The Shawnee were and are Algonquian speakers. The name Shawnee comes from the Algonquian term "Shawun" meaning "south" or "Shawunogi" meaning "southerner." The French called the Shawnee "Chaouanons." The Iroquois, with whom the Shawnee historically maintained a hostile relationship, called them "ontwaganha," meaning "those who utter unintelligible speech." Other names: Ani-Sawanugi (Cherokee), Chaskpe(French), Satana (Iroquois), Shawala (Lakota), and Savannah or Savannuca (South Carolina colonists). The Shawnee prefer to call themselves the Shawano - sometimes given as Shawanoe or Shawanese. In fact there are some 150 different names and spellings that have been used to refer to the Shawnee.
Linguistically the Shawnee are identifiable with the group of Central Algonquian speakers including the Miami, Kickapoo, Illiniwek, and Sauk and Fox. The original home of the entire Algonquian stock lay somewhere in the eastern subartic region of Canada. The hunting and fishing practices of the Algonquian-speaking groups have led scholars to believe that the early Algonquians lived in the vicinity of Lake Winnipeg. It is thought that the Shawnee were one of the earliest groups to move south from this region. However, the precise route taken, the length of time spent in migration, and even the approximate time of departure are unknown. Thus it is difficult to separate fact from fiction when dealing with tribal legend and tradition.
The Walam Olum, the migration legend of the Delaware, gives a clue about the time of the Shawnee migration to the south: "When Little Fog was chief, many of them [Delaware] went away with the Nanticoke and Shawnee to the land in the south." The date of this occurrence is estimated at about 1240 A.D. Later, the tradition states, "When White Horn was chief, they were in the region of the Talega Mountains and there also were the Illinois, the Shawnee, and the Conoy." The very next verse mentions a landlocked lake, suggesting that the region occupied was the area from the Alleghenies or upper Ohio River to Lake Erie. The estimated time for this occupation is about 1500.
Some central Algonquians, particularly the Saux and Fox, have preserved a tradition of migrating from the Atlantic down the Saint Lawrence to the Great Lakes. So perhaps they moved east first then came back west and south. The Saux and Fox also maintain, and linguistic evidence supports this, that the Shawnee belong to the same stock as themselves.
The Kickapoo, located in the Great Lakes region, and the Shawnee also were related, and the two tribes share a legend about their separation. The split, it is said, was caused by a hunters' quarrel over the division of some roasted bear paws. The only difference as told by the two tribes is that each lays the blame for the incident on the other. Major Morrell Marston, a commander of a frontier post in the 1820's, tells of a Shawnee chief who describes the same incident except that it was the Saux and not the Kickapoo from which the Shawnee separated.
This early location in the Great Lakes region is supported by the anthropologist Erminie W. Voegelin. Basing her analysis largely upon burial practices, she concludes that before the arrival of Europeans the various Shawnee divisions were located in the northeastern part of the Great Lakes region, for their strongest cultural affiliations are with the Huron, Seneca, Winnebago, Ojibwa, Delaware, and Nanticoke. From here the Shawnee apparently continued in a southwesterly direction, for the Ohio Valley yeilds the strongest archaeological evidence of late prehistoric Shawnee occupation.
Ethnographers disagree over what areas the tribe occupied before the mid-seventeenth century,
but by the 1650's they were living in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. Quarrels with neighboring tribes caused their
dispersal, scattering the bands of Shawnee from the Gulf Coast to the Delaware valley in western New Jersey. Some went south,
occupying parts of Georgia and South Carolina, where they assisted the English in their wars against the Westos. Others fled
first to Illinois, then Pennsylvania and Maryland, settling near their "grandfathers," the Delawares. By 1725 most of the
southern bands had rejoined their kinsmen in Pennsylvania and Maryland, but pressure from the expanding white frontier and
from the Iroquois slowly pushed the Shawnees westward, where they established new villages in the Wyoming and Susquehanna
Shawnee cosmology asserted that they were a people chosen by the Master of Life or "Good Spirit" to occupy the center
of the earth (the Shawnee homeland) and to bring harmony to the universe. To assist his chosen people, the Good Spirit
provided the Shawnees with sacred bundles containing objects possessing a powerful medicine that could be used for good.
He also gave them a series of laws instructing the Shawnees how to live. If the tribe used the sacred bundles properly
and followed the precepts of Shawnee law, they would prosper and their world would be orderly.
Discipline among the Shawnee was considered one of the highest priorities. Shawnee children were taught at an early
age that good conduct would earn a reward and evil conduct would bring sorrow. Thomas Wildcat Alford
described a set of ethics that all Shawnee obeyed: "Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you
injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him, therefore add to his happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong
or hate your neighbor, for it is not him you wrong, you wrong yourself. But love him, for Moneto ("Good Spirit")
loves him also as he loves you". Shawnee people used this code mostly for their own tribe and certain closely related tribes,
but they never applied it towards the white man.
Peculiar to the Shawnee was the tradition of women chiefs. These were often close relatives
of the principle chiefs, and like them, they were separated according to peace and war functions.
Apparently they were a kind of auxillary, but they held a great deal of power
and their decisions on questions of peace and war carried equal weight with those
of the male chiefs.
Law for the Shawnee was largely a private matter. Most infractions,
from petty theft to murder, were normally handled by the accused and the
accuser or their families. Often wrong doings were atoned by feasts and
presents in proportion to the nature of the offense and the rank and sex
of the injured party.The worse infraction was considered the killing of a
woman. For this infraction, the shawnee demanded double atonement, since a
woman bore children.
Chiefs served as judges but usually only concerned themselves with offenses of a criminal nature, appointing others to take care of lesser matters. The word of the Chief was law, and any refusal to obey the Shawnee's unwritten code of honorable behavior was punishable by a severe beating or death. Anyone who refused to accept the punishment for a crime was ostracized, a punishment considered worse than death. Shawnee's had more respect for fellow tribe members than for property. For example, decietfulness or slanderous gossip among Shawnee tribe members was considered a crime, but nonpayment of debts was not. If a person did not pay his debt, the creditor was allowed to come in and take whatever property would make up the debt. Theives were given three chances to reform themselves, but if a person stole a fourth time, he was tied to a post and whipped. If the thievery continued, the thief's fate was put in the hands of those he stole from - normally the victim would ambush and shoot the thief.
Tecumseh, born in 1768 in the Ohio valley, is a good example of a war chief.
Very early he gained a reputation as a fighter and led many raids into Kentucky agsinst white settlements.
Tecumseh was also an eloquent speaker and often served as the spokesman for the Shawnee
at councils between white officals and the tribes of the Ohio Valley.
His white contemporaries, both British and American, described him in glowing terms
and since his death historians have echoed their praises. Tecumseh's attempts
to unite the western tribes seemed both persceptive and logical. He obviously
was a magnetic individual, a leader whose personal qualities attracted large numbers of followers and
enabled him to forge them into a multitribal confederacy.
"Relations With Other Indians"
"Relations With Other Indians"(Part 2)
"Prisoners and Captives"
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