Chillicothe served as the initial capital of the State of Ohio, a fact Twelve Mile Circle noted recently. The name didn’t sound as if it derived from a European language, and indeed it came from the language of the Shawnee, an Algonquian-speaking people. Chillicothe, the former Ohio capital, may have been the first town of that name settled by American citizens as they pushed away from the Atlantic seaboard into the frontier, however it wasn’t the first Chillicothe. Not even close.
Approx. Sites of Five Native American Chillicothe Settlements in Ohio
Ohio History Central listed five specific Chillicothe settlement and in fact there were even more.
One Chillicothe was located on the site of the modern city of Piqua. Another was on the Scioto River south of Circleville at, or near, modern-day Westfall. A third Chillicothe was approximately three miles north of Xenia… A fourth Chillicothe was at Frankfort along Paint Creek in Ross County. A fifth Chillicothe was at Hopetown, three miles north of present-day Chillicothe.
The Shawnee were semi-nomadic with much of their population concentrated in the area of modern Ohio. They formed into several loose bands with each band specializing in certain functions that they provided across the larger tribe. One of those groups was the Chalahgawtha, a band that English-speaking people later called Chillicothe. The Chillicothe excelled at political leadership. The leader’s village was called Chillicothe so whenever a leader changed so did the placement of Chillicothe. Thus, Chillicothe translate to something like "principal town" or "principal place" which is why there were so many Shawnee sites called Chillicothe in the historical record.
The Battle of Chillicothe
Battle of Chillicothe, Old Chillicothe Site, Ohio
The most notable Shawnee Chillicothe in United States history was likely the one north of Xenia, the home of Chief Blackfish. Some sources referenced this as "Old Chillicothe" to differentiate it from the current Ohio city.
The tribe had already been pushed completely out of Virginia by that point, then in the midst of the American Revolution. Britain supplied Shawnee with weapons from their fort in Detroit and coaxed warriors to raid American settlements on the other side of the Ohio River in Kentucky. Two well-regarded American frontiersmen were captured and brought to Old Chillicothe during this period along with other prisoners: the very famous Daniel Boone, who escaped; and the lesser-known Simon Kenton who was rescued.
John Bowman’s expedition of Kentucky County militia crossed the Ohio and struck Chillicothe in May 1779 to neutralize the threat. It didn’t accomplish much although the militia captured a few horses, burned Chillicothe to the ground and wounded Chief Blackfish, who died about six weeks later from an infection. Thus ended one of the more obscure battles of the American Revolution.
Tecumseh, probably the most famous of all Shawnee was also born in Chillicothe. The Chillicothe of his birth, however, was likely one of the sites along the Scioto River rather than Old Chillicothe.
The Shawnee did not fare well once settlers started streaming into Ohio during the early years of the Nineteenth Century. They were forced onto reservations over time. The Federal government now recognizes three Shawnee tribes all located in Oklahoma: the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Shawnee Tribe.
Zane Shawnee Caverns, Bellefontaine, Ohio
One group of Shawnee descendants purchased land in Ohio in 1989 to reestablish the tribe in its ancestral home. They called themselves the United Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation, and received state recognition. Their status has been questioned however, both by the Federal government — which does not recognize the tribe — and by other Native Americans. They don’t have much of a web presence although they maintain a FaceBook page and a YouTube channel.
The Shawnee Nation URB also purchased Zane Shawnee Caverns near Bellefontaine, and stated "We are Native American owned and operated and we have been in business for more than 17 years at this location." The property includes a Native American museum, a campground, and it hosts regular powwows.
The Shawnee returned to Ohio after nearly two centuries, or maybe not, depending on one’s point of view. Will there be another Shawnee Chillicothe someday?