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Tecumseh (1768-1813)

Tecumseh (1768-1813)

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Shawnee tribal leader

Background. Tecumseh, or Panther Springing Across the Sky, was born in a small Shawnee village on the Mad River in western Ohio in 1768. His mother, Methoataske, was a Creek, and his father, Puckeshinewa, was a Shawnee. They had met in the 1750s when some Shawnees had sought refuge among the Creeks in Alabama. In 1760 the family left Alabama for Ohio. Tecumseh was the fifth child born to this couple.

Responsibility. Puckeshinewa was killed in battle with American colonials in 1774, and his fellow warriors, unable to carry him back to the village, buried him secretly in the forest. Although his oldest son, Chiksika, took over responsibility for the family, it was still difficult for them, especially since fighting and war continued for the Shawnee as more and more Americans moved into the Ohio River Valley. In 1779 their village was attacked by mounted militia under Col. John Bowen. The Shawnee repelled the attack but realized their vulnerability and migrated down the Ohio River. Some stayed in Ohio, but others, including Methoataske, continued to Missouri. Tecumseh was then raised by Chiksika and his older sister Tecumapease.

Youth. As a boy Tecumseh excelled at the games Indian boys played. He was an excellent marksman with a bow and a musket, and he often organized the other boys to go on hunts. Sometimes he divided the boys of the village into two groups to fight mock battles. He admired and looked up to the warriors, like his older brother, and tried to be like them.

The Warriors Path. Tecumseh was known for the generosity and concern he showed for other members of his tribe, providing meat for those who had empty cooking pots. As a warrior he wanted no compromise with the Americans over territory. After the Indians suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, they were forced to sign the Treaty of Greenville, in which they agreed to remain at peace, give up all prisoners, and renounce their claims to lands in southern, central, and eastern Ohio. The Indians were able to hunt in these lands until they were actually settled. They also received $20, 000 worth of trade goods and promises of annuities ranging from $500 to $10, 000. Tecumseh refused to take part in the treaty negotiations, and this increased his standing among his followers, whom he led to western Ohio and Indiana.

The Prophet. By 1805 he had joined with his younger brother Lalawethika, who had a transforming vision. As a result of this vision, Lalawethika stopped drinking and changed his name to Tenskwatawa, the Open Door. He also developed a Native American theology that called for a return to traditional Indian values and practices and began efforts to help Indians return to a way of living that would save them from destruction and suffering. Tenskwatawas teachings spread through the Ohio River Valley, and by 1807 the Shawnee settlement at Greenville was overrun by Indians who had made the pilgrimage there to become followers. The increased numbers put enormous burdens on their food supplies and increased tensions with the Americans whose settlements practically surrounded Tecumsehs camp. In the fall of 1807 Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa, and their followers accepted an invitation from the Potawatomi to settle at the mouth of the Tippecanoe River, near present-day Lafayette, Indiana. Their new village, Prophetstown, not only had more resources but also was removed from the American settlements and those of rival chiefs.

Pan-Indian Unity. While Tenskwatawa was clearly the spiritual leader of the settlement, it was Tecumseh who articulated the political ideology. As American settlements continued to expand, old treaty lines were crossed and new boundary agreements were offered. By the end of 1810 Tecumseh realized that in order for Indians to retain their culture and homelands something must be done. He left Prophetstown and traveled south, spreading a doctrine of political and military unification. In his speeches he generally outlined the injustices that Indians had suffered from Americans and their government and spoke of the way that whites had taken native homelands. He told the Indians that the only way they could resist these encroachments was to return to the ways of their fathers. He warned them that war with the Americans was inevitable and that it was necessary for Indians to unify politically and militarily. He also told them that the British would help them defeat their enemies and that then their land would be returned and their former way of life restored. Soon Tecumseh and his brother had a following of Native American peoples stretching from the Great Lakes to Alabama.

Battle of the Thames. While Tecumseh was away among the southern tribes in the fall of 1811, American forces attacked Prophetstown, and war between the United States and Great Britain soon followed. It was in the War of 1812, at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813, that Tecumseh was killed. After the battle many of the Indians bodies were mutilated by white frontiersmen, and Tecumsehs body could not be positively identified. Col. Richard M. Johnson of the Kentucky militia was generally believed to have been the one who killed the great Shawnee leader. In his campaigns for Congress in the 1830s Johnson used the slogan Rumpsey dumpsey, rumpsey dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh! However, there were at least a dozen others who claimed to have killed Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames. Meanwhile, the Shawnee maintained that some warriors returned to the battlefield the night after the engagement and recovered Tecumsehs body before it could be mutilated. They then buried their leader in a secret location.

