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Episode 6 – Tecumseh

Tecumseh was a great pan tribal Native American chief that led an armed resistance to the United States invasion of his lands. He was a warrior, a general, a community leader and allegedly one of the greatest orators that ever lived. My primary source for this episode was Tecumseh by John Sugden. Music at the top of the episode is Spiritual Songs And Dances Of The Native American Indians  ℗ 2003 Grammercy Records

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    Before we begin, I’m going to apologize in advance for all my bad pronunciation

    This is a Stomp Dance. It’s a common cultural practice of many Native American tribes, but the one you’re hearing here is performed by the Shawnee, in their language with their customs. The Shawnee called their dance, the Nikanikawe.

    The language you’re hearing is an Algic language, which was once the most widespread language group in the Western United States. These voices are what remain of the distinct cultures that once stretched from coast to coast, from the rising, to the setting sun. This is a story about Native America, and it’s proud defiance in the face of the impossible.

    Tecumseh was a Shawnee native american born in Ohio sometime in the late 1760s. His father, Pukeshinwau, was a well known trader and warrior, who held a respected position among his people. Not a lot is know about his mother, Methoataaskee, except that the couple did not stay together for very long.

    The Shawnee were a semi nomadic people. Whole population centers would simply decamp and move their towns if the hunt was poor or natural disaster struck. They primarily lived in Ohio, but the Shawnee could also be found as far west as Illinois, as south as Alabama, and as easterly as Maryland or Virginia. They were spread over a massive geographic area.

    The Shawnee were a complex, multifaceted society. Within the Shawnee nation were 5 divisions, Tha-we-gi-la and Cha-lah-kaw-tha, Pec-ku-we, the Kis-pu-go, and the May-ku-jay. Within those divisions there were about a dozen different clans. Tecumseh belonged to a clan that followed a stellar constellation represented by a panther. His name in english could be translated to ‘shooting star, “A Celestial Panther Crouching”, or my personal favourite “I Cross the Way.”

    The Shawnee were not a peoples that lived in isolation. They were surrounded by ethnically distinct indigenous nations. Neighbours to the Shawnee included the Wyandot, the Ojibwe (or Chippewa), Ottawa (or Odawa), the Potawatomi, the Winnebagos, the Sacs, the Foxes, the Creek, the Cherokee, the Illinois, the Miami, the Osage, the Chikasaw, the Choctaw, the Iowa, the Dakota, the Muskogees, the Yuchis, the meninomee, the Mingoes and at least a dozen more that I’ve forgotten about at the time of writing.

    These tribes warred, intermarried, and traded. They had some shared cultural elements, but by and large they were very much their own peoples. They all had their own languages, and inter tribal diplomacy required an interpreter.

    On top of all that immense social complexity came an extra added bit of spice – by the time of Tecumseh’s birth, white settlers had been mixing with native peoples for hundreds of years. Not only was intermarriage very common, native americans would frequently adopt or sometimes kidnap white children to bolster their own families, raising them within their own customs and culture. Tecumseh himself was rumoured to have been ¼ european, and one of his best friends from childhood, Stephen Ruddel, was white kid that had been captured by the Shawnee and raised as one of their own. Native Americans in Tecumseh’s time frequently had european names, adopted european norms, and looked european. The last chief of the Choctaw nation before they were forcibly moved west was named ‘George Harkins’. Multiculturalism was well underway in the new world.

    Tecumseh had 6 siblings and many step siblings, one of which was an adopted white boy. To keep things simple, I’ll stick to the three with the biggest parts to play in this tale.

    Cheeseekau was his older brother by about 8 years, his sister Tecumapease, older by about 2 years, and Lalawithika his younger brother by about 8 years.

    Tecumseh’s youth was marked by constant conflict. Combat against colonists coming from the east, combat against the British coming from the north, and combat with refugee tribes fleeing both as they pushed into Shawnee lands

    In 1768, a land treaty was signed by the British and the six nation Iroquian confederacy. The confederacy was a then powerful bloc of North Eastern native american peoples around New York State. The treaty called for the surrender of all lands to the south of the Ohio river. The Iqoruians had no right to hand over that land – It belonged to the Shawnee. The British knew this but were content with the fig leaf of legitimacy that the treaty gave them. This was to become a common tactic Europeans would employ against indigenous peoples.

    The Shawnee resisted the land claim, but the British managed to politically isolate them. Other tribes had grown accustomed to British trade and goods, and weren’t willing to attack a major source of liquor and firearms just to help a rival tribe out.

