A depiction of Tecumseh from c. 1868
On the Scioto River, near Chillicothe Ohio
|Died||October 5, 1813 (aged 45)
Moravian of the Thames
(near modern Chatham-Kent, Ontario)
|Other names||Tecumtha, Tekamthi|
|Known for||War of 1812|
Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813), also known as Tecumtha or Tekamthi, was a Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy that opposed the United States during Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. He grew up in the Ohio country during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War, where he was constantly exposed to warfare.
His brother Tenskwatawa was a religious leader who advocated a return to the ancestral lifestyle of the tribes. A large following and a confederacy grew around his prophetic teachings. The Native American independence movement led to strife with settlers on the frontier. The confederacy will eventually move farther into the northwest and settle Prophetstown, Indiana in 1808. At Prophetstown, Tecumseh confronted Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison to demand that land purchase treaties be rescinded. Tecumseh tried to unite Native American tribes in a confederacy throughout the North American continent. While he was traveling to convince other tribes to join the movement, Tenskwatawa was defeated in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh's confederacy allied with the British in Canada and helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. The Americans, led by Harrison, launched a counter assault and invaded Canada. They killed Tecumseh in the Battle of the Thames, in which they were also victorious over the British. Tecumseh has subsequently become a legendary folk hero. He is remembered by many Canadians for his defense of the country.
Tecumseh's exact place and date of birth are unknown and all accounts of his early life are based on a memoir dictated by his older brother years after Tecumseh's death. Based on his brother's account, Tecumseh (Tekoomsä: "Shooting Star" or "Panther Across The Sky") was born about March 9, 1768, at a village on the Scioto River. John Sudgen believes the place was either Chillicothe or Kispoko Town. Both are about twelve miles east of present-day Dayton, Ohio in Greene County. His father was Pucksinwah, a minor Shawnee war chief of the Kispoko ("Dancing Tail" or "Panther") branch of the tribe. His mother was named Methoataske and belonged to the Pekowi branch of the tribe. She was Pucksinwah's second wife.
As Shawnee lineage was traced patrilineally, Tecumseh was considered a Kispoko. At the time of his parents' marriage, their tribe was living somewhere near modern Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The people had settled in that region among the Creek tribe nearly 100 years earlier after being driven from their more northerly territory in the late 17th century by the Iroqouis during the Beaver Wars.
About 1759 the Pekowi branch of the tribe decided to move northward into the Ohio Country. Not wanting to force his wife to choose between him or her family, Pucksinwah decided to travel north with her. The Pekowi founded the settlement of Chillicothe, where Tecumseh was likely born. Not long after his birth, the family moved again to the village of Scioto. Tecumseh's father took part in the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War) during the 1760s, and later in Lord Dunmore–s War; he was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.
At least five times between 1774 and 1782, Tecumseh's village was attacked by colonials and later American armies as the Shawnee allied with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Following his father's death, his family moved back to Chief Blackfish's nearby village of Chillicothe. The town was destroyed in 1779 by Kentucky militia in reprisal for Blackfish's attack on Boonesburough. His family fled, and moved to another nearby Kispoko village, but their new home was destroyed the following year by forces under the command of George Rogers Clark. The family moved a third time to the village of Sanding Stone. That village was attacked by Clark in November of 1782, causing them to move again to a new settlement near modern Bellefontaine, Ohio.
Violence continued unabated on the American frontier after the American Revolution as the Northwest Indian War. A large tribal confederacy, known as the Wabash Confederacy that included all the major tribes of the Ohio and Illinois country, joined together to repel the American settlers from the region. As the war between the confederacy and the Americans grew, Tecumseh became a warrior and took an active part fighting along with his older brother Cheeseekua beginning at age fifteen. Tecumseh participated in several battles, including the 1794 Fallen Timbers, which ended the war in favor of the American settlers.
