views updated May 29 2018


Born c. 1768
Old Piqua
(near present-day Springfield, Ohio)

Died October 5, 1813
Moraviantown, Canada
(near present-day Chatham, Ontario)

Warrior, tribal chief

Tecumseh was a Shawnee war chief and one of the most influential of all Native American leaders. Respected by both friends and enemies as a powerful public speaker and a dynamic, humane person, he tried to convince Native Americans from many different tribes to join together to keep white settlers from taking over traditional Native American lands. Tecumseh had won many recruits and become a serious threat to white American settlement in the Northwest Territory when, during the War of 1812, he decided to ally himself and his people with the British side. His death during the Battle of the Thames spelled the end of his dream of a Native American confederacy.

Grows up during conflict

The son of a veteran Shawnee warrior named Puckesinwa and Methoataske, a woman who may have been of Creek or Cherokee origin, Tecumseh was born in the Shawnee village of Old Piqua, which was located on the Mad River in what is now western Ohio. His name means "flying or springing across." Tecumseh's people had lived in the Ohio River Valley for thousands of years—farming, fishing, hunting the plentiful game in the area, and sometimes warring with other Native American tribes. But the last quarter of the eighteenth century brought a major change to the lives of the Shawnees and other Native Americans as white American settlers began to enter the area called the Northwest Territory (including the present-day states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and parts of Minnesota) by the U.S. government.

The lifestyles of the Native Americans and whites of European descent were very different, and conflicts soon arose. One of the major conflicts involved the concept of property, for most Native Americans believed that land could not be owned by any one person but must be shared by all. Although Americans made treaties to obtain land from various representatives of Native American tribes, other Native Americans did not recognize such agreements. At the same time, some Americans also failed to live up to the terms of treaties. As a result, violent attacks by each side upon the other became increasingly common.

Tecumseh grew up in the midst of this time of great chance and conflict, and in 1774 the violence touched his life directly when his father was killed by Long Knives (the Native American term for whites) in the Battle of Point Pleasant. Three years later, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk (called Corn-planter in some sources), whom Tecumseh greatly admired, also was killed by whites. Enraged and alarmed by the prospect of losing both their land and their lives, Shawnees stepped up their attacks on white settlements.

The U.S. government was not long in responding to this threat to its citizens. In May 1779 an army force led by Colonel John Bowman attacked the Shawnee settlement of Old Chilicothe (in Ohio). Even though there were more American than Native American losses, the attack sent ripples of terror through the entire Shawnee tribe. Soon about one-third of them (one thousand people) decided to leave the area and settle in what is now southeastern Missouri. Tecumseh's mother was one of these. She left her ten-year-old son in the care of his sister Tecumpease. Tecumseh's brother Chicksika (whose intense hatred for white people dated to their father's murder) also took responsibility for him, teaching him the skills of hunting and war that he would need as a Shawnee man.

Emerges as a leader

Tecumseh's courage and leadership ability were evident early in his life, when he would organize and lead hunting parties with other young boys. When he was about fifteen years old, he took part in his first battle, fighting against white settlers on the Mad River. After witnessing Chicksika being slightly wounded, Tecumseh fled the battle. Although he soon returned and was forgiven by the other warriors for running away, Tecumseh remembered the incident with shame and was determined never to repeat it.

In the years that followed, Tecumseh took part in many fights as the Shawnee attempted to protect their territory. At seventeen, he participated in an attack on a white settlement near present-day Maysville in which all of the settlers but one were killed. The warriors brought the one survivor back to their camp and spent the next day torturing him to death. Tecumseh was horrified by this act and spoke out against it, claiming that torturing prisoners was not an honorable way for a warrior to behave. His speech was so convincing that those involved promised to stop this practice. The incident was an early hint of Tecumseh's considerable powers as an orator (speechmaker) as well as his compassion for other human beings.

Recruits tribes to resist whites

Now a young man—and passionately opposed to white encroachment (gradually taking over) on Native American lands—Tecumseh traveled around with his brother, visiting their mother's village in Missouri as well as both Shawnee and Miami settlements in southern Illinois. In 1788 Tecumseh witnessed Chicksika's death by whites in a clash near Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he headed north again. He became a follower of a Miami chief named Little Turtle (c. 1752-1812), who was calling for Native Americans to join together to oppose whites.

Again, the U.S. government response to Native American resistance took the form of military action. Troops under General Josiah Harmar (1753-1813) clashed with warriors in 1790, and the next year Tecumseh took part (as the leader of a scouting party) in a battle against forces under General Arthur St. Clair (1736-1818), who was then the governor of the Northwest Territory. The same year, Tecumseh again traveled south, rallying the Shawnee as well as Creeks and Cherokees to resist whites and building a reputation as a dynamic leader.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army improved its efforts to stem Native American aggression through better planning and increased supplies. On August 20, 1794, U.S troops under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (1745-1796) defeated a Native American force in the Battle of Fallen Timbers on the Maumee River in Ohio. The Americans lost 38 soldiers, while several hundred warriors—including another of Tecumseh's brothers, Sauwauseekau—were killed.

The battle was followed by a two-month conference attended by about a thousand Native Americans from twelve tribes. On August 3, representatives of the tribe signed the Greenville Treaty, in which they agreed to give a large area of land that included most of what is now Ohio to the U.S. government in exchange for a $10,000 annuity (yearly payment). Tecumseh did not sign the treaty and, furious that those who had would give away so much land, he refused to acknowledge the agreement. Since Little Turtle was among the treaty's signers, Tecumseh now became the leading chief of those Native Americans who opposed white settlement. He began to express the idea that treaties signed by individuals were not valid, since the land belonged to all Native Americans.

Tenskwatawa, the Prophet

Meanwhile, another member of Tecumseh's family was making a name for himself. Tecumseh's brother Laulewasika (1775-1836) was an unpopular figure who—like many Native Americans who had adopted, to varying degrees, white ways—was addicted to alcohol. But in 1805 Laulewasika claimed to have had a vision in which the Great Spirit (the Native American version of a supreme being or god) showed him the path that Native Americans must take to survive.

Changing his name to Tenskwatawa (which means "the open door"), he began to preach that Shawnees must return to their own traditions, abandoning the use of the tools, clothing, weapons, and especially alcohol of white people. Instead, they should develop their traditional farming skills and refuse to accept anything from whites on credit. Tenskwatawa established a settlement at Greenville, Ohio, where a steadily increasing number of followers joined him.

