Path of the Shawnee

Living in Johnson County, Kansas, we see the name Shawnee all around us. Schools, streets, newspapers, neighborhoods and cities adorn the name. Our county’s namesake, Thomas Johnson, ran the Shawnee Indian Methodist Mission. The Shawnee were not originally from this area, so we pay our respect this Native American Heritage Month by taking a look at the path that led them to Kansas. It was not what we would call a voluntary path by any means.

According to the Shawnee Tribe’s official website, Shawnee are an Eastern Woodlands tribe. In Sauk, Fox and many other Algonkian languages the name for the Shawnee, Shawunogi, and its variants means “Southerners.” Before being forced west by European encroachment, the Shawnee lived in areas that include Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and South Carolina.


Tenskwatawa, a Shawnee who was strongly opposed to Indian removal and brother to the legendary Tecumsah. He was forcibly relocated from Ohio to Kansas. Image courtesy of the Kansas History Society.

In 1793, the Shawnee received a Spanish land grant near Cape Girardeau, Missouri and a large group of Shawnee headed west for that land. After the Louisiana Purchase, that land became property of the United States government. This prompted some of the Shawnee to leave and head even further west to Texas and Old Mexico. They are known as the Absentee Shawnee Tribe, and they later moved to Oklahoma.

For the Shawnee remaining in Ohio, the Treaty of Fort Meigs granted them three reservations in 1817. By 1824, there were 1,383 Shawnee left in Missouri and about 800 in Ohio.


Spanish Land Grant map from 1793. Courtesy of the Shawnee Tribe.

Not long after 1824, the Missouri and Ohio Shawnee would find themselves being forced out of their homes and onto 1.6 million-acres in eastern Kansas, part of which is now Johnson County. Relocation of the Ohio and Missouri Shawnee started in 1826. To begin cultural assimilation, missionaries were setup throughout the Kansas reservation, one being the Shawnee Indian Methodist Mission located in present day Fairway.


Girls at the Shawnee Indian Mission School. Photo Courtesy of KSHS.

By the late 1860s, the Shawnee would once again find themselves compelled to leave their home for several reasons. The 1.6 million-acre reservation had been decimated to 160,000 acres by the U.S. government after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Shawnee were also antagonized by the settlers coming into Kansas during and after the Civil War. The Shawnee and Cherokee Nation were then forced into an agreement by the U.S. government allowing the Shawnee land and citizenship in the Cherokee Nation reservation in Oklahoma. It was not until the Shawnee Tribe Status Act of 2000 that the Shawnee Tribe was restored to its position as a sovereign Indian nation.

We didn’t address the fascinating history of Indian removal resistance that took place in Ohio or the Shawnee involvement in the War of 1812. Perhaps we can look into that another time.

-Beth Edson, Johnson County Library


Howard, James. (1981). Shawnee!: The ceremonialism of a native Indian tribe and its cultural background. Ohio University Press: Athens.  

Kansas State Historical Society. Shawnee Indians. Retrieved from:

The Shawnee Tribe. History. Retrieved from:



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Filed under History Classroom, People, Research

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