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Alarmed by the growing encroachment of whites settlers squatting on Native American lands, the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh calls on all Native peoples to unite and resist.
Born around 1768 near Springfield, Ohio, Tecumseh won early notice as a brave warrior. He fought in battles between the Shawnee and the white Kentuckians, who were invading the Ohio River Valley territory. After the Americans won several important battles in the mid-1790s, Tecumseh reluctantly relocated westward but remained an implacable foe of the white men and their ways.
By the early 19th century, many Shawnee and other Ohio Valley tribes were becoming increasingly dependent on trading with the Americans for guns, cloth, and metal goods. Tecumseh spoke out against such dependence and called for a return to traditional Native American ways. He was even more alarmed by the continuing encroachment of white settlers illegally settling on the already diminished government-recognized land holdings of the Shawnee and other tribes. The American government, however, was reluctant to take action against its own citizens to protect the rights of the Ohio Valley Indians.
READ MORE: Native American History Timeline
On this day in 1809, Tecumseh began a concerted campaign to persuade the tribes of the Old Northwest and Deep South to unite and resist. Together, Tecumseh argued, the various tribes had enough strength to stop the whites from taking further land. Heartened by this message of hope, Native Americans from as far away as Florida and Minnesota heeded Tecumseh’s call. By 1810, he had organized the Ohio Valley Confederacy, which united Native peoples from the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Winnebago, Menominee, Ottawa and Wyandot nations.
For several years, Tecumseh’s Indian Confederacy successfully delayed further white settlement in the region. In 1811, however, the future president William Henry Harrison led an attack on the confederacy’s base on the Tippecanoe River. At the time, Tecumseh was in the South attempting to convince more tribes to join his movement. Although the battle of Tippecanoe was close, Harrison finally won out and destroyed much of Tecumseh’s army.
When the War of 1812 began the following year, Tecumseh immediately marshaled what remained of his army to aid the British. Commissioned a brigadier general, he proved an effective ally and played a key role in the British capture of Detroit and other battles. When the tide of war turned in the American favor, Tecumseh’s fortunes went down with those of the British. On October 5, 1813, he was killed during Battle of the Thames. His Ohio Valley Confederacy and vision of Native American unity died with him.
READ MORE: 20 Rare Photos of Native American Life at the Turn of the Century
Summer 1811: Tecumseh attempts to negotiate with white American settlers
In 1811, the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh tried to negotiate with the American government to stop western expansion into native lands. He formed a confederacy of native tribes and represented the interests of many natives. When negotiation failed and violence erupted, Tecumseh fled north to ally with the British.
Image Caption: This print depicts Tecumseh meeting with William Henry Harrison in 1810. Tecumseh biographer John Sugden describes this depiction as "extremely inaccurate,” particularly the clothing of the Native Americans.
“I want the present boundary line to continue … should you cross it … I assure you it will be productive of bad consequences.” —Shawnee leader Tecumseh
John Reuben Chapin and William Ridgway (engraver), circa 1818.
Beginning in 1808, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh travelled throughout the United States gathering supporters and allies to form a native confederacy that could resist westward expansion by white settlers. In August 1811, Tecumseh met with Governor William Henry Harrison to discuss the recent treaties, land purchases, and violence throughout the Indiana territories. At their meeting, Tecumseh spoke for a large group of natives along the Great Lakes, and told Harrison, “that piece of land, we do not wish you to take it,” indicating that his allies wanted “the present boundary line to continue.” Should the whites continue their expansion into the region, Tecumseh warned, “I assure you it will be productive of bad consequences.”
The meeting ended without resolution. Harrison understood the dangerous potential of Tecumseh’s confederacy, and wrote to the Secretary of War that “The implicit obedience and respect which the followers of Tecumseh pay to him is really astonishing.” He called Tecumseh “one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.” While Tecumseh continued to negotiate peace and unity between native tribes, Harrison petitioned the U.S. government for more soldiers, and made plans to intimidate and break up the confederacy.
In July 1811, Tecumseh travelled south to recruit more allies. First, he met with Harrison, who reported that Tecumseh “wished everything to remain in its present situation until his return—our settlements not to progress further.” Although Tecumseh continually proposed peace and refrained from attacking white settlements, Harrison’s spies reported that Tecumseh’s followers were preparing for war.
