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Shawnee Clans

Some of this is a bit technical, but the first part summarizes the data and the second part, The Historical Development of Shawnee Clans goes into more detail.


Hom'shooma, 'clan, gens, patrisib, patrilineal clan, name group, or phratry'.  Umsoma: a conventional spelling after Alford; appears erroneously as "unsoma" and variations of this sort. I would prefer to use Hom'shooma, but Umsoma seems firmly planted in the literature (similarly Opawawka 'Guardian Spirit' for Hopawaaka and Meesawmi 'Tribal bundle' for Miishaami).


Ancient Period: a gens with patrilineal descent having totemic reference to either animals (wolf, turkey, panther, etc.) or natural objects or phenomena (tree, wind, clouds, etc.).  Kinship with the totems was one of shared characteristics and empathy rather than some form of kinship. The Shawnee did not have special dietary laws or taboos associated with their hom'shooma, nor did they regard themselves as descending from the totemic creatures. Membership in a hom'shooma defined a kin group and the member had the rights and privileges accorded that group within the tribe: "...the several tribes [clans] were originally single families, the heads of which bore the names by which their descendants were afterwards distinguished. The children are always considered as belonging to the tribe of their father..." (Shawnee Prophet in Trowbridge, p. 17). The Chiefdomship was hereditary and passed on in the same clan, usually father to son, but sometimes uncle to sister's son. If sister's son were a different clan, he could be adopted into the appropriate one of his uncle. In the transitional period, where sons could be put in either the father's or mother's clan, succession could be effectively cut off by the name-givers by selecting the mother's clan.

The most common clans common to all 19th century sources are Snake, Turtle, Raccoon, Turkey, Deer, Bear, Wolf, Panther, Fish, and Rabbit. Loon or Owl are prominent in the Kansas lists but absent in the Prophets list; the Prophet includes in his first 12 clans Tree (and other objects and natural phenomena in his list of 34). We know from closely related tribes and the names of 17th century Shawnee that more inanimate (from a European point of view) objects figured in names (Cornstalk, Flying Cloud, etc.).

Transitional Period: After the War of 1812 when independent political existence was curtailed and after the removal to the west, lost, that clans were already being subsumed as sub-gentes: Hawk, Eagle, Turkey Buzzard for the Fowl phratry with Turkey (said to have originally been Eagle); Elk and Buffalo in the Hoofed phratry with Deer; and Wildcat with Panther; Fox with Wolf, etc. Of note is the fact that only the Prophet included natural objects or phenomena in his list, and only one--Tree--in his first 12. Given that closely related groups such as the Kickapoo and Sauk and Fox had gentes like Tree, Water, Thunderer, and the like, and further that names of prominent Shawnee exist for the 17th century with such names (Cornstalk, Flying Cloud, etc.) it seems reasonable to conclude that these were a fatality of the transitional period. The early development of phratries can be seen in Gatschet's pairing of 1) Fish-Turtle and 2) Loon-Owl as the  "grandfathers" of the tribe who migrated across the ocean in a fog. Michelson also indicated the pairs of the "grandchildren" as 3) Wolf-Fox, 4) Panther-Wildcat, and 5) Eagle-Turkey. However, then, as now (current period), some pairings are functional and cut across phratries: Bear-Elk and Turtle-Turkey. In the current period, below, Turtle and Turkey continue to be paired, and Rounded-feet paired with Horse (analogous to Michelson's Bear-Elk). Coon (Raccoon) and Rabbit are said to stand alone, a fact supported by Michelson who has Coon and Rabbit "have no partners." (even though Raccoon is in the Rounded-foot phratry). It is clear that the process of transition has never been completed to form a stable system, but then the late 17th century period was itself probably a transition from an earlier 16th and early 17th century situation for which we have virtually no information other than comparative data with closely related tribes as the Kickapoo and Sauk and Fox. See further analysis in Historical Development, below).