    In 1774, 1000 Virginian milita were ordered to march on the Ohio river. The Shawnee, with few allies and outnumbered 2 to 1, bravely assaulted the imperials at the battle of Point Pleasant. The conflict raged for several hours, before the greater numbers of the Virginians allowed them to outflank and surround the Shawnee, who were forced into a retreat. Cornstalk, the Shawnee leader, was forced to sign a new treaty that conceded large chunks of land that we would today call West Virginia and Kentucky.Tecumseh’s father, Puckshinwau, was killed in battle. Tecumseh’s family had to uproot, and move further inland.

    The treaty did not bring peace to the region. In 1776, the war of independence broke out. The British, looking for any advantage they could find to quell the rebellious colonies, went from being outright hostile to native americans to supportive. They supplied the mid western tribes with arms and encouraged them to attack the colonies from the west, hoping to turn their old enemies into a useful pawn.

    Cheeseekau, Tecumseh’s older brother, mentored him in the absence of his father. Cheeseekau wasn’t quite 18, but he was already considered a brave and fierce warrior, respected among the Shawnee. Of all his siblings, he was closest with Tecumseh, who was an active, sharp minded teenager with a good sense of humour and a love of hunting. They also say that despite being a very, very good looking young man with loads of charisma, he didn’t really pursue women very much. He was deeply ambitious and was always looking to prove himself as a hunter and warrior.

    The revolutionary war concluded in 1783 with an American victory. The British were now confined to Canada and a few disparate forts just south of the great lakes, severely diminishing their influence. The fledgling United States was now the real power in the region, and it began by aggressively expanding westward into the territory owned by native americans, starting with the lands around Ohio and Indiana, what we would now call the midwest.

    Native American tribes had come to realize that the europeans were defeating them by divide and conquer. They would bribe some tribes, make others reliant on them, and threaten others with war. This prevented the tribes from making a united stand. The effectiveness of this strategy was exacerbated by the complex inter tribal political situation I mentioned earlier. Because tribes didn’t speak the same language or share the same priorities, it could be very difficult for them to arrive at a unified course of action. This put native america in sharp contrast with the european settlers, who, by comparison, were effectively an imperialistic monoculture. They were all white, almost all christian, almost all spoke english and all went to church on Sundays. It was very easy for european culture to direct its people toward a common goal – and very difficult for the Native Americans.

    To paraphrase the Ottawa chief Naiwash, speaking in 1814:

    “We Indians, we do not rise together. We hurt ourselves by it. It is our own fault. We do not, when we go to war, rise together, but we go one or two, and the rest say they will go tomorrow.”

    In response to the US divide and conquer strategy, the midwestern tribes agreed that no treaty could be signed unless all tribes were present. No land belonged to any one tribe from now on, the land belonged to them all. The new mantra was “One bowl. Many spoons.”

    In 1785, the US demanded the attendance of the Shawnee chiefs to sign the treaty of Fort Finney. The Shawnee insisted that they needed the attendance of all the tribes in the region before a new treaty could be discussed, but the US military bullied them into attending quickly, stating that failure to attend would be considered an act of war. It was very difficult to summon all the nearby tribes quickly, so the Shawnee were rushed into signing the fresh treaty, conceding huge parcels of their land, under the threat of annihilation by the US military. The Shawnee protested at the meeting, but the Americans said “We plainly tell you that this country belongs to the United States.”

    The Shawnee people and the neighbouring tribes were outraged at the concession, and the first pan Native American confederacy was born. The Delwares, Shawnee, Wyandots, The three fires, Kickapoo, Wabash, Mingoes, and Cherokees joined force to stand against the United States. The Northwest ‘Indian’ War had begun.

    The first shot was fired by the Americans. 800 Kentucky militia rode into a small Shawnee hamlet that was largely empty of warriors, who were out hunting for winter provisions. They killed a few young men, and rounded up the women, children, and elderly. One of the elders remaining in the village was Moluntha, an elderly chief that had advocated for peace. The leader of the milita killed and scalped him. The militia then razed a dozen villages to the ground, destroyed winter food stores, and abducting women and children for use as hostages. The winter of 1785 was very hard for the Shawnee.

    The confederacy responded with raiding tactics, rather than broad scale warfare. They would intercept wagon trains and flatboats heading up the Ohio, slaying the guards and stealing the goods of white traders. It was on just such a flatboat raid that Tecumseh, (and I’m quoting his old friend Stephen Ruddel) “first particularly distinguished himself”, with his aggressive assault on the white traders.