With Tecumseh away meeting with other native leaders, Harrison decided to take advantage. “His absence,” Harrison noted, “affords a most favorable opportunity for breaking up his Confederacy.” In November 1811, Harrison’s army marched to Prophetstown, the headquarters of the Confederacy. Although native warriors launched a surprise attack as Harrison’s troops approached, the soldiers fought back successfully, and then burned the town.
When Tecumseh returned, he concluded that any chance for peace with the white settlers had vanished. With his remaining followers, he set out for Upper Canada. He planned to meet the British officers and negotiate an alliance against the Americans. By continuing to expand onto their lands, repeatedly revising treaty boundaries, and finally by attacking them outright, white Americans had driven the native confederacy to ally with the British.
Tecumseh was born in 1768 near Chillicothe, Ohio. His father, Puckshinwau was a minor Shawnee war chief. His mother Methotaske was also Shawnee. Tecumseh came of age during the height of the French and Indian War and in 1774 his father was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore’s War. This had a lasting effect on Tecumseh and he vowed to become a warrior like his father. As a teenager he joined the American Indian Confederacy under the leadership of Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant. Brant encouraged tribes to share ownership of their territory and pool their resources and manpower to defend that territory against encroaching settlers. Tecumseh led a group of raiders in these efforts, attacking American boats trying to make their way down the Ohio River. These raids were extremely successful, nearly cutting off river access to the territory for a time. In 1791 he further proved himself at the Battle of the Wabash as one of the warriors who defeated General Arthur St. Clair and his army. Tecumseh fought under Blue Jacket and Little Turtle and the American Indian Confederacy was victorious slaying 952 of the 1,000 American soldiers in St. Clair’s army. St. Clair was forced to resign. In 1794 Tecumseh also fought in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. This decisive conflict against General Anthony Wayne and his American forces ended in a brutal defeat for the American Indian Confederacy. A small contingency of about 250 stayed with Tecumseh after the battle, following him eventually to what would become Prophetstown and a new pan-Indian alliance.
Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa joined him at Prophetstown, also known as Tippecanoe in Indiana Territory and in 1808 the two men began recruiting a large multi-tribal community of followers under a message of resistance to settlers, the American government, and assimilation. Tecumseh traveled north to Canada and south to Alabama in an effort to recruit men to his cause. Meanwhile, William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory was negotiating treaties and utilizing American forces to put pressure on those tribes still in Indiana and especially those allied with Prophetstown. In 1809 Harrison, signed the Treaty of Fort Wayne which allotted him a massive amount of American Indian territory thus increasing Tecumseh’s efforts and amplifying his message. Tecumseh was away from Prophetstown on a recruitment journey when Harrison launched a sneak attack now known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. The American forces cleared the encampment and then burned it to the ground. It was a severe blow to the confederacy and a harbinger of war to come.
On June 1, 1812 under the advisement of President Madison, Congress declared war on Great Britain. In the Northwest Territory, American Indian tribes found themselves pulled in two separate directions – side with the British or with the Americans. Tecumseh and his confederacy sided with the British. He and his men were assigned to overtake the city of Detroit with Major General Isaac Brock. The siege of Detroit was a success due in no small part to Tecumseh’s military strategy. He continued to support British efforts under Major-General Procter at the Siege of Fort Meigs. The siege failed and morale waned as a result.
In the fall of 1813 as conditions around Detroit worsened, Procter began a retreat east toward Niagara. Tecumseh requested arms so that his men could stay in the Northwest Territory and continue to defend their lands. Procter agreed to make a stand at the forks of the Thames River. However, when forces reached the site communication broke down and some men deserted while others continued east. When the Americans attacked, large sections of forces broke leaving about 500 hundred American Indians to hold back 3,000 Americans. Tecumseh was fatally wounded in the battle. It is unknown who killed him or what happened to his remains. His death began a rapid decline in American Indian resistance and the War of 1812 is marked as the beginning of removal in the upper Midwest.
Those who want to make the practice illegal argue that the system favors the wealthy and prompts scalpers to buy large quantities of tickets strictly for resale. If the reseller buys up the tickets, fans may not have the opportunity to purchase tickets at their original cost.
“Under the right conditions,” came back the answer, “you probably could survive a scalping. The issue is how to constrict the blood loss. If it were really cold outside, that would help constrict the arteries. Also, if the cut were jagged and torn rather than clean and sharp, the arteries constrict faster.”