Tecumseh eventually settled in what is now Greenville, Ohio, the home of his younger brother, Lowawluwaysica ("One With Open Mouth") who would later take the new name of Tenskwatawa ("The Open Door"), and achieved widespread fame as "The Shawnee Prophet". In 1805, a religious revival led by Tenskwatawa emerged following a series of witchhunts that ensued following an outbreak of smallpox. His beliefs were based on the earlier teachings the Lenape prophets Scattamek and Neolin who predicted a coming apocalypse that would destroy the settlers moving into what had previously been Native American lands.
Tenskwatawa urged natives to reject the ways of the settlers, give up firearms, liquor, European style clothing, to only pay traders half the value of their debts, and to refrain from ceding any more lands to the United States. The teachings led tensions to rise between the settlers and his followers. Opposing Tenskwatawa was the Shawnee leader Black Hoof, who was working to maintain a peaceful relationship with the United States.
The earliest recording of Tecumseh's interaction with the Americans was in a 1807 with Indian agent William Wells who met with Blue Jacket and other Shawnee leaders in Greenville to determine their intentions after the recent murder of a settler. Tecumseh was among those who spoke with Wells and assured him that his band of Shawnee intended to remain at peace and only wanted to follow the will of the Great Spirit and his prophet. According to Well's report, at the meeting Tecumseh informed him of the Prophet's intention to move with his followers to a new village deeper into the frontier.
By 1808, tensions with the settlers and the Shawnee compelled Black Hoof to demand that Tenskwatawa and his followers leave the area. Tecumseh was among the leaders of the group, and helped decide to move further northwest and establish the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers (near present-day Battle Ground, Indiana). The site was in Miami tribe territory, and their War Chief Little Turtle warned the group not settle there for fear they would disturb the Miami's relations with the American settlers. Despite the threat, they moved into the region and the Miami did not take action against them. According to his brother, Tecumseh was already at that time contemplating a pan-tribal confederacy to counter American expansion into Indian held lands and held an important place in the group.
Tenskwatawa's religious teachings became more widely known as did his predictions on the coming doom of the Americans. His teachings attracted numerous members of other tribes to Prophetstown and formed the basis of a sizable confederacy of tribes in the southwestern great lakes region. Tecumseh eventually emerged as the primary leader of this confederation, though it was built upon a foundation established by the religious appeal of his younger brother. Relatively few in confederacy were Shawnee; although Tecumseh is often portrayed as the leader of the Shawnee, the confederacy was made up primarily of other tribes.
Portraits of Pushmataha (left) and Tecumseh.
The two principal adversaries of Tecumseh's War, Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison, had both been junior participants in the Battle of Fallen Timbers at the close of the Northwest Indian War in 1794. Tecumseh was not among the signers of the Treaty of Greenville that had ended the war and ceded much of present-day Ohio, long inhabited by the Shawnee and other Native Americans, to the United States. However, many Indian leaders in the region accepted the Greenville terms, and for the next ten years pan-tribal resistance to American hegemony faded.
After the Treaty of Greenville , most of the Ohio Shawnee settled at the Shawnee village of Wapakoneta on the Auglaize River, where they were led by Black Hoof, a senior chief who had signed the treaty. Little Turtle, a War Chief of the Miamis, who had also participated in the earlier war and signed the Greenville Treaty, lived in his village on the Eel River. Both Black Hoof and Little Turtle urged cultural adaptation and accommodation with the United States.
The tribes of the region participated in several treaties including the Treaty of Grouseland and the Treaty of Vincennes that gave and recognized American possession of most of southern Indiana and western Ohio. The treaties resulted in an easing of tensions by allowing settlers into Indiana and appeasing the Indians with reimbursement for the lands the settlers were squatting on.
In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which a delegation of Indians ceded 3 million acres (12,000 km–) of Native American lands to the United States. The treaty negotiations were questionable as they were unauthorized by the President and involved what some historians compared to bribery, offering large subsidies to the tribes and their chiefs, and the liberal distribution of liquor before the negotiations.
