Shawnee Political Organization

The Shawnee were a confederacy of five autonomous political units: Chillicothe (Chalahgawtha), Hathawekela (also spelled as Thawekila or Thawegila), Kispoko (Kispokotha), Mequachake (Mekoche or Maykujay), and Piqua (Pekowi). Each of these divisions had its own chiefs. Within the Shawnee, however, each of the five had specific responsibilities. The Chillicothe and Thawekila provided tribal leaders and took care of political concerns relating to the whole tribe. The Pekowis were responsible for matters relating to religion and ritual. The Mekochea were concerned with health and medicine and therefore provided healers and counselors. The Kispokos provided war leadership.

With regard to the possible origins of the division among the Shawnee, Colin Calloway, in his book The Shawnees and the War for America, reports: “The Shawnees traditionally comprised five divisions, though it is not certain whether these divisions originally constituted different tribes, which came together to form the Shawnees, or if they developed during their migrations.”

As with many other American Indian nations, the Shawnee had two kinds of chiefs: peace chiefs and war chiefs. The peace chiefs were responsible for domestic order. This was an office which could be inherited. Colin Calloway writes:  “Civil chiefs tended to be mature men who had earned a reputation for good sense and whose counsel guided the people during times of peace and in everyday affairs.”

On the other hand, the war chief was an earned office. In the first step in becoming a war chief, a young man would have to participate in at least twelve raids into enemy territory. Then he would have to organize and lead four raids. To do this, he would have to persuade other young men to follow him. Just leading a war party, however, was not enough: the raids had to bring back honor and all of the men. According to Ian Steele, in an article in Ethnohistory:  “A raid was considered successful only if the entire raiding party returned unhurt, and if it brought back at least one scalp or prisoner.”

Once a man had become a war chief, he would lead at least twelve successful raids. After leading 12 raids, a war chief was allowed to resign if he wished.

The Shawnee tribal council was composed of both peace chiefs and war chiefs. Charles Callender, in his entry on the Shawnee in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:  “Elderly men also attended or gave advice and assistance, besides providing information about earlier events and the decisions reached by past councils.”

During times of war, the civil chiefs would temporarily hand over leadership to younger men who were considered war chiefs who would lead war parties. However, war could not be declared unless the peace chiefs agreed. When peace returned, the war chiefs would give leadership back to the civil or peace chiefs.

The Shawnee also had two female chiefs: a peace chief who supervised the planting and prepared feasts of vegetable foods and a war chief who was responsible for the preparation of meat. The female peace chief had the power to stop a war party from leaving. When a war party returned with prisoners, the prisoners would be spared if they were touched by the female peace chiefs. However, if a female war chief touched the prisoners first, they were burned and ritually eaten.

Shawnee Spirituality

The Shawnee, whose name means “Southerners”, once occupied a vast region west of the Cumberland mountains of the Appalachian chain in what is now part of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Like the other Algonquian-speaking tribes of the western part of the Northeast Woodlands Culture Area, the Shawnee had a traditional economy based on farming (corn, beans, and squash), hunting, and gathering wild plants.

As was common among hunting tribes, spirituality was an important part of hunting. In his book The Shawnees and the War for America, Colin Calloway writes:  “In the Shawnee world, humans and animals communicated, hunters dreamed the whereabouts of their prey and offered prayers to the spirits of the animals that gave their bodies so that the people might live.”

In order to maintain the harmony between humans and the animal people, and between humans and the plant people, it was necessary to conduct certain rituals to keep the world in balance.

Among many of the woodlands tribes sacred medicine bundles were important. The Shawnee at one time had a sacred bundle – mishaami – for each of the five divisions of the tribe. The Shawnee were a confederacy of five political units: Chillicothe (Chalahgawtha), Hathawekela (also spelled as Thawekila or Thawegila), Kispoko (Kispokotha), Mequachake (Mekoche or Maykujay), and Piqua (Pekowi). The bundles contained not only items which were sacred, but also included ritual concepts and songs.

The Shawnee were originally given their bundles by Our Grandmother at the time of creation. Since that time, items have been added to the bundles. According to James Howard, in his book Shawnee! The Ceremonialism of a Native American Tribe and its Cultural Background:  “Each of the sacred bundles is assigned to the care of a designated custodian, who is always a man, and a person of high moral character.”

The bundle was traditionally kept in a structure which was separate from the keeper’s home. James Howard also writes:  “The bundles are treated much as human beings, and it is believed that they may become cramped from resting too much in one position.”  Therefore, the position of the bundles is regularly shifted.

The Dakwanekawe or Bread Dance was an important Shawnee ceremony which was traditionally held in the spring and in the fall. The ceremony was given to the Shawnee by Our Grandmother who sometimes appeared on earth to observe the ceremony and to participate in the singing. In the spring, the role of women in the ceremony was predominant and this ceremony asked for fertility and good crops. In the fall, the men led the dancing and their role as hunters was emphasized. The spring dance asked for an abundant harvest while the fall dance expressed thanksgiving and asked for abundant game.