3. Major Contributions
In Canada, Chief Tecumseh is regarded as a hero who helped to defend Canada against the pressing American invasion in the War of 1812 during the time of manifest destiny. Dedications to Tecumseh include the naming of towns, streets, and parks, as well as a massive portrait of Tecumseh which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto. A warship, named the HMS Tecumseh and originally built in 1815 sank in the Penetanguishene harbor in Ontario in 1828.
In the spring of 1813, Tecumseh joined British Major-General Henry Procter, and together they led their respective forces in the Siege of Fort Meigs, which was commanded by Tecumseh’s old nemesis William Henry Harrison.
When Harrison’s forces counterattacked, Procter and Tecumseh retreated farther into Canada, to the Thames River, in present-day southern Ontario. Though Procter promised Tecumseh he would send reinforcements, they never showed up, and on October 5, 1813, Tecumseh’s small 500-man force was overrun by Harrison’s 3,000-man army and Tecumseh was killed.
The circumstances surrounding Tecumseh&aposs death and burial are unclear. At the time, there were several claims that one or another American soldier had killed him, though none of these claims has ever been confirmed. It is currently believed that Tecumseh&aposs body was carried off the field and secretly buried in an unmarked grave.
Tecumseh’s death marked the decline of Native American resistance in the Ohio River Valley and most of the middle and southern United States. Exhausted Native American tribes were subsequently moved west of the Mississippi River over the next several decades. During his life, Tecumseh’s political leadership, compassion and bravery attracted the respect of friends and foes alike, and in the time since, a mythology has developed around him that has transformed him into an American folk hero.
Tecumseh meets with Harrison
During the same period that Tecumseh was winning recruits to his cause, William Henry Harrison (1773-1841 see biographical entry), the governor of the Northwest Territory, was doing everything he could to make his region safe for white settlement. In 1809 he persuaded chiefs of the Delaware, Miami, and Potawatomi tribes to sign the Treaty ofFort Wayne, by which they gave away three million acres of land for $7,000 and an annuity of $1,750. When he heard about the treaty, Tecumseh was enraged, insisting that the chiefs involved—whom he threatened to kill—had had no right to make such a deal. By this time Harrison had heard rumors of the two charismatic Shawnee leaders who had attracted such a following, and the rumors made him nervous. Wrongly assuming that Tenskwatawa was in charge, Harrison invited him to a meeting at Vincennes, the territorial capital, in August 1810.
Tecumseh attended Harrison's meeting in place of Tenskwatawa. In Benjamin Drake's book, Life of Tecumseh, a witness at the meeting described the Native American leader as "about six feet high, straight, with large, fine features, and altogether a daring, bold-looking fellow," who brought with him four hundred warriors in full war paint. The meeting grew tense and almost came to blows, but Tecumseh and his followers eventually retreated. In 1811 there was another meeting between Tecumseh and Harrison, which was more peaceful (thanks to the presence of U.S. soldiers) but no more productive. According to Tecumseh's biographer R. David Edmunds, Harrison may have been Tecumseh's sworn enemy but he also admired him, writing that "the implicit obedience and respect which the followers of Tecumseh pay to him is really astonishing and … bespeaks him one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things."
During the early 1800s, Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee, attempted to unite American Indian tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains into a confederation. Tecumseh believed that the land did not belong to a single tribe. In reality, no one owned the land except for the Master of Life, the Shawnees' principal god. Tecumseh believed that the only way that American Indians could transfer land to the Americans was if every tribe agreed to it. Tecumseh wanted to force the Americans to deal with all of the tribes in unison. Separately, the individual tribes did not have much power. Together, Tecumseh hoped, they would be a major deterrent to white expansion.
Tecumseh explained his views in a letter to William Henry Harrison in 1810:
In his quest, Tecumseh received assistance from his younger brother Tenskwatawa. Known as the Prophet, Tenskwatawa believed that the American Indians had to end their reliance on American goods, such as alcohol, iron cookware, and guns. The Indians had angered the Master of Life by becoming dependent on these items. If the American Indians forsook them, the Master of Life would reward his followers by driving the Americans from their land. Many Indians found the Prophet's message appealing and began to congregate at his village, Prophetstown, in the Indiana Territory.
