In 1769, the Shawnee captured an exploring party led by Daniel Boone. They made the whites take them to all their camps, where they destroyed or confiscated all the whites' property. The Shawnee then released the party unharmed, kindly supplying each member with a pair of moccasins, a gun, and a doeskin for patch leather, so that they would survive their trip home. The frontiersmen, however, were not impressed by the treatment they received; on the contrary, they were incensed at being kicked off land to which they believed the Shawnees had no valid claim.

The Shawnees were taking a good many white prisoners at this time, and despite their reputation for savagery, their treatment of prisoners varied a great deal depending on the captive's age and gender and the circumstances under which they were taken. Most commonly, prisoners of the Shawnee were either adopted by families that had lost a member or made to run a torture guantlet or, sometimes, both. On June 5, 1771, 17-year-old Marmaduke Van Swearingen was taken (apparently not entirely unwillingly) near his family's estate in western Virginia by Puckinwah and his warriors. He was brought back to a Shawnee village and forced to run between two facing parallel lines of stick-and-club-weilding Shawnees, who beat him with their weapons the entire way. Van Swearingen ran the gauntlet with impressive fortitude and courage, but he was knocked unconscious in the process and took two weeks to recover. (The gauntlet could be quite brutal, but it was sometimes gentle and more like a form of hazing - one adoptive Shawnee recalled whacking a prisoner with a piece of pumpkin, to the great approbation of the rest of the tribe. Ordinarily nonwarriors - women, the elderly, and especially children - were beaten very lightly.)

When Van Swearingen revived, he learned that Pucksinwah planned to adopt him. This necessitated an adoption ritual, where he was stripped, and his entire body painted various colors. Pucksinwah recited an ancient Shawnee adoption chant over him, after which Van Swearingen was led to the waters of the Scioto River by women who dunked him and scrubbed all the paint off him (and, they claimed, all the white out of him). He was led back to the msikamelwi and dressed in a blouse and buckskin leggings. His face was carefully painted, and a metal disk with an eagle feather attached to it was put in his hair. The villagers filed in, and taking seats on the mats on the floor, lit and smoked pipes. Pucksinwah said words over his new son and gave him his new name - Wehyahpiherhrsehnwah, or "Blue Jacket". after the blue hunting jacket he was wearing on the day he was captured.

Blue Jacket

From that moment on, Blue Jacket was considered a Shawnee and considered himself one as well, taking to his new life and family immediately. Under Pucksinwah's tutelage, he quickly learned the language and became a popular member of the tribe. He never left his adopted family, eventually becoming a chief of the Mekoche division. Although most adoptees of the Shawnee did not reach Blue Jacket's leadership position, many of them remained with the Shawnee even when given the opportunity to return to their respective families. Indeed, when in 1764 the British had demanded that the Shawnee return all their captives to their families, a number of prisoners hid from their would-be liberators, and others, escaped and rejoined the Shawnee.

Although those fortunate enough to be adopted were treated well, other captives, especially enemy warriors, were put to slow and horrible deaths. The captives would usually be shaved and painted, then tied loosely to a post near slow-burning firewood where they were slashed, stoned, and dismembered both before and after the flames were lighted. The entire community would be involved during these ritual tortures, and women often took the lead as a way of releasing their anger and grief over men or children they had lost. Although the ordeals were gruesome, they not only satisfied the desire for revenge but were seen by the Shawnee as an important aspect of their traditional heroic codes. According to these codes, if a man went through torture bravely, his performance would be greatly rewarded in the next life. During the wars with the whites, however, the cruel rituals served more to entertain than develop heroism, and many captured nonwarriors suffered horrible deaths. Yet the Shawnee were not unanimous in their support of torture, and there are many stories both male and female leaders (most famously Tecumseh) who felt pity for the victims and would stop the torture or end the victims' lives quickly.

Alexander McIntyre was taken captive and tortured in April 1792. Tecumseh and Sinnanatha had been rounding up horses. Tecumseh arriving in the camp after the ordeal was done looked at his men, his expression was one of great rage. When he spoke his voice was low, almost a hiss, trembling with the anger that filled it.
"Cowards! Rabbits! You are not Shawnees. No! You are not even men. You are worse than carrion birds. You disgust me with your cruelty. Are your hearts so weak? Is there no room in them for pity? Are you so afraid of your enemy that you must kill and mutilate him when he is tied and helpless in your grasp? Is this what our chiefs have taught you of courage? To destroy the weak or those unable to defend themselves? This is not courage. No! This is cowardice of the worst kind. I am ashamed for you. I am ashamed of you. And I am most of all ashamed that you are of my people!"
We will go home now, where you will be safe from enemies, whether they are bound or not. All of you but Sinnanatha will ride behind me at all times that I will not have to look upon you. It will be our last ride together. I will not bear the company of cowards."
(Sinnanatha - Stephen Ruddell - was very reluctant in later years, after returning to the whites, to speak about the forays he went on against the whites in company with Tecumseh, fearing he would be branded a renegade. In this case, however, the whites were the intial attackers and Sinnanatha felt compelled to speak on Tecumseh's behalf)

So when Daniel Boone was taken prisoner again in 1778 by none other than Blue Jacket, he was extremely fortunate in becoming the Shawnee's most famous adoptee. He was adopted by Cornstalk's successor as primary chief, Chiungalla, or "Black Fish", and stayed with the tribe for three months, but his sympathies always remained with the whites. When Boone discovered that the Shawnees were planning to attack Boonesboro, a station in Kentucky that had been founded by and named after him, he escaped in time to warn the inhabitants and help them defend the fort.

"Daniel Boone"

"Shawnee History"(Part 1)["Shawnee History"(Part 2)

"Nowhere Left to Go" [ "Relations With Other Indians"(part 1)["Relations With Other Indians"(Part2)

"Shawnee's Reservation"


1997 shawnee_1@yahoo.com

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