Member of an American Indian people who inhabited the central Ohio River Valley until dispersed by Iroquois aggression and white settlement from the 17th century, migrating extensively through most of eastern and southern USA. They share an Algonquian linguistic and cultural heritage with the Fox, Sac, and Kickapoo. The Shawnee Chief Tecumseh fought famously against US expansion in the early 19th century. There are now four Shawnee branches: the Absentee, Eastern, and Cherokee (Loyal) Shawnee, who settled in Oklahoma in the 1830s; and the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band, recognized by Ohio state in 1980. They number about 6,000 (1990), with most living in Oklahoma.
The Shawnee traditionally lived in large villages of bark-covered longhouses during the summer, and cultivated corn. Each village also had a large council house used for religious ceremonies. In winter they split into small family hunting groups. Ceremonies involved the ritual purification of warriors, and seasonal ceremonies marking the planting, ripening, and harvesting of their crops. Shawnee society was patrilineal (descent being traced through the father) and had five major autonomous divisions which were comprised of several clans. Each had a hereditary civil chief who looked after domestic affairs and a war chief who was chosen for his bravery and skill.
Many Shawnee today are farmers and raise cattle. About half have converted to Christianity while the rest follow the traditional religion; few speak the native language. Tribal affairs are handled by two organizations representing the Eastern and Absentee Shawnee. The Cherokee Shawnee are considered part of the Cherokee Nation by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, but have a separate business council. The Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band in Ohio, who claim to be descendants of Shawnee who escaped removal, are not recognized by either the federal government or the Shawnee of Oklahoma.
The Iroquois drove the Shawnee from their territory in Ohio in about 1690, scattering them into distinct groups in Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Florida. In the mid-1750s many reunited in Ohio, where, in the early 19th century, they formed a union with other tribes under the leadership of Tecumseh to prevent further cessions of land. William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory, and a militia army of over 1,000 men defeated the Shawnee at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 (fought during Tecumseh's absence). During the War of 1812, many Shawnee allied with the British against the USA but Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. Most of the Shawnee dispersed, individual groups moving to Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and as far afield as the Spanish territories of Texas and Mexico, before eventually being resettled in different parts of Oklahoma.
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