Tecumseh used his brother's influence to convince the American Indians to put aside their traditional differences and unite together against the whites. He also visited many tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi River seeking additional support for his confederation. Tecumseh was a firm believer that more people translated into more power. While most tribes listened to Tecumseh's proposal, many rejected his ideas. This was especially true of Indians in modern-day Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi. Many of the Prophet's followers embraced white products and customs. They did not want to lose access to these goods. Tecumseh had more success in Ohio, Kentucky, and the Indiana Territory, areas that whites had been attempting to settle since before the French and Indian War.
Unfortunately for the American Indians in the region, Tecumseh's Confederacy failed. Many American Indians refused to relinquish their white ways and end their friendships with the Americans. The Anglo-American settlers also greatly outnumbered the American Indians and had greater access to firearms and ammunition. As Tecumseh's followers began to converge at Prophetstown, he also could not provide them with adequate food and shelter. To acquire white goods, American Indians engaged in the fur trade with the Americans. This trade greatly diminished the animal population in Ohio, Kentucky, and the Indiana Territory, leaving the Indians with less to eat.
In 1811, William Henry Harrison led an American army against Prophetstown. Tecumseh was seeking allies in the southern part of the United States. Although Tecumseh had asked his brother not to attack the Americans in his absence, the Prophet did attack. When Tecumseh returned, Prophetstown no longer existed. The natives had abandoned it, and Harrison had then destroyed it. Many of his followers, hungry and defeated, returned to their former villages. They were unwilling to assist Tecumseh in forming his confederation. Tecumseh did try to recreate his confederacy, but he had only limited success. Tecumseh's quest formally ended in 1813, with his death at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812.
Chief Tecumseh urges Native Americans to unite against white settlers - HISTORY
"Famed Tecumseh Was A West Virginian"
Any list of outstanding men who were born in West Virginia territory and became famous leaders of their kind should include the name of Tecumseh. This celebrated Indian chief is said to have been born on Hacker's Creek, most likely in the Indian village at the mou t h of Jesse's Run, in Lewis County.
Hacker's Creek got its name from its first white settler, John Hacker. This Indian village site was at the point where the old Weston-Clarksburg road passed over Hacker's Creek. Today the place is known as JaneLew, a town that got its name from Jane Lewis, mother of Lewis Maxwell, Congressman from that district, who laid off the site in in lots and sold them.
This Jane Lew was the home Gen. J. A. L. Lightburn of Civil War note and "Lightburn's Retreat" renown. But some of the lustre of Jane Lew comes from its being in the vicinity of the birthplace of Tecumseh, Shawnee Indian leader.
Tecumseh's first raid on white settlers was made on Hacker's Creek upon the family of John Waggoner in May, 1792. That May evening of almost 170 years ago found Waggoner on his place on Jesse's Run over two miles above the point it empties into Hacker's Creek. Waggoner had been burning some logs and was sitting on a log with a big handspike in his hand, resting from his labors.
Tecumseh, who had been lying in wait for a shot at John Waggoner, was nervous when he fired because he took the handspike in the hands of the huge Waggoner to be a gun. Although only 30 paces from Waggoner when he shot at him, Tecumseh's aim went bad. The bullet passed through the sleeve of Waggoner's shirt. Unhurt, Waggoner darted homeward to find his home being attacked by some of the Tecumseh band. They killed a small boy in the yard of the house and carried Mrs. Waggoner and her children away captive.
A mile or so distant the Indians killed another of the children. After they had gone a bit further the savages slew Mrs. Waggoner and two other children. In a few days the Indians reached their towns across the Ohio with the remaining two girls and a boy. In time the girls were returned. However, the boy took up a homestead, so to speak, with the Indians. He was Peter Waggoner, eight when captured, and remained with the Indians 20 years. He married a squaw and had children by her. He was found later and induced to return to his childhood area. There at Jane Lew he lived to the age of 93, there having married a white woman and by her raised another family. At Jane Lew if you will turn aside to Harmony Cemetery you will find the grave of Peter Waggoner, the last survivor of the John Waggoner family massacre.
Tecumseh and his actions led to the election of a President of the United States in 1840.
Chief Tecumseh was a smart man. Having been forced to move many times by white men, he saw himself and the other Indians being crowded out. He wanted to keep the Midwest for them. One day a military officer came to his wigwam to tell Tecumseh that he and his tribe must move farther west. They sat down on a log to talk it over.
