Tecumseh was a famous Indian leader who lived in the early part of this country’s history. He had a vision of joining all of the Indian tribes into one nation. He was the first Indian diplomat both among his own people and with the white man.
Tecumseh: A Leader Who Desired Peace
Tecumseh was one of the first Indian leaders that desired peace with the settlers and pursued it. He was also the first to find out that:
The white man could not be trusted to take only what was given to them, but would attempt to take even more.
The white man would attempt to drive the Indians from any land that they wanted and would resort to violence to get it.
Tecumseh was a leader with great power who could persuade large numbers of people to come together and seek a higher good. He believed in the joining of all Indians under a single nation. His charisma was enticing and he was able to gather many of the tribes together to negotiate for Indian land with the settlers. They worked together in building a defense force to protect their land from those that would attempt to take it from them.
Tecuseh's Early Years
Tecumseh was born in 1768 in Ohio and grew up in the Ohio River basin with his family.
His name means "shooting star."
His father was a minor Shawnee Chief who was killed in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 fighting the settlers over land.
When the white settlers came, some Indians would fight for their land and others would move.
Tecumseh’s mother decided to move to Indiana, later to Illinois, and finally settled in Missouri. He did not go with his mother but stayed in Ohio with his brother Chiksika and his sister Tecumpease.
He was trained as a warrior but ran from his first battle. Ashamed of himself, he worked even harder and became a great warrior.
Tecumseh grew into adulthood with his brother and envisioned peace with the settlers, hoping that the Indians would give them some land and then everyone could live in peace. Unfortunately, hostilities continued to rise and soon there was bloodshed over the land.
The Indians were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and felt they had to give up their lands, so they signed the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795. This left them with a section of land in the northwestern part of Ohio. Tecumseh thought they should not have signed the treaty.
He decided the Indian tribes needed to unite against the white man and he set out to convince them to form a confederacy. He contacted all the tribes west of the Appalachians from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
He soon became a respected leader of the Shawnee people, calling for the Indians to stand up to the white men who were settling on their land.
The Shawnee territory was being taken over by the settlers who were flooding into America. Despite treaties and promises, the Indians were being evicted from their ancestral homes. The American encroachment on the Native Americans began with hostilities in the area east of Virginia, which was home to the Cherokee Indians. However, the settlers moved west and seized land owned by the Indians in the Ohio River valley.
One thing that really helped shape the life of Tecumseh was his brother Tenskwatawa, the Prophet.
Tenskwatawa claimed that God told him that the Indians had to give up white customs and ways, which was anything like guns, liquor, clothing, ways of farming, etc.
He said that God was offended that the Indians had given up their history and traditions and he supported Tecumseh.
If the Indians would return to the old ways, God would be happy and banish the white man from their lands.
Many tribes met with the two brothers at the village called Prophetstown.
Consolidation of the Indian Tribes
Most of Tecumseh's life was spent trying to make a gathering of tribes a reality. He set up a center of government and political power in Tippecanoe. Tippecanoe became not only a center for Indian confederacy, but also a training center for the Indian warriors.
The settlers grew concerned about the power that Tecumseh was amassing around himself and his cause. They looked to the US government to deal with the problem.
Battle of Tippecanoe
Seeing so many Indians together worried the governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, so he sent an army to Prophetstown.
Tecumseh was not there and before he left, he instructed his brother not to attack the whites.
Tenskwatawa said he had a vision to attack that showed bullets would not harm the Indians, so he attacked.
During the night before the meeting was scheduled, hostilities broke out and, by the time the fighting was over, there were a large number dead on both sides. The battle was called the Battle of Tippecanoe. The Americans were victorious and the confederation of Indians was weakened by their defeat.
Many tribes had not joined because they had adopted some white customs and did not want to stop.
Tecumseh fled the area and didn’t return for three months. When he came back, he found the town destroyed and he gave up his vision of a confederacy with the settlers.
Under the climate of expansion into the western part of the country, Tecumseh felt there could be no trust with the white man who did not care for being honest and true in their dealings, but only about gaining land for themselves.
Following the destruction of Tippecanoe, Tecumseh and his warriors joined the forces with the British during the War of 1812 in hopes that they would return the land to the Indians if they won.
War of 1812
Tecumseh was the first Indian to serve at the rank of General in the British Army. Tecumseh fought as a Brigadier General during the War and when the British were defeated and turned tail to Canada, Tecumseh begged them not to give up the fight.
At the start of the Battle of the Thames in 1813, the British retreated and left the Indians to fight on their own. Finding no aid in their leadership, Tecumseh and his men decided to fight the Americans without the help of the British. Tecumseh died in battle at Chatham, Ontario. His death ended the dream of a unified Indian Nation and an allied Indian resistance to the American settlers.
In the Royal Canadian Military Institute, there is a large portrait of Tecumseh which was unveiled in 2008.
Tecumseh is considered a great warrior who allied with the British in the War of 1812 and helped repulse the Americans.
He is ranked as number 37 on the list of Greatest Canadians.
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland has a court named after Tecumseh in front of Bancroft Hall. Within there is a bust of Tecumseh.
The U.S. Navy has had four ships named the USS Tecumseh.
There is a HMCS Tecumseh naval reserve unit in Alberta, Canada.
So, now you know the history of Tecumseh, details of his life and a summary of his legacy.