The Green Corn Dance was held in August and marked the first corn harvest. Charles Callender, in his chapter on the Shawnee in the Handbook of North American Indians reports:  “On this occasion persons were absolved of misconduct, and all injuries except murder were forgiven.”  The Green Corn Dance lasted from 4 to 12 days.

The Buffalo Dance was generally held in late August or early September. The dance was originally given to Tecumseh by the Buffalo, his guardian spirit. Two kettles of corn mush were prepared for the dance as this dish was favored by the buffalo. The ceremony included body painting and eight sets of dances which were performed by men and women. The final element of the dance was a mock battle for the corn mush, which was then eaten. Social dances often followed the ceremony.

The Buffalo Dance was conducted outside of the ceremonial grounds used for other ceremonies because it did not come from Our Grandmother.

Among the Shawnee, funeral rites usually lasted four days. The body was buried on its back in an extended position with the head toward the west. Prior to burial, friends and relatives would dress and paint the body. Before the grave was filled, friends and relatives would sprinkle small amounts of tobacco over the body and ask the soul not to look back or to think about those remaining behind.

Guitarist Link Wray – and his legacy

( – promoted by navajo)

A look at the guitarist Link Wray – with 1/2 Shawnee ancestry – who is a pivotal figure in rock-n-roll and still influential six years after his death.

If you try to draw a line from the first bluesman who cranked up his guitar amp to create a distorted sound …. all the way to the Hendrix/Page/Townshend rock guitarists …. that line must pass thru Link Wray who – if he never recorded another song than Rumble fifty years ago – would have a place in music history. And while he never scaled those heights again: he had a career worth noting.

Frederick Lincoln Wray (who had part Shawnee ancestry) was born in Dunn, North Carolina in 1929, with his family eventually settling in Maryland. Link served in the Korean War where he suffered from tuberculosis (eventually losing a lung). He concentrated on his guitar work and formed Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands, a western-swing band in the mid-1950’s.

This later evolved into the Ray Men when they became the house band on a Washington, D.C. TV show. Backing others (such as Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson) they became a more instrumental band (as Link’s vocal abilities were limited due to the loss of that lung).

Then while backing-up The Diamonds in 1958, Link Wray improvised a 12-bar blues instrumental titled “Oddball” which had a distorted sound when Wray poked holes in his amplifier’s speakers (much as Ike Turner’s dropped-and-damaged amp delivered a sound on Rocket 88 he came to believe was advantageous). It was an audience hit, yet Cadence Records producer Archie Bleyer was unimpressed.

But his daughter loved it, telling Bleyer it reminded her of the rumble scenes in “West Side Story” and the song was renamed Rumble – which, while primitive: doesn’t sound dated over fifty years later, and guitarists from Jimmy Page to Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix all cited the song as an influence. The Who’s Pete Townshend went further: stating in liner notes (for a 1970 Link Wray album) that, but for that tune: “I would never have picked up a guitar”. Some radio stations banned it (as ‘encouraging teen violence’) .. which only increased record sales.

Link and the Ray Men followed it up over the next few years with “Rawhide” and “Jack the Ripper” but then settled into an on-again-off-again remainder of his career. One reason is that record companies thought that – if they could dress him up and not be a juvenile delinquent poster child – he’d sell more records. Yet Link Wray was not cut out for playing “Claire de Lune”(!) as he did in 1960, and eventually Swan Records gave him room to stretch out. There were also periods of retirement, as well.

I recall him teaming up with rockabilly singer Robert Gordon throughout the 1970’s and he eventually married and relocated to Denmark, as his audience as a solo performer increasingly shifted across the Atlantic. One band-member for a time in the 1980’s was Anton Fig, who later joined Paul Shaffer’s “Late Show” band. His last album was Barbed Wire from 2000 and his music was featured on such films as “Pulp Fiction”, “Breathless” and John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos”.

Link Wray died in Copenhagen, Denmark in November, 2005 at the age of 76. Former Maryland Governor Erlich declared January 15, 2006 as Link Wray Day, and he was voted #45 on the Greatest Guitarists of All Time by Rolling Stone.

Wray has also been inducted into two Halls of Fame: those for Native American Music … and for Rockabilly after his death. Rhino has a compilation album of note, and as long as guitarists want a sound that is anything-but-clean: the music of Link Wray will have a place.


If you haven’t had a listen to Rumble in some time: then below you can see why this song made his career.

For a song with lyrics and even vocals by Link Wray: here is his 1979 version of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – which below you can listen to.

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last

But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun,

Crying like a fire in the sun

Look out the saints are comin’ through

And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense

Take what you have gathered from coincidence

The empty-handed painter from your streets

Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets

This sky, too, is folding under you

And it’s all over now, Baby Blue