    Most of the time, the whites captured in these raids were released unharmed, or ransomned off back to the US government. But it was generally considered that the individual warriors that had captured prisoners had the final say in how to treat them, and some natives weren’t opposed to brutal executions, such as burning people alive, or scalping them.

    Tecumseh hated treating captives badly and was not shy about saying so. To quote Stephen Ruddell once more:

    “He was always averse to taking prisoners in his warfare, but when prisoners fell into his hands he always treated them with as much humanity as if they had been in the hands of civilized people. No burning, no torturing, and he never killed women or children.”

    Tecumseh’s raiding was to be temporarily cut short. In late 1788, he broke his femur badly when falling from his horse. The break was so bad that it couldn’t be set properly, the kind of serious fracture that today would likely have required surgery to properly align and set. He spent 6 agonizing months as a young man hobbling about on crutches waiting for the leg to heal. He was in such a state of despair that he came close to suicide, dismayed at the prospect of not fulfilling his warrior ambitions. When the leg did finally heal, he was left with a pronounced limp, and became known to his very closest friends as ‘Broken Thigh’.

    Tecumseh’s brother, Cheeseekau, was now a war chief in his own right, and was moving his own band of Shawnee from state to state. First across to Missouri for a few months, but then back across the Mississipi to Lookout Mountain, located in the North Eastern tip of Georgia. There, Cheeseekau and his band lived with Chicamaugaus, Cherokee and Creek under the common banner of war against the United States.

    From this natural fortress, the tribes could ride out and raid white settlements, plundering farms and convoys. In one incident, Cheeseekau attacked a detachment of us troops by luring them over for dinner, and in another 32 white men were slaughtered on a barge headed down to Tennessee. During the two years he spent there, Tecumseh grew as a warrior and rose to the fore of his tribe. Quote:

    “In his youth, before the treaty of Greenville, he was of the boldest warriors who infested the Ohio river – seizing boats, killing immigrants, loading the horses he took with the most valuable plunder from the boats and retiring to the Wabash where, careless of wealth himself, he soon lavished the treasures of his rapine upon his followers, which when exhausted, he soon replenished by fresh depredations. Tecumseh is considered the boldest warrior in the west.”

    In the summer of 1790, Tecumseh rode north with his two younger brothers to join the main mass of natives near the Wabash river in Ohio. He missed both the major native victories of this campaign. The first, Harmars defeat, saw 1100 warriors under the Chief Little Turtle claim 262 American dead and sent an American militia army scurrying back west. Then in November the following year, St.Clair’s defeat saw a napping American army absolutely smashed by Chiefs Blue Jacket and Little Turtle. 933 men were killed, captured or wounded by an enormous native ambush of nearly 2000 warriors.

    But because of the fragile political makeup of the confederacy, the natives were not good at following up their victories. Many of the warriors that had smashed the United States needed to go home to their families for the winter, hunting and dressing game before the worst of the snows hit, and there were still divisions between the various chiefs. Do we sue for peace or continue to commit war? Do we leave Ohio and raid into Kentucky? Most of the tribes involved in the northwest confederacy had no interest in the lands further east, which they never saw as theirs anyway.

    It took nearly 6 months before the assembled tribes were ready to set out once more. In 1792, war parties headed for Tennessee and Kentucky, raiding trading posts and forts. On a raid on a small fort, a lucky shot in the dark killed Cheesseekau, who claimed to have foresaw his death days earlier. This left Tecumseh as the eldest of the remaining brothers.

    The confederacy was finally defeated by the United States at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. In mid 1793, a new US army under Major General Anthony Wayne brought 2000 men to Ohio. They built fort after fort, and met with the main body of confederate forces in far North Western Ohio on the 20th of August. The confederate forces were split up, with the bulk of them having left their prepared position to return to their camps for the day. Blue Jacket, the confederate commander, was left with just 500 men, and a detachment of British regulars, who had allied themselves with the natives once more in an attempt to regain footing around the great lakes. The natives unleashed their initial volley on a forward cavalry unit and charged, but were quickly repelled and dispersed by canon and musket fire. US forces moved in.

    A second detachment of native warriors and their british allies tried to outflank the advancing soldiers, but they met with overwhelming numbers and were forced to beat a hasty retreat. Several important native chiefs were killed, and after just an hour of fighting, the battle turned into a rout. Tecumseh’s brother Sauwauseekau was one of the many that fell in the battle.