Current Period: a social grouping of six phratry-like categories within which totemic names are consolidated.  Most prominent functions of the clans are relegated to humorous bantering in rivalry between different clans and in support of partner clans; nevertheless, the clans maintain functions for ceremonial and other public purposes, such as roles in funerals, Bread Dance preparations, dancing partners, rain making, etc. Totems are common to all divisions. Six phratries now exist:

1. Fowl phratry (turkey, chicken, hawk, eagle - winged creatures);


2. Turtle phratry (turtle, fish, snake - aquatic creatures and those whose status is ambiguous, such as amphibians and reptiles);


3. Rounded-paw phratry (panther, wolf, fox -- carnivorous animals leaving round-footed tracks);


4. Hoofed (Horse) phratry (deer, horse, elk, buffalo - grazing animals leaving hoof-shaped tracks);


5. Scratchy-paw (Raccoon) phratry (raccoon, bear, beaver -- generally non-carnivorous animals leaving scratchy-foot or oblong tracks); and the


6. Rabbit phratry -- (displaying a gentle nature, possibly includes squirrels, chipmunks, and the like).

 Again, some relationships of individual clans cross phratry boundaries (Turtle-Turkey, Horse-Rounded-foot). The overall impression is a consolidation of names to abet ceremonial and practical affairs, but with no phratry organizations (no officials, no bundles, no formal assemblies).

NOTE: It must be emphasized that membership in a clan did not bestow upon a clan member any sacred power from the group totem. See the discussion on this under "Sacred Power" in the Historical Development section. 

Etymology. Related to the kinship stem in the word translated as 'Grandfather' (ni-me'shoom-'tha 'my grandfather'). The word can be literally one's grandfather, but as a generic term it is in the sense of a distant clan relative along with the term for grandmother. The group of relatives to which the grandparent terms apply provide the boundaries enclosing a closed kinship system of near relatives open only for descending generations. See Kinship below. Gatschet: umsomiwe, 'clan, gens', pl. umsomiwenua (notebook, p. 86); C.F. Voegelin: hom'shoomi, hom'shoomiwi, pl. hom'shoomiwena (first year notebooks, 1933); Alford (Galloway, 1934:505-6): Umsoma.

Shawnee kinship. Shawnee kinship is a closed system, or nearly so. All grandparents and ancestors, and the children of grandparents and their siblings, are called by the terms translated as 'grandfather' and 'grandmother'. Oddly, this means that one would call a person younger than oneself, if he descended from one's grandfather's siblings, a grandfather or a grandmother in the English sense of the word. Actually, however, the term would refer to distant clan relatives who hypothetically could trace their ancestry back to a known progenitor. These 'grandparent' terms form a boundary around a closed near-relative system. This system consists of ego's parent's and their descendants (including ego), ego's parent's siblings and their descendants, and ego's descendants and ego's siblings and their descendants. See Shawnee Kinship for a full description.

Affiliation: A child is associated with a clan at his naming ceremony (see ). In ancient times a boy would most likely receive the name of his father's hom'shooma. Names could be changed if the child were sickly, if the name proved inappropriate, if another person was found to have the same name, or other circumstances. In this case, another naming ceremony would take place.

A person could be adopted into another clan if it proved necessary; for example, if the son of a chief was not found suitable to succeed, a son of his sister might be selected and his hom'shooma changed accordingly. Shawnee can usually tell the clan of a person by the meaning of the name, but the real meaning is explained by the elder conferring a name on the child at the naming ceremony.

The selected name has a definite linguistic structure and can usually be distinguished from "nicknames" taken by individuals or applied to them by others because of distinguishing characteristics or exploits. Nicknames only incidentally indicate clan affiliation.

