Clark County, Ohio

History and Genealogy



The Shawnee Indians


From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 223


The following paper, prepared by Mr. C. C. Royce, attache of the Interior Department at Washington, D.C., which preparation was by request of Gen Keifer, gives in complete form, but condensed, a history of the Shawnees, from the earliest days of the country to the present, taken from ancient records preserved at Washington. It formed a portion of hte papers introduced at the celebration and can be read at leisure with interest and profit:

Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology,
Washington, D.C., August 4, 1880

Hon. J. Warren Keifer, Springfield, Ohio:
     My dear General: Our conversation of Friday last has troubled me a little. Your suggestion that I prepare an article on the history of the Shawnee tribe of Indians to be read at the approaching centennial anniversary of the victory of Gen. George Rogers Clark over that unfortunate people, was one in which it would under favorable circumstances have been especially gratifying to me to comply. There are two reasons, however, why it would be next to impossible for me now to give such a full and satisfactory account of the Shawnees as would stand the test of reasonable criticism:

First — The time between now and the occurrence of the anniversary is too brief, and, second — My investigations of the subject-matter of such an article are as yet by no means complete.

In spite of these serious drawback, however, I am willing to give a brief outline of my investigations and deductions, with the full understanding that it is to be considered as merely tentative and subject to such corrections — either of a minor or radical character — as the results of more elaborate inquiries may seem to justify.

The Shawnees were the Bedouins, and I may almost say the Ishmaelites of the North American tribes. As wanderers tehy were without rivals among their race, and as fomentors of discord and war between themselves and their neighbors their genius was marked. Their original home is not, with any great measure of certainty, known. It is altogether improbable that it ever will be. Many theories on the subject have been already advanced, each with a greater or less degree of plausibility. More doubtless will, from time to time, be offered, but after all, the general public will be restricted to a choice of probabilities and each must accept for himself that which to his mind shall seem most satisfactory and convincing.

First — in the year 1608, Capt. John Smith, of the Jamestown colony, in Virginia, proceeded upon an exploring expedition up the Chesapeake Bay. In the course of this expedition, he encountered and held communication with numerous nations or tribes of Indians then occupying the shores of the bay and its immediate vicinity. All these Indians lived in continual dread of a tribe known to them by the name of "Massawomekes." In the language of Smith: "Beyond the mountains whence is the head of the river Patawomeke (Potomac) the savages report, inhabit their most mortal enemies, the Massawomekes, upon a great salt water, which by all likelihood is either some part of Canada; some great lake or some inlet of some sea that falleth into the South Sea. These Massawamekes are a great nation and very populous." Smith further relates that the other tribes, especially teh Pottawomekes, the Patuxents, the Sasquesahannocks and the Tockwoughes, were continually tormented by them, complained bitterly of their cruelty and were very importunate with him that he should free them from their assaults. This Smith determined to do, and, had not his project been vetoed by the Colonial Council, the history and identity of this people would not now, in all likelihood, be enshrouded in such a mantle of doubt.

He did, in fact, encounter seven canoes full of them at the head of Chesapeake Bay, with whom he had a conference by signs, and remarks that their implements of war and other utensils showed them to be greatly superior to the Virginia Indians, as also their dexterity in their small boats made of the bark of trees, sewed with bark and well "luted" with gum, gave evidence that they lived upon some great water. When they departed for their homes, the Massawomekes went by the way of what Smith denominates Willoughby's River, and which his map and description show to be the modern "Bush River," which is on the west side of the bay and trends in a northwest direction.

The map accompanying the London edition of 1629, of Smith's Travels, located the Massawomekes on the south shore of a supposed large body of water in a northwest direction, and distant from the head-waters of the Patawomeke (Potomac) River some twenty-five leagues. This, making reasonable allowances for the discrepancies in topography, places them without doubt along the south shore of Lake Erie, with an eastern limit not remote from the present city of Erie, Penn., and extending thence westward.

I am aware that at least two eminent authorities (Gallatin and Bancroft), whom it would almost seem the height of presumption for me to dispute, have assumed that the Massawomekes and the five nations were identical. The more closely I have examined the evidence, the more thoroughly am I convinced of their error in this assumption.