In a few minutes the chief asked the general to move over a little further. This was repeated until the general was near the end of the log. Then Tecumseh gave the general a shove and said, "Move again!" At the end of the log, the general said, "I can't I'm on the end of the log!" Then Tecumseh told him that this was the way it was with the Indians, yet the white man kept saying to the red man, "Move on!" To remedy matters, Tecumseh organized the tribes of the Midwest to drive out white settlers.
To put down this Indian uprising a force went out under William Henry Harrison, then governor of Indiana Territory and son of Governor Harrison of Virginia who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Harrison marched his army to the Tippecanoe River and there he stopped. A battle was fought there and the Indians were defeated.
Tecumseh was not in the battle as he had gone south to urge other Indians to join the battle. However, Tecumseh was in later battles. He went to Canada in 1811 to help the British who were getting ready to fight us in the War of 1812. Governor Harrison took a force out of our country and, in a battle in Canada, Tecumseh was killed while fighting for the British.
Governor Harrison received great praise for what he had done and was made a general in the U. S. Army. As the "Hero of Tippecanoe," Harrison was elected president in 1840. John Tyler was his Vice President. During the "log cabin" campaign of 1840 the battle cry was "Old Tippecanoe and Tyier, too."
Had it not been for the famous West Virginia Indian Chief, Tecumseh, and the uprising of the Indians which he sparked, William Henry Harrison might never have been elected President. A month after being inaugurated, Harrison died and the whole country was filled with sorrow. He was our first President to die in office.
A Tale of Two Indians Shows How The West Was Really Won – Tecumseh and The Prophet
In Tecumseh and the Prophet, Peter Cozzens, formerly a captain in the U.S. Army and later a foreign service officer, has written a frank and unvarnished account of the struggle between the two million or more white colonial settlers and sixty thousand Native Americans in the five states that made up the original 1787 Northwest Ordinance territory – Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.
In presenting this vivid portrait of Tecumseh and his brother, the prophet Tenskwatawa, Cozzens has done 21 st century readers a great service. Many in the Cancel Culture have bought into the myth that Native Americans were uniquely peaceful, bucolic, and innocent people, satisfied with a life hunting game and tending their crops. This picture of the American Indian was first promulgated by 18 th century European philosophers and writers exemplified by Jean Jacques Rousseau.
This portrayal of Native Americans as the “noble savage,” corrupted and oppressed by white European settlers in the New World, has been revived with a vengeance in recent decades. In this narrative, white Europeans, symbolized by the English Puritan Separatists who arrived in 1620 at Plymouth Rock, were the evil colonial oppressors of a gentle and friendly people. Hence the current initiative in Wellesley to rename and celebrate Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
In this excellent history, Cozzens tells the story of the inexorable western march of the white settlers and the efforts of the Native Americans to stem the tide. It is a story of treaties made and broken. And it is a story of courage, hardship, treachery, savagery, and even cannibalism. Cozzens pulls no punches and tells the story with unembellished truth about the good, the bad, and the ugly things perpetrated by the settlers and Native Americans alike.
The star of the story is Tecumseh, the last indigenous leader who seriously threatened to alter the outcome.
Tecumseh was born in 1768 in the Ohio region into the “panther” clan of the Shawnees – a migratory tribe known among other Native American tribes for the unique fury with which its formidable warriors fought. The Northwest Ordinance territory was home to dozens of migratory tribes, and although these tribes often made common cause against the white settlers (whom they called “Long Knives”), there was also frequent warfare between tribes.
Tecumseh’s father was killed fighting against American settlers in 1774, and subsequently Tecumseh’s older brother, Cheeseekau, helped to raise him. Trained in Shawnee ways, Tecumseh developed into a renowned hunter and a brave young warrior in his youth. At the age of 14, he had already participated in a fight against American settlers at Piqua near the Mad River (about 27 miles north of present-day Dayton, Ohio) and seen his brother Cheeseekau, who was fighting next to him, wounded.
During the Revolutionary War, the Native American tribes in this region allied with the British in an attempt to stave off new settlements by white Americans on what had been tribal land. There were bloody massacres on both sides. One of the worst took place in 1782, when armed white settlers from Pennsylvania slaughtered nearly 100 innocent men, women, and children from the Delaware tribe who were Christians at Gnadenhutten (about 31 miles southwest of present-day Canton, Ohio). The white settlers acted in retribution for the murders of several white settlers by the hostile Wyandot tribe – unrelated to the Christian Indians they killed. Later in 1782, Colonel William Crawford led 400 militiamen deep into Ohio territory to attack Native Americans from the Wyandots and Delaware tribes. His troops were routed, and Crawford, a well-known and respected colonial leader, was captured by the Delawares.. He was pinioned to the ground and tortured, prodded by flaming sticks and partially skinned alive, dying after 13 excruciating hours of cruel torment.