Functions: Clans had definite functions within the tribe or band; for example, the panther clan led a war party on the warpath, but a member of the wolf clan led the war party back into the village.  A Raccoon may be called upon by a council to prepare for rain making, but trouble may come if a Raccoon Men is not sent to the rear when coming to a large body of water. A Turtle or Turkey Man must be chosen to handle the Kishpoko bundle, and the leaders of the 12 men and 12 women who prepare for the spring Bread Dance must also come from one of these two divisions. However, in one case the Thawikila divisions bundle was given specifically to the care of a Turkey Man "because a turkey is ready to fly quickly" (Jennie Cegar, Shawnee Name Groups, p. 631). Other taboos and prohibitions are also encountered: In the 19th century it seems that a Rabbit Man only is permitted to tell Wildcat and Rabbit, and, in general, probably this prohibition was generalized to other tales (but no longer holds true). In funerals the leader and the grave diggers and corpse handlers may not be of the same clan as the deceased. However, clans may kill the animals of their totems in hunting and eat their flesh. It is probable that the functions, tasks, and prohibitions were much greater before the 19th century.

Variations: It is suspected that different sub-divisions of the nation (Chalaka, Thawikila, Mekoche, Kishpoko, and Pekowi) had variations between them with respect to their totems, but data is insufficient to define these differences. The most common names for the old clans, ideally organized into 12 or 13 "tribes" can be in the information collected by Morgan-Spencer-Gatschet (see Historical Development, following) with exactly 13 clans common to them: Snake, Turtle, Raccoon, Turkey, Deer, Bear, Wolf, Panther, Fish, Rabbit, Horse, Loon, and Owl. Others are Hawk, Eagle, Turkey Buzzard, Elk, Buffalo, Wildcat and Fox. Only the early 19th century list of the Prophet, however, lists natural phenomena as clans, such as Tree, Corn, and Cloud.



Twentieth Century Clans:

Like many aspects of the Shawnee, defining the clan system resents special problems to the investigator. The problem revolves around the fact that the data from the 19th century is at variance from that collected in the second decade of the 20th century.

When C.F. Voegelin (hereafter, CFV) and E.W. Voegelin (EWV) wrote their ground-breaking "Shawnee Name Groups" in 1935 (American Anthropologists 37.4 (Oct-Nov 1935) the only previously know published work was that of Lewis Henry Morgan. Morgan's data indicated thirteen clans while CFV and EWV found only six groups, a classification verified by the classification of Thomas Wildcat Alford.

Looking at the discrepancy, they felt that at least part of Morgan's data may have stemmed from informants "whose culture was more 'Seneca' than 'Shawnee'." Since CFV and EWV's data was also at variance with that of closely related Algonquian groups such as the Sauk, Potawatomi, they were inclined to believe that "Shawnee name groups are basically Central Algonkin; it is even possible that the nucleus of the complex was a part of Shawnee culture at a remote time when sibs were only weakly developed, if at all, among the Central Algonkin. With such a nucleus the various Central Algonkin tribes must have developed their special sib systems while the Shawnee instead elaborated the common nucleus into a name group system" (p. 635). In other words, they projected their findings backward in time as the original system with a reasonable hypothesis.

Time did not bear out their original inclinations and subsequently they had to amend their conclusions, as we shall see. In the meantime, the following table summarizes the data from the classification of Thomas Wildcat Alford (1934) and CFV and EWV (1935). It should be noted that Thomas Wildcat Alford (then 73) was one of the specific informants mentioned as sources for the data in "Shawnee Name Groups." Since their research was in 1933-4, Alford's material probably is in concert with that of CFV and EWV.

NOTE: I have rendered the forms in the regularized orthography with corrections for better comparison and have adopted the suggestion the these represent a consolidation into "Phratries" mad by Charles Callender (Social Organization of the Central Algonkian Indians. Milwaukee Public Museum Publications in Anthropology, no 7, Milwaukee, Wis.), a classification to which we will return.


Individual member(s) of the phratry indicated by -(h)ileni or -(h)ileniiki.1.

Name of phratry indicated by -(h)om'shoomi.2

Foul (Turkey) Phratry

Peleewiileni 'man of fowls'; composed of fowls of all kinds -- winged creatures whether they fly or not.

