12. West Virginia Algonquian

I find it a bit puzzling that the information regarding West Virginia’s tribal cultures seems a bit thin. Perhaps the region is ripe for more archaeological exploration. Nevertheless we have met some of them in other chapters. We find the Kanawha Valley people in the Paleolithic America chapter. The Monongahela, Adena, and Hopewell can be found in the Mound Builders piece. The Moneton, Tutelo, and Honniasont are included in the Siouan chapter. The Iroquoian chapter discusses the Cherokee, Tuscarora, Susquehannock, Erie, and Mingo peoples, all of whom had a presence in West Virginia. That leaves us with the Shawnee, who believe themselves distant relatives of the Delaware (Lenni Lenape). Therefore, there is also important Algonquian material in the Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey chapters.

Paleolithic people arrived in West Virginia before 11,000 BCE. They left behind stone tools found in the Kanawha and Ohio Valleys, on Blennerhassett Island, and at Peek’s Run in Upshur County. A tremendous number of arrowheads have been found along the Ohio River between St. Mary’s and Parkersburg. Paleolithic people lived in small family groups and hunted mastodon, mammoth, bison, buffalo, and other megafauna of the time, using fluted points attached to long spears. These game animals became extinct about 6000 BCE requiring the local population to adapt their hunting tactics and weapons to suit an entirely new environment with new and smaller game. The people likely increased foraging; the land was filled with new edible plants unknown to them before climate change.

Archaic peoples settled in the north and east panhandles, and the Kanawha Valley between 7000 and 1000 BCE. They manufactured stone tools and pottery, and left evidence of ritual burials. Archaic sites have so far been found in Globe Hill, Buffalo, and St Albans. Unlike their Paleolithic ancestors, the Archaic Period people began settling into permanent camps. The St Albans site is particularly important as it is the first permanent settlement found in West Virginia. The people who settled there, along the Kanawha River, harvested shellfish, planted extensive gardens, and created pottery. The evidence of ritual burials there in 1000 BCE marks the beginning of the Early Woodland or Adena Culture.

The Adena are believed to be the first Americans who were mound builders. It is speculated that they buried important people in the mounds while commoners were cremated and buried in small log tombs above ground. These log tombs have long disappeared due to natural causes as well as human destruction.

The Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, Marshall County, is the largest conical mound in the US measuring 62’ in height (at one time 70’) and 240’ in diameter. It was constructed with 57,000 tons of soil and built between 250-150 BCE. The mound with two additional fort-like buildings formed a triangular shaped village. The Grave Creek Mound was first discovered by Joseph Tomlinson in 1770. Later, his descendants, Jesse and Abelard Tomlinson, with Thomas Briggs, took it upon themselves to tunnel into the top and sides of the mound, destroying most of the artifacts. They found two chambers, one of which contained a skeleton and some jewelry.  The other chamber contained two skeletons and a great deal of jewelry. The Tomlinson’s turned the mound into a tourist attraction, making the center chamber a museum. Eventually Grave Creek Mound was acquired by the State and became Grave Creek State Park.

The Criel Mound in South Charleston is the largest of fifty mounds found there, at 35’ in height and 175’ in diameter. While the age is unknown The Criel Mound is thought to have been constructed, like Grave Creek, between 250-150 BCE. The Criel Mound was first excavated by Professor P.W. Norris of the Smithsonian Institute in 1883-1884. He and his team tunneled carefully down from the top. Each layer was shown as having been a burial, illustrating how a body was buried beneath a layer of soil, another body was added to the top later and covered with a layer of soil, and so forth. The heads of the bodies were placed in the south and the bodies were buried with stone tools and jewelry. Norris finally reached the first burial vault at the bottom. It contained eleven individuals, possibly killed in battle, possibly buried alive. Grave goods included weapons and more jewelry. All of the artifacts and skeletons remain in the Smithsonian in DC.

It is possible that the Shawnee were descendants of the Fort Ancient Culture (1000-1650 CE) in the Ohio region. The Fort Ancient Culture developed along the Ohio River in southern Ohio, northwest Kentucky, and west West Virginia. Some believe that Fort Ancient was a branch of the Mississippian Mound Builders but most scholars today believe it developed independent of the Mississippian and descended from the Hopewell. Although there are gaps between the oldest Fort Ancient evidence and the earliest Shawnee evidence, there are similarities in their material culture, art, and mythology, substantiated in the Shawnee’s oral history linking the two cultures together.

Other Shawnee stories tell us that they believed that the Grandmother created the Delaware first. She kindled a fire and placed a Delaware man and woman in the east. She then created an old man and an old woman, the Shawnee division. Finally She created a young man and woman who were to have children that became three of the Shawnee bands. The Shawnee and the Delaware still insist that they were once one people divided long ago by a children’s squabble over a grasshopper. The Shawnee also believe themselves relatives of the Kickapoo. This suggests to me that both split from the Delaware long ago or the Kickapoo split from the Shawnee.