Tenskwatawa's movement was essentially a religious one, while Tecumseh's goals were more political. Still, he recognized that by teaming up with his brother he could recruit more warriors for his own cause. Thus Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa joined forces, together promoting the goals of land shared in common by all Native Americans, and an alliance or confederacy that erased the boundaries (and, hopefully, the sometimes deep-seated animosities) between tribes.

Their numbers grew, and eventually the area around Greenville had been so depleted of game and fish (along with increasing numbers of white settlers moving into the area) that the two leaders began to look for a new location. With permission from the Potawotami and Kickapoo tribes, they settled on a spot on the west bank of the Tippecanoe River (in present-day Indiana), where it meets the Wabash River. The settlement became known as Prophet's Town.

Tecumseh began traveling southward to try to gain more recruits, even venturing as far as Florida. He also went north to Canada, establishing links with the British and acquiring weapons, ammunition, and clothing from them. As he spoke to various tribes, Tecumseh often received a cool reception from older leaders, who felt threatened by the Shawnee chief and who warned their people about the dangers of making alliances with old enemies. Many younger warriors, however, embraced Tecumseh's ideas with enthusiasm. By 1810 Tecumseh had gained the support of members of the Sauk, Winnebago, Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes and about one thousand of them had gathered at Prophet's Town.

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."

The Battle of Tippencanoe

Soon after his 1811 meeting with Harrison, Tecumseh set off for the south to attempt to win converts from tribes in Mississippi, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida. Harrison took advantage of Tecumseh's absence, marching a thousand soldiers toward Prophet's Town with the intention of teaching those gathered there a lesson. Harrison's army camped a few miles from the settlement waiting for an opportunity to attack. Meanwhile, Tecumseh had instructed Tenskwatawa to strictly avoid any kind of conflict with the whites. Tenskwatawa, however, disobeyed Tecumseh's instructions by ordering an attack on Harrison's men during the early morning hours of November 7, 1811.

The U.S. troops were taken by surprise and suffered many casualties, but they managed to chase away their Native American attackers. The next day, the Americans burned Prophet's Town. Tecumseh returned in early 1812 to find the settlement in ruins, and his brother disgraced by the defeat. Tecumseh exiled his brother and vowed to seek revenge for what would become known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. Still, his dream of a powerful Native American alliance had suffered a major blow.

Despite the Native Americans' defeat, attacks on white settlers increased. Instead of seeing the Native Americans' loss of their traditional lands as the motivation for these attacks, many Americans (including Harrison) blamed the British, accusing them of encouraging and aiding the Native Americans in their violent resistance. Some even claimed that British officials paid warriors for white scalps (it was a Native American custom to remove and retain the scalp of fallen enemies).

Tecumseh allies with the British

The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain began in June 1812. It was provoked by two major issues. The first was Britain's maritime policy of impressment in its war with France. This policy was where British officials boarded U.S. ships to capture deserters from their own navy, often wrongfully taking American citizens in the process. The other issue that led to the war was Americans' belief that Great Britain was encouraging Native Americans to attack white settlers who were moving west. When the war began both the United States and Great Britain knew that it would be a great advantage to have as many Native Americans as possible on their side. The British gained the upper hand when Tecumseh—convinced that the a British victory would mean the establishment of a Native American homeland within U.S. territory—decided to join the British the same month that the war began.

When Tecumseh aligned himself with the British, he brought with him thousands of warriors. In fact, the U.S. agent in charge of Native American matters, William Jones, estimated that about ten thousand Native Americans had aligned themselves with Great Britain. (Of course, not all of these were warriors, for the men brought their families with them to the British camps, and feeding them all would become a major burden for the British.) During the next year and a half, Tecumseh and his men would fight in several important battles (such as those at the Raisin River, Fort Meigs, and Fort Stephenson), and some commentators have asserted that the Native American presence was a major factor in the inability of the United States to successfully invade Canada.

In the summer of 1812, Tecumseh was given command of all Native American forces and made a brigadier general in the British army, a rare honor for a Native American. He was introduced to General Isaac Brock (1769-1812; see biographical entry), commander of the British forces in the northwest region, and the two immediately liked and respected each other. Tecumseh's warriors were beside Brock's soldiers on August 15, when U.S. troops under General William Hull (1753-1825) surrendered at Detroit. Even though he had more men than Brock, Hull had been spooked by the prospect of an attack that included Native Americans, who were known among whites for their brutality. Tecumseh, however, was known for taking mercy on prisoners and for preventing needless slaughter and torture, and everyone knew that his word could be trusted.

Tecumseh was deeply saddened when Brock was killed in October at the Battle of Queenston. His replacement was the overweight Colonel Henry Procter (1763-1822), who failed to gain the Shawnee chief's respect. On September 10, 1813, the Americans won a major battle on Lake Erie and thus gained dominance on that important body of water. With his supply lines now cut off, Proctor ordered his troops to retreat from the Detroit area—of which they had had control for more than a year—and move toward eastern Canada. Adamant that the British should turn and face the Americans instead of fleeing, Tecumseh was incensed. As a local newspaper (the Weekly Register ) reported several weeks later, Tecumseh told Procter, "We must compare our father's conduct to a fat animal, that carries its tail upon its back, but when affrighted, he drops it between his legs and runs off.…" He continued, "Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it be his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them." These words would prove prophetic.

On October 2 U.S. troops under Harrison set out in pursuit of Procter's fleeing force, which was moving along the Thames River in what is now southeastern Ontario. Three days later, the two armies met near Moraviantown (near the present-day city of Chatham). Procter had 430 regular soldiers and Tecumseh's 600 Native American warriors, while Harrison had 3000 troops. The ensuing battle did not last very long, for the British were soon surrounded and caught in a crossfire. The Native American warriors were less willing to give up, until the news that Tecumseh had been killed began to spread.

The news was true, for Tecumseh had been shot in the chest. His body was never found, although many stories were told about what had happened to the famous Shawnee. Some American soldiers later claimed to have cut strips of skin from Tecumseh's body as souvenirs, while other reports claimed that his corpse was carried away by his warriors and buried in a nearby swamp. Admired by so many—whether British, Native American, or U.S. citizen—Tecumseh would become a North American folk hero famous for his speaking skills, his bold leadership, and his personal integrity. Yet the confederacy of Native American tribes that he envisioned would never materialize. With his death, the dream was crushed, and white settlement would continue its relentless push across the northwestern, then western, U.S. territories.

For More Information


Drake, Benjamin. Life of Tecumseh. Manchester, N.H.: Ayer Company, 1988.

Eckert, Allan W. A Sorrow in Our Heart. New York: Bantam, 1992.

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

Gilbert, Bill. God Gave Us This Country: Tekamthi and the First American Civil War. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1989.