At that date the most westerly of the five nations — the Seneca — was not in possession of hte country west of the Genesee River. Extending from that neighborhood westward to and beyond the Niagra River and along the south-east shore of Lake Erie, the country was occupied by a numerous nation known to history as the Attiwandaronk or Neutral Nation, whose power was broken and the tribes destroyed or dispersed by the Five Nations, but not until 1651, more than forty years subsequent to Smith's observations. To reach the country of the Five Naitons from Chesapeake Bay, an almost due north course, or that of the Susquehanna River, would have been the natural and most convenient route to pursue. A route leading beyond the mountains, in which the Potomac River had its sources, would have been neither a natural nor convenient one for reaching the shores of Lake Ontario and vicinity, then the country of the Five Nations.

It is highly improbable that war parties of this great Iroquois confederacy should have followed such a route in the face of the fact that the only tribes living along the line of the more direct route held them in great fear, and would gladly have allowed them to pass without molestation.

I assume, then, that the villages of the Massawomekes occupied the south and southwest shore of Laek Erie, and that they controlled the intermediate country to the Alleghany Mountains as a hunting range, frequently extending their war and predatory excursions to the territory of tribes east of the mountains and along the upper portions of Chesapeake Bay. Second — from the accounts of early French travelers and the relations of the Jesuit missionaries, we are advised for the existence during the first half of the seventeenth century of a nation of Indians who were called bythe Hurons, "Eries," by the Five Nations, "Rique," and by the French, the "Chat, or Cat Nation." According to Sagard's History of Canada, published in 1636, the naem of Chat, or Cat, is thus accounted for: "There is in this vast region a country which we call the Cat Nation, by reason of their cats, a sort of small wolf or leopard found there, from the skins of which the natives make robes, bordered and ornamented with tails."

This nation occupied a tract of country on the south shore of Lake Erie, identical with that to which I have assigned the Massawomekes of Smith. They were visited as early as 1626, according to the Jesuit relations, by two missionaries, Lagard and d'Allyon, who made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a mission among them; nor did the Jesuits, with the constant zeal and persistence so characteristic of them, ever succeed in obtaining a foothold with the tribe.

At this time and for many years thereafter, they are spoken of as very numerous and powerful. A war having broken out between them and the Five Nations, the Eries were utterly overthrown and dispersed about the year 1655. From this date we find no mention of their existence as a nation.

Schoolcraft, in his bulky and ill-assorted work on the "History, Conditon and Prospects of the Indian Tribes," adopts the theory that the Eries and Neuters were one and the same people. That he is certainly mistaken, I hardly think there is room for reasonable doubt. The evidence of his error is abundant in the Jesuit relations, but I have only space to cite the testimony of Father Breboeuf, who visited the Neutral Nation in 1640, and remarked that onoy four towns of the latter nation lay east of the Niagra River, ranging from east to west, toward the Erielhonous or Chats. Also in speaking of Niagra River he says: "It falls first into Lake Erie or of the Cat tribe, and then it enters the Neutral grounds." Bressani, who spent some years in the country, also in his Breve Relatione, as is remarked by Shea, places the Neuters north of Lake Erie, and the Eries, south.

Third — Cadwallader Colden published his History of theFive Naitons in London in 1747. He begins with the traditional period of their history. Tradition, with Indians as with white people, is often utterly unreliable and not unfrequently totally incredible. The traditions of the events immediately preceding European settlement, from the recentness of their occurence and their consequent freshness in the Indian mind, notwithstanding the average tendency to exaggeration and boastfulness, may, however, be esteemed as not wholly unworthy of confidence in the general facts related, regardless of their highly colored details. These traditions all concur in the assertion that the Five Nations, a short time previous to the period of French settlement in Candad, lived near the present site of Montrea; that, as a result of a war with the Adirondacks, they were forced to leave their own country and fly to the banks of hte lakes on which they subsequently lived, where the war was at intervals renewed and was still in progress at the time of the French occupation of Canada. Here they applied themselves to increasing their proficiency in the use of arms, and in order to raise the spirits of their peole to the sachems, "turned them against the Satanas, a less warlike nation who then lived on the banks of the lakes, and who, in the course of a few years, were subdued and driven out of their country."

Colden doubtless borrows this relation from the account of Bacqueville de la Potherie, who was in Canada for several years anterior to 1700, and whose history of America was published about 1720. Charlevoix also has a similar relation. Both these authors, doubtless, as Judge Force has remarked, borrowed from the narrative of Nicholas Perot, who lived among the Indians for more than thirty years subsequent to 1665, and who enjoyed their confidence in an unusual degree. He relates that the Iroquois had their original home about Montreal and Thre eRivers; that they fled from the Algonquins to Lake Erie, where lived the Chaouanous, who waged war against them and drove them to the shores of Lake Ontario. That after many years of war against the Chaouanous, and their allies, they withdrew to Carolina, where they now are. That the Iroquois (Five Nations) after being obliged to quit Lake Erie, withdrew to Lake Ontario, and that after having chased the Chaouanous and their allies toward Carolina, they have ever since remained there in that vicinity.