Legend. Although an opponent of the Americans, Tecumseh has become a legendary figure, and a great deal of apocryphal material is attached to the story of his life. Much of this information attempts to link him to the Americans in some way. Some of the stories say that his father was half white or describe his skin as light. Another myth presents the story of his love for the daughter of an American frontiersman. Other stories try to make him a mystical figure by saying he could foretell future events or exaggerate the amount of territory he actually traveled while recruiting his allies. Nonetheless, Tecumseh has been elevated to the status of noble savage because his passing represented the last serious threat to white expansion east of the Mississippi River.

Source

R. David Edmunds, Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership (Boston: Little, Brown, 1984).

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Tecumseh

Tecumseh

The American Indian Tecumseh (ca. 1768-1813), Shawnee chief, originated and led an Indian confederation against the encroaching white settlers in the old Northwest Territory. He was an ally of the British during the War of 1812.

According to tribal tradition, Tecumseh or Tecumtha, was born about March 1768 near what is now Springfield, Ohio. His father, Pucksinwa, was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, yet Tecumseh grew to manhood a distinguished warrior even without a father to guide him. He also grew to manhood angry at the encroaching whites who were forcing his tribe farther and farther west. A chief by 1808, he led the Shawnee to a site on the Wabash River near the mouth of the Tippecanoe, where they settled with permission from the Potawatomi and Kickapoo Indians.

Angry at the land hunger of the whites, Tecumseh was gradually coming to believe that no sale of land to the whites was valid unless all Indian tribes assembled and assented to such a sale. He said that the land did not belong to any one tribe, that it belonged to them all in common, and that the U.S. government had recognized this principle in 1795 at the Treaty of Greenville, when all tribes had assembled to make the agreement, after which the government had guaranteed title to all unceded land to the tribes in common. Governor William Henry Harrison of Indiana and other officials objected to this argument, realizing that such an arrangement was impractical from the government's point of view.

Tecumseh also knew that in unity there was strength, and he began to try to confederate all tribes from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico to oppose the whites. He was aided by his brother (perhaps a twin), Tenskwatawa, who was known as the Prophet. The Prophet preached with evangelical and revivalistic fervor that the Indians must return to the pure ways of their ancestors.

Tecumseh had some success in his drive to confederate the Indians. When the tribes visited his village, known as Prophet's Town, Tecumseh exhorted them not to drink alcoholic beverages, to develop their agricultural skills, and to accept nothing from whites on credit. He hoped to be left alone by the whites just long enough to consolidate his program and unify his people.

In this movement Tecumseh was aided by the British in Canada, who wanted allies against the Americans. He obtained arms, ammunition, and clothing from them. As he traveled and exhorted, he said, "Our fathers, from their tombs, reproach us as slaves and cowards." American observers noted that he was tall, straight, and lean—and a great orator. With British advice, he foretold the appearance of a comet in the heavens. When it appeared, as he had forecast, in 1812, the Creek Indians were so impressed that they arose against the whites—with disastrous results for their tribe.

In August 1810 Tecumseh met Governor Harrison at Vincennes for a conference, but he demanded the return of Indian lands so violently that the conference came to naught. The next year, at another conference, Tecumseh, overawed by militia, declared his peaceful intentions.

In 1811 Tecumseh journeyed southward to solicit more members for his confederation, warning his brother not to be drawn into battle unprepared. That summer was dry, crops were ruined, game became scarce, and the Prophet was led into a battle at Tippecanoe on Nov. 7, 1811. He was defeated, and this disaster caused many braves to desert Tecumseh. His confederation began to fall apart.

When the War of 1812 began, Tecumseh led his followers into the British camp, where he received the rank of brigadier general. He aided Sir Isaac Brock in the capture of Detroit; however, he also saved the lives of American soldiers about to be massacred there. In fact, his white enemies on the frontier always commented on his mercy and humanity, nothing that he would not torture prisoners and that his word was good.

