A Tribute to Tecumseh, An American Hero

horseheader11.jpgGood Morning!  Hope you are one and all doing well on this beautiful Tuesday after Easter!

In keeping with the theme of American heros, the next American Indian leader that I’d like to honor is Tecumseh.  Tall and handsome, he held the respect not only of his people, but of those he fought, as well.  Though he fought long and hard to save his land and his people, he fought just as hard against also the practice of torture and would not allow any torture of any prisoners.  A great orator, he sought to unite the tribes against the encrouchment of settlers on their lands.  To Tscumseh, all land belonged to all people.  Sell the land?  Why not sell the air that one breathes?tecumseh1

Tecumseh was Shawnee and was born in 1768 in the area that is now Ohio.  He grew up in an era in which his people were in constant battle with the white settlers and his father died in a conflict in 1774 at the Battle of Point Pleasant.  In 1779 Tecumseh’s mother moved westward, into what is now Indiana and Illinois, eventually coming to live in Missouri.  Tecumseh stayed behind to be raised by his sister and elder brother.  By 1808, Tecumseh was a chief.

“Tecumseh’s War”

In 1805, Tecumshe’s brother, Tenskwatawa, who would later come to be known as the prophet, had dreamed.  He started a religious revival. Tenskwatawa preached that people should reject the ways of the whites — like Tecumseh, he urged people to keep their land and stop selling it.  But there is always internal opposition to even the best plans.  Another Shawnee leader, Black Hoof was trying to maintain peace with the United States.  Tensions became so great that by 1808 Tecumseh and his brother moved further northwest, near the rivers The Wabash and Tippecanoe.  It was Tecumseh’s dream to unite all the Indian tribes together, from Canada to the very southern tip of the United States.  Only in this way could the Indian Nations counter the effect of the whites who were surrounding them.

Toward this end, he accomplished much.

In September 1809, William Henry Harrison negotiated a treaty wherein  a delegation of half-starved, drunken Indians ceded 3 million acres of land that they did not own or live on.  It was a scam. perpetuated by Harrison.  Tecumseh was so angered over this that he journeyed to to Harrison’s home to denounce him publicly.  But it had little effect on Harrison.  In the end, nothing was done.tecumseh_harrison1

Tecumseh began to put his dream into effect.  He began to travel widely.  A great orator, he started to unite the different Indian tribes to one cause.  Tecumseh said, “No tribe has the right to sell, 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 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.”

(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 … Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? How can we have confidence in the white people?

—- Tecumseh, 1810, ‘The Portable North American Indian Reader’[6]

In 1811 Tecumseh again met with Harrison  in Vincennes, Indiana to try to resolve the situation between them.  However, Harrison had a father-in-law, John Cleves Symmes, who was a memeber of Congress  and who was actively making a career out of being  a land developer of the lands that Harrison acquired from Indian Treaties.  Therefore it proved fruitless to try to negotiate with Harrieson.  He had other interests rather than negotiate with American Indian tribes.  Indeed, it was worth it to him to push the Indians off the land they had always owned.  Tecumseh might have gone to war over this;  however, he wanted peace and wanted to keep hold of his ancestral lands.  He knew that only a solidarity of tribes might convince those in Washington, and so he set out on another journey to the south to try to convince warriors in the Five Civilized Tribes to come into his confederacy.

This 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.

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?

—- Tecumseh, 1811, ‘The Portable North American Indian Reader’[7]

While Tecumseh was in the South, Governor Harrison marched up the Wabash River to try to iintimidate Tecumseh’s brother, the Prophet.  Tecumseh had left orders with his brother that he was not to engage any American army.  However, the Prophet took matters into his own hands and fought Harrison.  Although the match was really a draw, Harrison still had the field by morning and the Indians withdrew from the village after the battle.  There were women and children to consider, after all.  Because they withdrew, it was considered that Harrison won.

The loss of the battle was a severe blow for Tecumseh, but he determined to put his efforts once again into kuniting the tribes, and he might have succeeded had it not been for the War of 1812 intervening.  Tecumseh joined the British in that battle and had he lived, he might have succeeded in uniting the tribes, as was his dream.  At the very least, a united Indian front might have allowed the Indians to keep hold of their ancestral homes.  Tecumseh lost his life in battle in the war of 1812.  And so ended a career to unite the several Indian tribes.

Tecumseh was brilliant.  He loved his homeland and his tribe.  He fought for both and gave his life for both.  That he didn’t win thim both is not the point.  The point is that, against all odds, he stood for what he believed in — his people, his hom and his country.

Well, that’s all for today.  So tell me what do you think of these American hero stories?  And about this one in particular.  Do you like them?  Have they shed any light on history as we usually study and know it?  About ten years ago there was a made for TV movie about Tecumseh and his brother.  Did you see it?

So tell me what do you think you might have done had you been alive at the time and born to the Indian culture?  Would you have joined Tecumseh, or would you have given up your homelands to the vasty superior culture coming in upon you, and gone West?

