- The Shawnees and Their Neighbors, 1795-1870
The Shawnees figured prominently in the history of the early republic and are most famous for the resistance they offered to white settlers in the Ohio country between 1774 and 1815. Shawnee war chiefs Cornstalk, Blue Jacket, and Tecumseh led an intergenerational pan-Indian movement that dealt the United States some of its most crushing defeats in its wars against Native Americans. Although they were small in number (a population of only about 3,000 in 1780), the Shawnees were arguably the most important challengers to U.S. power on the trans-Appalachian frontier.
But what happened after the War of 1812 broke the pan-Indian resistance they had inspired? Historians have generally turned their attention away from the Shawnees after the death of Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. No equivalent of the Cherokees' familiar "Trail of Tears" narrative exists in American historical consciousness for the Shawnees during and after the era of Indian removal. In many ways, they are the prototype of the textbook Indian: tragic figures who heroically defended their homelands before being steamrolled by the irresistible force of westward expansion.
This book reconstructs the Shawnee experience from the time of their departure from Ohio to their removal to modern Oklahoma in the 1870s. Shifting the focus away from armed resistance, Stephen Warren writes instead about divisions caused within Shawnee communities by differing strategies for dealing with new white and Indian neighbors. While elements of tragedy remain, this is a story told in more measured tones [End Page 508] about the persistence of Shawnee identity in the face of overwhelming pressures to abandon it from within and without.
The Shawnees' traditional identity was rooted in the multiethnic Indian communities of the eighteenth-century Ohio country. The Shawnee divided themselves into five distinct kinship groups based on lineage: the Kispokotha, Maykujay, Thawegila, Piqua, and Chillicothe. While the groups shared a common culture and often intermixed and cooperated with one another, each had its own hereditary chiefs and dominated its own villages, which were also populated by other Algonquian-speaking Indians such as Delawares, Miamis, and Kickapoos. Like other Ohio Indians, the Shawnees lived in a world of decentralized, autonomous villages with constantly shifting ethnic compositions. Between 1780 and 1820, about two-thirds of the Shawnee population carried this cultural and political system with them into the eastern Missouri region, where they migrated to avoid the wars and social ills then plaguing their homelands. These migrants became the Western Shawnee, a group "relatively unknown" (72) to modern historians more concerned with the militant Shawnee minority that stayed behind under the leadership of Tecumseh. Another significant group, the "Loyal Shawnee" (so called because of their peaceful stance toward the United States), also stayed in Ohio during this era, led by the accommodationist chief Black Hoof.
Voluntary migrations during the Revolutionary era did not end Shawnee factionalism. During the 1820s and 1830s, U.S. Indian agents worked with client chiefs and religious missionaries to push those Indians remaining in the Old Northwest onto reservation lands established for them across the Mississippi. Government agents disliked multiethnic Indian communities; they were too volatile and decentralized to be managed effectively from above. Efforts to create a single, geographically fixed Shawnee tribe originated with government agents who were using the reservation and annuity system to dispossess and segregate Indians from the rest of American society. Not surprisingly, hereditary chiefs such as Black Hoof resisted such efforts because they challenged traditional methods of Shawnee politics and leadership, but a powerful minority of "economically successful, mixed-blood leaders" (6) signed on, because their connections to white agents and missionaries gave them a power base in the Shawnee communities that took root in Missouri and Kansas.
Warren devotes most of the book to tracking the tensions that developed between traditionalist and acculturated Shawnees during their successive [End Page 509] migrations and removals. Those Shawnees who clung most tenaciously to traditional notions of kinship and community favored turning western reservations into...