Bezon Nicanawuck



According to the oral traditions from elders of the Vinyard Indian Settlement, our ancestors crossed the Ohio River in the summer of 1810 near Shawneetown, Illinois. This date was quoted by Clyde Vinyard (1890-1980), son of Ilay and Ada Lawrence Vinyard. The area north of Karber’s Ridge, Hardin County, Illinois, including High Knob and the hollows that encompass it came to be known as the Vinyard Indian Settlement by local settlers and those who became intimate with the indigenous citizens and their history.


Oral history says that a band of about eighty Kispokofa, Shawnee people was being pursued by a large force of colonial militia out of Ohio. The militia was attempting to prevent the various bands of Shawnees from traveling to Prophetstown and joining with Tecumseh’s resistance to the taking of native homeland by European immigrants. When the band of eighty people crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky, the militia expected them to go north toward Point Pleasant. The People may have made deliberate attempts to mislead the colonials. The ancestors traveled downstream and recrossed the river near Shawneetown, Illinois, hoping to find rest and refuge among the Shawnee and French salt makers already encamped there.

The salt making Shawnees and fur trapping French encouraged the warrior band of Shawnee to move on into the hills. They were afraid the militia may take revenge upon them for giving rest to the retreating people. The salt making Shawnees informed the band of isolated lands and hollows up in the hills south and west of Shawneetown. This tough band of ancestors stayed two days at Shawneetown, so we are told, before going into the hills.


Some of today’s local residents tell stories of a heavy exchange of gunfire between the Shawnees and recent colonial immigrants who were establishing farms in the Shawnee homelands. More interviews and recordings need to be done before a lot of primary sources of this history disappear. Much, if not all, of the legends recorded by non-Natives tends to be biased, even racist toward indigenous people if we are mentioned at all.


When the ancestors arrived near High Knob, they were greeted and received by a large family of Irish-German immigrants known as Vinyards. The Vinyards befriended the Shawnee people who built camps in a hollow northeast of present day High Knob. When rumors of the encampment spread locally, the rumors also reached the ears of the militia. The stories say that the Vinyards were able to convince the militia that the Vinyards had enlisted several families of blacks and mulattoes to help with the farming and cutting of timber.


The frontier of America was a hard place in those days with very few examples of justice. The Vinyard Natives took the name of Vinyard not only to honor the people who had helped them but also as a cover. The frontier was alive with chaos and children abandoned in the forests. Some of these abandoned children were brought into the native community to be reared without the benefit of knowing who their first families were. Their names and clans were lost on one hand and new ones gained on the other. Shawnee people were serious about children; even today, the tradition of adoption carries on. Intermarriage with non-natives took place. The law requires that we identify those descendants to fulfill a part of the requirements for federal recognition. DNA testing is being considered for all claimants.


There are many families whom we know to be direct descendants. The frontier left a bad taste in the mouths of many families who did not want to be removed to the Indian Territory. Some, to this day, have inherited a fear of having their identities known. Many were removed anyway. Many returned. Stories abound about the incarceration camps around Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Ancestors often “bought” their relatives from these camps inspiring rumors of Indians possessing gold. Often it was white people who provided the payment to liberate relatives of their native friends. Vinyard descendants still live in Pumpkin (a.k.a. Punkin) Holler north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The last known to be brought back and buried in the homeland was Arzee Vinyard, from Salpulpa, Oklahoma, brother of Ilay and other brothers. His obituary read, “…and the white plumed spirit followed him all the way home.”


Descendants’ names in Oklahoma and Illinois that we may name are Tyer, Tyner, Colbert, Black, Ferrell, Snake, Davidson, Karber, and more. The infamous Aunt Shawnee, who was the medical informant for the more famous Anna Bixby (a.k.a. Granny Bixby), was a grandmother from the Vinyard Indian Settlement.


Currently, the enrolled citizens of the Vinyard Indian Settlement are involved in numerous community activities that have a motive: buying back our homelands along the Ohio River. There is no discussion of a casino nor do we want one in our homelands. The council meets four times a year in its current headquarters near Herod, Illinois. A five year plan calls for the construction of a number of small ecologically oriented businesses that will provide jobs for both native and non-native citizens. When the council is ready, plans will be made more explicit to the public.

We invite visitors to our humble quarters, but please call first. We still maintain traditional living standards that include massive gardening, fishing, hunting, gathering of herbs and maintaining regular jobs. Ceremonial life is still a serious part of our culture and investigation of life. We maintain a sense of caution as any people concerned about emerging into the modern world of a culture that has not been kind to us nor our homelands. We ask that all people be respectful of our ways and learn to receive respect in return.



The Council of the Vinyard Indian Settlement.

For more information concerning the Vinyard Indian Settlement or for information on citizenship, feel free to contact the offices at 618-264-5909 or email us at and let your users know a little more about you.

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