The Shawnee are not thought to have ever had a complex clan system like that of the Delaware with 36, but both had a Man Eater Society, led by four women. Man Eaters disposed of captive bodies by eating them, much like the Atapaka in the south. I don’t know if this custom was due to a cultural exchange among these three tribes, or that the custom evolved independently, or was in fact widespread at one time. Before contact there existed a Shawnee confederacy of five groups: the Chillicothe, the Hathawekela, the Kispoko, the Mekoche, and the Pekowi.  Each of these was further divided into six clans:
1.    Turkey (included all birds)
2.    Turtle (included all aquatic animals)
3.    Rounded Feet (included dogs and wolves)
4.    Horse (included herbivores such as deer and horse)
5.    Raccoon (included animals the used claws for tearing like raccoons and bears)
6.    Rabbit (all things gentle and peaceful)

Clan membership was inherited from the father; that was unusual because most tribes were matristic. Each clan had specific community responsibilities. Unfortunately, because of the horrific disruption of Shawnee life after contact, the details of clan duties were lost.

During the time of contact with Europeans records indicate that the Shawnee lived in a widespread area. A 1614 Dutch map as well as other 17th century Dutch sources shows the Sawwanew just east of the Delaware River. French explorers encountered them on the Ohio River. Allan Gallay speculates that in the 1640’s migrations were driven by the conflict with the Iroquois. Groups of Shawnee scattered to Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Georgia, and other regions south and east of Ohio.

One Shawnee legend claims that they descended from a party sent by Chief Opechancanough, ruler of the Powhatan Confederacy, to settle in the Shenandoah Valley. The party was led by the chief’s son, Sheewa-a-nee.  By the 1670’s the Shawnee were driven from Kentucky by the Iroquois during the Fur Wars. In 1671 the Shawnee were losing their control of Shenandoah Valley to the Iroquois. But by 1730 the Iroquois moved back to their New York and Pennsylvania territories due to European encroachment. The Shawnee remained in the northern part of the valley.

In 1670 the Hathawekela Shawnee migrated to the Savannah River region and settled in 1674 on the Savannah River. They became allies to the British South Carolina colony and together they defeated the Westo, who had controlled the entire trade network of the region as well as kidnapped many Natives and sold them as slaves. By 1697 the Hathawekela left the South and settled with others on the Susquehanna and Allegheny Rivers in Pennsylvania. It was reported that they were still there in 1731. Black Bob’s band, discussed a little later, were part of the Hathawekela. Hathawekela legends claim that they were the “elder brothers” among the Shawnee, suggesting that they were the first Shawnee group. Before 1754 Cornstalk’s father held council at Shawnee Springs near present day Junction, Virginia. Shawnee villages had been settled in the Shenandoah Valley at Moorefield, West Virginia on the North River, and on the Potomac at Cumberland, Maryland. In 1753 those on the Scioto River in the Ohio Country sent a message to the Shenandoah groups to leave and join them. After the Beaver Wars the Iroquois claimed the Ohio Country for hunting by right of conquest and regarded the Shawnee and Delaware there as under Iroquois control. Other Iroquois bands migrated into the area and became known as the Mingo. Although the Shawnee and Delaware spoke Algonquian and the Mingo spoke Iroquoian, the three tribes became allies to each other.

When the French and Indian War began the Shawnee were French allies but in 1758 they switched sides and made peace with the British. Together, the British and Shawnee drew up the Treaty of Easton that designated the Allegheny Ridge as the boundary between them. Peace lasted until Pontiac’s War in 1763 but London finally reconfirmed the 1758 border.

In 1768 the Treaty of Fort Stanwix between the British and the Iroquois extended the border west and Britain claimed present day West Virginia and Kentucky. Settlers poured in and the Shawnee were outraged. The violence escalated into Dunmore’s War in 1774. Dunmore was the governor of what was at the time Virginia which included West Virginia and Kentucky. The Delaware and Iroquois remained neutral during Dunmore’s War. Dunmore launched a two-prong attack isolating the Shawnee and their few Mingo allies. Shawnee chief Cornstalk attacked one wing and fought to a draw in the only major battle waged at Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The Treaty of Camp Charlotte ended the war. Cornstalk’s Shawnee and his Mingo allies were forced to accept the Fort Stanwix border requiring the Shawnee to cede their hunting grounds of West Virginia and Kentucky to the Virginia Colony. Some Shawnee refused and attacked Daniel Boone in Kentucky. In 1775 Virginia declared its independence from Britain and the Revolution began in 1776. The Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 is thought by some to be the first battle of the Revolution. Some Shawnee joined the British in hopes of driving out the colonists but Cornstalk remained neutral. Others, Chief Blackfish and Blue Jacket, joined the Chickamauga Cherokee against the colonists in the Chickamauga War of 1776 to 1794. After the Revolution the Northwest Indian War was fought between the US and a confederacy of tribes where the Shawnee joined the Miami. The Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 forced the Shawnee to cede most of their homeland to the US in the Treaty of Greenville. Many Shawnee rejected the treaty and migrated to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Tecumseh refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville. William Henry Harrison who had been Tecumseh’s adversary in the Battle of Fallen Timbers became governor of Indiana. In 1809, Harrison invited numerous tribes to Fort Wayne, offering them payments and subsidies. The tribes ceded 3,000, 000 acres along the Wabash River. Tecumseh was furious.