    The natives scattered in all directions, the bulk of them heading for the refuge of the British Fort Miami. But the commander of the fort, fearing the wrath of the Americans and the possibility of starting another war with the United States, denied them sanctuary. This final, terrible betrayal marked both the end of the alliance and of the North West Indian War.

    Blue Jacket was forced to come to a peace agreement. The treaty of Greenville, signed in August 1795, ceded most of Ohio to the United States. The treaty was loathed by all Native Americans who saw this bald faced land grab for what it was – but they had neither the men nor the arms to continue the fight against the might of the United States.

    Tecumseh was a man now. He had fathered at least one child, had several different partners, and was becoming a warchief. In times of peace, his friends and family described a man of boundless generosity, who had little need for material things and regularly give away anything of value.

    To quote some white traders who knew him:

    “Tecumseh was hospitable and generous. His house was always supplied with the best provisions, and all persons were welcome and were received with attention. He was particularly attentive to the aged and infirm, attending personally to the comfort of their houses as winter approached, presenting them skins and moccasins for clothing. Upon his return from a hunting party the old people of his neighbourhood were routinely presented with the choicest game his great skill as a hunter had brought into his possession.”

    This is not to say Tecumseh was perfect. He could also be a very neat, fastidious inaffectionate and controlling man – someone who by all reports was very difficult to live with. He ended a relationship with one of his wives, with whom he had a son, because she did a bad job of making a leather purse. When that ex-wife later died, Tecumseh handed the job of raising the child to his sister Tecumpeanse, because “the boy was too much like a white man”. Tecumseh saw no value in a Shawnee male who could not prove himself as a warrior. He had no time at all for what he perceived as effeminacy.

    He almost certainly had other children, but not much is known of them, which would suggest he didn’t have much of a hand in raising them either.

    The treaty of Greenville left a great deal of anger among the native american tribes, but the various tribal chiefs were able to keep their warriors under control – they saw what resisting the United States looked like, and they had to tow a careful line between soothing the anger of younger warriors, while also convincing the US that the tribes weren’t looking for war. Nearby US forces were vigilant for any signs of Native American aggression, and white settlers were always on edge about raids. Tecumseh excelled at this sort of diplomacy. He was regarded as an incredible orator and politician. To quote John Hunter, a white man that had been raised among the Osage:

    “I wish it was in my power to do justice to the eloquence of this distinguished man, but it is utterly impossible. The richest colours, shaded with a masters pencil, would fall infinitely short of the glowing finish of the original. The occasion and subject were peculiarly adapted to call into action all the powers of genuine patriotism; and such language, such gestures, and such feelings and fullness of soul contending for utterance, were exhibited by this untutored native of the forest, in the central wilds of America. This discourse made an impression on me, that I think will last long as I live.”

    For the next 8 years, life would be comparatively peaceful. Tecumseh and his band didn’t even live in the Ohio region, having moved further west to avoid the troubles caused by white expansion. Constant war scares and tensions with white settlers were easily avoided if his band simply moved west.

    The increased movement of white settlers into Ohio and Indiana had a series of knockon effects that devastated native americans. Habitat loss caused by white farms began to erode the population of important hunting animals like buffalo, reducing the number of pelts they could sell and severely impacting food stores.

    Traders were more than happy to sell whiskey to the tribes, creating major problems with alcohol related violence. Remember, most young native american males were brought up to be warriors, but they rarely had anyone to fight. Booze gave them the impetus to want to fight everyone.

    The most severe impact came from european diseases, like small pox.

    Since initial contact with europeans, waves of epidemics had hit native communities across the whole of the americas, decimating populations. In the 1790s and early 1800s, another of these epidemics raged throughout the midwest. It hit the young and old the hardest, wiping out large numbers of the tribal elders that would normally be looked to for wisdom in times of crisis.

    The tribes attributed the deaths to evil spirits. This belief in the supernatural origins of the disease, the loss of wise old heads who had dealt with smallpox before, and the anger at tribal chiefs that had sold native land to the whites, caused a major political backlash. Witch trials began, led by the nativist, reactionary preachers who began to thrive in the thick air of distrust. Many innocent people were executed for having used black magic to spread disease.\

    Enter Tecumseh’s little brother, Lalawithika. Lalawithika was not held in esteem among the Shawnee like his brothers were. He was a poor warrior and hunter, and seems to have had a penchant for being a bit needy and whiny. His name translates into english as ‘the noisy rattle’, which I’m guessing, in spirit, meant something closer to ‘shut up’.