Peleewom'shoomi 'Turkey name group'; representing bird life.

Turtle Phratry

Ka'kineethiileni 'turtle-man; composed of turtles of all kinds, but also creatures of ambiguous classification such as amphibians and reptiles.

Kka'kileewom'shoomi 'Turtle name group'; representing aquatic life.

Rounded-foot Phratry

Petekothiteewiileni 'round-footed man'; composed of animals of round feet or paws who leave round tracks..

Petekothiteewom'shoomi 'Rounded-feet name group'; representing carnivorous animals, as the dog, wolf, and the like, whose paws are ball-shaped, or rounded.

Hoofed (Horse) phratry

Msheeweewiileni 'horse-man'; composed of animals with hoofs and who leave hoofed tracks.

Msheeweewom'shoomi 'Horse name group'; representing herbivorous animals as the horse, deer buffalo, and elk.

Claw-foot (Raccoon) Phratry

Thepatiiwiileni 'raccoon man'; composed of animals with oblong feet who leave "scratch" tracks, like raccoon and bear.

Thepatiiwom'shoomi 'Raccoon name group'; representing animals having paws which can scratch like those of raccoon and bear.

Gentle Nature (Rabbit) Phratry

Petakineethiileni 'rabbit-man'; composed of rabbits and others of its kind. This latter is about extinct. At least its is not popular.

Petakineethiiwom'shoomi 'Rabbit name group'; representing a gentle peaceful nature.

1 From hileni 'man', plural hileniiki 'men, tribe'.

2 Voegelin also used the form Alford gives when referring to an individual or group of individuals with membership in the hom'shooma rather than a generic term for the group itself, as well as a form with lenawe 'Indian', plural lenaweeki 'people (Indians)':

petekothiteewileniiki 'rounded-feet men', mseeweewiilenaweeki 'horse people', but mseeweewi hom'shoomlichi 'horse lodge (name group where it occurs as two words)'  (1933 fieldwork notebooks, pages 225-226 where CFV initially glossed the hom'shooma as 'lodge(s)').

Specifically, along with the difference in the number of clans between their data and that of Morgan, the problem was that CFV and EWV found that the "The most striking and certainly the only original feature of Shawnee name groups is a negative one: the name groups are not unilateral [patrilineal or matrilineal descent] in an area where unilateral systems of social organization are to be expected." With respect to the number of clans, they insisted, "the Shawnee ever had thirteen name groups was consistently denied by all informants, some of whom were so far advanced in years as to bridge the gap between Morgan's time and ours."

In fairness it must be said that their hypothesis was tentative and in the article they held out the possibility that "...there is nothing inherently improbable in supposing that the six name groups of the present day represent a consolidation of a former larger number; as we have mentioned (p. 622), in the abstract the number of name groups is often said to be twelve." And when the Trowbridge papers were discovered and published by Kinietz and E.W. Voegelin, she restated the case to incorporate the new information as follows (footnote 9, page 16 of Shawanese Traditions):

Trowbridge here uses "tribes" for that form of social grouping among the Shawnee which we would now call "gens" or "patrilineal clans." By the twentieth century these groups had lost their unilateral character to such an extent that Dr. C.F. Voegelin and I adopted the term "name groups" for them; but it becomes clear from the Trowbridge material that unilateral descent was once associated with them.

The term "name group" then is only appropriate for the form taken since the second decade of the twentieth century when Shawnee social organization had lost its original form. There is no reason, then, that we cannot use the general term "clan" for this aspect of Shawnee social organization in the since of patrilineal (patrisibs, patrilineal clans, or gentes) groupings. In fact, the earliest record we have of a description of Shawnee social organization comes from a Shawnee chief, Itawachcomequa, who was jailed in South Carolina (where he died). Under interrogation by Governor Glen  (William L. McDowell, Jr. (ed.), Documents Relating to Indian Affairs, May 21, 1750-August 7, 1754, p. 422-23), he said, by means of an interpreter:

I am a Shavanah, and Head of a Town. We are distributed by different Names, the Cow, the Bear, the Buffaloe. There are also Wolf Shavanahs and other Names given us. [Italics added.]

