The Shawnee Tribe Did you know that the Shawnee Indian tribe is a fascinating tribe? I recently have learned that they are nomads. Nomads are people who travel instead of settling in one place. Southern Ohio, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania were a couple of states they once lived in. Until around 1660 Iroquois drove out the tribe to southern Carolina, Tennessee’s Cumberland basin, eastern Pennsylvania, and southern Illinois. They had tried to return, but again they were forced to leave by American settlers.
The settlers pushed them first to Missouri and then to Kansas, but the Shawnee people settled in Oklahoma after the Civil War. The Shawnee survived using various methods of hunting and gathering. Both men and women had responsibilities in providing food. They hunted many animals including deer, squirrel, turkey, raccoon, bear, muskrat, rabbit, and ducks/geese. They set traps for the animals, and they disguised themselves to blend in with their surroundings to get close enough to club or shoot them. People never wasted anything; they used all the different parts for different things.
In January and February they hunted beaver for their pelts and meat to trade with the settlers. In the summer time they, and during fall, groups of men and women would leave the village and hunt. Small temporary lodges were used. Another way to get food was to plant or gather it. They planted beans, squash, corn, pumpkins, and melons but corn was their main food. They gathered wild berries, nuts, maple, roots, and wild honey. In the springtime women planted crops and summer through fall they gathered wild plants and fruits.
Tapping maple trees for sap was another thing they did. Raiding beehives was also popular to get honey. The women were mostly responsible for planting, harvesting, and taking care of crops. Roles for people are very important because the people would know what their job was and what other’s jobs were. Men were very important because they mostly hunted, carved wood into ladles, bowls, and spoons, were in charge of politics and war, and were warriors. Women had many roles, but some were harder than others. They built homes and fires, dressed the game, cooked, lanted crops, scraped skins and tanned hides, made clothing, wove blankets, and made vessels of clay. They also served as advisors of peace and war. They managed all farming activities and ceremonies in the village. Both men and women took part in storytelling, artwork, music, and traditional medicine. Young girls learned from their mothers how to gather wild foods, plant crops, care for children and perform household duties. Boys were taught to hunt and fight from their fathers. At age nine, boys began special training and self-discipline. Parents were strict, and the children were seldom punished.
They were expected to be the judge of their own behavior. However, the parents expected high standards of behavior and responsibility. Special jobs of the Shawnee tribe included being a chief. Chiefs would handle problems and activities, good or bad and also dealt with problems that could not be resolved by individuals or families. War chiefs protected the tribe from enemy attack and decided when to go to war. They had to prove themselves in battle as leaders and warriors. Chiefs inherited their positions as peace, clan, or war chiefs. Peace chiefs could also call-off a war.
The Thawikila and Chalaakaatha divisions were in charge of governing the people and chiefs came from one of the two divisions. Membership for one of the five divisions was inherited by the father’s side. Clothing of the Shawnee was homemade and you had to make your own clothes in order to stay warm. Deerskin clothing was what most Shawnee people wore. During the winter, men and women added loose shirts and leggings and would also wrap themselves in buffalo robes or fur cloaks made of bear or moose skins. Decorations were important to the tribe. They dyed clothing, porcupine quills; and feathers and points were also used.
Men wore headdresses made of animal fur and decorated them with feathers from a bird of prey such as an eagle, hawk, or owl. Men mostly wore shirts and leggings and women wore shirts with leggings or dresses. After contact with the European traders, the Shawnee began to own glass beads which they used on their clothing. Jewelry included silver pins, necklaces, and bracelets for women. Men liked to wear silver nose rings and earrings. Dances, music, and ceremonies were all important to the Shawnee tribe. Spring held a dance named “Spring Bread Dance” in which they prayed for plentiful crops.
In the summer they held the “Green Corn Dance” in celebration for the growing of corn. Fall held the “Fall Bread Dance” where they prayed that game would be plentiful also and gave thanks for the harvest. Musical instruments included skin drums, gourd rattles, deer-hoofed rattles and sometimes reed flutes. Many different tools were used by the Shawnee and they needed them to survive. They used hammers made of stone or other hard substance, some had handles and some did not. Knives and saws were made of shells, stone, or other materials. Borers were natural tools used for making holes in soft or hard objects.
An axe was another tool made of shells, iron, or copper. The blade could easily turn at a right angle. It was held with your hands or attached in various ways to a handle by a rawhide. Some other weapons are bows and arrows, stone tomahawks, spears, and chipped flint arrow points. Homes and shelters were another item that was needed by the Shawnee. The home they lived in was called a wegiwa which were tree poles covered by bark or animal skin. The frame of the house was made of sapling tied together and covered with bark from elm or birch trees.
When bark was not available animal skin was used. There were no windows and there was only one opening in one end for a door and a hole in the middle of the roof for the smoke from the cooking fire. In a pit in the middle of the floor is where they burned the fire. Inside walls were lined with raised wooden platforms that were used as beds. Homes were sometimes furnished with shelves, benches, and tables. The Shawnee’s way of life came to an end by splitting into small bands and moving away from others. The Shawnee had many wars with American settlers over land rights.
One Native American named Tecumseh, who was an excellent communicator and military strategist, was admired greatly by the Shawnee. They followed his every command. During the Battle of Thames in 1813, Tecumseh was shot and killed. With his death the Shawnee people lost their spirit to fight. They then scattered and drifted in small bands into Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Some remained in Ohio. Between 1825 and 1900 the United States Government took more land rights away through various treaties. This led to more movement and most Shawnee became part of a non-native society.
The Shawnee tribe is so interesting and amazing. Shawnee people believe in one female God, Our Grandmother, and she created the earth and made people. When people grew old she scooped them up in nets and brought them to the sky. Also, the most sacred spirits to the Shawnee were Tobacco, Fire, Water, and Eagle. Daniel Boone was one of the most famous prisoners taken in war and was held for several months. During that time he made friends with them and participated in their games. When he went back to the settlers he realized that the Shawnee tribe was a friendly tribe.
Another interesting fact about the Shawnee is that parents would plunge their babies into snow or freezing cold water every day for several months because they wanted to make their children tougher. The Shawnee tribe was fun to study and I learned a lot about their way of life and history. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bial, Raymond. The Shawnee. Tarrytown, New York. Benchmark Books, 2004. Flanagan, Alice K. The Shawnee. Canada. Children’s Press, 1998. Mattern, Joanne. The Shawnee Indians. Manakato, Minnesota. Bridgestone Books, 2001. Yacowitz, Caryn. Shawnee Indians. Chicago, Illinois. Heinemann Library, 2003. Additional research includes many websites