Thursday, June 14, 2012

Shawnee Allies: A Bond Between Brothers

Up Close and Personal with the Shawnee
Part Three: A Bond Between Brothers

Before the white man ever set foot on North America the native inhabitants already had a complex system of trade, government and intertribal relations. The Shawnee were not any different. As we learned last week, the Shawnee believed the red man had been spared in Noah's Flood by the Great Spirit (Moneto). All red men were descended by one woman and made the great tribe. This belief influenced the Shawnee and their relations with the other tribes.

The Shawnee and Delaware (Lenni Lenape)
Called the grandfathers by the Shawnee people, the Delaware (known as the Lenni Lenape) shared a close bond with the Shawnee. The Shawnee showed this group of people the utmost respect because they believed the Delaware had been the first tribe to be created after the flood.

"Curiously enough, Our Grandmother did not create the Shawnee first, but they began with the Delaware. When she completed a Delaware man and woman, she put them on the east side of a fire which she had kindled. Then she created one Shawnee division, in the form of an old man and an old woman. After this she created a young man and young woman who were expected to have children who would constitute three of the Shawnee divisions. Here, apparently her interest in creating people ceased..... (Told by Mary Williams, an absentee Shawnee in the book Shawnee by James H. Howard)
Like the tale of the "Roasted Bear Feet" between the Kickapoo and the Shawnee, there is a story that was once told by the Shawnee and Delaware in Pennsylvania of how the Shawnee and Delaware were once one people. The story was lost to both tribes but had been recorded by a white person in the time it was told to him by the tribes. The story is known as "The Grasshopper War."  The story is still told today at Native American PowWows. It goes like this:

Deep in the Pennsylvania wilderness, before any white man ever set foot on the land, were two villages. The inhabitants of each village liked to visit one another. The men would hunt together and the woman would share their work. Each village enjoyed the company of the other. One day while a boy was visiting he found a grasshopper near a river. He played with his little friend until a group of children came upon them. He showed the grasshopper to his friends and they were all happy playing with the insect together. But one of the boys wasn't happy with the visiting boy's discovery. He thought to himself, "Shouldn't the grasshopper be mine instead of his. This is my village after all." So the upset boy snatched the grasshopper from the visiting boy and ran away with the insect. The children and the boy gave chase. They soon caught up to the thief and the children began to fight, each siding with the boy of their own village. Now the women heard the fight and came out to see what the argument was about. Seeing the blood and bruises of their children they joined in the fight to defend their child and village. The screams grew in the air. Later that day, the men had returned from hunting when they found the females of their family and their children huddled on the ground injured and bloody. The chiefs of both villages wanted vengeance. They declared war upon each other and the men joined their wives and children in battle. After the battle was over, everyone was repulsed by what they had done. A simple argument between boys had led to a battle between friends. Quilt filled their hearts. They decided in order to keep the peace it was best if the two villages went their separate ways. Thus began the Shawnee and Delaware.

The Delaware originally lived along the Northeast Coast of the Atlantic between the Hudson and Delaware rivers. They were one of the first tribes to come into contact with the white man in the early 1600's.

 A loose confederacy of clans, the largest villages at the time of contact had a population of two to three hundred people. Most of the villages, though, only consisted of 25-30 people. Like Shawnee divisions, the Delaware had three major groups. These were" Unalachtigo(Turkey)
Unami(Turtle) and Munsee (Wolf). Each group spoke their own dialect.
Like the Shawnee, the Delaware also has a clan system. Unlike the Shawnee, the Delaware were matriarchal. A child would inherit their clan identity from their mother. Hereditary leadership passed down from mother to child. If the women elders did not approve of any leader they could remove that leader from their office. Agricultural lands were controlled by the women but the Delaware did not recognize ownership of the the land. Land was collectively owned by whichever clan occupied that area. Unlike the Shawnee, the Delaware did not travel with the season from village to village.
Whenever a young woman married the couple would reside with her family so her mother and sisters could help with the family. After she gave birth, the most important person in a child's life was his or her mother's eldest brother. The mother's brother would become the child's mentor and would be from a different clan.

The Shawnee and Delware enjoyed a friendship from long ago. While the Shawnee were in Pennsylvania, they were closley associated with one another. Like the Shawnee, the Delaware were affected by the outbreak of Smallpox during the 17th century. After the Shawnee left Pennsylvania for Ohio, the Delaware stayed behind briefly. Conflicts with the Europeans and the Iroquois contributed to the Delaware abandoing their homelands. In 1766, through a peace treaty with the British, the Delaware moved west across the Allegheny Mountains into Ohio using Shawnee trails. This pattern would continue until the Delaware were removed by the United States to Oklahoma in the 1860's. The Shawnee would always move first, establish the trails then the Delaware would follow.

