PART 3 "Subsistence"

There were no ceremonies regarding the hunt, but this was probably because during the hunting season the tribe or villages were split into family units too small for ceremonial activities. There was comparative leisure among the Shawnee because the simple life they lived did not demand continual effort to provide necessities. This would suggest that hunting was the dominant and preferred mode of subsistence.

Hunting and trapping were also important in supplying the Shawnee with skins and furs for trading. It is not known if hunting was a year round activity for the Shawnee before the arrival of the European fur-trader, but afterwards, except for some subsistence hunting in the summer, hunting and trapping were confined to the late fall and winter months when the pelts of the fur-bearing animals were of better quality.

During the extended hunts animals that were killed would be hung in trees until the hunter could return and take them back to the winter camp. Other hunters never molested game stored in this fashion and marked by the owner. The only worry was that buzzards and other vermin might eat it.

Buffalo, deer, and turkey were preferred food animals, but almost any kind of animal, including wildcats, would be eaten. Deerskins were also an important trade item, and when the deer began to lose their winter coats Shawnee men devoted more time to trapping raccoon, beaver, and other fur-bearing creatures.

Buffalo were a favored prey of the Shawnee. Although the herds did not compare in size to those found on the Great Plains, relatively large numbers of buffalo existed in most of the regions occupied by the Shawnee east of the Mississippi. The only exceptions were Alabama and extreme eastern Pennsylvania. Herds in the Carolinas, western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky were described as large, although not so large that Indians would waste any of the carcass. Most of the meat was eaten, the hides were made into robes, and even the bones were used as implements. Some robes were traded, but the buffalo did not exist in sufficient numbers in the East to be a major trade item. As European civilization advanced westward, the buffalo became extinct. By 1800 they were nearly extinct in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley.

Deer were an important food source and their skins a significant trade item for the Shawnee. Unlike the buffalo, the deer were not threatened immediately by the advancing civilization. In fact, the settlers' clearings and grain crops served to increase the deer population. Along the heavily peopled East Coast, herds did begin to decline before the end of the colonial period, but in the Ohio Valley deerskins remained a major trade item for the Shawnee into the nineteenth century.

Fishing was used to supplement the diet during the summer months. The importance of fishing depended on location and availability of other food sources. Four different methods were used for catching fish : angling, trapping with wicker, netting, and spearing from canoes.

Farming in the Eastern Woodlands was an arduous activity. The first job was to clear the land of trees and brush, a considerable job in this region, particularly before steel axes, spades, and hoes were available. Fire was used for clearing. The rich woodland soil proved troublesome for the women, for besides crop it also produced an abundance of weeds.

The Shawnee women planted several varities of corn, including a red corn, a dark blue corn, a soft white corn, and a hard white or "glass" corn, each of which had a special use. Kernels to be planted were coated with grease or dipped in water in which fish bones had been soaked. No attention was paid to the phase of the moon, but corn, beans, and squash were planted early in the morning. Corn was planted in hills about four feet apart, and the hills were in rows about three feet apart oriented in an east-west direction. Irrigation was not practiced, and the only fertilizer used was the ash left on the ground after clearing. Beans, gourds, pumpkins, squash and sunflowers were also included in the patch, and in more southerly areas sweet potatoes were raised. In Virginia even tobacco was noted. (it is not known whether the Shawnee ever raised tobacco in Kentucky.)

The dish takuwahnepi - literally, bread and water - was a tasty gruel made of pulverized corn from which the chaff had first been removed and then the corn boiled and mashed until it became a thick white fluid, not unlike hominy but with less substance. Then a quantity of seeping fluid was added ( the seeping fluid made by allowing the water to seep through clean wood ashes ) and stirred in and cooked awhile. To this was then added walnut-sized meat - usually buffalo, elk, or deer, but occasionally withsi, which was dog meat - and the whole concoction stewed for a considerable while, with salt and other condiments or spices added at discretion. It was a favorite hearty at-home meal for warriors who had returned from forays on which they had existed for many days on only a few handfuls of parched corn and jerky carried in a pouch.

Although the Shawnee have been classified as corn agriculturist, the crop was not a year-round staple for them. An example of the lack of dependancy on agriculture can be seen in the failure of the Kentuckians' attempt to weaken the Shawnee in Ohio by destroying their villages and cornfields.

The Quaker mission at Wapakoneta in the early nineteenth century was effective in producing changes in agriculture for some of Black Hoof's group. By 1830 the Quakers had managed to introduce new farming methods with individual farmers. Livestock was introduced, and a few of the men began to be involved in full-scale subsistence farming. This carried over to their reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma. Eventually lack of hunting grounds forced many to turn to these practices.

Although collecting wild food was not a major subsistence activity of the Shawnee, it did add variety to the diet, and it became important when crops were poor or destroyed. Herbs were collected and dried for seasoning meat. One root used during travel, resembled ginger in appearance and had a warm and pleasant taste. Other wild plants collected by the Shawnee included wild potato, wild onion, milkweed, and a number of varieties of nuts. Two other roots used were the man of the earth (perhaps ginseng), and the Jerusalem artichoke. In season, abundant use was made of wild fruits, including strawberries, dewberries, blackberries, cherries, plums and grapes. Pawpaws were abundant in some locations, as were huckleberries and even persimmons. Fruits that could be dried were highly valued, and the persimmon, when seeded and cored, was dried and made into a cake called persimmon bread. Other fruits such as plums and berries were dried and reconstituted when needed by cooking in water.

There were many salt springs or licks in Kentucky, and making salt was a major extractive industry for the Shawnee. Originally salt was made by evaporating the salt-ladden water in large clay vessels or salt pans, leaving a thin residue of salt. Later, iron kettles were used in place of the clat pans. Summer or early fall was apparently the usual time for the activity, which occupied several days. Making maple sugar was also an important yearly activity. When the sap began to flow, about February, the women collected the sap, boiled it in large kettles, and poured it into wooden dishes to cool and granulate. Although it was a women's activity, men were known to have been involved in it in later times, and captives were often employed in the work. The lack of natural resources eliminated the making of salt and sugar after the Shawnee moved to Kansas and Oklahoma.

The Shawnee prepared their food in much the same way as most other woodland tribes. Cooking was usually done out in the open. Meat was roasted, boiled, or fried in bear's grease. It was normally eaten fresh but was occasionally smoked and dried, particularly for use while traveling. Corn was prepared in a number of ways depending on variety and intended use. It was roasted for future use, and boiled with meat or other vegetables when needed. Breads could be made from the soft milky mush from fresh corn, from flour of beaten parched corn, or from a meal mixed with ashes to produce a heavy bluish colored dough. Hominy was made by boiling matured corn in a mixture of water and wood ashes, and some corn was even fermented to be made into a type of beer drunk on special occasions and offered to guest. The interesting aspect of Shawnee food preparation is that the practices described in 1934 do not differ from those mentioned in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

"Shawnee Culture"(Part 4)

"Shawnee Culture"(Part 1)

"Shawnee Culture"(part 2)



"The drum beat in your blood is the voice of your ancestors. Let the drum speak."


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