    Lalawithika became the town drunk and could often be found passed out with an empty bottle in hand. One night, Lalawithika had a vivid dream in which he was visited by the great spirit, Aasha Monetoo, who instructed him to lead his people away from white culture and back to the traditions of their ancestors. If he did so, he would lead the Shawnee to prosperity and scourge the whites from the land. He was not the first Native American to have visions such as this, nor would he be the last, but for a brief, shining period between 1805 and 1810, Lalawithika became the pre eminent religious figure of the old north west.

    He quit drinking, and began actively preaching a form of aggressive nativism to any who would listen. Stop dressing in european linens, abandon alcohol, don’t listen to Christian preachers, don’t eat the meat of their farm animals. Turn against the chiefs that have sold your land to the white man. Return to the culture of your ancestors, and the smallpox plaguing our peoples will be erased. For all his faults, Lalawithika did possess one of Tecumseh’s talents : He was a powerful orator and could sway a crowd. He adopted a new name: Tenskwatawa, The Prophet.
    Tenkswatawa preached against war with the US. He had seen in a vision that they would be mightly swept away by the great spirit if the native peoples of the americas simply returned to their old ways. It wasn’t long before Tenkswatawa had a growing band of loyal followers.

    Tecumseh himself was interested in a more secular band of nativism. He stopped eating european foods, and went back to wearing deerskin cloaks, rather than european cottons and wools. He saw in his brother’s religion a chance to lead a nativist movement that could unite the tribes. He decided to bring his own band back to Ohio and set up camp at Greenville, the site of the 1795 treaty. There, he would build a village from where his brother could preach, and they could both grow a powerful and respected native community.

    The other Shawnee chiefs weren’t happy about what they saw as a power grab. The most ardent opponent was the chief Blackhoof. Blackhoof was an older man, fiercely resistant to giving up Shawnee lands, but he was also a reformer. He believed that the traditional way of life was dying out, and that the way forward was farming, industry, and assimilation. This new Shawnee town, was a threat to both the traditional Shawnee tribal council, and blackhoofs wishes to acquiesce to the United States. Tecumseh and his brother weren’t interested in war with the US – they were simply looking to build a conservative native american social movement. Further north though, the other tribes were beginning to rumble.

    Native americans from all around the midwest started coming to see the prophet at the new village. Though there was a permanent population living there, mostly Tecumseh’s people, there was a constant influx of visitors from surrounding tribes coming to hear the prophet speak. Though the village was quite large by native american standards, 57 permanent houses and a huge longhouse, there was still little spare room if a large number of guests arrived. Tenkswatawa would frequently find himself having to provide room and provisions for hundreds of visitors from out of town. Sometimes, powerful chiefs even came and paid homage. The most interesting of these was without a doubt Main Poc, an absolutely fearsome Potawotami war chief and shaman, with a crippled right hand and love of a whiskey.

    Other tribal chiefs didn’t like seeing their people paying such devout tribute to another tribe, and the United States was deeply suspicious of the intentions of this mysterious religious cult that had sprung up. Tecumseh had to use every last trace of his eloquence and charm to allay US fears that they were planning to attack nearby settlers. Tecumseh was unsettled. The occasional killing of white settlers by native warriors had led to militia being raised, and incidences of white on native violence where being reported. To escape the tense atmosphere, the two brothers decided to move their peoples much farther west, deep into Indiana, where they founded the much larger village known as Prophetstown.

    Prophetstown, by Native American standards, was huge. 200 hundred homes and a massive long house, with hundreds of weekly visitors on pilgrimages to see the great prophet. This size of town and the huge transient population that came to see it, stretched the Shawnee resources to their limits. It was very hard to properly food and house that many people through hunting and corn crops alone.

    Tecumseh and his brother may have wished for peaceful co existence with their new white neighbours, but the United States had no interest in civility. At least not if it got in the way of capitalism and empire. William Henry Harrison, one of the military signatories of the hated Treaty of Greenville, was elected congressional delegate to the new Northwest Territory, and in 1800 was made governor of the Indiana territory. He began an aggressive policy of land theft.

    Though he was primarily charged with keeping peace in the region and was often instructed by the federal government to deal with the native americans fairly so as not to start a conflict, Harrison was close with land speculators and had grand personal ambitions. He didn’t care if he started a terrible war if it got in the way of his plans. To quote Harrison:

    ““Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population and to be the seat of civilization?”

