Home > PublicationsEncyclopedia >  Shawnee

SHAWNEE.

The county seat of Pottawatomie County, Shawnee is located along the North Canadian River and six miles southeast of the intersection of U.S. Highway 177 and Interstate 40. The Creek and Seminole area originally occupied the area that was designated as Pottawatomie County in 1892. After the Civil War those two nations ceded part of their land to the federal government, and the Sac and Fox, Citizen Band Potawatomi, Absentee Shawnee, and Kickapoo were removed to this region. On September 22, 1891, the area was opened to non-Indian settlers by a land run.

Among the thousands who made the run, four individuals (Etta B. Ray, Henry G. Beard, James T. Farrall, and Elijah A. Alley) crossed a line, later called Kickapoo Street, and each staked a quarter section in the proposed city of Brockway. Following an all-night discussion among early settlers who had their own suggestions for the town name, a compromise was reached to name the town Shawnee, after the American Indian tribe. Etta Ray and Henry Beard were married on November 9, 1891, and built the first residence, a log house (listed in the National Register of Historical Places, NR 83002121) in Shawnee.

Soon after the run James Farrall cut Shawnee's first main street, Farrall Street, through his property. Many city lots were sold, and by 1892 the population was estimated at 250. Several stores, two banks, two newspapers, two brickyards, seven cotton gins, three flour mills, and one livery stable dotted Farrall, Beard, and Broadway streets.

On July 4, 1895, after months of negotiation, the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad arrived at Kickapoo Street, thereafter fostering rapid growth in the new town. The population grew from 350 in 1894 to 2,500 in 1896. In 1903–04 the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway extended rail service to Shawnee. Brothers John and Henry Beard and James Farrall gave land to the railroads as an inducement to build lines through the town. At the turn of the twenty-first century the Santa Fe Depot (NR 74001667) served as a museum for the Pottawatomie County Historical Society.

Early residents enjoyed baseball games, horse racing at a track west of the city, and vaudeville and opera performances at local establishments such as the Becker Theater. French actress Sarah Bernhardt appeared there in 1903. Good times were frequent at Benson Park, located between Shawnee and Tecumseh and reached by an interurban railway. Families spent leisurely Sunday afternoons at the park, listening to performances at the amphitheater, riding the roller coaster, roller-skating, or swimming in the pool called "The Plunge."

Local leaders induced two higher-education institutions to locate in Shawnee. Oklahoma Baptist University held its first class in 1911. Its initial building, Shawnee Hall, was a gift from the citizens. The Benedictine Order of the Roman Catholic Church moved its school from Sacred Heart to Shawnee in 1915 and renamed it St. Gregory's College (now St. Gregory's University, NR 75001572). St. Gregory's University is home to the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art.

As the city expanded, local industries and businesses grew. The population stood at 23,283 in 1930. During a period of steady growth, several attempts were made to move the courthouse from Tecumseh to Shawnee. Finally, on December 19, 1930, citizens voted to move the county seat to Shawnee. The county courthouse (NR 84003424), constructed with New Deal funding, opened on July 6, 1935. Shawnee grew from 22,053 in 1940 to 22,948 in 1950, 25,075 in 1970, and 26017 in 1990.

Oklahoma notables who have resided in Shawnee include Oklahoma's twenty-fifth governor, Charles Bradford "Brad" Henry, astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr., and Louise Funk Fluke, designer of Oklahoma's official flag. While homesteading in Kansas, physician Brewster Higley, who died in Shawnee on May 11, 1911, wrote a poem in 1873 that became the lyrics to the popular song "Home on the Range."

From the 1960s to the turn of the twenty-first century, Shawnee's economic base reoriented from agrarian to commercial, industrial, and service occupations. Shawnee had 28,692 residents in 2000 and 29,857 in 2010. They maintained a home rule charter with council-manager form of government.

Robert J. Barnard

See also: SETTLEMENT PATTERNS

Bibliography

Ernestine Gravley, "Fifty Years Ago in Shawnee and Pottawatomie County," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 31 (Winter 1953–54).

Mike McCormick, Dawn of a New Age: Leaving a Mark on the Community: The Shawnee News-Star Famous Front Pages (Marceline, Mo.: Heritage House Publishing, 2000).

"Oklahoma's Live Young Cities," Sturm's Oklahoma Magazine 4 (May 1907).

Pottawatomie County History Book Committee, comp. and ed., Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma History (Claremore, Okla.: Country Lane Press, 1987).

"Shawnee," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society. This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society and are held in the agency's Research Division Photograph Archives (unless otherwise stated).


Citation

The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Robert J. Barnard, "Shawnee," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org (accessed November 19, 2017).

Links of Interest


About the Encyclopedia | Terms of Use | Using the Encyclopedia