Tecumseh and his followers fought with the British at Brownstown, Ft. Meigs, and Ft. Stephenson. His aid is often cited as the reason that the Americans failed to take Canada during this war. Yet when the British chose to retreat, following Adm. Oliver Hazard Perry's victories on Lake Erie, Tecumseh chose to cover the retreat. At the Battle of the Thames on Oct. 5, 1813, he was killed, leaving a lasting dispute as to who actually killed him.

Further Reading

Older books about Tecumseh and his movement that are of value include Benjamin Drake, Life of Tecumseh (1841; repr. 1969); Edward Eggleston, Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet (1878); and John M. Oskison, Tecumseh and His Times (1938). Recent works are Glenn Tucker, Tecumseh: Vision of Glory (1956); David C. Cooke, Tecumseh: Destiny's Warrior (1959); and a collection of documents by Carl F. Klinck, Tecumseh: Fact and Fiction in Early Records (1961). □

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Tecumseh

Tecumseh (c. 1768–1813), Shawnee chief and leader of an Indian confederation.Born when the Shawnee Indians were fighting to defend their Kentucky and Ohio lands, Tecumseh lost his father at the Battle of Point Pleasant (1774), a brother in the American Revolutionary War, and another in the wars that followed. He fought against Josiah Harmar (1790), Arthur St. Clair (1791), and Anthony Wayne (1794). He refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville (1795), which ceded most of Ohio to the United States, and in the next decade emerged as the leading opponent of American expansion.

In 1805, following a vision, Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa, began to preach a return to traditional ways and rejection of white influences. Tecumseh broadened and directed the religious movement into a multitribal confederation opposed to further land cessions. A gifted orator, he carried his message of Indian unity from Canada to Florida.

In 1811, while Tecumseh was spreading his message in the South, William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory, attacked and burned Tenskwatawa's village at Tippecanoe, costing the Indian confederation much unity and momentum.

In the War of 1812, Tecumseh allied with the British and assisted Gen. Isaac Brock in capturing Detroit. After Brock's death, however, the British‐Indian alliance began to falter. Tecumseh despised the caution of the new commander, Col. Henry Proctor, but accompanied the British army on its retreat to Canada after the Americans won control of Lake Erie. He was killed during the Battle of the Thames in October 1813.

Tecumseh was not the first Indian to preach united resistance on the part of the tribes, but he was the most effective, forging a confederation of unprecedented range. Intratribal divisions—as many opposed as supported him among the Shawnees and other Indian nations—undermined his efforts to resist U.S. power. His death killed hopes for a united Indian state and ended major Indian resistance north of the Ohio River.
[See also Native American Wars.]

Bibliography

R. David Edmunds , Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership, 1984.
John Sugden , Tecumseh, A Life, 1998.

Colin G. Calloway

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Tecumseh

Tecumseh (tĬkŭm´sē), 1768?–1813, chief of the Shawnee, b. probably in Clark co., Ohio. Among his people he became distinguished for his prowess in battle, but he opposed the practice of torturing prisoners. When the United States refused to recognize his principle that all Native American land was the common possession of all the Native Americans and that land could not rightly be ceded by, or purchased from, an individual tribe, Tecumseh set out to bind together the Native Americans of the Old Northwest, the South, and the eastern Mississippi valley. His plan failed with the defeat of his brother, the Shawnee Prophet, at Tippecanoe (1811). Though Tippecanoe was, properly speaking, a drawn battle, it marked the collapse of the Native American military movement. In the War of 1812, Tecumseh allied himself with the British and was made a brigadier general. He led a large force of Native Americans in the siege of Fort Meigs, covered Gen. Henry Procter's retreat after the American victory on Lake Erie, and lost his life in the battle of the Thames (see Thames, battle of the), in which Gen. William Henry Harrison overwhelmed Procter and his Native American allies. Tecumseh had great ability as an organizer and a leader and is considered one of the outstanding Native Americans in American history.

See biographies by B. Drake (1841, repr. 1969), J. M. Oskison (1938), G. Tucker (1956, repr. 1973), A. W. Eckert (1992), and J. Sugden (1998); C. F. Klinck, Tecumseh: Fact and Fiction in Early Records (1961); A. W. Eckert, The Frontiersmen (1967).

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Tecumseh

Tecumseh (1768–1813) Native American leader. A Shawnee chief, he worked with his brother, known as ‘the Prophet’, to unite the Native Americans of the West and resist white expansion. After the Prophet's defeat, Tecumseh joined the British in the War of 1812. He led 2000 warriors in several battles and died fighting in Upper Canada.

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