    The first treaty of Fort Wayne was signed in 1803, surrendering 650 square kilometers of Indiana. Two subsequent treaties of Vincennes, in 1803 and 1804, signed over another 6500 square kilometers. Then there was the treaty of St Louis 1804, where an enormous patch of land between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers was ‘sold’ for just 1000$ in goods a year. The treaty of Fort industry, that gave up Eastern Ohio, the treaty of Grouseland, that gave up north western Ohio and most of Indiana, The treaty of Detroit, which concerned northwestern Ohio and most of Michigan, the treaty of Fort Clark, and the treaty of Brownstown. And that’s just the old northwest. There were dozens more of these being signed by equally vile us statesmen in all parts of the frontier.

    Harrison was absolutely ruthless in pursuing these policies. He would makes threats, bully, lie, steal, play tribes against one another, threaten military action, and on rare occasions straight up kidnap people and hold them for ransom. Black Hawk, the chief of the Sauk nation who were dispossessed at the treaty of St.Louis, says that his men thought they were signing a peace offering to have a friend of theirs released from prison, and had no idea what the ramifications of the treaty were. When they did sign it, the US soldiers released their friend, only to shoot him in the back as he ran from his cell. The conduct of the United States, throughout this entire process, was cartoonishly evil.

    Then President James Madison had given Harrison explicit instructions to only sign treaties that “will excite no disagreeable apprehensions, and produce no undesired effects”. At the signing of the second treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809, he explicitly disregarded that instruction. Many tribes in the northwest were now clearly to agitating for conflict, but Harrison didn’t care. He was after a vast tract of land in Southern Indiana around the Wabash river, and to get it, he strong armed a weak tribe that had no claims to that region to support him against the protests of the other tribes that did, and by isolating some and pressuring others, stole a huge portion of land owned by the Kickapoo and Wea nations.

    The treaty of Fort Wayne was the final straw, taking many Native Americans that had been wavering about action against the United States, into calling for outright war. Chief among them was Tecumseh. Just a year prior he had been begrudgingly counselling peace among his peoples, now he saw no option but treat the United States as his hated enemy. To stand against the might of the United States, he would need the combined power of all the native nations. But putting together this pan tribal confederacy was an incredible task. Dozens of nations, hundreds of miles apart, all with their own languages and creeds. Bringing all of indigenous American together would be like herding cats.

    Tecumseh began touring the surrounding tribes while his brother preached the gospel of armed resistance back at Prophetstown. Their goal was to reunite the old confederacy of the 1790s, and lay waste to the white armies stealing the ground from under them. In the spring of 1809 thousands of people visited prophetstown, while Tecumseh headed into Michigan to appeal the Miamis, kickapoos, and Wyandots. He found some supporters, but at a large pan tribal council the following month, his calls for armed insurrection were voted down by the assembled chiefs. Though this was a setback, it hardly deterred Tecumseh’s movement.

    Remember how I said earlier that individual native warriors had a high degree of autonomy? Well, many of those younger warriors had been forced to sit by as watch and their chiefs had sold out their birthright from under them. Some of the chiefs were cowardly, or corrupt, or simply backed into a corner, but with each treaty they signed they lost the fealty of their warriors. Some chiefs were actively deposed by angry young men, but many simply made their way to Prophetstown.

    Word of Tecumseh’s political tour spread far, and before long he was invited to meet William Henry Harrison to discuss the hated treaty of Fort Wayne. He arrived on the 14th at Vincennes, Indiana, and tried to make Harrison see reason for 5 long frustrating days. Harrison merely dismissed Tecumseh’s objections as “sufficiently insolent, and his pretensions arrogant.”

    Tecumseh would reply

    “I do not see how we can remain at peace with you. You try to force the red people to do some injury, while it is you that is pushing them on to do mischief.”

    Towards the end of the meeting, Tecumseh exploded in rage, and shouted at Harrison for several minutes. The moment was tense, with both Harrison’s soldiers and Tecumseh’s warriors reaching for the weapons. When Tecumseh had finished his tirade, Harrison told him the meeting was over, and that he was to leave.

    After the meeting with Harrison, he marched westward, and spent the summer of 1810 west of the Mississippi river, touring native villages from northern illinois down to missouri. Wyandots, Sacs, Shawnee, Potawatomis and Sioux listened to his impassioned pleas. But he met with inter tribal warfare, reliance on American goods, and fears of a wide scale conflict. He couldn’t sway whole tribes to join his cause, but as with the warriors of the east, individual westerners would sometimes follow. With a trickle, not a flood, the power of his confederacy slowly grew.

