The Absentee are a division of the Shawnee tribe who originally lived in the eastern United States, in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and other neighboring states. These Algonquian-speaking people travel widely through lands from Canada to Florida and from the Mississippi River to the eastern continental coast.
During the American Revolution, many Shawnee moved from the Northwest Territory to Cape Girardeau, Missouri and later, others moved into Louisiana. These bands were later joined by other Shawnee groups from Alabama and Ohio, and some relocated into Arkansas and Texas.
By 1840 many of the scattered groups migrated to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and dwelled along the Canadian River in the Choctaw and Creek Nations. Being absent from the Kansas Shawnee reservation, they became collectively referred to as the “Absentee Shawnee.” An 1854 treaty failed to lure them to Kansas with the promise of allotments.
Before the Civil War erupted, Kansas Shawnee with Southern sympathies joined the Absentee on the Canadian River. Other Absentee from Texas settled on the Wichita-Caddo reservation. Some served in the Confederate army during the war, but most lived as refugees in Kansas.
Afterward, the Absentee were joined by many Kansas of Shawnee and the Absentee claimed acreage assigned the Potawatomi. In 1872, a congressional act gave title of that land to the Absentee. These lands were allotted to individuals in 1890 and 1891.
In 1936, the tribe was officially reorganized and gained federal recognition. Today the tribe is one of three federally recognized tribes of Shawnee people. They have approximately 3,050 tribal members, 2,315 of whom live in Oklahoma. The tribe has its own constitution, is administered by an elective five-member executive committee, and generates revenue through various means, including the Thunderbird Casino in Shawnee, Oklahoma. They diligently cling to their tribal customs and ceremonies and have the largest number of members who speak their native Algonquian language.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, October 2018.