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Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813) also Tecumtha or Tekamthi, was a Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy that opposed the United States during Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. He grew up in the Ohio country during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War where he was constantly exposed to warfare.

His brother Tenskwatawa was a religious leader who advocated a return to the ancestral lifestyle of the tribes. A large following and a confederacy grew around his teachings. The religious doctrine led to strife with settlers on the frontier, causing the group to move farther into the northwest and settle Prophetstown, Indianamarker in 1808. Tecumseh took an active role in confronting Governor William Henry Harrison to demand land purchase treaties be rescinded. He began an attempt to expand the confederacy into the southern United States, but while he was away traveling, his brother was defeated in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.During the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his confederacy allied with the British in Canadamarker and helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. The Americans, led by Harrison, launched a counter assault and invaded Canada, killing Tecumseh in the Battle of the Thamesmarker. Tecumseh has subsequently become a folk legend and is remembered as a hero by many Canadians for his defense of their country.

Early life

Family and background

Tecumseh (Tekoomsē: "Shooting Star" or "Panther Across The Sky") was born about March 9, 1768, probably just outside Chillicothe, current day Old Town, just north of Xenia, Ohio. His father was Pucksinwah, a minor Shawnee war chief of the Kispoko ("Dancing Tail" or "Panther") branch of the tribe. His mother was named Methoataske and belonged to the Pekowi branch of the tribe and was Pucksinwah's second wife. Shawnee lineage was recorded paternally, making Tecumseh a Kispoko. Their tribe was living somewhere near modern Tuscaloosa, Alabamamarker at the time of his parents' marriage, having been in that region among the Creek tribe since being driven from homes by the Iroqouis during the Beaver Wars.

About 1759 the Pekowi branch of the tribe decided to move northward into the Ohio Country. Not wanting to force his wife to choose between him or her family, Pucksinwah decided to travel north with her. The Pekowi founded the settlement of Chillicothe where Tecumseh was likely born. Not long after his birth, the family moved again to the village of Scioto. Tecumseh's father took part in the French and Indian War during the 1760s, and later in Lord Dunmore’s Warmarker; he was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasantmarker in 1774.


At least five times between 1774 and 1782, Tecumseh's village was attacked by colonials and later American armies as the Shawnee allied with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Following his father's death, his family moved back to Chief Blackfish's nearby village of Chillicothe. The town was destroyed in 1779 by Kentucky militia in reprisal for Blackfish's attack on Boonesburough. His family fled, and moved to another nearby Kispoko village, but their new home was destroyed the following year by forces under the command of George Rogers Clark. The family moved a third time to the village of Sanding Stone. That village was attacked by Clark in November of 1782, causing them to move again to a new settlement near modern Bellefontaine, Ohiomarker.

Violence continued unabated on the American frontier after the American Revolution as the Northwest Indian War. A large tribal confederacy, known as the Wabash Confederacy that included all the major tribes of the Ohio and Illinoismarker country, joined together to repel the American settlers from the region. As the war between the confederacy and the Americans grew, Tecumseh became a warrior and took an active part fighting along with his older brother Cheeseekua. Tecumseh took part in several battles, including the 1794 Fallen Timbers, which ended the war in favor of the Americans.


Tecumseh eventually settled in what is now Greenvillemarker, Ohiomarker, the home of his younger brother, Lowawluwaysica ("One With Open Mouth") who would later take the new name of Tenskwatawa ("The Open Door"), and achieved widespread fame as "The Shawnee Prophet". In 1805, a religious revival led by Tenskwatawa emerged following a series of witchhunts that ensued following an outbreak of smallpox. His beliefs were based on the earlier teachings the Lenape prophets Scattamek and Neolin who predicted a coming apocalypse that would destroy the European settlers.

Tenskwatawa urged natives to reject the ways of the Europeans, give up firearms, liquor, European style clothing, to only pay traders half the value of their debts, and to refrain from ceding any more lands to the United States. The teachings led tensions to rise between the settlers and his followers. Opposing Tenskwatawa was the Shawnee leader Black Hoof, who was working to maintain a peaceful relationship with the United States.