    On return to the Wabash, he found that the powerful native american village of Brownstown had condemned his confederacy plans, and pledged neutrality in any coming conflict. Fearing that his plans were becoming clear to the United States, he made a visit to Fort Malven in Canada to discuss his plans with the British. But they too were wary of supporting him. The British were stretched thin with their war against Napoleonic France, and feared aggravating the United States while they were so heavily occupied elsewhere.

    William Henry Harrison had come to see Tecumseh for the threat he posed. Quote:

    “If it were not for the vicinity of the United States, he would, perhaps, be the founder of an empire that would rival that of Mexico or Peru. No difficulties deter him. His activity and industry supply the want of letters. For years now he has been in constant motion. You see him today on the Wabash, and in a short time, you hear of him on the shores of Lake Eerie or Michigan, or on the banks of the Mississippi, and wherever he goes he makes an impression favourable to his purpose.”

    Tecumseh’s allies sent a deputation to New York state, and were able to summon more warriors from the Iroquois and the Senecas, while his mighty Potowatomi cohort Main Poc rallied the villages around Lake Huron. Tecumseh had to temper the spirits of his allies though. Many of them were setting about attacking white settlers, which would only have the effect of provoking the United States into attacking the confederacy before it would be ready to stand against them. He had to counsel his increasingly large following at Prophetstown to not attack the whites until the time was right, and to always offer peaceable terms to the US military. Tecumseh could not risk the confederacy being broken up prematurely. He specifically instructed the chiefs and his brother to not engage the us military under any circumstances if he was absent.

    In late 1810, Tecumseh himself embarked on a marathon journey to the south, where he would implore mighty indigenous nations of the Alabamas, Seminoles, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw to ride with him against the white man.

    The southerners were a different breed of cat to the midwestern natives – they were heavily interbred with white settlers and had assumed wide aspects of white identity. Tecumseh knew that this southern mission would be a tough sell, as the Chickasaws had even helped the United States against the 1795 confederacy. But it had to be done. The southern tribes were genuinely powerful, and if they could be swayed, would become the backbone of a pan tribal confederacy. The Cherokee alone had over 2000 warriors on hand. His journey would take him through Kentucky and Tennessee, down to Mississippi, Alabama, and western Louisiana. He took a crew of at least 20 men to make the journey down the rivers of America to see their southern brethren.

    He first headed for the Choctaw. The chiefs there were not interested in his appeals, but once again, the younger warriors heard him, and he was able to secure the support of 300 men.

    He then headed for the Creek. His father had lived with the Creek, and Tecumseh had kin down there. He was well received by both them and the Cherokee to their immediate north, but he had to be careful when dealing with both tribes. He was shadowed by an indian agent named Benjamin Hawkins for many of his tribal meetings. Tecumseh was forced to be duplicitous, something that didn’t come naturally to him. Talking about peace and unity with the United States in public, while plotting and fermenting dissent behind closed doors. Here’s a little example of the rhetoric he used:

    “Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds and the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?
    The whites have driven us from the sea to the lakes. We can go no further… unless every tribe unanimously combines to give a check to the ambition and avarice of the whites they will soon conquer us apart and disunited and we will be driven from our native country and scattered as autumn leaves before the wind.
    The white men aren’t friends to the Indians… At first they only asked for land sufficient for a wigwam; now, nothing will satisfy them but the whole of our hunting grounds from the rising to the setting sun.”

    There was a growing nativism among the southern tribes, a backlash to encroaching white culture, but remember the southern tribes were much more assimilated than the North Westerners. Farming, inter marriage, christianity, and solid timber framed houses were becoming increasingly commonplace. There was a pronounced split between Pro and anti Us forces. Tecumseh’s words deepened the already growing political schism in the southern tribes.

    Though Tecumseh spoke in secular terms, about the political need for unification and a military response to US aggression, he also carried with him the aura of his religious brother. In appealing to the nativist forces down south, he also appealed to their belief in the great spirits, and how, with the great prophet Tenkswatawa by his side, he would always have the favor of the supernatural forces that governed the natural world. Towards the end of his time down south, Tecumseh experienced two great omens, and he used them to powerful effect to sway men to his cause.

