The Shawnee in Old Chillicothe


If you haven’t driven through Old Town lately, you might be surprised to see a two story building being constructed. This is the beginning of a new Ohio State Park to commemorate the one-time village of Old Chillicothe.

Thomas “Wildcat” Alford, the great grandson of Tecumseh was the main Keeper of Tribal History for many years. He met with Dr. W.A. Galloway (author of “Old Chillicothe”) to share the history of the Shawnee.

Following are some of the traditions he shared for future generation as well as those who might be interested in learning more about the traditions of the Shawnee.

In the Shawnee community, tradition dictated that a friend of the family would select a name for a new born child. Usually, this was an older member of the tribe. If the child was a boy, there was a period of 10 days before a name was given, in the case of a girl; the waiting period was 12 days.

Babies were carried on their mother’s back while strapped securely on a board which had been carved and decorated by the parents. This was a means of safety for the child, with wild animals often in the area. If the woman had other work to do, her arms were free to perform her duties. In this way the baby’s back would grow straight. It was important for the male baby’s head to grow to be flat on the back. When he became an adult a plate would be placed on that spot with an eagle feather for a traditional headdress.

The women of the tribe were the principal workers. The planted and cultivated the corn, dressed the game, and built the wigwams in which the family lived. They women were also the doctors learning at an early age to set fractured bones and which herbs could be used for healing.

Children received their training from their parents beginning at an early age. Games which they played were used for education. Boys learned to swim, shoot bows and arrows and run. Girls learned to make clay pots and cook as well as watch out for the younger children. Boys and girls did not play together.

It was considered most important for the boys to be taught the history of their tribe. The father was responsible for telling those stories to the children who learned by rote, hearing the stories again and again. There were no books or printed materials for this education, only word of mouth, so that the lessons had to be carefully memorized to passed on to the next generation.

Mothers taught the girls. They learned how to plant corn and dress meat, to cook and make clothing. Both boys and girls were taught respect for their elders.

Religion was simple among the Shawnee. There was but one god, known as Moneto, the Supreme Being. Moneto gave blessings to those who earned his good will and sorrow to those who brought him displeasure. There no words to determine gender among the people, men and women both were referred to a one, with no personal pronouns depicting gender.

Even though there was no gender identity among the people, the Great Spirit was believed to be a grandmother, constantly weaving an immense net, called a Skemotah. The Shawnee believed that when the great net was completed, it would be lowered to the earth and all who had proven themselves to be worthy of a better world would be gathered into the net and taken to the happy hunting ground. It was foretold that when this happened, the world would end.

Morality was a fixed law among the primitive Shawnee but each person was his own judge. Therefore, each person lived according to his own standards and principles and was not judged by his fellowman. Honesty was considered a necessity among the people.

They were taught at an early age: “Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him; therefore add to his days of happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself. But love him, for Moneto loves him also as he loves you.”

Even though each individual was his own judge, some offenses did come under the jurisdiction of the chief. Some might be punished by flogging or death and any man who refused to take the punishment was ostracized from the tribe. The mandate for women was they were to avoid gossiping about others.

Corn was the principal food which was prepared in many ways. One method was to dig a trench about one foot deep. Two long poles of green wood were laid over the trench in which a bed of hot coals had been made. The ears of corn were husked and trimmed and placed on each side of the trench, leaning against the green wood to roast, frequently turning the ears. The kernels were removed, dried in the sun and stored for winter use when it was cooked in water often with meat.

Corn was also dried and used to make bread. The women would pound the corn and put it through a sifter to separate the smaller pieces. That which was not fine enough was ground again.

The women made many baskets, some tightly woven to carry water, others more loosely woven to serve as a sifter.

If the grains of corn had been parched, it was made into corn meal which kept well and could be easily transported. Traveling warriors would take a supply.

The men contributed by hunting and fishing.

Life was simple among the Shawnee. Food, shelter, and water were primary needs for them.

A love of nature and a willingness to help each other prevailed in the village. While the women did the majority of the work, the men were hunters and warriors. They respected their elders and cherished their children.

Remembering Thomas ‘Wildcat’ Alford

Born in Oklahoma, Thomas ‘Wildcat’ Alford was the great-grandson of the noted Shawnee Tecumseh. He attended a missionary school where he learned to read and write in English. He began school with the name “Wildcat” which was his father’s nickname but acquired the English name Thomas. He attended another missionary school in Virginia where he acquired the name Alford. In 1882 he entered the U. S. Indian Services and taught at a school for a while. He translated the four Gospels into the Shawnee language which was published with the aid of his friend Dr. W.A. Galloway.

— Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

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