Inside JCPRD: The Black Bob Band

When Missouri became a state in 1821, European Americans spread westward rapidly. In 1825, the federal government negotiated the Treaty of St. Louis, which removed 1,400 Missouri-based Shawnee to lands in Kansas (some Shawnee continued into Oklahoma and eventually into Mexican Texas, and became known as the “Absentee Shawnee”). The Shawnee reservation in Kansas stretched from the Missouri State boundary nearly to modern-day Junction City, and from the Kansas River to about the southern line of Johnson County.

The Shawnee were a people whittled away by American encroachment and Indian Removal policies. They had a history of partial assimilation into European American culture and traded heavily with American settlers. Portions of the Shawnee nation agreed with the tactic of assimilation and even with removal, hoping that the U.S. government might finally leave them alone. Other Shawnee disagreed and wanted to retain traditional culture and remain on their ancestral lands. The Kansas reservation brought nearly 2,000 members of these divergent factions of the Shawnee nation together.

With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the U.S. government’s new goal was to place the Native Americans who remained in the new Kansas Territory on individual allotments of land, rather than on large reservations. The government exchanged 1.6 million acres of Shawnee reservation land in Kansas for individual grants of 200 acres for each Shawnee man, woman, and child. By accepting, Shawnee land holdings were reduced to roughly 200,000 acres, located within 30 miles of the Missouri border. The government permitted the Shawnee to stay on their lands in Kansas only if they accepted individual allotments. These Shawnee – perhaps 700 or more – were called the “severalty” Shawnee because of their individual land ownership.

The “Black Bob Band” of the Shawnee, under the leadership of a chief named Black Bob, vehemently refused to accept individual allotments in 1854. The Black Bob, less than 200 in total, were traditionalists who rejected assimilation, believed in communal land ownership, and found themselves regularly at odds with the Shawnee national council. The council was made up of assimilationists who allied themselves with the federal government, rather than traditional leaders and hereditary chiefs. For Black Bob and his followers, accepting the government’s offer of individual land grants signified the forfeiture of their rights as tribal members. The government gave the Black Bob Band a tract of land totaling 33,000 acres in southern Johnson County, along Tomahawk Creek. While the U.S. government recognized the acreage as individual allotments accumulated in one place, the Black Bob Shawnee chose to view it as a single allotment to be used for communal living.

During the Border War and Civil War, the Black Bob’s land was directly in the path of warring vigilante groups. As the 1874 Atlas Map of Johnson County relates, the Black Bob “soon began to suffer robbery and losses at the hands of bushwackers (pro-slavery forces), or Kansas thieves, and becoming uneasy – exposed as they were on both sides – left the county in a body and took up their residence in the Indian Territory.” Pro-slavery vigilantes under William Quantrill raided the Black Bob reservation in September 1862. The Black Bob fled to the west and south for protection. When they returned, white squatters had claimed portions of the land.

For the rest of the story, read the museum’s post on the JoCoHistory Blog at www.jocohistory.org.