Yet not all captured “Long Knives” were treated in this fashion. During this period, Daniel Boone was captured by the Shawnees. After surviving the trial of “running the gauntlet” during which many captives were bludgeoned to death, Boone was ritually adopted by the tribe and remained with the Shawnees for five months before being allowed to leave.
At the age of 15, Tecumseh took part in an ambush of white settlers on a flatboat on the Ohio River. All but one pioneer was killed in the initial onslaught. This lone survivor was slowly roasted to death at the stake, shrieking and writhing. Repulsed by this torture, Tecumseh verbally assaulted the older warriors and gained their promise to never burn another prisoner. Over the years, Tecumseh gained renown for his distaste for the ritual torture, death by fire, and cannibalism that many Indian tribes practiced.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 ended the Revolutionary War. Under its terms, Britain withdrew from the Northwest Territories. Native Americans, who were allied with the British during the Revolutionary War, believed that the treaty was a wholesale British betrayal. The following years saw the steady encroachment of white settlers on land once controlled by the Indian tribes. As more and more Americans poured into Ohio, Native American tribes banded together to defend what they considered to be their native land.
With a growing reputation as a young war leader, Tecumseh joined Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket and Miami Chief Little Turtle in 1791 to deal an American army led by General Arthur St. Clair one of the worst defeats suffered by the American military in its history. (Only Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 was worse.) Of the approximately 1,700 men whom St. Clair led into battle, over half were killed or wounded.
But then, President George Washington appointed General “Mad Anthony” Wayne to lead a more professional army against the Native American tribes. General Wayne achieved a crushing defeat of the enemy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Tecumseh, having taken part in this disastrous battle, was forced to lead the Shawnee withdrawal from Ohio, as mandated by the Treaty of Greenville signed in 1795.
Tecumseh had a younger brother originally named Lalawethika, who was sickly and weak as a child. In his early adulthood, he accomplished very little, spending his days drinking whiskey and acting as his village’s medicine man. However, his life changed radically when he had a dramatic prophetic vision of the Great Spirit – the Master of Life. His vision told of a fork in the road in the afterlife — with the one road leading to hope and redemption from bad behavior and the other road, for those who drank whiskey, committed murder, and practiced witchcraft, leading to being tossed into a great fire.
Lalawethika not only changed his behavior from a selfish alcoholic to an empathetic teetotaler, but was eloquent and persuasive in his explanation of his vision to others. He changed his name to Tenskwatawa, which could be translated to “He who opened the sky for red men to go up to the Master of Life.” Ultimately, his visions developed into a moral cleansing and religious program which would deliver the Shawnees and other Native American tribes from their destructive ways and enable them to build a robust society capable of resisting the flood of white settlers. By this time, Tenskwatawa had gained a great deal of influence over Tecumseh, who subscribed to his vision. The features of the vision are complex, but one of the main aspects was to shun the evil Americans who had taken their land, and to improve their own lives. In short order, Tenskwatawa became a prophet known and respected throughout the lands of the Northwest Territory.
One of the most interesting portions of Tecumseh and the Prophet is the description of the effect of whiskey on Native Americans. The author quotes numerous eyewitnesses who wrote of the appalling damage that liquor did to Indian communities. One Moravian missionary wrote as follows: “They screamed all night in the woods and acted like madmen. No one who has not seen an Indian drunk can have any conception of it. It is as if they had all been changed into evil spirits.” And, of course, some unscrupulous Long Knives took advantage of this, trading whiskey for Indian lands and for animal hides. From Cozzens’s point of view, the Native Americans’ greatest enemy was not the white man but liquor.
In the years following the Treaty of Grenville, which mandated the withdrawal of Native American tribes from Ohio, until the commencement of the War of 1812, Tecumseh became possibly the greatest Indian Chief in the history of the United States. He and his brother, Tenskwatawa, worked tirelessly to unite all the Native American tribes of the Northwest to resist and fight the Long Knives. The governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison (elected president decades later in 1840) paid the following tribute to Tecumseh in 1811: “The implicit obedience and respect which the followers of Tecumseh pay to him is really astonishing … [and he is] one of those uncommon geniuses which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.”