The two tribes often joined forces to fight a common enemy together. In 1776, the combined forces of Shawnee and Delaware forced the Cherokee to move deeper into the south. The Shawnee and Delaware fought together in the French and Indian War but not the American Revolutionary War. While the Shawnee were helping the British fight against the newly formed American army, the Delaware were one of the first tribes to sign a peace treaty with the leaders of the future United States. In the treaty, the Delaware promised they would aide the patriots by providing food and supplies. The future United States agreed to grant them a place of importance at the head of the new country in return. Although they fought on opposing sides, the Shawnee and Delaware never lost the close relationship. Even today, the Shawnee honor the Delaware.
The Shawnee and the Kickapoo

 Although the Delaware and Shawnee people shared a closed relationship, it is with the Kickapoo they resemble more closely in culture and language. Both the Kickapoo and Shawnee people assert that they are related. This comes from a shared myth describing how the Kickapoo and Shawnee had split from a larger tribe. The story is known as "Roasted Bear Feet".

The Shawnee used to be a part of the Kickapoo Nation. One day ten hunters went bear hunting together. They had killed the bear, taken it back to their camp and decided to celebrate their victory by roasting and eating the bear's feet. So the men placed the feet to roast. As the feet were roasting all the men fell asleep. Later three of the men awoke very hungry. They decided, instead of waking their comrades up, they would eat some of the meat. After they ate some of the meat, their friends awoke from their sleep only to find the hind legs had remained. The seven hunters were very upset. They drove the three hunters who had eaten the meat away telling them to get their families and leave them forever. The three hunters and their families became the Kickapoo.

When most people hear the tribe Kickapoo they often think of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Northern Mexico. The Kickapoo are not native to those lands but moved to those areas during the mid - nineteenth century. The descendants of the Kickapoo are scattered throughout regions I mentioned above. Their ancestors were members of a larger tribe that once inhabited the Great Lakes region. The French first encounter the Kickapoo in the early 1640's between Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. There is strong archaeological evidence to support that the Shawnee occupied the same area as the Kickapoo, Delaware and other groups along the Great Lakes region during the first French contact. When the Kickapoo had encountered the French, like the Shawnee, they were very independent and self-sufficient. At the time of contact the Kickapoo were members of a confederacy of tribes known as the Wabash Confederacy. Like the Shawnee's conservatism that sets them apart from other tribes the Kickapoo also had an attitude that set them apart. They were self-reliant. It is a characteristic that continues even to this day. And like the Shawnee, they established trade relations with the French. The Shawnee did not remain by the Great Lakes for long and moved southward.
The Kickapoo lived a transitory lifestyle that mirrored the lifestyle of the Shawnee. Both groups would move from village to village according to the seasons. The lifestyle suited the Kickapoo well.
By the 1660's the Beaver War with the Iroquois had driven the Kickapoo away from their ancestral homelands into Wisconsin. In Wisconsin they formed a loosely based alliance with other displaced Algonquians. Some of these may have been Shawnee. The Kickapoo had always enjoyed a close alliance with the Shawnee. The Kickapoo participated with the Shawnee and other Algonquian groups in Pontiac's Rebellion. They played a large role in aiding Tecumseh during the War of 1812. Their participation in these efforts not only affected their relationship with the white man but also splintered their own tribe. By the mid-19th century there were three distinct groups of Kickapoo, each living in different areas. These were the Oklahoma Kickapoo, Mexican or Texas Kickapoo and the Kansas Kickapoo.
Not much is known about the Kickapoo. The Shawnee have always kept a close alliance with the tribe. In 1900, when the Shawnee chief Big Jim had led some of the Absentee warriors to scout for land in Mexico they had encounter an epidemic of smallpox. The Mexican Kickapoos offered to aid the Shawnee but Chief Big Jim decided he would return with his men to Oklahoma. After he left the Mexican authorities quarantined the Shawnee party. Big Jim and all but two of his men died from the disease in September of 1900.
One of the cultural aspects that the Shawnee share with the Kickapoo is a society known as "Miseekwaaweekwaakee." Unlike most Algonquin groups the Shawnee did not employ societies (secret men's clubs) into their organization. But there is one society that did exist. The Man Eaters. The Man Eaters were also found in the Kickapoo culture. The Man Eaters were a military society yet unlike any other military society membership was inherited and the group was led by four women. The Man Eaters would get rid of the body of a male captive by eating it.

Next week we will explore the Shawnee's enemies - The Cherokee, Iroquois and the Sioux

Question: What is your favorite state in the United States and why? 


  1. Very interesting. I love these stories. I will give you two small notes though. (Hope you don't mind.)
    The "Munsee" is actually the "Minsi."
    Also, the Lenni Lenape were not called the Delaware until after the palefaces came. Delaware was a white man- Sir Thomas West (Lord de la Warr).

    1. Thank you for the advice, J. Lenni. I used the term Delaware because most people don't know the term Lenni Lenape. I would have rather have called them by their own tribal name. I think we should honor the tribes in language, culture and all ways. The stories and languages are so important to preserve. It would be a shame for them to die out with the elders.