Shawnee played key role in early Eudora history
There's a truth about Eudora and Johnson County's early history buried in the names Kill Creek, Wakarusa, Turkey Creek, Mill Creek, Black Bob and Bull Creek.
Those place names were derived from Shawnee Indian settlements established in the third and fourth decade of the 19th century, Bertha Cameron said. It is a history all but erased by later European settlers, who took the land promised to the tribe and forced the Shawnee into poverty and exile.
"The truth has not been told," she said. "All the history begins with European settlers. But history begins with the Indians."
Cameron is doing her part to reveal the truth. She has given presentations on Shawnee Indian history in Kansas to different groups, including the Eudora Area Historical Society. She will be the featured guest at the De Soto Sesquicentennial Committee's first community get-together from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the De Soto City Hall, 32905 W. 84th Street.
Cameron comes to her history and knowledge of the Shawnee through family history. She is a descendent of Johnson County Shawnee who maintained their membership with the tribe since most of the Shawnee was forced to move to Oklahoma nearly140 years ago.
The Shawnee settlements of Kill Creek, Wakarusa, Turkey Creek, Mill Creek, Black Bob and Bull Creek became De Soto, Eudora, Shawnee, Monticello, Olathe and Gardner. They were settled at a time the Shawnee thought they were beyond the reach of the advancing white culture that had forced them out of the Eastern homeland.
And although the Shawnee Indians stay in Kansas would end as sadly as that in the tribe's Ohio Valley homeland, at the start their settlement pattern reflected the security they found in the promises made to them by the federal government.
"They didn't live in villages in homes clustered together," she said. "They were more spread out. They were protected here. There was nothing to worry about. The land had been promised to them."
Nor was it any accident the settlements were along creeks, Cameron said.
"They didn't like prairies," she said. "These were woodland Indians who needed creeks for water, wildlife and stone."
The Shawnee lived in log homes, grew potatoes, corn and a variety of vegetables and raised livestock, Cameron said.
Rebecca Hawkins, administrator of the Shawnee Tribe in Miami, Okla., said the Shawnee brought to Kansas a rift that developed in Ohio concerning how the Indians should relate to whites. Some thought the Shawnee should acclimate white ways while others preached adherence to traditional culture. The different approaches were seen in the tribe's economic life while in Kansas.
"There were a couple different groups of Shawnee," Hawkins said. "There were groups who were involved in market economy, operating business and farms. A lot of Shawnee, maybe the greater number of them, were subsistence farmers. And there were large groups who held land communally, holding as close as they could to traditional lifestyle. There were quite a mix of strategies."
One example of a Shawnee businessman was Paschal Fish, who founded the Wakarusa settlement that was to become Eudora, Hawkins said.
It was a group of Shawnee traditionalists who first left Ohio in an attempt to escape the encroachments of white America. Those Shawnee migrated west in 1793 to a site near Cape Girardeau, Mo., in what was then Spanish territory They were joined two years later by others objecting to the terms of the Treaty of Greenville, which turned over large parts of the Shawnee Ohio homeland to the United States.
The Shawnee's fight to preserve their Ohio homeland ended with Tecumseh's death in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames. As that sad history was playing out in the east, the Missouri Shawnee were forced to trade their Missouri holdings for land in Kansas in a treaty negotiated by explorer Gen. William Clark. The 1825 treated ceded 1.6 million acres of Kansas south of the Kaw River and west of Kansas City to the Shawnee.
During the next eight years, various groups of Shawnee were forced to relocate in Kansas. Although one group, which came to be known as the Absentee Shawnee, moved first to Texas and then to Oklahoma in an attempt to avoid white men and was never a part of the Kansas experience.
The last Shawnee remaining in Ohio, most of whom were farmers and stockmen, agreed in 1831 and 1832 to settle on 100,000 acres of the 1825 reservation.
In the next two decades, the Shawnee learned to appreciate their new home, Cameron said.
"That was what they were promised in 1831," she said. "They settled into a way of life.
"They loved this land. It was their land of milk and honey. At that time, they were far enough from white settlers to be safe."
But the Kansas respite would end, too. The Oregon and Santa Fe trails would introduce white America to Johnson County and northeast Kansas.
In 1854, the Maypenny Treaty reduced the Shawnee Reservation to a 10th its original size. The 200,000-acre reservation consisted mostly of what is now Johnson County but extended west to just beyond Eudora.
White settlers started encroaching on the reservation. Their goal to gain Shawnee land was made easier by a measure of 1854 that did away with communally owned land in favor of individually owned allotments.
"That's why it was divided -- so it could be bought and sold," Cameron said. "Before that, you could own the improvements but not the land."
White squatters started settling on Shawnee land before they were allowed to legally do so in 1858. Once they were allowed in, they set about securing Shawnee land by legal means, unfair transactions and outright swindle. Sometimes, they just staked a claim. That was effective because the Shawnee did not get deeds for a couple of years after they were given individual allotments, Cameron said.
Reign of terror
The situation got worse during the Civil War, a time Shawnee historians refer to as "a reign of terror."
"They were innocent bystanders in a bloody war," Cameron said. "They were in the middle of it."
William Quantrill raided Shawnee settlements on at least two occasions.
After the war, the Shawnee, desperate and largely dispossessed, agreed to move to a newly created Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma Indian Territory. Hawkins and Cameron said the Kansas Shawnee kept their separate tribal identity and government despite the arrangement.
Descendants of the relocated Kansas Shawnee won recognition as one of three Shawnee tribes recognized by the federal government by an act of Congress in December 2000, Hawkins said.
Cameron said her grandfather, Samuel Garrett, left with other members of the Shawnee to Oklahoma in 1870 but never sold his allotment. He returned nine years later, and the allotment eventually passed down to her. She had to sell it when an encroachment of a different kind -- advancing suburbia -- made it too expensive to retain.
Although the 1854 reservation was never formally extinguished, the reality of the Shawnee's experience in Kansas left the tribe without a reservation, Hawkins and.
Cameron said Johnson County, even in its early days, proved to be attractive for the Shawnee to retain the reservation.
"I've often wondered if it was off somewhere out of the way if we could have maintained a reservation like the Pottawatomie," she said. "But this was where they wanted to be.
"They promised -- and they kept their promise -- that they would never take up arms against the United States. And they didn't; it was the other way around."