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Shawnee History

The Shawnee, or Shawano, are a people native to North America. They originally inhabited the areas of Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

The prehistoric origins of the Shawnees are uncertain. The other Algonquian nations regarded the Shawnee as their southernmost branch, and other Algonquian languages have words similar to "shawano" meaning "south". However, the stem shawan does not mean "south" in Shawnee, but "moderate, warm (of weather)". In one Shawnee tale, Shawaki is the deity of the south. Some scholars have speculated that the Shawnee are descendants of the people of the prehistoric Fort Ancient culture of the Ohio country, although other scholars disagree, and no definitive proof has been established.

Sometime before 1670, a group of Shawnee had migrated to the Savannah River area. The English of Province of Carolina based in Charles Town were first contacted by these Shawnees in 1674, after which a long lasting alliance was forged. 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 others regions south and east of the Ohio Country. Historian Alan Gallay speculates that this Shawnee diaspora of the middle to late 17th century was probably driven by the Iroquois Wars that began in the 1640s. The Shawnee became known for their widespread settlements and migrations and their frequent long‑distance visits to other Indian groups. Their language became a lingua franca among numerous tribes, which along with their experience helped make them leaders in initiating and sustaining pan‑Indian resistance to European and Euro‑American expansion.

Prior to 1752, they had a headquarters at Shawnee Springs near Winchester, Virginia, where the father of the later chief Cornstalk had his court. At some point, they had settled in the Ohio country, the area that is now West Virginia, southern Ohio, and northern Kentucky. The Iroquois later claimed the Ohio Country region by right of conquest, regarding the Shawnees and Delawares who resettled there as dependent tribes. A number of Iroquois also migrated westward at this time, and became known as the Mingo. These three tribes—the Shawnee, the Delaware, and the Mingo—became closely associated in the Ohio country.

After the Battle of the Monongahela, in 1755, many Shawnees fought with the French during the early years of the French and Indian War until they signed the Treaty of Easton in 1758. When the French were defeated, in 1763, many Shawnees joined Pontiac's Rebellion against the British, which failed a year later.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763, which was issued during Pontiac's Rebellion, drew a boundary line between the British colonies in the east and the Ohio Country, which was west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, however, extended that line westwards, giving the British a claim to what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. Shawnees did not agree to this treaty: it was negotiated between British officials and the Iroquois, who claimed sovereignty over the land although Shawnees and other Native Americans hunted there.

After the Stanwix treaty, Anglo‑Americans began pouring into the Ohio River Valley. Violent incidents between settlers and Indians escalated into Dunmore's War in 1774. British diplomats managed to isolate the Shawnees during the conflict: the Iroquois and the Delawares stayed neutral, while the Shawnees faced the British colony of Virginia with only a few Mingo allies. Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, launched a two‑prong invasion into the Ohio Country. Shawnee Chief Cornstalk attacked one wing, but was defeated in the only major battle of the war, the Battle of Point Pleasant. In the Treaty of Camp Charlotte, Cornstalk and the Shawnees were compelled to recognize the Ohio River boundary established by the 1768 Stanwix treaty.

Many other Shawnee leaders refused to recognize this boundary, however, and when the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, a number of Shawnees advocated joining the war as British allies in an effort to drive the colonists back across the mountains. The Shawnees were divided: Cornstalk led those who wished to remain neutral, while war leaders such as Chief Blackfish and Blue Jacket fought as British allies.

In the Northwest Indian War between the United States and a confederation of Native American tribes, the Shawnee combined with the Miamis into a great fighting force. After the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, most of the Shawnee bands signed the Treaty of Greenville a year later, in which large parts of their homeland were turned over to the United States.

Other Shawnee groups rejected this treaty and joined their brothers and sisters in Missouri and settled near Cape Girardeau. By 1800, only the Chillicothe and Mequachake tribes remained in Ohio while the Hathawekela, Kispokotha, and Piqua had migrated to Missouri.

From 1805, a minority of Shawnees joined the pan‑tribal movement of Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, which led to Tecumseh's War and his death at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. This was the last attempt (in vain) of the Shawnee nation to defend the Ohio country from American expansion.

Several hundred Missouri Shawnee left the United States in 1815 together with some Delaware people and settled in Texas, which was at that time controlled by Spain. This tribe became known as the Absentee Shawnee; they were once again expelled in 1839 after Texas had gained its independence three years earlier. These people settled in Oklahoma, close to present‑day Shawnee and were joined, in 1845, by Shawnee from Kansas that shared their traditionalist views and beliefs.

In 1817, the Ohio Shawnee signed the Treaty of Fort Meigs, ceding their remaining lands in exchange for three reservations in Wapaughkonetta, Hog Creek (near Ada) and Lewistown (here together with the Seneca).

Missouri joined the Union in 1821 and, after the Treaty of St. Louis in 1825, the 1,400 Missouri Shawnees were forcibly relocated from Cape Girardeau to southeastern Kansas, close to the Neosho River.

During 1833, only the Black Bob's band of Shawnee resisted. They settled in northeastern Kansas near Olathe and along the Kansas (Kaw) River in Monticello near Gum Springs.

About 200 of the Ohio Shawnee followed the Prophet Tenskwatawa and joined their Kansas brothers and sisters in 1826, but the main body followed Black Hoof, who fought every effort to give up the Ohio homeland. In 1831, the Lewistown group of Seneca‑Shawnee left for the Indian territory (present‑day Oklahoma). 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.

During the American Civil War, the 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 once again dispelled and moved to Oklahoma—whereupon the Shawnee part of the former Lewistown group became known as the Eastern Shawnee and the former Missouri Shawnee became known as the Loyal Shawnee (due to their allegiance with the Union during the war). The latter group was regarded as part of the Cherokee nation by the United States because they were also known as the Cherokee Shawnee.

Today, the largest part of the Shawnee nation still resides in Oklahoma.