Proud to Be Eastern Shawnee – A Brief History of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe

By Chief Glenna J. Wallace

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma is one of three federally-recognized Shawnee tribes—the Absentee Shawnee near Shawnee, OK; the Eastern Shawnee in Ottawa County, OK near Seneca, MO; and the Shawnee Tribe headquartered in Miami, OK.  Originally these three tribes were unified as the Shawnee Nation and lived throughout the region east of the Mississippi River.  A highly nomadic and wandering group of people, they can be documented as living in three countries –United States, Canada and Mexico—and numerous states including Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Delaware, Kentucky, Indiana, , Michigan,  Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and of course Oklahoma.  Men were known as hunters or warriors and women as planters and gatherers.  Because of their early geographic location and their lifestyle, the Shawnee People are generally known as Eastern Woodlands Indians.  It is said that in the 1700’s a squirrel could go from treetop to treetop beginning in Illinois and ending in Delaware without ever touching the ground.  Thus the Indians in this geographical area were known as Woodland Indians.

Shawnee men were famous for their ferocity in battle.  And battle they did from the 1600’s until their forced departure from Ohio in 1832.  At times they fought against other Indian tribes, at times against the French, at times against the British, and at times against the United States.  Two of the greatest warriors were Tecumseh and Blue Jacket.  Originally claiming access to thousands and thousands of acres (the concept of land ownership was foreign to Native Americans), Shawnees fought for the right to remain living in the Ohio Valley but were outnumbered and constantly forced to move further west and south. Each battle lost resulted in land lost.  Gradually Shawnees separated, the majority leaving Ohio. In early 1800’s more Shawnees lived in what is now Missouri than Ohio.  For those of us who remained in the Ohio valley region, in the early 1800’s we were placed upon three reservations covering approximately 75 miles:  Hogcreek, Wapakoneta and Lewistown.   We lived at Lewistown with a group of Seneca Indians and were known as the Mixed Band.  Lewistown was named after Colonel Lewis, whose Indian name was Qua-tah-wah-pea.  He traveled back and forth from Ohio to the White River in Arkansas where it is thought he died circa 1829 within 200-300 miles of our present homelands.

In 1830 the Indian Removal Act was passed and later declared illegal.  Nevertheless this act was followed by the Lewistown Treaty also known as the 1831 Treaty with the Seneca, exchanging the Lewistown lands in Ohio for a reservation in Indian Territory near the Neosho and Spring Rivers in the area we now know as Ottawa County, Oklahoma.  In September of 1832 the United States Military forced 258 Lewistown Shawnee and Seneca Indians to leave Ohio.  Herding us like cattle, we walked on foot or rode on horseback and traveled through Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, a journey of approximately 700 miles. Many died, leaving their bones, their names, their stories. Those who lived arrived in Indian Territory in the bitter cold month of December.  They remained the Mixed Band until 1867 when the two groups separated and became known as the Seneca Cayuga and the Eastern Shawnee.

In the 1870s Eastern Shawnee tribal membership dropped to 69.  It truly was an example where complete genocide almost occurred.  What did occur was dramatic loss of culture. Gone were our ceremonials and gone was our language. Once a culture rich in use of silver, split-toed or puckered moccasins and vegetable plantings of corn, beans and squash known as the Three Sisters and planted together in hills gave way to assimilation in the new world.  Precisely when the Eastern Shawnee Tribe was formally organized is unclear.  It occurred sometime after May 21, 1937 when George G. Wren, Acting Land Field Agent, of Indian Affairs, wrote in a letter, “There will no doubt be, at some later date, an organization of some kind among the Shawnee Indians.”  The letter was written in reference to the 58.19 acres added to the Shawnee Reserve that year.  Those lands we now refer to as our present Bordertown Casino and Bingo location along with the Bluejacket Complex.  The purchase of these allotment lands was made with contractual funds under the provision of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of June 26, 1936.  We do have modern time tribal documents, the first we have record of, signed in 1939 by the late chiefs Walter Bluejacket and Dave Dushane.

Gaming began December 7, 1984 under the management of David Allen in the building now known as the Annex, but then known as The Old Red Barn.  Employees numbered 14, ten of them in gaming, four in food concessions.  Gaming was limited to Bingo and Pull Tabs. The tribe took over gaming operations in 1987.  In the same year the tribe made its first official land purchase, 112 acres on Highway 10 C.  In 1999 we opened The Eastern Shawnee Travel Center with a gaming component of machines only, no bingo. In 2003 we built Bordertown Casino and Bingo followed in 2008 with The Outpost.  We are proud of our record:  we have never bounced a check, never closed our doors, never cut our payouts, and have always placed our customers as our number one business priority.

Today in 2010 we have almost 2800 tribal citizens, own approximately 1,000 acres, employ over 600 in several businesses and continue to embark upon new ventures.  We are regaining our lands, regaining our culture, regaining our language.  We are proud of our history, proud of our legacy and proud to say “We are the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma”.

June 2010