Indiana’s Timeless Tales
Pre-History to 1781
Shawnees in Indiana
Shawnees in Indiana
The Shawnee name derives from the Shawnee word “shawanwa,” which means “southerner” in the native language. The tribe speaks a form of Algonquian, which makes the tribe akin to the Delaware, Illiniwek, Kickapoo, Menominee, Miami, and Sauk and Fox tribes. Range
The Shawnee were a semi-nomadic tribe and lived in villages scattered over a large area in the Ohio River Valley, Pennsylvania and originally in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Conflict with the Iroquois tribes in the Ohio River Valley drove them off for a number of years. The Iroquois did not live in the Ohio River Valley; however, they wanted the region because it was a prime hunting area. The Iroquois wanted the abundant fur supply to trade with the Europeans. The Iroquois’ power began declining, and the Shawnee were able to migrate back into the Ohio River Valley, Kentucky and central Ohio. During the middle years of the 1700’s, they had settled into three main areas in Indiana, the southwestern, southeastern and the northeast region around Fort Wayne. Some bands also moved into the White and Mississinewa rivers region.
Both men and women wore leggings. Men wore breechclouts while women wore skirts over the leggings. Neither sex wore shirts, but wore ponchos in cold weather. Some of the men wore a beaded headband with one or two feathers stuck in the back. They did not wear headdresses. Warriors would sometimes shave their heads.
The Shawnee men did the hunting. They also were the warriors that fought both white encroachment and other tribes to protect their hunting lands, or gain lands from other tribes. The women took care of the children, did the cooking and tended the crops. Both sexes engaged in storytelling, an important part of their culture. During the summer, the tribes lived in larger villages to plant and tend their garden crops. In winter, these villages would split up into smaller groups to live in hunting camps. The Shawnee constructed dugout canoes to travel over water and used dogs to transport goods overland. Prior to the European arrival, the natives did not have horses.
The Shawnee lived in a bark-covered structure called a wikkum, or wigwam. These structures were easy to build, but are not portable. Most families would build a new one each season when they moved into their seasonal winter camps or summer villages. The structure consisted of wooden poles covered with bark or grass. They used rope or strips of bark to hold the covering in place. These wigwams were usually eight to ten feet tall and could be cone shaped, round or rectangular. A village typically had a larger council house.
Maize was the most important crop, and most tribes grew some. If they did not grow it, they traded for it. They also grew beans, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers and probably potatoes. They also gathered honey, nuts, berries and other fruits. Tribes tried to grow enough food to dry for storage over the winter.
The Shawnee diet was largely meat based. The men hunted the forests for deer and wild turkeys with bow and arrow. They also fished in the streams and sometimes used traps and snares to catch smaller game like rabbit and squirrel.
Most of the meals were simple to prepare. They would eat corn on the cob when fresh maize was available. They also popped the corn and ground it into meal to make into cornbread or hominy. They used clay ovens to bake the cornbread. They roasted meat over the fire or on heated stones. Usually they had water with their meals.
Each village had its own chief. The village chief could be a man or a woman. They chose their war chief based on his bravery and skill in battle. The war chief was always a male. A principal chief held sway over several villages and was always a male. Chiefs had considerable power, but held it only as long as they had the support of their people. If they grew unpopular, the people could replace them.
To contact the Shawnee tribe, visit this link:
The Shawnee Tribe
P.O. Box 189
29 S Hwy 69A
Miami OK 74355