The Shawnee

The Shawnee are an Algonquian speaking tribe with ancestral homelands in the upper Ohio River valley from the 1600s. Between 1662 and 1673, the Iroquois repeatedly attacked the Shawnee, splintering their groups and driving them out of the Ohio River valley.  From 1683 to 1694, various Shawnee groups settled in far reaching areas including in Illinois, in South Carolina and Georgia along the Savannah River, in Maryland along the Susquehanna River, and in eastern Pennsylvania. By 1715, the two main groups of Shawnee were located along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania among the Delaware and Susquehannock, and along the Savannah River in South Carolina.  In the mid-1700s, Shawnee groups once again dispersed and occupied towns along the Ohio and Scioto Rivers, in northern Kentucky, and along the Cumberland River near the site of Nashville. Shawnee groups began moving west of the Mississippi in 1780.

Shawnee subsistence was a combination of hunting and agriculture with some gathering of wild plant foods.  The most important game animals were deer, buffalo, bears, mountain lions, and turkeys.  Agriculture was centered on corn. The Shawnee were strongly oriented to the fur trade centered on deerskins rather than beaver pelts in the 18th century.image001.jpg

Long hunting trips, lasting 2 to 3 months, occurred in the fall when winter camps were established in sheltered valleys.  In the spring, the Shawnee returned to their semi-permanent settlements and began preparing and planting their agricultural fields.  During the summer, women tended the fields and gathered wild plants and men fished or hunted deer.

Shawnee towns contained traditional lodges which were bark-covered longhouses similar to those used by the Iroquois, Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo. By the late 18th century, house types included one-room log huts roofed with bark and buildings constructed of boards and shingles. Each town contained a large central structure used for council meetings and ritual and secular celebrations.

Eventually the Shawnee were split into three independent tribes: the Absentee Shawnee in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the Cherokee Shawnee (now the Shawnee), and the Eastern Shawnee in Ottawa County, Oklahoma.  The Absentee Shawnee moved from Ohio during the American Revolution and settled in southeast Missouri near Cape Girardeau.  They were granted land by the Spanish administration in 1793. With the intrusion of other Shawnee groups into the area, some Absentee Shawnee moved on to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In 1854, they were formally designated the Absentee Shawnee indicating that they were not residents of the Shawnee reservation in Kansas when it was allotted.  They received official recognition as a separate tribe in 1872.  The Cherokee Shawnee are descended from the group that stayed in Ohio. In 1825, the United States established a reservation in Kansas and the Ohio Shawnee moved there between 1832 and 1835. The Ohio Shawnee formally joined the Cherokee Nation in 1869 and settled in its territory under the name Cherokee Shawnee (now the Shawnee).  In 1831, a group of Shawnee and Seneca moved to a reservation in northeast Oklahoma. In 1867, the Shawnee separated from the Seneca and took the name Eastern Shawnee.

A portion of the Shawnee tribe occupied the general area along the Cumberland River in the mid-1700s.  The Fort Campbell area is located on the uplands within 35 miles of the Cumberland River. Although Shawnee summer settlements and winter camps are likely to be located on major rivers, smaller hunting camps may occur in the upland areas.  The Fort Campbell area, including the barrens, were used as hunting grounds by the Shawnee.  The  Shawnee still maintain historical ties to the land in and around Fort Campbell.

As mandated through various laws and their implementing regulations, consultation and coordination with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, a Federally Recognized Tribe, located in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, is ongoing to consider impacts on resources and lands they once occupied.  The coordination process with Federally Recognized Tribes is considered a government-to-government consultation between the United States government and the sovereign Tribe or Nation.

For more information on the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma:

Eastern Shawnee


Callender, Charles

1978  Shawnee. In the Handbook of North American Indians: Volume 15, Northeast .edited by Bruce G. Trigger.  Pp. 622-635. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.