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100 Years Ago

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Shelby County Historical Society Hosted Shawnee Chief

In 1995, the Shelby County Historical Society hosted Chief James Perry of the Piqua Village of the Ohio Shawnee Indians. He traced the history of the Shawnees that was based upon an oral account that had been passed down through members of his tribe for generations.

Perry gave a detailed description of every day life for the Shawnee Indian in the 1700s. Each sept, or village, had various groups of adults that took care of the spiritual, medical, administrative and warfaring functions of the tribe.

Shawnee women were very respected and powerful members of the tribe. The opinions of the women were voiced through the Tribal Mother, one of the female tribal leaders. The Tribal Mother had the power to veto the vote of the Grand Council when it came to declaring war.

Perry’s great-great grandfather was Captain John, the last principal chief of the Shawnees at the Village of Wapakoneta. Captain John, or "Walking Stick" became good friends with a famous pioneer, Simon Kenton, toward the end of his life. He died in 1843. According to Perry, the Shawnee have never left the land that was given to them. Caretakers were always left to look after the land and that is why the Shawnee Indians still live in Ohio. While growing up, Perry was taught the French language which most of the Shawnee descendents had learned from their 200 years of trading with the French people.

The Shawnee had an interesting and efficient system of law enforcement and discipline. For theft offenses, persons convicted were tied up and whipped, on the third theft, the individual was banished from the village. If the death of someone occurred as a result of a fight between two Shawnees, then the survivor was banished from the tribe for a year. Thereafter, the survivor would have the duty of taking care of the widow of the murdered Shawnee and his children for the rest of their lives. Although it was rare, if any unarmed person was murdered by a Shawnee, he received the death sentence. If a woman was raped, she was permitted to carry out the sentence against the one who attacked her.

Chief James Perry was accompanied by his bodyguard, Glen Miller. Perry carried an Indian tribal stick that was handed to a person as permission to speak at tribal meetings. The chief is an example of those who are working today to keep the customs and traditions of the past alive.

A 20 year-old Virginian, Charles Johnston, was captured in 1790 and related some observations of his Shawnee captors. Their favorite game was a card game whose Indian name is best translated into English as "Nosey." According to Johnston, "Only two hands were dealt out, and the object of each player was to keep part of his own cards and get all of his opponent’s. The winner had a right to a number of [finger snaps] at the nose of the loser equal to the number of cards in the winner’s hand. When the winner was about to begin, the loser would place himself firmly in his seat, assume a solemn look, and not permit the slightest change in any muscle of his face. At every snap, the bystanders would burst into a peal of laughter, while the loser was not even allowed to smile. The penalty was doubled if he violated this rule....The game often continued hour after hour."

Johnston’s Shawnee captors also amused themselves by dancing, normally accompanied with a song composed of the words ‘Kon-nu-kay — he-ka-kah — we-sa-too —hos-ses-kah’. War dances would be done around a cut pole, painted black with streaks of red. The lower end was sharpened, and at the top the Indians hung human scalps.

'Indian' segment written in December, 1997 by David Lodge


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