The earliest recording of Tecumseh's interaction with the Americans was in a 1807 with Indian agent William Wells who met with Blue Jacket and other Shawnee leaders in Greenville to determine their intentions after the recent murder of a settler. Tecumseh was among those who spoke with Wells and assured him that his band of Shawnee intended to remain at peace and only wanted to follow the will of the Great Spirit and his prophet. According to Well's report, at the meeting Tecumseh informed him of the Prophet's intention to move with his followers to a new village deeper into the frontier.

By 1808, tensions with the settlers and Shawnees compelled Black Hoof to demand that Tenskwatawa and his followers leave the area. Tecumseh was among the leaders of the group, and helped decide to move further northwest and establish the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers (near present-day Battle Ground, Indianamarker). The site was in Miami tribe territory, and their Chief Little Turtle warned the group not to settle there. Despite the threat, they moved into the region and the Miami did not take action against them. According to his brother, Tecumseh was already at that time contemplating a pan-tribal confederacy to counter American expansion into Indian held lands and held an important place in the group.

Tenskwatawa's religious teachings became more widely known as did his predictions on the coming doom of the Americans. His teachings attracted numerous members of other tribes to Prophetstown and formed the basis of a sizeable confederacy of tribes in the southwestern great lakes region. Tecumseh eventually emerged as the primary leader of this confederation, though it was built upon a foundation established by the religious appeal of his younger brother. Relatively few in confederacy were Shawnees; although Tecumseh is often portrayed as the leader of the Shawnees, the confederacy was made up primarily of other tribes.

Tecumseh's War

Rising tensions

In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which a delegation of Indians ceded 3 million acres (12,000 km²) of Native American lands to the United States. The treaty negotiations were questionable as they were unauthorized by the President and involved what some historians compared to bribery, offering large subsidies to the tribes and their chiefs, and the liberal distribution of liquor before the negotiations.

Tecumseh's opposition to the treaty marked his emergence as a prominent leader. Although Tecumseh and the Shawnees had no claim on the land sold, he was alarmed by the massive sale as many of the followers in Prophetstown were Piankeshaw, Kickapoo, and Wea, who were the primary inhabitants of the land. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Indian land was owned in common by all tribes, and thus no land could be sold without agreement by all.

Not ready to confront the United States directly, Tecumseh's primary adversaries were initially the Indian leaders who had signed the treaty. An impressive orator, Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon accommodationist chiefs and to join him in resistance of the treaty. 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. Tecumseh is quoted as saying, "No tribe has the right to sell [land], even to each other, much less to strangers.... Sell a country!? Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?" And, "....the only way to stop this evil [loss of land] is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided."


In August 1810 Tecumseh led four hundred armed warriors from Prophetstown to confront Harrison at his Vincennesmarker home, Grouselandmarker. Their appearance startled the townspeople, and the situation quickly became dangerous when Harrison rejected Tecumseh's demand and argued that individual tribes could have relations with the United States, and that Tecumseh's interference was unwelcome by the tribes of the area. Tecumseh launched an impassioned rebuttal against Harrison.

(Governor William Harrison), you have the liberty to return to your own country ... you wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as common property of the whole ... You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this ...

Tecumseh began inciting the warriors to kill Harrison, who responded by pulling his sword. The small garrison defending the town quickly moved to protect Harrison. Pottowatomie Chief Winnemac arose and countered Tecumseh's arguments to the group, and urged the warriors to leave in peace. As they left, Tecumseh informed Harrison that unless he rescinded the treaty, he would seek an alliance with the British.

A comet appeared in March 1811. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh, whose name meant "shooting star", told the Creeks that the comet signaled his coming. Tecumseh's confederacy and allies took it as an omen of good luck. McKenney reported that Tecumseh claimed he would prove that the Great Spirit had sent him to the Creeks by giving the tribes a "sign."

In 1811, Tecumseh again met with Harrison at his home after being summoned following the murder of settlers on the frontier. 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. The meeting was likely a ploy to buy time while he built a stronger confederacy, and the meeting convinced Harrison that hostilities were imminent. Following the meeting Tecumseh traveled south, on a mission to recruit allies among 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.

Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun ... Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws ... Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?


