Tecumseh, Death of

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Tecumseh was born in a Shawnee village, Old Piqua, on the Mad River of Ohio, in 1768 near present-day Springfield, Ohio. He was the fifth of nine children; his father, a Shawnee warrior named Puckeshinewa, was killed in a 1774 battle, and his mother, Methoastaske, moved west of the Mississippi River with Creek relatives five years later. Tecumseh remained in Ohio country with an older sister, Tecumapease, and raised her in the tradition of his culture.

By age 14 Tecumseh found himself fighting Americans alongside his older brother, Chiksika, leading the Native American resistance to the continued spread of white settlement in the Ohio River valley. As he matured, Tecumseh became an acknowledged and respected leader. He also gained recognition arguing for humane treatment of American captives. During a series of raids against frontier settlements in Kentucky and Tennessee in the late 1780s and early 1790s, Chiksika was killed. Outnumbered, Tecumseh and his followers suffered a series of defeats in Ohio, leading to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The treaty ceded most of modern-day Ohio, leaving Native American control over the remaining parts of the Old Northwest Territory. Tecumseh, however, refused to participate in or recognize the treaty, asserting that those who participated did not have authority to sign away the land. He carried this traditional concept of communal land ownership with him into later days.

Following defeat in Ohio and after several moves within Ohio and Indiana, in 1798 Tecumseh settled in a village on the White River of eastern Indiana, near the modern-day town of Anderson. There, one of Tecumseh's younger brothers, Tenskwatawa, experienced a series of visions in 1805. Tenskwatawa became a powerful religious leader, especially after successfully predicting an eclipse in 1806. They relocated to a village near present-day Greenville, Ohio, where Tenskwatawa preached a native revitalization, offering to rescue Native American people from impending doom. Known as the Prophet, Tecumseh's brother espoused alcohol abstinence and the pursuit of a traditional way of life, which included repudiation of Western society's goods and customs. Many were receptive to the message, given the ongoing demise of their traditional economies, and his following increased. With many Native Americans coming to Tecumseh's village to see his famous brother, Tecumseh's political activism grew. He transformed the revitalization concept into a political movement that embraced the idea of communal property regarding native lands. In 1808 Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa again relocated their village, this time to the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, which became known as Prophetstown.

Tecumseh clashed with Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison (17731841) over the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded yet more traditional lands. Meanwhile, Tecumseh's prominence rose to new heights. Relentlessly, he journeyed throughout much of the United States encouraging tribal groups to form a political confederacy, a pan-Native American federation, to stop the further loss of lands. An outstanding orator, Tecumseh argued that Native American land could not be given away without common consent of all Native American peoples. He took his message to the South where, though the Cherokee and three other Five Civilized Tribes rejected his call, the Creeks were responsive. While Tecumseh met with the Creeks in November 1811, the U.S. Army led by Harrison moved against Prophetstown. The resulting Battle of Tippecanoe destroyed the village and its food supply and sent Tecumseh's brother in flight to Canada.

While Tecumseh recovered from his terrible loss, the War of 1812 (18121814) broke out between the United States and Great Britain. He and his followers joined British troops in Michigan, where together they successfully captured Fort Detroit. Further engagements with U.S. troops followed in southern Michigan and northern Ohio. Tecumseh joined forces with British commander Henry Proctor, laying siege to Harrison's Fort Meigs. The siege failing, Tecumseh reluctantly accompanied Proctor in a retreat to Canada, where Harrison pursued them. Tecumseh was shot and killed at the Battle of the Thames in present-day southern Ontario in October 1813.

The death of Tecumseh marked the end of Native American resistance in the Ohio River valley and efforts at pan-tribal unity, a political concept alien to traditional Native American lifestyles. U.S. victories throughout the following year under the leadership of Andrew Jackson (17671845) broke the Native American hold on lands east of the Mississippi River. The following decades saw implementation of Jackson's removal policy, a plan to forcibly relocate Native Americans west of the Mississippi. Yet, the widespread admiration of Tecumseh's skills as a leader and orator, plus his bravery and humanitarianism, have established him as an American folk hero.

See also: Fallen Timbers (Battle of), Native American Policy


Antal, Sandy. A Wampum Denied: Procter's War of 1812. East Lansing, Michigan: Carlton University Press, 1997.

Eckert, Allan W. A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh. New York: Bantam, 1992.

Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Short History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Sudgen, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1998.

. Tecumseh's Last Stand. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.