of Argentine. He died within the limits of the town and is buried there.

In 1830 the Methodist Episcopal Church established a mission among the Shawnees. The first building was probably in section twenty-four (24), township eleven (11), range twenty-four (24), on the uplands just east of Turner, in Wyandotte County. With the Fish band in 1828, came Frederick Chouteau, who set up a trading-house on the south side of the Kansas River immediately north of the present and above mentioned town of Turner. The mission was given its location because of the proximity of the trading-house. Chouteau soon became interested in the Kansa Indian trade, building a post at Horseshoe Lake (now Lakeview), and, later, at the Kansas Mission, in Shawnee County. The discontinuance of his trading-post near the Shawnee caused the Methodist Mission to be moved to what is now Johnson County, some three miles from the old town of Westport, Mo. Substantial brick buildings were erected there by Rev. Thomas Johnson, the missionary, a man of superior parts and especially fitted for his work. The manual-labor school was on the south-west quarter of section three (3), township twelve (12), range twenty-five (25). Good schools were maintained, which were attended by the Shawnee children and by Indian children of other tribes. This mission was for a time the capital of Kansas Territory.

The Baptists founded a mission among the Shawnees in 1831. Dr. Johnson Lykins and his wife were appointed missionaries to the Shawnees through the efforts of Rev. Isaac McCoy. Dr. Lykins put up a small building on the Missouri side of the State-line, where he first labored, preaching, and teaching the Shawnee children. In 1832 he erected a mission building on the northeast quarter of section five (5), township twelve (12), range twenty-four (24). There he opened his school the same year. On the 13th of July, 1833, Rev. Moses Merrill and his wife arrived at the mission from Sault St. Marie to aid in the work among the Shawnees. Later in the same year Rev. Jotham Meeker and his wife reached the Baptist Shawnee Mission. They brought with them a Miss C. Brown. Mr. and Mrs. Merrill and Miss Brown were sent to labor among the Otoes, leaving the Shawnee Mission October 25, 1833. Mr. Meeker brought as a part of his equipment a small printing press and a quantity of type. By the 10th of May, 1834, he had printed two books in a system of phonography of his own invention for the use of the Indians. On the first day of March, 1835, the first number of a semi-monthly newspaper was issued. It was edited by Dr. Lykins and printed at the Shawnee Mission. This is said to have been the first newspaper ever published exclusively in an Indian language. It was called the Shau-wau-nowe Kesauthwau, which in the Shawnee tonge is The Shawnee Sun. This was the first Kansas newspaper.

Rev. John G. Pratt was for some time in charge of the Shawnee Mission, but was later sent to the Delawares, locating in what is now Wyandotte County. In 1839 the Rev. Francis Barker was appointed to the Shawnee Mission, where he labored until 1855, when the mission was discontinued.

The Quaker Mission to the Shawnees was established in 1834. The buildings were erected on section seven (7), township twelve (12), range twenty-four (24) one-half mile east and one-fourth mile south of the present town of Merriam, in Johnson County. Rev. Joab Spencer gives this location as the northeast quarter of section six (6). Substantial buildings were erected, which are still standing and in use. The main building was 30 by 60 feet and three stories in height. It was put up in the time between 1837 and 1840. An orchard was planted, some trees of which are supposed to remain to this day. Rev. Henry Harvey, historian of the Shawnees, was in charge of this mission.

In 1854, the Shawnees ceded their Kansas River reservation to the United States. In return they were granted a diminished reserve of two hundred thousand acres of the same reservation between the State-line and a line parallel thereto thirty miles to the westward. This line fell four miles east of Lawrence. This smaller reservation included 24,138.31 acres to be allotted to the Absentee Shawnees on their return to it for their home. Many did not return. Their land was sold under acts of Congress, of April 7, 1869, and March 3, 1879. By the terms of the treaty the Shawnees were permitted to take their lands in severalty— – two hundred acres to each individual. Any band could have this proportion set off in a body for use of its members in common. Under these provisions the tribe gradually disposed of the diminished reserve. By 1870 most of the Shawnees had gone to the Indian Territory. There they merged themselves with the Cherokees. The Black-Bob band took their lands in common, as did another small band. The border troubles before and during the Civil War made it impossible for these Shawnees to remain on their land, and they went to the Indian Territory. Squatters took possession of the vacated lands. For a quarter of a century there was no settlement of the matter. Speculators and grafters flourished at the expense of the Indians. The matter was a standing scandal, settled finally by Congress and the Courts, and greatly to the disadvantage of the Black-Bob Shawnee. So it had ever been with the Indians within the bounds of the United States. ((For a full statement of the extinction of the title to the Black Bob lands see Kansas Historical Collections, Vol. VIII, pp. 93, 94, 95. Article by Anna Heloise Abel.))

The Shawnees are one of the most interesting tribes of North American Indians. Their language is perhaps the finest and most pleasing to the ear of all Indian languages. The tribe is separated into five divisions or phratries. These had certain positions in the council house, and are as follows:

1. Chilahcahtha, or Chillicothe.
2. Kispokotha, or Kispogogi.
3. Spitotha, or Mequachake.
4. Bicowetha, or Piqua.
5. Assiwikale, or Hathawekela.

There are thirteen clans or gentes in the tribe, as follows:

1. Wolf, or M’-wa-wä´.
2. Loon, or Ma-gwä´.
3. Bear, or M’-kwä´.
4. Buzzard, or We-wä´-see.
5. Panther, or M’-se´-pa.
6. Owl, or M’-ath-wa´.
7. Turkey, or Pa-la-wä´.
8. Deer, or Psake-the´.
9. Raccoon, or Sha-pä-ta´.
10. Turtle, or Na-ma-thä´.
11. Snake, or Ma-na-to´.
12. Horse, Pe-se-wä´.
13. Rabbit, or Pa-täke-e-ne-the´.

Additional Shawnee History


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