Here, then, we have in the earliest history of the country the names of three tribes or nations, who, by the accounts of different and widely-separated travelers, occupied the same region of the territory, viz.:

First — The "Massawomekes" of Smith, who lived upon some great lake beyond the mountains in which the Potomac River has its sources, and which Smith's map shows to be in the location of Lake Erie.

Second — The "Eries, or Chats," of the Jesuit relations, who occupied almost the entire south shore of Lake Erie; and

Third — The "Satanas," of Colden, (who, in the vocabulary preceding his work, gives the name as the equivalent of Shaonous and) the "Chaouanous," Perot, who lived on Lake Erie, and from the text of the narrative, evidently on the south shore to the west of the Five Naitons.

By all the accounts given of these people, they were, comparatively speaking, very numerous and powerful. Each occupied and controlled a large region of territory in the same general locality; each had, so far as history and tradition can throw any light upon the subject, long been the occupant thereof. The fact that neither of these authorities speaks of more than one nation occupying this region of country, and neither seems to have had any knowledge or tradition of any other nation having done so, coupled with the improbability that three numerous and warlike nations should, within the historic period, have occupied so limited a region as the south shore of Lake Erie — and one which by water communication would have been so easily accessible for each to the other — without any communication would have been so easily accessible for each to the other — without any account or tradition having survived of their intercourse, conflicts and destruction of one another, to my mind is little less than convincing evidence of the fact that three such distinct nations never had a cotemperaneous existence, and that the Massawomekes, Eries and Satanas, or Chaouanous, were one and the same people.

I am aware that the Chaouanous, or Shawnees as we now denominate them, speak the Algonquin tongue, and that the Eriees have ever been linguistically classed as of Iroquois stock; but of the latter fact there seems to be no more convincing proof than a passage in the Jesuit relations of 1648, asserting that the Cat nation have a number of permanent towns, * * and they have the same language with our Hurons. The Jesuits never succeeded in establishing a mission among the Eries; their intercourse with them was almost nothing, and they have left us no vocabularies by which their linguistic stock can be determined. I regard, therefore, the singelvolunteer remark as to their having the same language with the Hurons, as having less weight in the scale of probabilities than the accumulated evidence of their identity with the Massawomekes and Chaounous.

Their identity having been assumed, and the Eries having, by all accounts, been conquered and dispersed about 1655, it remains to trace the remnant in their wanderings across the face of the country. This is perhaps the most difficult and most unsatisfactory task that enters into the consideration of the subject. I could not, even were it desirable, in the space allotted to such a communication, give more than a few of the most general facts. To do otherwise would occupy much more time and space than my present object would justify or require.

At this point I may remark that there is a manuscript map still in existence in Holland which accompanied a report made to the States General in1614 or 1616, of the discoveries in New Netherlands, upon which a nation of Indians called "Sawwoaneu" is marked as living on the east bank of the Delaware River.

De Laet also, in the Layden edition of his history, published in 1640, enumerates the "Sawanoos" as one of the tribes then inhabiting the Delaware River.

It is of course impossible at this late day, in the absence of further data, to determine whether this tribe which seems to have been known on the Delaware for more than a quarter of a century, bears any relationship to the modern Shawnees. It is not impossible that in the course of the conflicts between the Satanas" and the Five Nations, a body of the former may have become seggregated from their frineds and have terminated their wanderings by a settlement to the Delaware. The probabilities seem to be unfavorable to this hypothesis.

The solution is more likely to be found in the fact that the word "Sawanoo" signified southern. The Delaware river was at that date known as South River, and "Sawanoo" or Southern may have been a sort of general term applied to Indians residing on that river.

The Eries after their overthrow do not again appear in the contemporary relations or maps under that name except as a destroyed nation. Their former location is shown on De l'Isle's maps of 1700 and 1703, Senex's map of 1710 and numerous others. The survivors being driven from their ancient homes; their villages and property destroyed, and deprived of hte lake as a principal source of food supply, were forced to resort to the chase more exclusively as a means of subsistence. These things would have a tendency to divide the tribe into small hunting parties and to encourage the wandering propensities so often remarked of the Shawnees.



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