Sugden, John. Tecumseh's Last Stand. Norman: University of OklahomaPress, 1985.

Niles Register, November 6, 1813, p. 175.

Web sites

Edmunds, R. David. Tecumseh. [Online] http://www.historychannel.com/cgi-bin/frameit.cgi?p (accessed on November 26, 2001).

"The War of 1812 and Tecumseh." Bkejwanong: Walpole Island First Nation. [Online] http://www-personal.umich.ed/~ksands/War.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).

Tecumseh: Warrior-Statesman of the Shawnees. [Online] http://members.tripod.com/~RFester/tecum.html (accessed on November 26, 2001).


During the War of 1812 the United States was testing and proving the depth of its independence from Great Britain. At the same time the Native Americans were involved in a desperate struggle to hold on to the lands and lives they had known for thousands of years. White settlers were moving west in large numbers, and many Native Americans were responding with violent resistance. During this period, two leaders emerged to direct the effort to bring Native American peoples together to resist white encroachment. They were Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, who led the political and military aspects of the resistance movement, and his brother Tenskwatawa, who provided the spiritual dimension that reinforced Tecumseh's ideas.

The brothers were born in a Shawnee village in what is now Ohio. Born in 1775 and seven years younger than Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa was originally named Lalawethika (which means "Noise-maker"). While he was growing up, the Native Americans who lived in the Northwest Territory were beginning to experience many difficulties as white people moved onto their lands. Their lives were being disrupted by poverty and violence. Tecumseh and Lalawethika's father, for instance, died soon after the younger child's birth, killed in a confrontation with whites.

Some Native Americans were finding an escape in alcohol, which was often offered to traded to them by whites who hoped it would make them easier to manipulate. Lalawethika became addicted to alcohol at a very young age. Short and physically unattractive, with a badly scarred face, he made himself unpopular with his frequent boasting and unwillingness to participate in the hunting and fishing expeditions in which other young men took part. He seemed a hopeless case until, in 1805, a change occurred in him.

It was at this stage in his life that Lalawethika claimed to have a vision (possibly after drinking himself into a stupor) in which he spoke with the Master of Life (also called the Great Spirit, the highest god to Native Americans). Stating that he had been shown the best way for Native Americans to avoid the torment for which they seemed headed, he changed his name to Tenskwatawa (meaning "the Open Door;" translated by whites as the "Prophet") and quit drinking. He began preaching that Native Americans must give up the evil white ways they had adopted, especially thedrinking of alcohol, but also the use of white clothing, farming methods, and even guns. They must return to their traditional customs and regard each other as brothers.

Like Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa was a persuasive speaker, and he soon had a growing following among the Shawnee. Within two years, members of other Native American nations also had joined his movement. In 1808, having searched for a site that was sufficiently isolated, Tenskwatawa established a settlement for his followers at a place in Indiana Territory where the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers meet. Called Prophet's Town by whites, the village was known as Tippecanoe by the Native Americans.

In the summer of 1811, after a meeting with the governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, Tecumseh traveled south to gain more followers for his movement. Believing that Tecumseh's absence would allow a more effective strike against Prophet's Town, Harrison led a force of U.S. soldiers there. While they were camped close to the village, Tenskwatawa worked his warriors into a frenzy as he urged them to attack the American camp. He assured them that his magical powers would protect them from the whites' weapons.

Although Harrison's troops were initially overwhelmed by the attack, which came in the early morning hours of November 7, 1811, they were able to drive back the warriors. The next day, they destroyed Prophet's Town. Tenskwatawa's followers were so angry with him that for some time his life was in danger; they tied him up and threatened to kill him. When Tecumseh returned to find the settlement in ruins and his followers scattered, he banished Tenskwatawa to keep him from doing more harm.

The damage, however, was already done and Tenskwatawa would never regain the popularity he once knew. After the War of 1812, Tenskwatawa fled into Canada where he was supported by the British government, who Tecumseh had sided with during the war. In 1826, Tenskwatawa returned to the United States just in time for the forced removal of the Native Americans to land set aside for them in Kansas. He died in 1836.

Sources: Heidler, David S., and Jeanne T. Heidler, eds. Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1997; "Tenskwatawa," in Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Vol. 20. Gale Group, 2000.


views updated May 18 2018


Born 1768 (Old Piqua, Ohio)
Died October 5, 1813 (Chatham, Ontario, Canada)

Shawnee tribal leader

Tecumseh was one of the greatest and most trusted leaders of the Shawnee nation. He aggressively resisted American settlement and influence in his native land and worked to build a united Native American front against the Americans. He spent much of his time traveling through the Ohio River valley and in the South, rallying other Native American groups to defend their lands. Tecumseh was a member of the Algonquian tribe, a widespread group that shared a common language. The Algonquians include the Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, and Ottawa, among others. Algonquian was one of the largest language groups in native America.

"But have we not courage enough to defend our country and maintain our ancient independence. . . . The annihilation of our race is at hand unless we unite in one common cause against the common foe."

Tecumseh was an eloquent speaker and often served as the spokesman for the Shawnee at councils between white officials and the tribes of the Ohio River valley. His dignity of character brought him to the forefront in dealing with the leaders of the United States and Britain during a time of significant change throughout the world. Tecumseh's international importance earned him a place in history as one of the most influential Native Americans who ever lived.

A shooting star

Tecumseh, also known as Tecumtha, was born along the Scioto River near Old Piqua in the Ohio Country during the winter of 1768. Ohio Country was the name given to the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Ohio River in the early eighteenth century. Its borders roughly surrounded present-day Ohio, eastern Indiana, western Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia. Tecumseh's mother was Methoataaskee, and his father was Pukeshinwa, a respected statesman and warrior of the Shawnee tribe. Tecumseh's name is often translated as Shooting Star or Blazing Comet. Although Shawnee names were highly symbolic, some people believe the name may have also been inspired by an actual astronomical event. Legend has it that Methoataaskee saw a meteor in the sky on the evening of Tecumseh's birth.

Methoataaskee and Pukeshinwa had four sons and a daughter before the remarkable birth of triplets in 1774. One of the three boys born that day died at birth. The remaining two would never know their father, because Pukeshinwa died in battle several months before they were born. Tecumseh was six years old when the triplets arrived.

