The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma is one of three (3) federally-recognized Shawnee tribes: the Eastern Shawnee on the Oklahoma-Missouri border near Wyandotte, OK; the Absentee Shawnee near Shawnee, OK; and the Shawnee Tribe in Miami, OK. These three tribes were recognized as autonomous nations during the Indian removal era. Prior to that, most archaeologists and historians agree their original homeland was the middle Ohio Valley, between modern Louisville, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
The Shawnees once lived throughout the region east of the Mississippi River. The areas of their occupation centered around today’s states of Alabama, the Carolinas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, & the Virginias. Their historic geographical territories were mountainous regions, dense forests, and scattered prairies. Because of their geographic location and the focus of the subsistence pursuits, the Shawnee People are generally known as Eastern Woodlands Indians. Their loss of their homeland has given the Shawnee the reputation of being wanderers, but this was by necessity, not choice.
They were a highly mobile, wide-ranging, nomadic people who lived in traditional dwellings of the Shawnee called Wigiiwa. Their men were known as hunters and warriors and their women as planters and gatherers. During the summer the Shawnee gathered into villages of bark-covered long houses, with each village usually having a large council house for meetings and religious ceremonies. In the fall they separated to small hunting camps of extended families. Many important Shawnee ceremonies were tied to the agricultural cycle: the spring bread dance at planting time; the green corn dance when crops ripened; and the autumn bread dance to celebrate harvest.
Shawnee men were famous for their ferocity in battle. They fought against the British, the French, the U.S., and even against other Indian tribes. One of the greatest warriors and leaders among the Shawnee Indians was Tecumseh. Tecumseh was a celebrated Shawnee chief, born in 1768 at the Shawnee village of Piqua on Mad River. His father had died at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 and fearing the encroaching white settlers, many Shawnees, including Tecumseh’s mother, moved westward first to Indiana, then Illinois, and finally to Missouri. Tecumseh was eleven years old at the time, and was left to be raised by his older sister Tecumapease and his eldest brother Chiksika.
Chiksika trained Tecumseh to become a warrior and at the age of 14 he engaged in his first military encounter with an army led by George Rogers Clark in 1782. Tecumseh panicked and fled from the battlefield. Humiliated and disappointed in himself he was determined to never run again. He quickly grew into a brave warrior and eventually a Shawnee leader.
In 1795 most tribes living in Ohio signed the Treaty of Greeneville giving up all of their land except the northwestern corner of present-day Ohio. Not all Indians agreed with their Tribe’s actions, including Tecumseh. Tecumseh decided that the best way to stop white settlers from advancing onto their lands was to form a confederacy of Indian tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains. He believed that no single tribe owned the right to turn land over to the whites; and if the Indians united together they would have a better chance against the Americans and keeping what was rightfully theirs. Tecumseh visited many tribes west of the mountains between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico, trying to convince them to unite together. With the help of his brother, Tenskwatawa (The Prophet), and his proclamation of his visions from the Master of Life, the Shawnee Indians’ primary god, many natives agreed to join the two brothers at Prophetstown, a village the two had established in 1808. William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, learned of the growing numbers of Indians in Prophetstown. In 1811 Harrison led his army toward the village, and while he lost more men in this battle, known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, the Americans held their ground at the end of the day.
This defeat weakened Tecumseh’s efforts, but during the War of 1812 he and his remaining followers allied themselves with the British in hopes that if the British won they would return the Indians’ homeland to them. Tecumseh died in one of the most important battles of the war, the Battle of the Thames in 1813. The English-Indian force met an American army led by William Henry Harrison where the British soldiers ran from the battlefield leaving Tecumseh and his 600 warriors to continue on their own. Tecumseh’s death signified the end of united Indian resistance against the Americans.
European-American encroachment crowded Shawnee lands causing one band to migrate to Missouri – later known as the Absentee Shawnee. Around 1813 the progenitor group of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe came into being. This group was known as the Lewistown Band of Shawnee, after the Band’s leader Qua-ta-wa-pea. He was known by the Americans as Colonel Lewis. The Lewistown Band of Shawnee was granted a reserve is western Ohio in 1817. The Lewistown Reserve was shared with an independent band of Seneca Indians, who had previously split from the Six Nations of New York and Canada (Iroquois Confederation) and allied themselves with the Shawnee. Three reservations were granted to the Shawnee remaining in Ohio by the Treaty of Fort Meigs (1817): Hog Creek, Wapakoneta, and Lewistown. Divisions of Shawnee who remained in the Ohio valley region endured many battles involving the loss of lands and culture.