The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma are one of the state's three federally recognized Shawnee tribes (the Eastern Shawnee and the Loyal Shawnee or Shawnee Tribe are the others). Headquartered at Shawnee, the Absentee Shawnee had 2,943 members in 2003.
During the American Revolution many peace-seeking Shawnee relocated from Ohio to Spanish Louisiana and settled near present Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where they were later joined by other Shawnee from Alabama and Ohio. Prior to this band's acceptance of a Kansas reservation in 1825, some members had dispersed into Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. By 1840 many of those scattered groups had migrated to the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma), and dwelled along the Canadian River in the Choctaw and Creek nations. Being absent from their Kansas reservation, they became collectively known 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. Other Absentee from Texas settled on the Wichita-Caddo reservation. Some served in the Confederate army during the war, while most lived as refugees in Kansas. Afterward, joined by many Kansas Shawnee (Black Bob's band), they returned to Indian Territory and claimed acreage assigned the Potawatomi. An 1872 congressional act gave title of that land to the Absentee Shawnee. The tribe then consisted of two groups, the followers of White Turkey, who favored assimilation, and those of Big Jim, who opposed absorption into white society for fear of losing their cultural traditions. The Absentee Shawnee lands were allotted in 1890 and 1891.
The Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma was organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936. 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, an Indian gaming facility in Cleveland County. The Absentee Shawnee diligently cling to their tribal customs and ceremonies. They observe the bread and war dances and own ceremonial grounds upon which those dances are performed. Of Oklahoma's three recognized Shawnee tribes, the Absentee have the largest number of members who speak their native Algonquian language.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Charles Callender, "Shawnee," in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15, Northeast, ed. Bruce G. Trigger (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978). Grant Foreman, The Last Trek of the Indians: An Account of the Removal of the Indians from North of the Ohio River (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946). Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).
Pamela A. Smith
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