When Tecumseh was born, the family was living in Old Piqua, the tribal capital since 1760. This village held the majority of warriors then living in the Ohio Country. Tecumseh's birth added to the numbers of Shawnee resettling in the Ohio River valley, which had been the Shawnee homeland prior to the French and Indian War (1754–63), a battle between Britain and France for control over North America that ended in 1763 with a British victory (see box). The increasing size of their population during this time helped ensure the survival of the Shawnee during a time when white settlement in the region was also increasing. Over the next several decades, the increased Shawnee population intimidated many non–Native Americans who opted against settling in the region. As a result, the Shawnee were able to gather sufficiently large forces to defend their lands.

A vanishing culture

The British fought in the French and Indian War, in the hopes of forcing France out of North America and gaining control over the North American frontier. However, after winning the war, British leaders were immediately faced with a Native American uprising. The Shawnee joined the revolt in June 1763 because they distrusted the British and were determined to defend against continued threats to their land. The Native Americans launched attacks on white homesteads and settlements until a tentative peace was reached in 1764. Pukeshinwa eventually moved his family out of Chillicothe and helped found Kispoko Town. There, he rose to the rank of chief. The Shawnee had a council of civil chiefs, both male and female, who led the tribe during times of peace. During

The French and Indian War

Tecumseh was born into a society that had experienced war between distant European powers over claims to the very land the Shawnee still occupied. Much resentment among Native Americans resulted from these foreign incursions. In addition, European interest in the Ohio Country increased around the same time that Native American tribes from the Atlantic Coast were being pushed westward by expanding colonial settlement along the Atlantic seaboard. The arrival of these Native Americans from east of the Appalachian Mountains placed more pressure on the homelands of peoples who had traditionally lived there for centuries.

Both the French and the British had claimed ownership of the Ohio Country since the early eighteenth century. French explorers first went to the region in search of animal furs in the 1660s. They built trading posts there to exchange European goods for furs trapped by local Native Americans. When Native American tribes exhausted the fur supply in their own area, they often moved and took control of land occupied by weaker tribes in order to continue supplying the Europeans.

Living with the Europeans had advantages and disadvantages for the Native Americans. European tools, materials, and weapons brought the Native Americans more efficient means of gathering food and fighting tribal enemies. However, the trade also made them dependent upon the whites. Many tribes feared the loss of their lands and culture. European settlers built fences, burned vast prairies, dammed free-running streams, and cut down woodlands. Even tribes who wanted peaceful relations with the new settlers were subject to extinction by new diseases the whites brought with them.

Both French and British merchants engaged in the fur trade, but the British were more interested in eventually farming the fertile land in the Ohio Country. In the mid-1750s, the French began pushing further eastward toward the Appalachians, establishing military and trading posts. Alarmed by the French expansion onto lands Britain thought it controlled, Britain launched a defense of the lands. The use of force marked the start of the French and Indian War in North America. The French gained an early advantage because of their stronger alliance with Native Americans, who feared that the growing number of British colonists along the Atlantic coast would continue moving west and drive them from their land. The British were ultimately victorious in the war and acquired most French possessions in North America, including the Ohio Country. They owned most of present-day Canada and all land between the Atlantic seaboard and the Mississippi River, with the exception of Florida.

A treaty was signed in 1763, signaling the end to open hostilities. However, owning the land and controlling it were two different matters. Native Americans still stood ready to defend their territory. The British government issued the Proclamation of 1763, which made it illegal for British colonists to settle the Ohio Country. The purpose of the proclamation was to prevent bloodshed and reduce military expenses in the American colonies. However, the colonists believed the war had been fought to open access to the rich farmland. The proclamation fueled the fire of the American Revolution, because the colonists were determined to claim more land and they were willing to fight for that cause.

times of conflict, the war chief became the principal leader and held his own councils.

A peaceful decade followed the move to Kispoko, but then Virginians began to move westward to settle the area now known as Kentucky. The arriving frontiersmen and the high Shawnee birthrates fueled the need for more land. Before long, white settlers were soon spilling over the Appalachian Mountains in greater numbers onto Native American land. Conflicts over the land intensified with each passing year. The Shawnee banded together against the forces of the British colonial governor of Virginia, John Murray (1732–1809), Earl of Dunmore. They met at the Battle of Point Pleasant on the Ohio River on October 10, 1774, where the Shawnee were defeated. Pukeshinwa was killed, and the two sides reached a temporary agreement to end the hostilities. However, the arrangement was not satisfactory to all the Shawnee and drove a wedge between the various groups who belonged to the tribe. The division within the tribe would intensify with the onset of the American Revolution (1775–83).

During the American Revolution, both the British and the Americans recognized the military potential of the armed warriors living on the frontier, and they competed for Native American support. The Native Americans mostly wanted to protect their territory against the colonists' westward expansion. For that reason, they sided with the British, who had banned white settlement of the Ohio Country. The colonists were willing to go to war to gain control of the region but faced tremendous opposition from the British and their native allies.

The Panther and the Prophet

Beginning in 1777, the Shawnee assisted the British by attacking American settlers on the Kentucky and Virginia frontiers. Tecumseh was too young to participate in these raids. After the death of their father, Tecumseh's oldest brother, Cheeseekau, was left to raise him. Cheeseekau trained Tecumseh to hunt and had him spend time with tribal elders so he would learn the stories that made up the history of their proud people. Tecumseh was very athletic and led his companions in childhood sports. He excelled in the use of the bow and arrow and showed an early interest in war games. His brother trained him as a warrior and taught him courage in battle, but he also schooled Tecumseh in the virtues of justice, compassion, and a love of truth. Tecumseh carried these lessons with him and gained respect from both his allies and his enemies. Tecumseh was taller than most Shawnee and grew to be a very strikingly handsome man with a commanding presence. He developed into a brave warrior and eventually became a Shawnee leader.

The American Revolution ended in 1783 with the defeat of the British, but tensions remained high between the Americans and the Native Americans. Violence escalated as American settlers moved into the territory they had won from the British. The United States formed the Northwest Territory in 1787; this area included the land that would become the states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota. The Native Americans of the Northwest Territory wanted to keep their lands and fought a series of successful battles to secure the areas they inhabited and their hunting grounds. Tecumseh's reputation grew during this series of victories. President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97; see entry in volume 2) assigned General Anthony Wayne (1745–1796; see entry in volume 2) to challenge the Native Americans, and Wayne defeated them at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794. The Native Americans surrendered and signed the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The agreement released the Native Americans' claim on most of southern and eastern Ohio to the United States.

Not all Native Americans agreed to the surrender of lands. Tecumseh would not attend the signing of the treaty. He believed the best way to stop the advancing white population was to form a confederacy of Native American tribes. He reasoned that a Native American alliance stood a better chance against the increasing pressures from the settlers and from the American military. To increase support for his alliance, Tecumseh visited the Native American tribes located throughout the region west of the Appalachian Mountains. He traveled the length of the region, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, urging Native American peoples to band together. Tecumseh did not intend direct hostility against the United States, but he condemned white influence and land purchases and called for Native Americans to return to a traditional way of life, free from foreign influences.