Tecumseh's opposition to the treaty marked his emergence as a prominent leader. Although Tecumseh and the Shawnee had no claim on the land sold, he was alarmed by the massive sale as many of the followers in Prophetstown were Piankeshaw, Kickapoo, and Wea; the primary inhabitants of the land. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Indian land was owned in common by all tribes.
Not ready to confront the United States directly, Tecumseh's primary adversaries were initially the Indian leaders who had signed the treaty. An impressive orator, Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon accommodationist chiefs and to join him in resistance of the treaty. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegal; he asked Harrison to nullify it, and warned that Americans should not attempt to settle on the lands sold in the treaty. Tecumseh is quoted as saying, "No tribe has the right to sell [land], even to each other, much less to strangers.... Sell a country!? Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?" And, "....the only way to stop this evil [loss of land] is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided.":
In August 1810 Tecumseh led four hundred armed warriors from Prophetstown to confront Harrison at his Vincennes home, Grouseland. Their appearance startled the townspeople, and the situation quickly became dangerous when Harrison rejected Tecumseh's demands and argued that individual tribes could have relations with the United States, and that Tecumseh's interference was unwelcome by the tribes of the area. Tecumseh launched an impassioned rebuttal against Harrison.
(Governor William Harrison), you have the liberty to return to your own country ... you wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as common property of the whole ... You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this ... Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? How can we have confidence in the white people?
Tecumseh began inciting the warriors to kill Harrison, who responded by pulling his sword. The small garrison defending the town quickly moved to protect Harrison. Pottowatomie Chief Winnemac arose and countered Tecumseh's arguments to the group, and urged the warriors to leave in peace. As they left, Tecumseh informed Harrison that unless he rescinded the treaty, he would seek an alliance with the British.
In 1811, Tecumseh again met with Harrison at his home after being summoned following the murder of settlers on the frontier. Tecumseh told Harrison that the Shawnee and their Native American brothers wanted to remain at peace with the United States but these differences had to be resolved. The meeting was likely a ploy to buy time while he built a stronger confederacy, and the meeting convinced Harrison that hostilities were imminent. Following the meeting Tecumseh traveled south, on a mission to recruit allies among the Five Civilized Tribes. Most of the southern nations rejected his appeals, but a faction among the Creeks, who came to be known as the Red Sticks, answered his call to arms, leading to the Creek War.
A comet appeared in March 1811. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh, whose name meant "shooting star", told the Creeks that the comet signaled his coming. Tecumseh's confederacy and allies took it as an omen of good luck. McKenney reported that Tecumseh claimed he would prove that the Great Spirit had sent him to the Creeks by giving the tribes a "sign".
While Tecumseh was in the South, Governor Harrison marched up the Wabash River from Vincennes with about 1,000 men, on a preemptive expedition to intimidate the Prophet and his followers and to force them to abandon their plans for war. On November 6, 1811, Harrison's army arrived outside Prophetstown. The Prophet sent a messenger to meet with Harrison and requested a meeting be held the next day to negotiate. Harrison encamped his army on a nearby hill, and during the early dawn hours of November 7, the confederacy launched a sneak attack on his camp. In the subsequent Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison's men held their ground, and the Indians withdrew from the village after their defeat. The victorious Americans burned the town and returned to Vincennes.
The Battle of Tippecanoe was a severe blow for Tenskwatawa, who lost both prestige and the confidence of his brother. Although it was a significant setback, Tecumseh began to secretly rebuild his alliance upon his return. The Americans soon after went to war with the British in the War of 1812, and Tecumseh's War became a part of that larger struggle.
On December 11, 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake shook the South and the Midwest. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was almost universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. For many tribes it meant that Tecumseh and the Prophet must be supported.
Tecumseh rallied his confederacy and led his forces to join the British army invading the northwest from Canada. Tecumseh joined British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock in the siege of Detroit, and forced its surrender in August 1812. As Brock advanced to a point just out of range of Detroit's guns, Tecumseh had his approximately four hundred warriors parade from a nearby wood and circle around to repeat the maneuver, making it appear that his army was much larger. The fort commander, Brigadier General William Hull, surrendered in fear of a massacre should he refuse. The victory was of a great strategic value to the invaders.
