Reminisce: Shawnee Indians come home in 1931; Helen Jean Spyker makes sure they’re remembered

The Shawnee returned to Shawnee Township when Helen Jean Spyker was a child.

Nearly a century after remnants of the tribe were moved west of the Mississippi River from the Hog Creek reservation, Allen County officials invited a delegation of their descendants to return and participate in the 1931 celebration of the county’s centennial.

“The Shawnee Indians, exiled from their native hunting grounds a century ago, came ‘home’ to Allen County Monday,” the Lima News reported September 21, 1931. “At 8 o’clock Monday morning the train, with the locomotive gaily decorated with American flags, rolled into the Baltimore & Ohio railroad station bringing 26 Indians from Shawnee, Oklahoma.”

For the next six days, the Shawnee delegation, led by Thomas “Wildcat” Alford, made the rounds of Centennial Week events. “During their brief stay,” the News wrote in October 2014, “representatives of the once-powerful tribe would visit the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, view a movie at the Quilna theater, named after one of their chiefs, receive the keys to the county from a Shawnee Township trustee and smoke the peace pipe with local officials in a council house built for the occasion in the Public Square.”

For Helen Jean and her brothers, Lawrence, Richard, David, and Joel, the visit had been much anticipated. Several members of the delegation stayed in the Spyker’s two-story brick home on Shawnee Road, a stone’s throw from where the Shawnee council house once stood and where Pe-Aitch-Ta (PHT), the band’s leader, was buried beside his cabin. Helen Jean’s brothers, who were Boy Scouts, couldn’t wait to ask them about bows and arrows. Joel had made a long bow and arrows as a Scout project.

The young Shawnee boys, however, had no idea how to shoot a bow and arrow, according to Jonathon Spyker, Helen Jean’s nephew. Joel wound up demonstrating the bow to them, he said.

Helen Jean, who celebrated her 7th birthday during the Shawnees’ visit, never forgot the experience. She was saddened the Shawnee culture had been erased by a century of Indian boarding schools while their history in Allen County had been largely forgotten. For the rest of her long life, she would work to ensure people who lived in Shawnee Township or attended Shawnee schools or drove on Shawnee Road, knew who the Shawnee were.

The Shawnee had been consigned to reservations by an 1817 treaty. The largest was centered on Wapakoneta while abutting it to the north was the 25-square-mile Hog Creek reservation centered on a village which stood south of Fort Amanda Road and about 100 yards east of Shawnee Cemetery.

A man who came to Allen County in the 1830s recalled the village, writing in the Lima Times-Democrat in August 1897 that it “consisted of a council house, their chief’s (PHT’s) dwelling and several dwelling houses here and there … The council house was a large, well built, hewed log house” while PHT’s “house was a little northwest of the council house and an orchard of large apple trees by it.”

According to an August 1891 story in the Allen County Democrat, about 20 male adults with their families lived there, including PHT and Quilna, both of whom were remembered as being helpful to the early white settlers.

The last of the Hog Creek band was moved west during the summer of 1833. PHT did not go with them. According to an 1885 county history, he died after a long illness before the tribe was moved and was buried near his cabin in his garden. The council house was dismantled around 1888, although its remains showed up in everything from furniture to ceremonial gavels.

Eventually a cabinet made from council house wood showed up in a store operated by Helen Jean Spyker, who, beginning in 1945, was involved in the operation of several stores in Elmview. She also also worked with her brother, Joel, in the founding of the village of Fort Shawnee and the successful opposition to the annexation of a part of Shawnee Township to Lima.

Her free time was devoted to the preservation of Native American culture and local history, organizing pow-wows and re-enactments.

Although proposals were made in the late 1920s to turn the site of the Hog Creek village and council house into a state park and historic site, nothing ever came of them. Over the years, some sites did receive historic markers. A monument honoring PHT was erected in the old Lima Cemetery in 1867 and later moved to Woodlawn Cemetery, where it was vandalized and broken into pieces.

In 1999, thanks to Helen Jean, PHT and the Shawnee people were given a fitting, and much heavier, memorial. A five-ton granite rock, which sat for years in front of Helen Jean’s Hallmark store in Elmview, was moved to a spot in Shawnee Cemetery, just across Shawnee Road from the area where PHT is buried. The stone has a naturally occurring rose quartz serpentine symbol across the top, and a turtle symbol, considered sacred by Native Americans, facing northeast.

Helen Jean died December 13, 2022.

In the fall of 2023, Andrew McKenzie, an Eagle Scout candidate from the same Scout troop Joel Spyker was a member of, approached Jonathon Spyker with a plan to improve the memorial. That plan was approved and grew more elaborate. It will be dedicated May 11.

In October 2023, Helen Jean’s cremated remains were buried beneath the rock, which is at the center of the memorial. “What better way to honor her memory and her work,” Jonathon Spyker said.





This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


See past Reminisce stories at

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].