Tecumseh's younger brother was named Lalawethik (also Laloeshiga; c. 1768–1834), which means Panther with a Handsome Tail. In 1805, this brother had a vision, and his name was changed to Elskwatawa (also Tenskwatawa), or the Prophet. Claiming to be a medium of the Supreme Spirit, he revealed his vision. It called for the Native Americans to return to their traditional ways and turn their backs on the contaminating influence of the whites. The two brothers established a village called Prophetstown in the Indiana Territory in 1808. It was located on the Wabash River, below the mouth of the Tippecanoe River. A large following of supporters joined the two brothers, and the population of Prophetstown grew. Tecumseh put a great deal of energy into his goal of intertribal unity. He continued meeting with British and American officials, and by 1810 he announced that his confederacy was nearing completion.

The War of 1812

William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), governor of the Indiana Territory, was becoming increasingly alarmed at the number of Native Americans gathering at Prophetstown. While Tecumseh was away recruiting in the South, Harrison led an army toward the village. On November 7, 1811, the American army defeated the Native Americans, who were led by Tecumseh's brother, the Prophet. The village and its provisions were destroyed at what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. Upon his return, Tecumseh tried to bring his followers back together, but his brother's reputation was tarnished because he had taken no active role in the fighting, and as a result, the confederacy weakened. However, the battle brought public attention to the Native American confederacy and inspired continued British support for the Native American cause.

In 1812, President James Madison (1751–1836; served 1809–17; see entry in volume 2) asked Congress to declare war on Britain. In addition to supporting Native American resistance to American settlement in the Northwest Territory, Britain had been kidnapping sailors from American ships and hindering U.S. trade with France. Tecumseh and his remaining followers allied themselves with the British when war was declared. The Native Americans hoped that if the British won, they would return the Native Americans' homeland to them. In turn, the British needed their Native American allies in order to defend Canada from an invasion by the United States.

The British and Indian forces were able to work together because of the leadership skills of Tecumseh, who was able to keep a wide range of tribal leaders organized as an effective alliance. The U.S. assault on Canada was driven back, and Tecumseh led his warriors in a division of the British army that captured Detroit. However, the United States won a key naval battle against a British fleet on Lake Erie, breaking Detroit's supply line. The combined British and Native American force retreated from Detroit through Ontario, Canada. American forces pursued them and then defeated them at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. Tecumseh died in the battle. His united Native American resistance to American settlement died with him.

Two children are reported to have survived Tecumseh. He had a daughter with a Cherokee wife and a son, Paukeesaa, by a Shawnee wife named Mamate. The war reached a draw in late 1814, and resulting peace negotiations failed to adequately protect Native Americans. Between 1831 and 1833, the U.S. government relocated the Shawnee from their land in Ohio to reservations (areas of land set apart by the government on which the Native Americans would live) in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Several war veterans tried to gain political advantage in the form of election votes by claiming to have killed the great chief Tecumseh. Numerous accounts of his death were recorded and were subject to debate for years. Richard Mentor Johnson (1780–1850) was known as "Old Tecumseh" and "Tecumseh Johnson." He claimed to have personally killed the chief at the Battle of the Thames and rose to the position of vice president of the United States, serving from 1837 until 1841. William Henry Harrison was dubbed "Old Tippecanoe" and was elected to Congress in 1816. His association with Tecumseh proved useful in his presidential campaign, too. Helped by the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" (Tyler being U.S. senator John Tyler [1790–1862] of Virginia, Harrison's running mate), Harrison became the ninth president of the United States in 1841.

For More Information


Clark, Jerry E. The Shawnee. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

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

Klinck, Carl F., ed. Tecumseh: Fact and Fiction in Early Records. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1961.

Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.

Turner, Wesley B. The War of 1812: The War for Canada. Toronto, Ontario: Grolier Limited, 1982.

Web Sites

"Tecumseh." The Ohio Historical Society. http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/ohc/history/h_indian/people/tecumseh.shtml (accessed on August 22, 2005).


views updated May 23 2018


Born 1768


(an Indian village near Springfield, Ohio)

Died 1813

Near the Thames River, Ontario, Canada

Warrior and tribal leader

"Before the palefaces came among us, we enjoyed the happiness of unbounded freedom. How is it now? Wants and oppressions are our lot; for are we not controlled in everything? ... Are we not being stripped day by day of the little that remains of our ancient liberty?"

From Tecumseh's speech to the Choctaw, quoted in Tecumseh, Shawnee Rebel

At the height of his power in the first decade of the nineteenth century, Shawnee war chief Tecumseh was the single biggest obstacle to continued American expansion into what was known as the Old Northwest (the present-day states of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan). Leading first his own people and then a confederacy (organized group) of Native American tribes, Tecumseh harassed Americans settling in the area and then defeated American military forces in several key battles. Despite allying themselves with the British during the War of 1812 (1812–14; a conflict between the British and the Americans over the control of the western reaches of the United States and over shipping rights in the Atlantic Ocean), Tecumseh's forces finally fell to the superior numbers and technology of the American forces.

Early life in the Ohio Valley

Tecumseh (probably originally pronounced te-kamtha) was born near Chalahgawtha, a Shawnee village near present-day Springfield, Ohio. His father was Puckeshinwa, a respected Shawnee war chief, and his mother, Methoataske, was of Creek or possibly Cherokee origin. Although the exact number of children in the family is uncertain, Tecumseh had several siblings—including a set of younger triplet brothers.

Tecumseh was raised during a time of crisis for the Shawnee people. For hundreds of years they had inhabited the Ohio Valley, living in villages along the river, the women farming and the men hunting and fishing, and from time to time, warring with neighboring tribes. They had long been accustomed to contact with the "long knives," as they called the white frontiersmen; they traded with them and generally maintained good relations. But by the 1760s and 1770s whites began arriving in increasing numbers. They set up permanent settlements and clashed with the Indians over land and game. By 1774 the Shawnee were at war against the settlers. During one battle Tecumseh's father, Puckeshinwa, was killed.