While Tecumseh was in the South, Governor Harrison marched up the Wabash River from Vincennes with more than 1,000 men, on an preemptive expedition to intimidate the Prophet and his followers and to force them to make peace. On November 6 1811, Harrison's army arrived outside Prophetstown. The Prophet sent a messenger to meet with Harrison and requested a meeting be held the next day to negotiate. Harrison encamped his army on a nearby hill, and during the early dawn hours of November 7, the confederacy launched a sneak attack on his camp. In the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison's men held their ground, and the Indians withdrew from the village after the battle. The victorious Americans burned the town and returned to Vincennes.

The Battle of Tippecanoe was a severe blow for Tenskwatawa, who lost both prestige and the confidence of his brother. Although it was a significant setback, Tecumseh began to secretly rebuild his alliance upon his return. The Americans soon after went to war with the British in the War of 1812, and Tecumseh's War became a part of that struggle.

On December 11, 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake shook the South and the Midwest. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. For many tribes it meant that the Tecumseh and the Prophet must be supported.

War of 1812

Detroit frontier

Tecumseh rallied his confederacy and led his forces to join the British army invading the northwest from Canadamarker. Tecumseh joined British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock in the siege of Detroitmarker, and forced its surrender in August 1812. As Brock advanced to a point just out of range of Detroit's guns, Tecumseh had his approximately four hundred warriors parade from a nearby wood and circle around to repeat the maneuver, making it appear that there were many more than was actually the case. The fort commander, Brigadier General William Hull, surrendered in fear of a massacre should he refuse. The victory was of a great strategic value to the invaders.

This victory was reversed a little over a year later, as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory on Lake Eriemarker, late in the summer of 1813, cut British supply lines and forced them to withdraw. The British burned all public buildings in Detroit and retreated into Upper Canada along the Thames Valley. Tecumseh and his men followed fighting rearguard actions to slow the US advance.

Battle of the Thames

Death of Tecumseh

The next British commander, Major-General Henry Procter, did not have the same working relationship with Tecumseh as his predecessor and the two disagreed over tactics. Procter favored a withdraw into Canada and avoiding battle while the Americans suffered from the winter. Tecumseh was more eager to launch a decisive action to defeat the American army and allow his men to retake their homes in the northwest. Procter failed to appear at Chatham, Ontariomarker, though he had promised Tecumseh that he would make a stand against the Americans there. Tecumseh moved his men to meet Proctor again and informed him that he would withdraw no farther, and if the British wanted his continued help then an action needed to be fought. Harrison crossed into Upper Canada and on October 5, 1813, won a victory over the British and Native Americans at the Battle of the Thamesmarker near Moraviantown. Tecumseh was killed, and shortly after the battle, the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit. In 1836 and 1837, 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.



The US Navy named four ships , the first one as early as 1863. The Canadian naval reserve unit HMCS Tecumseh is based in Calgary, Albertamarker. Tecumseh is honored in Canadamarker 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, which, among other things, eventually led to Canada's nationhood in 1867 with the British North America Act. Among the tributes, Tecumseh is ranked 37th in The Greatest Canadian list.

A 1848 drawing of Tecumseh was based on a sketch done from life in 1808. Benson Lossing altered the original by putting Tecumseh in a British uniform, under the mistaken (but widespread) belief that Tecumseh had been a British general. This depiction is unusual in that it includes a nose ring, popular among the Shawnee at the time, but typically omitted in idealized depictions.

He is also honored by a massive portrait which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institutemarker. The unveiling on the work, commissioned under the patronage of Kathryn Langley Hope and Trisha Langley, took place at the Toronto-based RCMI on October 29, 2008.

A number of towns have been named in honor of Tecumseh, including those in the states of Kansasmarker, Michiganmarker, Missourimarker, Nebraskamarker, Oklahomamarker, and the province of Ontario, as well as the town and township of New Tecumseth, Ontario, and Mount Tecumsehmarker in New Hampshire.

Union Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, was given the name Tecumseh because "my father . . . had caught a fancy for the great chief of the Shawnees." Evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist W. Tecumseh Fitch was named after the general, not after Tecumseh. Another Civil War general, Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, also bore the name of the Shawnee leader.

