Following the Mound Builders came the Shawnees, who were the first tribe of Indians to settle in Middle Tennessee. They journeyed from a region surrounding the Great Lakes about 1650 and built their villages along the banks of the Cumberland. The boundaries of this settlement extended north to what is now the Kentucky line, and as far west as the Tennessee River. Until the time of their coming the country now comprising Kentucky and Middle Tennessee had been held as neutral territory by the Indians, and was used as a common hunting ground by the Iroquois on the north, and by the tribes composing the Mobilian race on the south. Chief among the latter were the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles.
The Shawnees were of the Algonquin race, a part of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy, and are called by historians the "Gypsies of the Forest." There was among them a tradition that their ancestors were of foreign birth, and had come to America from over the seas. Until a short time previous to their advent into the region of the Cumberland, they had made yearly sacrifice in thanksgiving for their safe arrival after a long and dangerous voyage. They had been once wealthy and powerful, but following a natural inclination to rove, were now weakened by division into bands, some one of which at various times subsequent thereto resided almost every portion of the United States. The Indians with whom they came in contact having no written language and no definite rules of pronunciation called them by various names the Shawnees, Sewanees, Suwanos, Savannahs, Satanas, and many others of like sound. These names the Shawnees generously gave to the villages, rives, and mountains of the land through which they traveled. While living along the Cumberland they explored the whole of Middle Tennessee and gave their name to Sewanee Mountain, on which is now located the University of the South.
Another tradition, if trued, explains their location on the Cumberland. According to this legend a large part of them were moving south in search of new fields of adventure. Arriving at Cumberland Gap in East Tennessee they halted for a rest, and in order that they might take council as to a future course. After much discussion it was found they could not agree as to the latter, whereupon a part of the band pursued the well know trace through the mountains of East Tennessee south into Georgia and Florida, while the other portion directed its journey toward the west, thus founding the settlement above described.
However, the stay of the Shawnees in the valley of the Cumberland was comparatively of short duration. Angered by such a continued occupancy of the common hunting ground, the Cherokees, Creeks, and Chickasaws, their nearest neighbors, laid plans for their expulsion. After a short but bloody war the Shawnees were driven north and became again a wandering tribe among the Iroquois. By the generosity of the victors they were allowed a return to the hunting ground during the winter season of each year, but were forbidden to remain after dogwood blossoms appeared. The date of this war, probably the first in a region which has since been the scene of many bloody conflicts, is not now definitely fixed. In the year 1788, PIOMINGO, the Mountain Leader, famous Chickasaw chief, and friend of the whites, came from his village near the present site of Memphis to visit the settlers at Bledsoe's Lick. While there he told the latter that the expulsion of the Shawnees from the Cumberland Valley took place in 1682. He said that the length of his life at the time of this visit had been "a hundred and six snows," and that he was born the year the war occurred. His father, himself a noted Chickasaw chief, was killed in one of the battles incident to the contest. PIOMINGO also vouchsafe the information that before attacking forces would venture to engage the Shawnees in battle they held themselves a long time in readiness awaiting a signal from the Great Spirit. At length it came in the rumblings of an earthquake which, as PIOMINGO said, "broke open the mountains and shook the rocks from their places of rest." The settlers associated this tradition with an account given by their ancestors of an earthquake which occurred about the year 1685.
It is quite probable that small, roving bands of these nomads continued to make headquarters near the present location of Nashville for some years after the main force had been driven away. The Shawnees were the last permanent Indian residents of Middle Tennessee, but the latter continued to be held as common property by the neighboring tribes, until the white settlers came upon the scene a hundred years later.