Tecumseh's older brother Chicksika took it upon himself to school Tecumseh in the ways of a hunter and warrior. At fourteen Tecumseh joined his brother in battle. It was Tecumseh's first battle, and he turned and ran when violence erupted. His brother and the other warriors told him that fear in battle was acceptable once, but never again. Thereafter, Tecumseh was renowned for his bravery. Tecumseh also developed into a powerful public speaker, or orator. From an early age he could lead and inspire his people with his convincing and colorful arguments. Once, disgusted at the way his tribesmen burned, tortured, and killed their white prisoners, Tecumseh convinced his fellow warriors to give more humane treatment to enemies captured in battle.

Resisting white invasions

During the years following the Revolutionary War (1776–83), the U.S. government set about acquiring more Indian land to satisfy settlers and make up for financial losses from the war.

Government chiefs—the Indians' name for tribe leaders who were willing to sell land to the Americans—sold off huge tracts of land that they did not really own. Tecumseh's people tried to avoid these arrangements and never saw them as legitimate. It was probably during this time that Tecumseh came to believe that the land belonged to all the Indians in common and that, therefore, no one tribe or group had the right to sell any land.

During the late 1780s and early 1790s, Tecumseh and his fellow warriors honed their skills in guerrilla warfare, a method of fighting in which the Native Americans quietly stole up on unsuspecting settlements, attacked quickly, and disappeared into the woods. In the summer of 1788, Chicksika—now the warriors' leader—was killed in an unsuccessful attack in Tennessee. Though some of the Shawnee returned home, Tecumseh remained in the South for another two years, hunting and raiding white settlements with a small party. He did not return home until 1790.

Washington sends troops to the Ohio Valley

While Tecumseh was away, the U.S. government had created the Northwest Territory out of the vast tract of land that lay between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Between 1785 and 1790 alone, nearly twenty thousand white settlers entered the region. Alarmed at the growing number of Indian attacks on American settlers, President George Washington (1732–1799) sent a force of fourteen hundred soldiers under General Josiah Harmar into the Ohio Territory. Believing he had scared the combined Shawnee, Potawatomi, and Chippewa forces into retreat, Harmar gave chase and suddenly found his troops in a deadly ambush. Indian forces, of which Tecumseh was a part, achieved their first major victory against the Americans.

Washington next sent a larger force under General Arthur St. Clair (1736–1818), but they were badly defeated in a battle along the banks of the Wabash River. Finally, Washington sent a force of three thousand soldiers under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne (1745–1796) to drive the Indians from the territory. Wayne met the force of thirty-five hundred Indians, including Tecumseh and his men, in a stand of storm-damaged trees known as Fallen Timbers. In a fierce battle, Wayne's troops defeated the combined Indian forces and forced them to sign a treaty granting all of present-day Ohio and much of present-day Indiana to the United States. This treaty, the Treaty of Greenville, signed in August 1795, enraged Tecumseh, who dreamed of the next time Indians would stand together to defeat the American forces.

Tenskwatawa, the Prophet

Two years after Tecumseh's birth, his mother had triplets. One of the triplets, Lowawluwaysica, earned a bad reputation as a clumsy, unlikeable boy. By the time he was a teen, he had begun to abuse alcohol and was seen as a disgrace to his family. He tried to study with the village medicine man, but his cures failed. Then, after drinking heavily one night, Lowawluwaysica had a vision in which the Great Spirit gave him a message for his people. According to this vision, the Great Spirit wanted the Indians to renounce the influence of the white man and return to their traditional ways. The Great Spirit had also given his messenger a new name, Tenskwatawa, which means "The Open Door."

In the years that followed, Tenskwatawa, who became known as The Prophet, joined his brother Tecumseh in helping to unite the Shawnee and other Indian tribes throughout the Midwest against the advance of the American settlers. Some historians have charged that Tenskwatawa was a fake whose "prophecies" were merely an attempt to ride along on Tecumseh's coattails. But Native Americans took The Prophet's message seriously, and many followed Tenskwatawa—up until the day when he led many warriors to their death at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. After this battle, Tenskwatawa lost all honor and wandered from one village to another, despised and lonely.

A time of peace

In the years following the Treaty of Greenville, Tecumseh and his people lived in relative peace with the American settlers. Settlers quickly moved into most of present-day Ohio; Tecumseh settled with his people along the White River, near present-day Indianapolis, Indiana. Tecumseh actually helped to maintain the peace between the peoples, negotiating several agreements that might have ended in bloodshed without him. But the pressure of Americans pushing their settlements westward soon ended this fragile peace. By 1805, with the Americans regularly scheming to break the treaty or trick the Indians into giving away more land, Tecumseh and his followers established a new village near Greenville, Ohio, in U.S. territory. He was daring the Americans to a fight, and this time he was not alone. Tecumseh was joined by one of his younger brothers, Tenskwatawa, who the Shawnee called The Prophet (see box on p. 202).

The Indian movement

Together, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa exhorted the Shawnee and other Indian tribes that the time had come to put a stop to the white advance. Tecumseh's message was political: he visited other tribes in the region and tried to convince them that they would be stronger if they acted together under his leadership. Tenskwatawa's message was religious: he claimed that the whites were evil spirits and that the Native Americans could reclaim their land if they would reject the white man's influence and return to their traditional ways. The two leaders helped unite Indians in their determination to resist the whites.

William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), governor of the Indiana Territory, watched the Shawnee community closely, often sending messages to the Indians, asking them what they meant to do. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa responded with reassurances of their peaceful intentions. By 1808, as game and other resources around Greenville were depleted, the brothers moved their supporters to a location near the meeting point of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers in north-central Indiana. They named their new village Prophetstown, and it soon became a meeting point for the leaders of the Indian confederacy. Governor Harrison kept a careful eye on the settlement.

Between 1805 and 1810 Tecumseh ranged widely across the Indian territory, trying to build support for his Indian confederacy. Older, more conservative Indian leaders tended to reject Tecumseh's ideas, but younger leaders and warriors pledged their support. Tecumseh even visited with the British in 1808 to find out whether he would have their support if the Indians took arms against the Americans; the British pledged their friendship. Then, in September 1809, Governor Harrison convinced several chiefs to sign the Treaty of Fort Wayne, which granted the government about two and a half million acres of Indian land. This turn of events helped Tecumseh's recruiting: As word of the treaty spread among the northwestern tribes, a flood of warriors—disgusted with the leaders who had thus betrayed them—joined Tecumseh's cause.

In July 1810 Harrison met with Tecumseh at Vincennes in Indiana to try to negotiate a peace agreement. The commander of nearby Fort Knox described the party of Indians:

They were all painted in the most terrific manner.... They were headed by the brother of the Prophet (Tecumseh) who, perhaps, is one of the finest looking men I ever saw—about six feet high, straight, with large, fine features, and altogether a daring, bold looking fellow.

