Europeans reported encountering Shawnee over a widespread geographic area. The earliest mention of the Shawnee may be a 1614 Dutch map showing the Sawwanew just east of the Delaware River. Later 17th-century Dutch sources also place them in this general location. Accounts by French explorers in the same century usually located the Shawnee along the Ohio River, where they encountered them on forays from Canada and the Illinois Country.

The Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians descend from southeastern Kentucky’s early multiracial settlers of 1790-1870. Their ancestors migrated to the central Appalachian region in the late 18th to mid 19th centuries.[1] The Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians are the only Native American tribe to have been recognized and honored by a body of the Kentucky General Assembly. In 2009 and 2010, resolutions by the State House of the Kentucky General Assembly recognized the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians for their care of their children and elderly, and their work to preserve their culture and Native American heritage in the region, including prehistoric sites. In June 2013 the Pine Mountain Indian Community LLC announced that the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians would become the heritage arm of this non profit organization. Within this new management structure the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians will concentrate more on the heritage of the region while the Pine Mountain Indian Community will take the lead with regard to economic development and community development in Southeastern Kentucky.

The Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe have worked to strengthen and preserve Native American traditions and culture. They contributed to passage of local ordinances that prohibit digging, or artifact hunting, on county and city lands. One such ordinance was passed by the Harlan County, Kentucky fiscal court in 2006. The only such ordinance in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, it has decreased illegal artifact hunting and helped preserve prehistoric sites. The Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians were instrumental in the creation of the Harlan County Native American Site Protection Office.

The group members work with state, city and county officials to protect Native American cultural resources in Eastern Kentucky. They gained agreement from the city of Ashland, Kentucky to put a protective fence around prehistoric earthworks in a park; a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Indian Mounds in Central Park.

In addition, the tribe has developed a database of documented Native Americans in southeastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee, to make it easier for other persons to trace their ancestry. By December 2011, the Kentucky Native American Databank held basic genealogical data for more than 1000 names; it is hosted on the free genealogy site, Rootsweb. The tribe is seeking to preserve the Shawnee language, a Central Algonquian language that was traditional for many of its ancestors. Today it is spoken primarily by Shawnee in Oklahoma.

In 2009 and 2010, the State House of the Kentucky General Assembly recognized the Ridgetop Shawnee Tribe of Indians by passing, unopposed, House Joint Resolutions 15 or HJR-15 in 2009 and HJR-16 in 2010. These acknowledged the people’s long history in the state, its efforts to preserve Native American heritage, as well as to help its elderly and young people.

The Ridgetop Shawnee require that prospective members prove documented descent from multiracial settlers in the region from 1790–1870, and also have Y-DNA or MtDNA showing direct-line Native American ancestry. Y-DNA and or MtDNA may only be used to show descent from documented individuals who are eligible for enrollment. In 2012 the Ridgetop Shawnee began the Express Enrollment program for descendants of several family lines of mixed-Native American heritage, who have been well-documented as migrating to Southeastern Kentucky, Northeastern Tennessee, and Southwestern Virginia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These families and lines are: Sizemore (KY), Fields (KY, VA), descendants of Hawkins Bowman (KY, VA), descendants of Ezekiel Bennett (KY, TN), descendants of John Cole (KY, VA) and descendants of Porter Jackson (KY, VA). In June 2012, the tribe limited enrollment to individuals who qualified to use Express Enrollment.

HAWKINS BOWMAN (born app. 1790)

by Holly Fee-Timm
[originally published 3 June 1987
Harlan Daily Enterprise Penny Pincher]

“Many families in the mountains have traditions of being part Indian. Ed Ward refers to just such a tradition about Susannah Skidmore Farmer in his letter to the editor Saturday, May 30. Other families with a tradition of Indian blood are descendants of Isaac Callahan, some of the King and Jones families and the Sizemores. ……

………The three major tribes in the Kentucky area with the greatest possibilities for intermarriage were the Cherokee, the Chickasaw and the Shawnee with the Cherokee being the most numerous in the immediate area. The Quadrule Indians mentioned as living locally were probably not a separate tribe. They were most likely a small group of one of the major tribes who simply settled here, more peaceful than many of their brethren.

There are two local families with documentary evidence supporting their claims to Indian blood. These are the Cole and Bowman families. The Coles are listed in census records for 1860 Lee County, Va., and for 1870 Harlan as being Indian. The state and counties of birth given for the Cole family of 1860 implies they moved around frequently. The head of the household, John Cole, was born about 1799 in Lincoln Co., North Carolina. His daughter Eliza was born in Scott Co., Va., and daughter Elisabeth, in Knox Co., Ky. Eliza’s two children, Jacob and Elmira were born in Lee Co., Va.

Next door to John’s household is another Eliza Cole, born about 1834 in Lee Co., Va., with two daughters – Jane born in Claiborne Co., Tenn., and Elisabeth born in Lee Co., Va. All of these Coles and a Jefferson Cole living in the same neighborhood were listed as Indians. Elsewhere in Lee County was a John M. Cole, 20, also of Indian blood.

In 1870, the younger Eliza Cole, her two children mentioned above and three more children, Robert, Mary Jane and Mollie were listed in Harlan County. All were indicated as being Indian. It must be noted that the degree of Indian blood is not listed in census and even a small fraction could be cause for such a listing.

Jacob Cole married Kizzie Eldridge, another family with a strong tradition of Indian blood. Mary Jane Cole married William Brittain, son of James and Jane Ely Brittain. The Coles were closely connected with another area family with proven Indian blood, the Bowmans. Hawkins Bowman was born about 1790 in North Carolina. In 1838, in Lee Co., Va., he married Nancy Barbour.

In 1879, his widow applied for a pension on his military service. She stated that he had served in the Tennessee Infantry in the War of 1812 under Captain Jesse Cole. She described him as being of dark complexion, commonly called part Indian and that he was about five-feet nine inches tall. They had at least seven children: George, Mary who married Hiram Fugate, Lucinda, John, Nancy, Thomas who married Mary Moore, and Elijah. In the 1860 census of Harlan County. Hawk Bowman is listed as a blacksmith. In the 1870 Harlan, the family is listed as Indian.”

The Cole and Bowman Families of Harlan Co., Ky.