This victory was reversed a little over a year later, as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory on Lake Erie, late in the summer of 1813, cut British supply lines and William Henry Harrison, who was defending at Fort Miegs, created a staging area for the recapture of Fort Detroit. The British burned all public buildings in Detroit and retreated into Upper Canada along the Thames Valley before they could be captured. Tecumseh and his men followed fighting rearguard actions to slow the American advance.
The next British commander, Major-General Henry Procter, did not have the same working relationship with Tecumseh as his predecessor and the two disagreed over tactics. Procter favored withdrawing into Canada and avoiding battle while the Americans suffered from the winter. Tecumseh was more eager to launch a decisive action to defeat the American army and allow his men to retake their homes in the northwest. Procter failed to appear at Chatham, Ontario, though he had promised Tecumseh that he would make a stand against the Americans there. Tecumseh moved his men to meet Proctor again and informed him that he would withdraw no farther into Canadian territory, and if the British wanted his continued help then an action had to be fought. Harrison and his army crossed into Upper Canada and on October 5, 1813, won a decisive victory over the British and Native Americans at the Battle of the Thames near Moraviantown. Tecumseh was killed, and shortly after the battle, the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit. In 1836, in part because of reports that it was he who had killed Tecumseh, Richard Mentor Johnson was elected vice-president of the United States, to serve with Martin Van Buren.
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has Tecumseh Court, which is located outside Bancroft Hall's front entrance, and features a bust of Tecumseh. The bust is often decorated to celebrate special days. The bust was actually originally meant to represent Tamanend, an Indian chief from the 17th century who was known as a lover of peace and friendship, but the Academy's midshipmen preferred the more warlike Tecumseh, and the new name persisted.
The US Navy named four ships USS Tecumseh, the first one as early as 1863. The Canadian naval reserve unit HMCS Tecumseh is based in Calgary, Alberta. Tecumseh is honored in Canada as a hero and military commander who played a major role in Canada's successful repulsion of an American invasion in the War of 1812, which, among other things, eventually led to Canada's nationhood in 1867 with the British North America Act. Among the tributes, Tecumseh is ranked 37th in The Greatest Canadian list. An 1848 drawing of Tecumseh was based on a sketch done from life in 1808. Benson Lossing altered the original by putting Tecumseh in a British uniform, under the mistaken (but widespread) belief that Tecumseh had been a British general. This depiction is unusual in that it includes a nose ring, popular among the Shawnee at the time, but typically omitted in idealized depictions.
He is also honored by a massive portrait which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The unveiling of the work, commissioned under the patronage of Kathryn Langley Hope and Trisha Langley, took place at the Toronto-based RCMI on October 29, 2008.
A number of towns have been named in honor of Tecumseh, including those in the states of Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the province of Ontario, as well as the town and township of New Tecumseth, Ontario, and Mount Tecumseh in New Hampshire. Union Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, was given the name Tecumseh because "my father...had caught a fancy for the great chief of the Shawnees." Another Civil War general, Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, also bore the name of the Shawnee leader. (Evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist W. Tecumseh Fitch was named after the general, not after Tecumseh.)
Tecumseh (played by a Serbian actor Gojko Mitiä) appears as the primary character in the 1972 East German Red Western motion picture, Tecumseh. Ann Rinaldi's 1997 novel The Second Bend in the River depicts a fictionalized version of a romance between Tecumseh and Rebecca Galloway. Later, Orson Scott Card's novel Red Prophet and the twelve part comic book version of the novel, featured Tecumseh (named Ta-Kumsaw in Card's work). The cover of one of the issues of the comic book series was a copy of a painting of Tecumseh by John Buxton, which had been commissioned by the Heritage Center of Clark County, Ohio.
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