At their meeting Tecumseh recited the long list of injustices that had been committed against the Indians. He spoke of his opposition to the Treaty of Fort Wayne and admitted that he headed a confederacy dedicated to preventing further invasion of Indian lands. The meeting ended without any resolution, but Harrison realized that he had a potent enemy.

The Battle of Tippecanoe

In the summer of 1811 Tecumseh traveled to the South on a mission to recruit more tribes into his alliance. Seeing Tecumseh's absence as an opportunity, Harrison quickly prepared his troops and marched toward Prophetstown. Learning that the army was near, Tenskwatawa claimed to have had a vision: he told his people that half of the white soldiers were insane and that their bullets could do the Indians no harm. During the night, the Indians surrounded Harrison's camp and attacked before dawn. The Battle of Tippecanoe lasted just over two hours. Though the Indians inflicted heavy losses among Harrison's troops, they lacked good leadership and soon retreated.

Harrison's troops retaliated by burning Prophetstown, destroying Tecumseh's Indian confederacy. With Tenskwatawa discredited and the Shawnee defeated, few tribes believed that they could resist the white advance any longer. But Tecumseh would get one more chance to fight against the Americans.

Rebuilding the confederacy

Following the Battle of Tippecanoe, Tecumseh set about rebuilding his confederacy. He assured Harrison of his peaceful intentions, but as the War of 1812 between the British and the Americans approached, Tecumseh decided to side with the British. Using his powers of persuasion, Tecumseh convinced other tribes to side with the British, and he joined in a number of battles in Canada and the Detroit area, helping the British gain an advantage. At the Battle of Brownstown, he turned back an army of more than 150 American troops with only 24 warriors.

For a time, Tecumseh and British general Isaac Brock worked together to coordinate the efforts of Indian and British forces. In fact, Brock so trusted Tecumseh that he placed him in command of all the Indian forces. Tecumseh played a vital role in the British conquest of Detroit on August 15, 1812. But Brock was soon ordered east to assist British forces there. He was replaced by Colonel Henry Proctor, who had no interest in the military tactics of people he thought of as savages. Under Proctor's cautious command the combined British and Indian forces suffered several setbacks late in 1812. In the spring of 1813 they learned that they must face a newly appointed American military leader, Tecumseh's old foe William Henry Harrison.

Proctor's leadership was ill fated, for the British triumphs of 1812 turned to defeats in 1813. After an ill-planned siege of the American Fort Meigs failed, Proctor led his forces on a retreat into Canada. Tecumseh and his forces guarded their rear, and on October 5, 1813, the British and Indians stopped to fight the Americans along the Thames River in Ontario. The night before the battle, Tecumseh had told his warriors that he would die the next day. His vision came true, for he was killed by a bullet through the heart. His warriors spirited his body away and disappeared into the surrounding woods.

The Americans won the War of 1812, thus ending British support for armed Indian resistance to white settlements throughout the Old Northwest. Without Tecumseh the Indian resistance fell apart, and most tribes simply moved further west to avoid confrontation with the white settlers. Tecumseh was remembered, by both friend and foe, as a brave and principled man who stood nobly for the dream that Indians could hold on to the lands of their ancestors. He was, in the words of his enemy William Henry Harrison, "one of those uncommon geniuses, which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things."

For More Information

Cwiklik, Robert. Tecumseh, Shawnee Rebel. New York: Chelsea House, 1993.

Drake, Benjamin. Life of Tecumseh and His Brother the Prophet. 1841. Reprint. Lewisburg, PA: Wennawoods, 1999.

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

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

Gilbert, Bill. God Gave Us This Country: Tekamthi and the First American Civil War. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1989.

Kent, Zachary. Tecumseh. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1992.

Schraff, Anne. Tecumseh: The Story of an American Indian. Minneapolis, MN: Dillon, 1979.

Shorto, Russell. Tecumseh and the Dream of an American Indian Nation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett Press, 1989.

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

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


views updated Jun 08 2018


TECUMSEH (17681813) or Tecumtha ("Shooting Star," the celestial panther), a Kispoko Shawnee born near the Mad River in western Ohio, devoted his life to intertribal movements resisting American expansionism and its devastating effects on American Indian communities. Because he and his compatriots fought during a period when power shifted decisively toward the U.S. nation-state, historians have asserted that theirs was a lost cause. Of course during Tecumseh's lifetime no one could have known this. For many American Indians living in the interior, inter-tribal resistance not only made sense, it was a well-established political tradition energized by powerful spiritual and cultural values. This tradition influenced Tecumseh even as it enabled him to influence Indians from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.

During the mid-eighteenth century, the Delaware prophet Neolin had called for a radical break with things European. Based on his visions, Neolin urged Native Americans to regain their independence, to wean themselves from the worst aspects of the fur trade, and to regain the old arts of self-sufficiency. He influenced Pontiac, leader of a massive anti-British uprising in 1762 that involved Anishinaabes, Ottawas, Potawatomis, Menominees, Hurons, Delawares, Shawnees, Senecas, Mesquakies, Kickapoos, Macoutens, Weas, Sauk, and Miamis.

This movement, like many that followed, had emerged in a context already strongly shaped by extensive contact and trade with Europeans. In these contact-zones, diverse peoples moved across and depended upon multi-dimensional networks of cross-cultural ties to engage in reciprocal forms of exchange. New kinds of political figures, alliance chiefs, helped mediate between non-hierarchical Native American villages and imperial authorities. Over time, political, material, and cultural hybridity became the norm, not the anomaly. Tensions and conflicts abounded, but Indians had an essential place in this dynamic world and, most important, could compel non-Natives to come to terms with them.

When this balance shifted, as European settlement expanded and the population of non-Natives soared, Native Americans faced a serious crisis. In region after region, the newcomers became less interested in Indian trade or showing reciprocity within hybridized "middle grounds," and far more interested in acquiring Indian land, through any means necessary. On the so-called frontier new forms of Indian-hating spread along with calls for the extermination of Native Americans. Relations, always tense, became polarized and racialized. Facing this new situation, American Indian prophets like Neolin called for religiously motivated resistance.

A few decades later and further into the interior, a Mohawk prophetess named Coocoochee inspired Native Americans of the Ohio and Great Lakes region to fight to rid their lands of the intrusive American presence. Indeed, on November 4, 1791, in western Ohio, Miamis, Shawnees, Delawares, Potawatomis, Ottawas, Chippewas, Wyandots, Mingos, and Cherokees defeated a large army led by General Arthur St. Clair. Tecumseh certainly learned about this remarkable Indian victory over the Americans.