Tecumseh’s brother, who was called The Prophet, advocated that Natives should return to their ancestral ways. Tecumseh took that idea and ran with it, insisting that all of the land was owned in common by all Indians. He began to create a pan-tribal alliance, urging warriors to abandon those tribes who ceded the land to Harrison and join the resistance at Prophetstown. In 1810, Tecumseh and 400 warriors confronted Harrison and demanded that the Fort Wayne Treaty be nullified, and he threatened to kill the chiefs who had signed it. Harrison refused. Although Tecumseh left peacefully he said he would ally to the British.

1811 became a curious year given that Tecumseh means “Shooting Star” or “Panther Across The Sky” and a great comet appeared. Throughout his travels among other tribes he told them that the comet foretold his arrival. Tecumseh also mentioned that if they didn’t believe him the Great Spirit would send a sign to prove it. Tensions continued between Tecumseh and Harrison even though Tecumseh maintained that he wanted peace with the US. Tecumseh went south to recruit allies from the Five Civilized Tribes and factors from the Creek joined him. Meanwhile, in November 1811 Harrison led 1000 troops against Prophetstown to disperse the Tecumseh confederacy. The Prophet attacked but Harrison forced the Natives to retreat and abandon Prophetstown before it was razed by Harrison’s troops. The Great Spirit brought its prophesied sign with the New Madrid Earthquake on December 11, 1811. Tecumseh gained the support of many tribes after that including the hard hit Muscogee band called the Red Sticks. Anecdotally the Red Sticks carried bundles of calendar sticks painted red, each of which represented a day traveled or a day during a fought battle and so forth.

Then Harrison set out to reclaim Detroit from the British. It was defended by British Colonel Henry Procter together with Tecumseh. Part of Harrison’s army was defeated in Frenchtown on the River Raisin in January of 1813. Unfortunately Procter left insufficient British troops to guard the prisoners and Natives killed about 60 of them. In May of 1813, Procter and Tecumseh set siege to Fort Meigs in northern Ohio but the fort held. Procter and Tecumseh returned to Canada. In July they tried again and failed. Procter and Tecumseh stormed Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River but were repulsed with serious losses, ending their Ohio campaign. In September 1813 the Battle of Lake Erie was waged by the US and led by Oliver Hazard Perry. It was a decisive victory insuring US control of the lake, which prevented the British from supplying their Native allies. The British fell back to Detroit. Harrison went into Canada leading the US to victory against the British at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813. Tecumseh was killed, ending the Indigenous alliance with the British in the Detroit area.

Several hundred of the Shawnee in Missouri, known as the Absentee Shawnee, with some Delaware, left Missouri and resettled in eastern Spanish Texas. They were closely allied with the Cherokee who were led by a man named “The Bowl”, leader of the Chickamauga Cherokee. The Shawnee remained neutral in the Cherokee War of 1839. The Texas governor compensated the Shawnee before removing them to the Arkansaw Territory where the Shawnee settled near present day Shawnee, Oklahoma. There they were joined by the Shawnee from Kansas. “The Bowl” fought against the US and led the Cherokee west of the Mississippi River in 1809 into the Arkansaw Territory where he was elected Chief of the Cherokee-West.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Shawnee signed the Treaty of Fort Meigs in exchange for reservation land in Lewistown, Ohio. They shared that land with the Iroquois Seneca.

In 1821 the state of Missouri joined the Union. The 1825 Treaty of St Louis forced 1400 Missouri Shawnee to relocate from Cape Girardeau to southeast Kansas close to Neosho River. Two hundred followed The Prophet and joined the Kansas Shawnee in 1826. Black Bob’s Shawnee band resisted removal and settled on the Kansas River, in northeast Kansas. Many more Shawnee who resisted removal stayed in Ohio with Black Hoof but in 1831 the Lewistown Shawnee Seneca moved to the Indian Territory. After Black Hoof’s death the remaining 400 surrendered and moved to the Shawnee reservation in Kansas. In 1853 Congress appropriated $64,366 to the Shawnee for treaty obligations.

During the Civil War, Black Bob’s band fled Kansas and joined the Absentee Shawnee in Oklahoma. After the Civil War, the remaining Kansas Shawnee were expelled and forced to move to Oklahoma.

Members of the former Lewistown group became known as the Eastern Shawnee. The Kansas Shawnee became known as the Loyal Shawnee, either because they had supported the Union Army or because they had been the last to leave Ohio. At the time they were considered part of the Cherokee Nation so they were also known as the Cherokee Shawnee. In the year 2000 the Loyal or Cherokee Shawnee were finally recognized as independent of the Cherokee and are now known as the Shawnee Tribe. Most Shawnee still live in Oklahoma. In2008 the overall Shawnee population stood at about 7600.


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