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Native American Faces

Tecumseh


Shawnee Indian
(March 1768 – October 5, 1813)


His name comes from Tekooms?, meaning "Shooting Star" and it's believed that he was born on March 9, 1768 outside of the current town of Xenia, Ohio, to the Panther clan of Shawnee. Tecumseh, (also spelled Tecumtha or Tekamthi), was a Shawnee leader who spent much of his life trying to rally various Indian tribes into a confederation for the mutual defense of their lands. This endeavor eventually led to his death in the War of 1812.

Tecumseh’s father, Pucksinwah, a Shawnee war chief, died at the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. Fearing the encroaching white settlers, many Shawnees, including Tecumseh’s mother, Methoataske ,moved westward first to Indiana, then Illinois, and finally to Missouri. Tecumseh, only eleven years old at the time, remained in Ohio and was raised by his eldest brother, Chiksika, and his sister, Tecumpease.

Tecumseh, the Warrior

Tecumseh was trained by Chiksika to become a warrior and his first military encounter occurred against an army led by George Rogers Clark into the Ohio Country in 1782. But, Tecumseh panicked and fled the battlefield. Humiliated by the experience, Tecumseh swore he'd never run again. He grew into a brave warrior and eventually became a Shawnee leader who fought against the army of Arthur St. Clair in 1791. The Indians in the Northwest Territory were victorious. Tecumseh soon became one of the most trusted leaders of the Shawnees, admired greatly by younger braves because of his call for violent resistance against further white settlement of native land.

The Indians, however, were not so successful against the army of Anthony Wayne in 1794. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne’s men defeated the Natives, including Tecumseh. Many Indians believed relinquishing much of their land was the only way to appease the whites, so most tribes living in Ohio signed the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795. Under this agreement the Native Americans gave up all of their land except the northwestern corner of present-day Ohio. Not all Indians agreed with their tribes’ actions and Tecumseh was among them.

Indian Confederacy
By the early 1800s, Tecumseh decided that the best way to stop white advancement was to form a confederacy of Indian tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains. He believed that no single tribe owned the land and that it would require all tribes together to turn land over to the whites. He also believed that, if the Indians united together, they would have a better chance militarily against the whites. In attempt to gather up his forces in a unified front, Tecumseh visited most Indian tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico.

His Brother - The Prophet

In 1805, Tecumseh’s younger brother, Tenskwatawa, who was known as 'the Prophet', helped Tecumseh to unite the Indians. Tenskwatawa urged natives to reject the ways of the whites, and to refrain from ceding any more lands to the United States. His religious teachings became widely known as did his predictions. Tenskwatawa had a vision where the Master of Life, the Shawnee Indians’ primary god, told him to have the Indians give up all white customs and products, including their religious beliefs and agricultural practices, as well as guns, iron cookware, and alcohol. By turning their backs on Indian traditional ways, he said, they had offended the Master of Life and if they returned to their native customs, they would be rewarded by the whites being driven from the land. Opposing Tenskwatawa was the Shawnee leader Black Hoof, who was working to maintain a peaceful relationship with the United States. By 1808, however, tensions with white settlers and Black Hoof's Shawnees compelled Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh to move further northwest and establish the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers where they were joined by other Natives who supported the Prophet’s message.

Ceding of Indian Lands

In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which a delegation of half-starved Indians ceded 3 million acres of Native American lands to the United States. Harrison was under orders from Washington to negotiate with Indians that claimed the lands that they were ceding. However, he disregarded those orders, as none of the Indians he met with lived on the lands that they ceded. Tecumseh's opposition to the treaty marked his emergence as a prominent leader. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegal; he asked Harrison to nullify it, and warned that Americans should not attempt to settle on the lands sold in the treaty.

In 1811 Tecumseh again met with Harrison at Grouseland, Harrison's Vincennes, Indiana, home to try to resolve the situation, but Harrison as Governor had made it his primary goal to acquire as much Indian Land as he could. Tecumseh told Harrison that the Shawnee and their Native American brothers wanted to remain at peace with the United States but these differences had to be resolved. Tecumseh knowing only solidarity of the tribes would convince Washington, then traveled south, on a mission to recruit allies among those Indians who were at the time called the "Five Civilized Tribes." Most of the southern nations rejected his appeals, but a faction among the Creeks, who came to be known as the Red Sticks, answered his call to arms, leading to the Creek War.

Attack on Phophetstown

That same year, on November 6, Harrison, noting the growing number of Indians congregating at Prophetstown led an army towards the village. Tecumseh was not there at the time because he was recruiting Indian allies in the southern part of the United States. He left his brother with orders not to attack the Americans. But, The Prophet claimed to have received another vision from the Master of Life. In this vision, he said he was told to send his warriors against the Americans ad that The Master of Life also said that the soldiers’ bullets would not harm any Indians. The battle that ensued became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. The Americans defeated Tenskwatawa and his followers, and Prophetstown was destroyed. Although Harrison ( "Old Tippecanoe") lost more men in this battle than the Indians, he held ground and it was a victory that would eventually lead to his becoming the President of the United States

Tecumseh’s Confederation became even more weakened by this defeat. He had trouble convincing tribes to put aside their traditional differences to unite as one against the Americans. Other Indians, including some Shawnees led by Black Hoof, had actually adopted white customs and had no desire to give them up.

The War of 1812: Tecumseh's Death
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his remaining followers allied themselves with the British. His hope was that, if the English won, that they would return the Indians’ land to them. Battles were fought along Lake Erie, in Detroit and into Canada along the Thames River near Chatham. Harrison crossed into Upper Canada on October 5, 1813. A combined English-Indian force met the American army led by Harrison, but the British soldiers ran from the battlefield, leaving Tecumseh and his Indian followers to fight on their own. The Americans drove the natives from the battlefield and won the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed, and shortly after the battle the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit.

In 1836-37, in part because of reports that it was he who had killed Tecumseh, Richard Mentor Johnson was elected vice-president of the United States, to serve with Martin Van Buren.

Tecumseh is honoured in Canada as a hero and military commander who played a major role in Canada's successful repulsion of an American invasion in the War of 1812. This eventually led to Canada's nationhood half a century later. Among the tributes, Tecumseh is ranked 37th in The Greatest Canadian list. He is also honoured by a massive portrait which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institute.

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