During his twenties, Tecumseh participated actively in the Chickamaugan revolt in the Southeast. Like many Shawnees, Tecumseh had strong ties to the region. His mother was Creek and he had children with a Cherokee woman. The Chickamaugans comprised dissident Cherokees, Creeks, Shawnees, and ex-Tories. Disgusted with established tribal leaders and distressed by settler incursions onto Indian lands, they built new intertribal towns near the Tennessee River. In 1789, while fighting at their side in a Cumberland raid, Tecumseh saw his beloved older brother Cheeseekau (Pepquannakek, "Shawnee Warrior") killed. Subsequent setbacks brought an end to the Chickamauga revolt a few years later. The American opposition was simply too strong in the Southeast. The same was true in the Ohio country. In 1795 at the Treaty of Greenville, Shawnee leaders and others ceded about two-thirds of what is now Ohio to the Americans.

After 1795, in the Ohio country and in the Southeast, power continued to shift toward the Americans, but in an accelerated manner. During this period, the newly settled states of Kentucky (1792) and Tennessee (1796) acted like a great geopolitical wedge cutting into Indian country. On the one hand, this "wedge" acted as a barrier that made traditional intertribal diplomacy and exchange between northern and southern Indians more difficult and treacherous. On the other hand, Kentucky and Tennessee provided staging grounds for the next wave of invasion and settlement into regions that would eventually be known as the Old Northwest and Old Southwest. New cessions of tribal lands, north and south, chipped away at the remaining land base of interior Indians. By 1810, in the Old Northwest, settlers outnumbered Indians nearly four to one. As newcomers threatened to displace Indians and destroy all forms of reciprocal exchange (the so-called "middle ground"), a new prophetic movement emerged among the Shawnees. It was led by Tecumseh's younger brother Lalawethika (The Rattle).

Lalawethika (17751836) realized his own prophetic destiny in 1804 when he awakened from a trance. He had received a revelation directly from the Creator. This experience transformed Lalawethika. He stopped drinking and took a new name, Tenskwatawa, the Open Door. Echoing the messages of previous prophets, Tenskwatawa spoke against dependency, alcohol consumption, and land cessions, and in favor of intertribal solidarity, temperance, and reform. He disliked the fact that missionaries and other agents of American culture encouraged Native men to work in the fields growing food crops. In his eyes, only women tended domestic crops full time. Real men shed blood in the forest. Tenskwatawa charged several people among the Delawares with complicity with evil spirits. This witch-hunt led to the execution of several people, including two annuity chiefs, who had close ties to the Americans or Christian missionaries.

Other modes of internal reform were less violent, but also revealed tensions within tribal communities, between accommodationists and rebels, and between Native Americans and Americans. Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh organized an intertribal village first at Greenville (now in Ohio), then at Prophetstown on the Upper Wabash river (now Indiana). These towns attracted men and women from a dozen or so tribes, including Potawatomis, Ottawas, Ojibwas, Menominees, Winnebagos, Kickapoos, Sacs, and Foxes. Inevitably, this gathering, no matter how peaceful its intent, excited fear and mistrust among white authorities and the chiefs closely allied to them.

Tensions increased still further with the 1809 signing of the Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded more than 2.5 million acres of Indian land. The Delaware, Potawatomi, Miami, and other Indian leaders who signed were condemned by Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa. The lands in the western country were common property among all the tribes, and a sale was void unless made by all the Tribes. his brother concurred. Sounding an anti-colonial note that reflected increased racial consciousness, Tenskwatawa taught that whites were not created by God, but by a lesser spirit. Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh advocated Indian solidarity against the American invasion. As the War of 1812 approached, they also carefully considered allying with the British to gain military support. Eventually they did so, only to be gravely disappointed.

Tecumseh also sought support from southern tribes. In 1811, Tecumseh, accompanied by a Mequashake Shawnee prophet named Seekaboo, traveled among Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks to promote pan-tribal cooperation and anti-American militancy. Their only success came among the Creeks, a strong nation increasingly vexed by trade debts, settler incursions, land cessions, internal class divisions, and meddling federal Indian agents. To show their solidarity with northern nations, rebel Creeks danced the Dance of the Indians of the Lakes. They also attacked leaders closely connected with U.S. government officials.

Within two years, the Creek anti-colonial movement attracted nine thousand participants, about half of the entire Creek nation. When a Creek civil war erupted between the rebel Redsticks and their accommodationist opponents, Americans in surrounding states and territories seized the conflict as an opportunity to invade Creek country, ostensibly in behalf of the "friendly" Indians. American armies and militias crushed the Redstick faction and, with the war's close in 1814, exacted huge land cessions from the entire Creek nation, friend and foe alike.

By then Tecumseh himself was dead, killed in the Battle of the Thames, near Moraviantown in Canada, on October 5, 1813. Two years earlier, as Tecumseh recruited support in the South, an army led by William Henry Harrison had destroyed Prophetstown. With these and other defeats, Tecumseh's and Tenskwatawa's movement ended.

In some ways, however, the comprehensive religio-political challenge that their movement embodied continued to trouble Americans. Among other things, Americans who wrote about this movement and its leading figures found it much easier and popular to divide in their representations what had been united in practice. In novels, plays, histories, and speeches, white writers split religion and politics, divorced passion from reason, contrasted Tenskwatawa with Tecumseh. They demonized the prophet, who continued to live for more than two decades after the war, as the font of all of kinds of irrational excesses, the one who foolishly led his followers into the disastrous Battle of Tippecanoe (November 7, 1811). And they mythologized his brother Tecumseh, now safely dead, as a romantic, but doomed, warrior who thought strategically and fought nobly, all for nought. In sum, white writers celebrated Tecumseh as a singular genius, though one handicapped by his brother's incompetence.

These simplistic stereotypes obscured the complex realities. In fact, some Native Americans in the South remembered Tecumseh as a prophet himself. And it is clear that he and Tenskwatawa both drew upon key ideas from previous intertribal resistance movements, movements that had fused prophetic teachings with political goals to rally Native communities facing new forms of domination. In other words, Tecumseh fought with everything he had to defend the cultural and political sovereignty of American Indians.


Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 17451815. Baltimore, 1992.

Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet. Lincoln, Nebr., 1983.

Martin, Joel. Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World. Boston, 1991.

Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York, 1997.

White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 16501815. New York, 1991.

Joel W. Martin (2005)

Tecumseh (1768-1813)

views updated May 29 2018

Tecumseh (1768-1813)


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.


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


views updated May 23 2018


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). □


views updated May 14 2018

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.]


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

Colin G. Calloway


views updated May 23 2018

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.