Friday, January 28, 2011

Tecumseh


" When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home." -Tecumseh

Tecumseh is known as one of the greatest fighters for Native Americans. To this day he is still considered one of the most intelligent and greatest warriors in American/Canadian history.

Supposedly born in March 1768, Tecumseh was born at a village on the Scioto River. Tecumseh, meaning "Shooting Star," or "Panther across the Sky" was part of the Shawnee tribes. His family growing up was constantly under attack from settlers and soldiers, since the Shawnee had allied themselves with the British during the Revolutionary War. Eventually, the tribes in Ohio and Illinois decided that they would join together to stave off settler encroachment. Tecumseh had a childhood filled with violence. His family and tribe was constantly attacked, and even his father had met his end in battles. At the age of fifteen, Tecumseh started to become a warrior to help fend off the Americans.

The Americans were too strong where they were settled and Tecumseh had to move west towards what is now Greenville, Ohio. Here he joined his younger brother named Tenskwatawa, who was an extremely religious man. Tenskwatawa eventually earned the name, "The Shawnee Prophet," or just "The Prophet." The Prophet preached that the apocalypse was coming and it would destroy all the settlers who had taken any natives land. The Prophet asked his followers to give up the things of the white man, including firearms, liquor, and European type clothing. His preaching, as one might expect, made things much worse between the settlers and the Prophet's followers. After a split in sentiments between the Shawnee, some wanting to fight off the settlers, and the others trying to remain peaceful and friendly with settlers, Tecumseh and his brother moved further into the wilderness. They decided to move into Miami native territory, in a town they called Prophetstown. This was near the Wabach and Tippecanoe rivers. The Miami feared that the radical Shawnee would hurt their relationship with the Americans and warned them not to settle, but ended up not doing anything when the Shawnee set up the town anyway. The Prophet's message became very popular in the area, and they attracted many other people to their cause, many of them not Shawnee. Tecumseh was considered the leader of this new confederation, though people were drawn in by his brother's religious zeal.

Tecumseh and the confederation were upset that other tribes were giving in and signing treaties with the Americans, one being the Treaty of Greenville which ceded most of Ohio to the Americans. The last straw came when then Governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison had native leaders from the area sign the Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded another three million acres to the Americans. The treaty negotiations were questionable due to the fact that the President had not authorized them 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 and others at Prophetstown became angry when they realized that the other tribes were selling land without their consent. The area that had Prophetstown was part of the agreed lands to cede to the Americans. Tecumseh and the confederation were not ready to take on the Americans head on, so they decided to argue with the natives that sold the land. Tecumseh, being well known as a great orator, traveled to tribes in the area and told them that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegal. 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."

Tecumseh decided to challenge the man himself and took some of his men to William Henry Harrison's residence. The presence of Tecumseh and his men frightened the townspeople and the situation quickly became dangerous. When Tecumseh asked for Harrison to rescind the treaty, Harrison rejected him. Harrison argued that many tribes in the area like the treaty, and they didn't want Tecumseh around to muck everything up. Tecumseh became agitated and incited his men to kill Harrison. Harrison's men stopped Harrison from being killed and the Potawatomi chief Winnemac arose and argued against Tecumseh and asked that he leave in peace. Before leaving, Tecumseh vowed that if Harrison didn't rescind the treaty, he would ally himself with the British.

In 1811, Tecumseh decided it was time for war, and he needed to get more people. He left Prophetstown and told his brother not to fight with the Americans while he was gone. Tecumseh traveled to the five civilized tribes and made his plea, most deciding to stay with the treaties. One group that did follow him though, were the Creeks. While he was visiting the Creeks, a great comet flew across the sky. Tecumseh told the tribes that it was his namesake and it was a good omen that meant his coming. The Creeks joined the fight, which ultimately led to the Creek War. Back in Prophetstown, the Prophet didn't listen to his brother and decided to fight the Americans. Harrison, having heard that Tecumseh was far away, decided to take one thousand good men and destroy Prophetstown. Seeing that the Americans were camping nearby, the Prophet sent a messager to ask that they hold a council the next day. It was agreed and Harrison waited. The Prophet and his men surpised the Americans and attacked very early in the morning, though the Americans were able to keep their ground. In the end, the Prophet and his men had to leave the area. Harrison and his men then burned the town to the ground and returned home. This was a blow to the confederation, but also to Tecumseh's trust in his younger brother.

The War of 1812 started, and Tecumseh rallied his men to support the British. Tecumseh joined up with British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, and they laid seige on Detroit. 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 his army was much larger. The fort commander surrendered in fear of a massacre should he refuse. The victory was of a great strategic value to the invaders. A year later, the Americans would take Fort Detroit back led by Commodore Perry and William Henry Harrison. The British burned every public building in Detroit and ran back to Canada, with Tecumseh and his men taking up the rear, slowing the advancing Americans.

The next general that Tecumseh worked with, Major-General Henry Proctor, disagreed with Tecumseh on tactics. Proctor wanted to withdraw into Canada and have the Americans suffer winter, and Tecumseh wanted to hit the Americans head on and finish them for good. They couldn't agree, and Tecumseh ended up taking the offensive with what troops he could muster. At the Battle of Thames, the Americans ran over the Native and British forces and Tecumseh was subsequently killed in battle. Following his death, the native confederacy surrendered to Harrison. With Tecumseh's death, there were no more large native uprisings. The confederacy and hopes to keep the white man off their land was gone.

Tecumseh today is remembered far more in Canada, as he is viewed as a defender of the country during the War of 1812. Though he met his end during the war, Tecumseh's battle to keep native lands is extremely honorable, even though he failed. Native's would keep losing thier land, culminating to the Indian Removal act of 1830 and the Trail of Tears.


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