Further, the notion that the Shawnee disavow groupings into twelve or thirteen clans has been also found to be amiss. I collected thirteen clan names from Robert Williams in the early 1970s (the thirteenth being Snake) and a number of other sources, mostly unpublished, now provide us with lists similar to, but independent of, Morgan's data and which confirm his findings. Henceforth, then, clan will be used in this sense. There is great ambiguity in the literature on the use of such terms, but in general a clan indicates a social grouping in which the kin group regard themselves as being descended from a remote, but unknown, ancestor. We will return to a precise definition and description below.

It remains, however, to account for the groupings found by CFV and EWV. In fact, the problems is made even more curious by the fact that the Shawnee Prophet, who provided the data Trowbridge recorded, listed 34 clans! He did indicate that the first twelve were the most important, but this leaves the other names unaccounted for. Why such a plethora of terms in the first place.

Part of the solution, which will receive confirmation in the discussion below, was formulated by Callender. He found that the same process of consolation had taken place among the Sauk, Prairie Potawatomi, and Kickapoo. He suggested that this was the result of a declining population and related factors the proper performance of the ceremonials of the tribe were threatened and the ritual functions were preserved by their being grouped into phratries and unilineal descent abandoned in favor of a non-lineal system, though still organized into social units but making available a larger pool of appropriate clans. These were, Callender proposed, the "name groups" described by CFV and EWV. He suggested that early unilateral patri-clans had developed into to patri-clans name groups, and then finally to name group phratries without unilateral descent. In other words, former independent clans were now constituents of one of the six name groups, but without their former unilineal features.

This defines the change from the late nineteenth century 12 or 13 clans of the late  19th century into the 6 phratries of the 20th century, but it does not completely account for the plethora of terms listed by the Shawnee Prophet in early 19th century. Trowbridge remarks that in his list the first 12 were the most important, indicating at an early date the same preference for a dozen idealized clans. It is my suggestion that the large number of clans grew out of somewhat divergent clans belonging to different divisions of the Shawnee confederacy. This confederacy took place before or in the early stages of the Beaver Wars (Wars of the Iroquois), but did not demand at that time a total integration of the nearly autonomous members of the confederacy. When they were scattered once again after being defeated by the Iroquois, they probably maintained there earlier clan groups. However, when the nation once again gathered in Ohio the concept that they all shared the same clans led to a proliferation of clan names. Due to great separation in the 1780s, the process of integration was not complete and thus the Shawnee Prophets long list of clans. In the west, the lists from the Kansas Shawnee will be seen to be relatively stable, but divergent from the list of the Shawnee Prophet (even though he did join the others in Kansas himself later) in which the first 12 probably represented the clans of the Kishpoko division.

Nineteenth Century Clans: 







Speck g

1. Snake

5. Snake

11. Snake

8. Snake

10. Snake



2. Turtle


10. Turtle

4. Turtle

2. Turtle



Turtle (water)

3. Raccoon

2. Raccoon

9. Raccoon

2. Raccoon

3. Raccoon



4. Turkey

4. Turkey

7. Turkey

7. Turkey

7. Turkey



6. Deer

10. Deer

8. Deer

6. Deer

5. Deer



7. Bear

12. Bear

3. Bear

9. Bear

4. Bear


Bear (Roundfoot)

8. Wolf

1. Wolf

1. Wolf

5. Wolf

1. Wolf


Wolf (Roundfoot)

9. Panther

9. Panther

5. Panther

3. Panther

6. Panther



20. Fish

3. Fish

Fuller discussions of those aspects mentioned appear under Shawnee Divisions and Sacred Power.