Tecumseh in fiction

  • Fritz Steuben's Tecumseh anthology is a work of fiction, consisting of 8 volumes covering Tecumseh's life, from his youth (Tecumseh - The Flying Arrow, 1930) to his death (Tecumseh - Tecumseh's Death, 1939).
  • Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa are depicted in the 1952 film Brave Warrior. Tecumseh is played by Jay Silverheels.
  • Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa appear as primary characters in Allan W. Eckert's The Frontiersmen: A Narrative, originally published in 1967.
  • Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa also appear as primary characters in Red Prophet, the second book in The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card. The series follows an alternative timeline in the United States, the second book covering the period from early 1805 until shortly after the War of 1812. The book involves the suspected love between Tecumseh and A white pioneer girl Rebecca Galloway. In the story they are married and she is called Becca.
  • Panther in the Sky is a novel written by Bloomington, Indianamarker author James Alexander Thom. The TNT film Tecumseh, The Last Warrior is based on the novel.
  • Tecumseh's life is depicted in the outdoor drama Tecumseh!, written by Allan W. Eckert. It is seen by thousands each summer in the 1,800 seat Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre near Chillicothe, Ohiomarker.
  • Tecumseh (played by a Serbian actor Gojko Mitić) appears as primary character in an East-German Red Western Tecumseh (1972).
  • Tecumseh and the Prophet are referred to briefly in Sara Donati's "Wilderness" series of novels: Fire Along the Sky (2004) and Queen of Swords (2006) .
  • A statue of Tecumseh was a fixture in the bar (by the entryway) featured in the long-running and highly-rated television comedy series, Cheers. [29278]
  • Ann Rinaldi's The Second Bend in the River depicts a fictionalized version of the suspected romance between Tecumseh and Rebecca Galloway, a white pioneer girl.
  • Polish writer Longin Jan Okon has written a trilogy describing Tecumseh's War and War of 1812.
  • Tecumseh was also metioned in the novel Jeremy's War 1812

See also


  1. Sugden, p. 13–14
  2. Sugden, pp. 16–22
  3. Sugden, p. 33
  4. Sugden, p. 36
  5. Sugden, p. 37
  6. Sugden, p. 38
  7. Owens, p. 210–211
  8. Sugden, pp. 4–7
  9. Sugden, p. 9
  10. "Shawnee." Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. History Study Center. ProQuest LLC. 26 November 2008
  11. Treaty with the Delawares, Etc., 1809. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau.
  12. Owen, p. 203
  13. Owen, p. 209
  14. Steinberg, Theodore. Slide Mountain or The Folly of Owning Nature. Chapter 5, "Three-D Deeds: The Rise of Air Rights in New York" University of California Press, 1996.
  15. Langutth, p. 165
  16. Languth, p. 167
  17. Langguth,p. 168
  18. Ehle p. 102–104
  19. Burton, Pierre (1980) The Invasion of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 177-182.
  20. Langguth, p. 196
  21. Langguth, p. 206
  22. WTS Memoirs, 2d ed. 11 (Lib. of America 1990)
  23. Tecumseh! Official webpage for the outdoor drama program
  24. *Galloway, William Albert. Old Chillicothe. Xenia, OH: The Buckeye Press, 1934.

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

Further reading
  • Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
  • Drake, Benjamin. Life Of Tecumseh And Of His Brother The Prophet; With A Historical Sketch Of The Shawanoe Indians. (Mount Vernon : Rose Press, 2008).
  • Eckert, Allan. A Sorrow in Our Hearts: The Life of Tecumseh. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
  • Edmunds, R. David. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership. Boston: Little Brown, 1984.
  • Gilbert, Bil. God Gave us This Country: Tekamthi and the First American Civil War. New York: Atheneum, 1989.
  • Green, James A., "Tecumseh," in Charles F. Horne, ed., Great Men and Famous Women, vol. 2: Soldiers and Sailors, 308. New York: Selmar Hess, 1894.
  • as read to the Filson Club.
  • Burr, Samuel Jones. The Life and Times of William Henry Harrison . New York: L. W. Ransom, 1840, pgs. 101 & 102.

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