Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma

Absentee-Shawnee Indian

Absentee-Shawnee Indian

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.

After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, encroaching colonial settlement persuaded the Shawnee in Missouri to negotiate a treaty in 1825, ceding lands for a reservation in Kansas.

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 Shawnee and the Absentee claimed acreage assigned to the Potawatomi. In 1872, a congressional act gave the title of that land to the Absentee. These lands were allotted to individuals in 1890 and 1891.

Big Jim, an Absentee Shawnee Leader

Big Jim, an Absentee Shawnee Leader

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/Legends of America, updated June 2021.

Also See:

Indian Removal Act

Native American Photo Galleries

Notable Native Americans

Shawnee Tribe