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh, in an effort to take back for tribal lands in the what the Americans called the Northwest Territory, gathered a grand alliance of Indian warriors to fight with the British against the Americans. But the American naval victory in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 by Oliver Hazard Perry ended British naval control over the lake, which limited the ability of the British to supply troops. The British weakness led Americans to press on into what is now Ontario in Canada. At the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813, General William Henry Harrison and his 3,500 troops defeated 600 British soldiers and 1,000 Indian warriors. Tecumseh was severely wounded in the battle. He died a month later. Without the foundation of the power and prestige of Tecumseh, his brother Tenskwatawa lost his influence, and his fortunes spiraled downward. He died in 1836 in Kansas as a failed religious leader.
Tecumseh made such an impression on Americans that even though he was their enemy they came to embrace him as an outstanding figure of the nation. Most famously, about eight years after the great Indian leader died, the father of a future famous American general decided to give his newborn son the chief’s name: William Tecumseh Sherman.
Cozzens, who has written more than a dozen books on Native American culture and history, again shows his mastery of this subject. This biography of Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa is thoroughly researched, and the reader learns not only the heroic efforts of these brothers but also the tangled complexity of the history of this period.
It’s hard to divide this picture into good guys and bad guys. There are treachery and atrocities committed by some in the white colonial population, but savagery, torture, and even cannibalism perpetrated by some of the Native Americans. There is also nobility and humanity in these pages. The complexity of human beings allows the same people to do great good and commit great evil.
Cozzens has done us a great service by retelling the story of Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet in a historically accurate way that dispels the current myth of the “noble savage” and the evil European settler. As we all know, the white settlers ultimately conquered the territory which the Indian tribes saw as their own. Although it is not politically correct to mention it, for thousands of years the powerful, including many Native American tribes, have conquered the lands of the weaker. That has been true in every continent. It’s not necessary to justify it we can simply note that this is how many people in many places over many centuries have acted.
If it happens less frequently in the future, it will be because human beings decide to live according to moral principles that transcend selfishness and power.
Today in History
Chief Tecumseh Urges Native Americans to Unite Against White Settlers
Alarmed by the growing encroachment of whites settlers squatting on Native American lands, the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh calls on all Native peoples to unite and resist.
Born around 1768 near Springfield, Ohio, Tecumseh won early notice as a brave warrior. He fought in battles between the Shawnee and the white Kentuckians, who were invading the Ohio River Valley territory.
After the Americans won several important battles in the mid-1790s, Tecumseh reluctantly relocated westward but remained an implacable foe of the white men and their ways.
By the early 19th century, many Shawnee and other Ohio Valley tribes were becoming increasingly dependent on trading with the Americans for guns, cloth, and metal goods.
Tecumseh spoke out against such dependence and called for a return to traditional Native American ways. He was even more alarmed by the continuing encroachment of white settlers illegally settling on the already diminished government-recognized land holdings of the Shawnee and other tribes.
The American government, however, was reluctant to take action against its own citizens to protect the rights of the Ohio Valley Indians.
On this day in 1809, Tecumseh began a concerted campaign to persuade the tribes of the Old Northwest and Deep South to unite and resist.
Together, Tecumseh argued, the various tribes had enough strength to stop the whites from taking further land.
Heartened by this message of hope, Native Americans from as far away as Florida and Minnesota heeded Tecumseh’s call. By 1810, he had organized the Ohio Valley Confederacy, which united Native peoples from the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Winnebago, Menominee, Ottawa and Wyandot nations.
For several years, Tecumseh’s Indian Confederacy successfully delayed further white settlement in the region. In 1811, however, the future president William Henry Harrison led an attack on the confederacy’s base on the Tippecanoe River.
At the time, Tecumseh was in the South attempting to convince more tribes to join his movement. Although the battle of Tippecanoe was close, Harrison finally won out and destroyed much of Tecumseh’s army.
When the War of 1812 began the following year, Tecumseh immediately marshaled what remained of his army to aid the British. Commissioned a brigadier general, he proved an effective ally and played a key role in the British capture of Detroit and other battles.
When the tide of war turned in the American favor, Tecumseh’s fortunes went down with those of the British. On October 5, 1813, he was killed during Battle of the Thames. His Ohio Valley Confederacy and vision of Native American unity died with him.