Tuesday, May 27, 2014

To Be #Shawnee: Band of Brothers: The #Kickapoo #NativeAmerican #history

The Shawnee and the Kickapoo

 Welcome back to my series on Shawnee culture and history. Last week we talked about the relationship between the Delaware and the Shawnee. 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.
Kickapoo women in Texas 1900

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.

Kickapoo Chief Babe Shkit ca. 1894 - ca. 1907
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.

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