    The first of these, was the great comet of 1811. Dubbed Napoleon’s comet in europe and Tecumseh’s comet in the Americans, this huge comet was visible without a telescope for a full 260 days. It appears in the skies of earth once every 3000 years, and it appeared for the southern tribes right when a great northern chief, whose name meant ‘Shooting Star’ was appealing to them to fight with him to honor the great spirits. Here was the celestial panther of his namesake, with it’s million mile tail streaking across the sky.

    The comet swayed many hundreds more to Tecumseh’s cause, but when it was followed up by the New Madrid earthquakes of December 1811, a series of thousands of devastating earthquakes that lasted for 4 months, it felt to many thousands of Native Americans that the spirits truly did side with Tecumseh. A powerful new faction of the Creek took up arms against the United States, calling themselves the Red Sticks, and thousands more made the pilgrimage north.

    Tecumseh wound up his southern tour by heading westward, heading home via Missouri and Illinois, before making his final run home to the Wabash river and Prophetstown itself.

    The US had not been sitting idly by while Tecumseh was away. William Henry Harrison knew his great enemy was down south, and that he was building a confederacy for war. A militia was raised, and Harrison marched on Prophetstown. He had been given word by President Jefferson that he was authorized to assault and disperse the Native enclave. On November 6, 1811, they arrived and set up camp on a plateau overlooking the town near the Tippacanoe river.

    The chiefs and Tenkswatawa were in disagreement as to their course of action. Though Tecumseh had specifically told them not to engage the US in battle and to always offer overtures of peace, many of the chiefs felt they had no choice. Harrison was clearly mustering for an attack, and their own young warriors were eager to prove themselves in combat. Tenkswatawata consulted his spirits, and found them in favour for battle. After dark, an african american slave was captured, and he divulged that he was sure Harrison was preparing to attack the following morning.

    The chiefs decided to go against Tecumseh’s orders and launch an attack. In truth, I’m not sure that they had a choice. There was no pan tribal chief of the authority of Tecumseh to quell the bloodlust of some of the headier warriors, and Harrison was clearly determined to assault Prophetstown, irrespective of peace overtures. It was decided that just before dawn, a surprise attack was to be unleashed on Harrison’s position.

    Dances were danced, war paint was put on, and the prophet declared that his warriors would find night as light as day. Just before 4:30am, a two pronged attack by predominantly winnebago and kikkapoo warriors surrounded Harrison’s camp, which was dimly lit by sentry fires. The regulars were camped in the center, and the milita on the flanks.

    The natives were spotted before they were completely in position, and charged the plateu. They smashed open the hastily assembled American flanks, but those troops fell back and were able to form a second defensive position. The two side fired volley after volley, but the americans were lit up by their sentry fires, and could be easily seen in the dark. Native rifleman picked off the miltia easily. The casualties began to mount, and once beset by a charge of warriors brandishing tomahawks and warclubs, they broke and fled. But The center of the American formation was not militia – they were US infantryman, many of whom were revolutionary war veterans. They held firm against the onslaught.

    The warriors killed scores of soldiers including several officers, many of whom they were able to engage in close combat and cut down with their tomahawks. But they were still outnumbered 2 to 1. As dawn broke, the warriors were down to their last rounds of ammunition. They needed to break the lines of the american regulars soon or they would be forced into a desperate retreat. They made one last charge. It failed, and Harrison took his chance to launch a counter attack, which drove the natives back down the plain to the temporary safety of Prophetstown.

    68 US servicemen lay dead and 180 more wounded, compared with just 25 -30 fallen natives. A numerical victory for the tribes, but it didn’t matter. The US had the men and arms to spare, and the natives didn’t. Harrison waited 2 more days to consolidate his position and treat his wounded before marching on prophetstown. They found it abandoned, and burned it to the ground. The tribes were scattered to the winds, and all their provisions for the coming winter lost.

    When Tecumseh arrived back at the smoking ruins, he found it largely abandoned, save his brother Tenkswatawa. Tecumseh was furious that the one simple instruction he had left with his brother – to NOT engage the US in battle – had been ignored. He grabbed him by the hair and shook him with rage.

    Tecumseh would in time get over the failure of his brother to control the assembled tribes, and Tenkswatawa would travel with him as his spiritual council for their remaining days. But his influence over the various Native American nations was shattered. He would never again command the faith of the indigenous midwest.

    The native warriors that had lost at Tippacanoe hadn’t died, they’d merely been dispersed. Some had returned to their own lands, but others had gone rogue and were now merrily rampaging throu

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