Today, the Shawnee are comprised of three federally recognized American Indian tribes—the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, located near Shawnee, Oklahoma; Eastern Shawnee Tribe, located near Wyandotte, Oklahoma; and the Shawnee Tribe, located in Miami, Oklahoma. <p>Throughout their history, the Ohio River Valley was the Shawnee’s homeland where rich woods and prairies provided ideal hunting grounds and locations for villages. Some scholars believe the Shawnee to be descendants of the ancient Fort Ancient people, a cultural group living in southwest Ohio during the Late Prehistoric Period (ca. 900-1600 CE). Although the heartland of the Shawnee people appears to have been present-day southern Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, groups of Shawnee were spread across the eastern United States, living in Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia. The Shawnee language belongs to the Algonquian language family, along with other Ohio tribes like the Lenape (Delaware), Myaamia (Miami), and Ojibwe. The Shawnee were a nomadic people, following animal populations throughout the winter months and establishing more permanent villages in the summers, where women gathered and tended to crops, while men hunted and served as warriors. Villages consisted of Wigiiwa, or wigwams, wooden lodges constructed of bundles of saplings covered with tree bark.
When Europeans came to the Ohio Country in the mid-1600s, the Shawnee’s way of life was disrupted by encroaching settlers, and they were often forced to leave their lands in search of unoccupied territory. Shawnee warriors fought in land skirmishes, particularly with the Kentucky militia, who destroyed their villages and crops. Shawnee warriors also sent out raiding parties to destroy colonial settlements, hoping to drive settlers off their land.
Once the fur trade was well under way, American Indian groups competed against one another for hunting grounds in order to secure enough furs to develop strong relationships with French and British fur traders, the Shawnee being no exception. Starting in 1640, the Iroquois Confederacy, a confederation of five Iroquoian-speaking American Indian tribes, began a campaign referred to as the Beaver Wars during which they fought other American Indian groups, including those in the Ohio Country, in order to gain new access to fur-bearing game animals, especially beaver and deer. By the end of the 17th century, the Iroquois, who primarily traded with the British, drove the Shawnee, and other tribes with strong ties to French traders, out of the Ohio River Valley, who then settled in Georgia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
The Shawnee, and other tribes with claims to Ohio lands, could return in 1701 when the Treaty of Grande Paix ended the Iroquois’ campaign in the Ohio Country, but American Indians continued to struggle with other tribes against the colonies over land disputes. Throughout the 18th century, the Shawnee joined various American Indian alliances in attempts to defend their territories in Ohio and Kentucky. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Shawnee supported the French, but the overwhelming British victory resulted in a loosely united American Indian rebellion, led by Pontiac, Chief of the Ottawa Tribe, which initiated a series of attacks referred to as Pontiac’s War or Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1764). Iroquois leaders relinquished American Indian rights to land south of the Ohio River by signing the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768) without consulting other tribes living in the Ohio Country, and settlers immediately moved into the area. The Shawnee and other tribes tried to push British colonists west of the Appalachian Mountains, which led to a group of British colonists killing eleven Seneca-Cayuga. Hokolesqua of the Shawnee, called Chief Cornstalk by the settlers, encouraged conciliation rather than retribution, but a later Seneca-Cayuga attack resulted in British retaliation and the destruction of several Shawnee villages in the Ohio Country. To avoid further bloodshed, some Shawnee agreed to the British’s terms and some also agreed to the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784), which ceded their rights to land east and south of the Ohio River. This was the first time American Indians who lived in Ohio agreed to relinquish some of their land.
The Shawnee continued to fight for their land by combating encroaching settlers, and joined an American Indian Alliance led by Little Turtle, Chief of the Myaamia Tribe, along with the help of Blue Jacket of the Shawnee, as well as warriors from the Lenape, Wyandotte, Ottawa, and Ojibwa tribes. Although the alliance aimed to thwart settlers’ attempts to take native lands by force, the Alliance was in no way a united body. Members of the Alliance struggled to abandon long-lasting conflict between tribes, which in some ways prevented the Alliance from campaigning as a seamless military and political entity. At the Battle of the Wabash (1792), however, the Alliance forces launched an exceptionally well-coordinated attack on the U.S. Army led by General Arthur St. Clair and thoroughly routed the much larger force.
More commonly, individual tribes had their own respective interests to gain or lose in their relations with the Americans, which often interfered with the action that would best support the Alliance’s goals. The complexity of the relations within the Alliance further exemplifies the unique ideologies and priorities of each tribe and their respective culture.
Fighting culminated in 1794 when the Alliance was defeated by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, resulting in, after months of negotiation, representatives from the Shawnee and ten other tribes signing the Treaty of Greenville. Championed as a treaty of friendship between Anglo-American settlers and American Indian tribes, the treaty forced tribal leaders to relinquish much of their land to Anglo-Americans. However, the treaty did not subdue tension between American Indians and settlers, and tribal leaders continued to fight to regain their lost land. Bloodshed dominated the region for the next twenty years as settlers and American Indians struggled for control. In the early 19th century, thousands of American Indian peoples from the Ohio Country and the Great Lakes region joined Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa at Prophetstown, Indiana, where they were building a new Indian Alliance as a united force to stop the sale of Indian land.
Tecumseh attempted to unite American Indian peoples with ties to Ohio Territory lands in resistance to Anglo-American settler encroachment. Due to the advanced technology of the whites, and the American Indians’ failure to put aside their traditional differences, General William Henry Harrison defeated the Shawnees and their allies at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Tecumseh’s death at the Battle of Thames in 1813 marked the end of any united American Indian front. The Treaty of Ft. Meigs (1817) effectively ceded all Shawnee lands to the federal government, and placed the Shawnee on three reservations in present-day Ohio: Hog Creek, Lewistown, and near Wapakaneta (Wapaughkoneta). These reservations were shared with their Seneca neighbors.
On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act which forced American Indian tribes to migrate west of the Mississippi River so that the United States could utilize the land occupied by reservations. In that same year, the Shawnee living on the Wapakoneta and Hog Creek reservations were forcibly moved to Kansas, and in 1845 a group of these Shawnee migrated to Oklahoma, and are now the Absentee Shawnee Tribe. The remaining Shawnee in Kansas were forced to leave Kansas in 1869, forced to live on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma, and required to become citizens of the Cherokee Nation, commonly referred to as the Loyal Shawnee or Cherokee Shawnee. However, they maintained their independent identities and cultures, and in 2000, efforts that began in the 1980s finally gave way to the Loyal Shawnee becoming a sovereign nation, and today are called the Shawnee Tribe. In 1831, the Lewistown Shawnee moved directly to Oklahoma and became the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
- Delaware Indians
- Anthony Wayne
- American Revolution
- Battle of Fallen Timbers
- Battle of Tippecanoe
- Algonquian Indians
- Iroquois Indians
- Miami Indians
- Ottawa Indians
- Wyandot Indians
- Indiana Territory
- Ohio Country
- French and Indian War
- Treaty of Greenville (1795)
- Tecumseh's Confederation
- William H. Harrison
- Clark, Jerry E. The Shawnee. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.
- Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. “A Search for History; About the Eastern Shawnee Tribe.” Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Accessed April 24, 2019. https://history.estoo-nsn.gov/.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- O’Donell, James H., III. Ohio’s First Peoples. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2004.
- Shawnee Tribe. “History.” Shawnee Tribe. Accessed April 24, 2019. http://www.shawnee-tribe.com/History.html.
- Waller, George M. The American Revolution in the West. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Inc., 1976.