Among the immigrant Native Americans who lived in territorial Arkansas were several Shawnee communities. They came from Indiana and Missouri at the invitation of the Cherokee after the Treaty of 1817 created the Cherokee Nation on land in the Ozarks between the White and Arkansas rivers. The Shawnee, who built settlements on Crooked Creek and White River, departed after more than a decade of life in Arkansas.
The Shawnee were a large Algonkian-speaking tribe, widely scattered across the eastern woodlands. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the majority of them were living in the area both north and south of the Ohio River. Euro-American settlers from the east brought on years of violence. In a peace treaty in 1774, the Shawnee were forced to cede Kentucky, and the continuing hostilities led some Shawnee in 1779 to move west across the Mississippi River to a large grant south of Ste. Genevieve that had been given by the Spanish government. From that new location, they became familiar with the Ozarks and the western prairies.
After the death of Tecumseh and the collapse of his fight against the United States in 1813, one faction of the Shawnee sought ways to coexist with the Americans, and some saw the migration of the whole tribe to the west as a good strategy. When the Western Cherokee, living in the Ozarks after 1817, became embroiled in skirmishes with the Osage, they invited eastern tribes, including the Shawnee, to move to their land west of the White River. One group, led by Quatawapea, also known as Captain or Colonel Lewis, settled on the White River, with their major town at Shawneetown, a location that later became Yellville (Marion County).
As guests of the Cherokee, the Shawnee were part of a larger group of immigrants into the White River Valley, a group that included the Delaware, Piankashaw, Miami, and other Indian groups. If they ever participated with the Cherokee in military campaigns against the Osage, the documents do not record it. No recorded instances exist of hostilities between the Shawnee and the American settlers, although the latter petitioned Washington for a military garrison for protection. In later years, several of the early settlers wrote their memoirs of that time, and they included several accounts of unpleasant encounters between the two groups, as well as visits to the Shawnee Green Corn ceremonies, hunting together, and a Shawnee-American marriage.
In 1828, the Western Cherokee entered a new treaty arrangement with the United States in which their Ozark holdings were traded for land in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. They soon moved west and established Tahlequah, where the Cherokee tribal government remains today. Their Indian guests, left as squatters on government land, also moved away from Arkansas during the next few years. By 1833, the Shawnee had gone to Texas and Indian Territory, and the Ozark land was again open to American settlers. Modern Shawnee have few records of the Arkansas period in their complex history.
For additional information:
Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Foreman, Grant. Indians and Pioneers: The Story of the American Southwest before 1830. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1930.
Ingenthron, Elmo. Indians of the Ozark Plateau. Point Lookout, MO: School of the Ozarks Press, 1970.
Jeffery, A. C. Historical and Biographical Sketches of the Early Settlement of the Valley of White River Together with a History of Izard County. Edited by Dale Hanks. Richmond, VA: The Jeffery Historical Society, 1973.
Johnston, James J. “Searcy County Indians in Tradition and History.” Mid-America Folklore 12 (Spring 1984): 24–31.
Lankford, George E. “Shawnee Convergence: Immigrant Indians in the Ozarks.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 58 (Winter 1999): 390–413.
Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1997.
Turnbo, Silas C. Turnbo’s Tales of the Ozarks: Schools, Indians, Hard Times and More Stories. Edited by Desmond Walls Allen. Conway, AR: Arkansas Research, 1987.
George E. Lankford