For myself, I think I might have stayed.  After all,  there are still some things worth fighting for — freedom, liberty, one’s way of life are some of those things.  But come on in and let’s talk.  Tell me your thoughts.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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28 thoughts on “A Tribute to Tecumseh, An American Hero”

  1. One more thing I might add is that Tecumseh was known to be kind and extrenely handsome. Tall, well-built, the kind of hero we might all dream of. Sigh…

  2. Hello Karen,

    I enjoy learning about the different American Indian heroes. I never studied the Indian side of history growing up. It was always about the whites. Thank you for giving me some food for thought. My hubby will also enjoy reading this article. Have a great day.

  3. The town originally was named Frances, for the wife of General Richard M. Johnson; the early settlers were in the area. However, Col. John Bouleware renamed it Tecumseh in 1857, in honor of Chief Tecumseh, of the Shawnee Tribe. It has been said that General Johnson killed Chief Tecumseh in 1813 during the Battle of the Thames in Canada. Johnson, a prominent army officer in the war of 1812, served as Vice President of the United States from 1837-1841. Since the county was Johnson, the town would be Tecumseh.

    Just a little note about a town in souteast Nebraska.

    What the whitemen took away from the Native Americans is one of the worst mistakes in our history.
    Love reading about all the heroes.

  4. Hi Karen,

    Great reading here today. Your knowledge and research is impeccable. I didn’t see the movie you referred to. Thanks for another great lesson in Native American history!!

  5. Hello Roberta!

    Of course I find this history fascinating, because it is a part of our heritage that we don’t really learn much of. But it’s a part of who we are as Americans and so probably important.

  6. Hello Sue!

    Wow! Even more history. Thank you so much for that. I have always admired this man — for his vision and for his honesty, integrity and commitment to his people.

    It was great to learn more!

  7. Thanks for the historical information on Tecumseh.
    Not enough is known about those early days!

    Pat Cochran

  8. Thanks for this fabulous post, Kay. I love the comment “why not sell the air?” I like to think I would have held on to my culture and remained with Tecumseh.

    As always, you bring the past to life…both the sorrow and the inspiration. Great job.


  9. Thanks for an inspiring post, Kay. Tecumseh was a great man. FYI, PBS is currently showing a new series on Native American history. It’s part of the “American Experience” program. The series is called “We Shall Remain,” and deals with the very issues you’ve discussed in your blog. Check your local PBS TV station to see when it’s showing.

  10. I read a wonderful time travel book that features the Shawnee and Tecumseh… CHARMED by Catherine Hart. She creates a third brother and turns The Prophet into the villian… I do not know how accurate it is, but it was a truly enjoyable book that I have read numerous times!

  11. P.S. Also, there’s a wonderful biographical novel about Tecumseh–PANTHER IN THE SKY by James Alexander Thom. It’s an older book, well worth hunting down and reading.

  12. Hi Karen, Tecumseh showed such wisdom and honor. He’s a man to be admired. Whether to go or stay would be a painful choice for me. I’d probably couch the question in terms of family and the future. What’s best for the kids?

    What a hard choice . . . If people pull up their lives by the roots, they lose much of what makes them strong. Yet by staying, they could lose even more. Like you said, some things are truly worth fighting for.

    Thanks for the history lesson!

  13. PBS is going some American Experience special on Native Americans. I barely noticed it last night and forgot to watch the first installment.
    Is anyone else watching?

  14. Had a meeting last night, so was unable to watch the PBS special. Had it listed to watch. They do such a good job of covering history from a relatively unbiased point of view. Karen, thanks for this week’s lesson. Didn’t see the movie a few years ago. Had heard about he and his brother, but didn’t know how hard he had worked for peace and to retain tribal lands. It is unfortunate that those indian leaders who were working for the benefit of their people were undermined by fellow indians willing to sign away what wasn’t theirs. Please keep up these mini lessons, I really enjoy them.

  15. Hi Elizabeth!

    It sounds fascinating. You know, though, I don’t have TV. I refuse to watch it. I think it started about 10-12 years ago and all the drug commericals started coming on. My husband and I decided it was unethical to continue to watch it when we are already upset with Big Pharma and the millions of people they have harmed with unsafe drug testing and outright fraud. So we got rid of the TV and have never looked back. What i might do is when it’s over, get the DVD — these I do watch. : )

  16. Hi Colleen,

    The mini series also had not so great things to say about the Prophet. I don’t know — I have to read about these things at a distance and what our historians have written about it — which I don’t always trust.

    How wonderful that you loved that book. Does an author’s heart good to hear that.

  17. HI Jeanne!

    I think you’d really enjoy research, also. At first I thought it was daunting, but now I consider it one of the highlights of being an author. : )

  18. Hi Vicki!

    I hope you don’t mind me calling you Vicki — reminds me of my sister. Yes, I’d like to think that I would have stayed and fought. All I hope is that we won’t have to make that decision in our own future. Tough. Thanks for your thoughts.

  19. Hi Patricia,

    It’s true isn’t it? But I guess it’s true in any society — there are those who are willing to sell out for a little comfort of the moment. My own beliefs include that the comfort of the moment can be the heartache of eternity, when one compromises with what he/she knows to be good for others’ rights and independence and life.

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