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Monday, March 3, 2014

Tecumseh -- The Legacy of "The Panther Across the Sky"

"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

"Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

"When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

"When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the 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  "Panther Across The Sky"

When I think about the poor state of my beloved county, I often consider those in the past who also loved the ground upon which I walk. One is chief among all. Tecumseh, Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy known as Tecumseh's Confederacy, was an iconic figure born on the Scioto River near my hometown.

The Shawnee believed that they were the Great Spirit's special people, and that He had given them a portion of His heart -- the Ohio Shawnee homeland. To the Shawnee, Ohio was the Garden, a sacred place to dwell.

Tecumseh opposed the United States during periods known as Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. The Shawnee leader worked diligently to recruit additional tribes to a Native American confederacy, often traveling to the farthest reaches of land east of the Mississippi. His incredible life was testimony to his undying commitment to freedom and justice.

Throughout his childhood Tecumseh experienced many violent expansions by the colonists which would later sustain his hatred towards the United States. At least five times from 1774 to 1782, invading armies occupied tribal territory, and many times during his youth U.S militia would intersect whatever land the Shawnees were currently occupying. Tecumseh's own father took part in the French and Indian War during 1760 and later in Lord Dunmore’s War; he was killed at the Battle of Point Release in 1774.

In many cases the Americans would set two tribes against one another through treaties with one party representing the land of the other. Tecumseh never believed in signing such treaties. He wanted the tribes to follow their native beliefs about their lands.

For example, during the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois tribe claimed ownership to all of Ohio lands therefore they deemed it acceptable to sell the Shawnee territory to America in exchange for money. 

As the United States greedily claimed Native American acreage, they plundered many native villages. The invading imperialists created many conflicts including a battle that led to the death of Tecumseh's father Puckeshinwa. It is said that Puckeshinwa's death was cold-blooded murder by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty, and that Tecumseh and his mother found him dying.

As he watched his father die, Tecumseh vowed to become like "a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls." A few years later, Tecumseh's hatred for the whites was compounded by the murder of Cornstalk, a Shawnee chief who had been a mentor to the young man.

At the young age of 15, Tecumseh joined a band of Shawnee, including his older brother Cheeseekau, who were determined to stop the white invasion of their lands by attacking settlers' flatboats traveling down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania.

For a while, these Indian raids were so effective that river traffic virtually ceased. But, in truth, with a population estimates of only 1000, the Shawnee alone had little hope of resisting the onslaught of land-hungry settlers and the U.S. military.

Cheeseekau and Tecumseh eventually joined and fought alongside the Chickamauga faction of the Cherokee. During a series of raids against frontier settlements in Kentucky and Tennessee in the late 1780s and early 1790s, Cheeseekau was killed, and Tecumseh assumed leadership of the small Shawnee band, and subsequent Chickamauga raiding parties.Tecumseh returned to Ohio in late 1790.

More and more Native Americans rejected the notion that the British or Americans could dispose of their tribal lands without their consent. They formed the Western Confederacy, an alliance of Native American nations, to fight to retain their traditional lands. Elements of tribes such as the Council of Three Fires, Shawnee,  Iroquois, Wabash, Wyandot, and the particularly strong Miami joined the confederacy.

It achieved several victories over United States military forces in 1790 and 1791, alarming the administration of President George Washington. Washington ordered Revolutionary War hero General "Mad" Anthony Wayne  to build and lead a new army to crush resistance to American settlement.

The American government thus fought a war over the possession of the Ohio area Indian land. The Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 20, 1794) was the final battle of the so-called Northwest Indian War, a struggle between Native American tribes affiliated with the Western Confederacy against the United States for control of the Northwest Territory.

At Fallen Timbers, the First Nations tribal alliance was heavily outnumbered and outmaneuvered by the U.S military. In the battle, Blue Jacket was defeated soundly by Wayne after which Wayne's army spent several days destroying the native villages and crops in the area.

The defeat of the natives led to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ceded much of present-day Ohio to the United States. Tecumseh, a young Shawnee veteran of Fallen Timbers did not sign the Greenville Treaty.

So it was that the first Pan-Indian Movement (in which organizations sought to pool the resources of indigenous groups in order to protect the interests of native peoples) came to an end. Behind a line of forts, white settlers moved into the Ohio country, leading to the admission of the state of Ohio in 1803.

Despite overwhelming odds, Tecumseh never gave up the fight for his homeland. During the battle Tecumseh led an offensive attack that led to a temporary U.S. retreat and the release of American battle animals, mainly horses. Due to his spirited determination during the battle over 250 men followed him after the dissipation of the alliance to a small territory where they would organize their own settlement with Tecumseh as their chief. However, the United States continued their onslaught of Native American villages forcing Tecumseh and his tribal people to relocate continuously thus threatening their maintenance of life.

Tecumseh and his small band moved in the spring of 1798 to the west fork of the White River, Indiana. At the turn of the century, there were fears for their livelihood, for land, for culture and, most terrifying, for their survival in the face of epidemic diseases to which the people had no immunity.

Tecumseh's brother, Lalawethica, renewed support for a tribal alliance based on the belief that all Native American territory was universal for every Native American community. Lalawethica, later known as the Prophet and Tenskwatawa, experienced a dream that led him to preach this allied system which developed into a religious value.

Invigorated by the dream, Tecumseh began to promote these ideas as well, continually fighting off U.S. explorers and gathering Native Americans of all tribes. Tecumseh eventually emerged as the leader of the confederation built upon a foundation established by the religious appeal of his younger brother. It gathered converts from the Shawnee, Canadian Iroquois, Chickamauga, Meskwaki, Miami, Mindo, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Delaware, Mascouten, Potawatomi, Sauk, and Wyandot.

Following another yet another expulsion from their land, Tecumseh and his tribe relocated near Tippecanoe and developed an impressive community nicknamed Prophetstown by Americans.  Thousands of Algonquin-speaking Indians gathered there to gain spiritual strength. 

Soon, the Shawnee understood the importance of tribal alliance in coalition with the British to repel the United States away from Native American territory. Tecumseh traveled to Canada to organize an agreement between tribes and the British. He was deeply distrustful of the British, but his efforts greatly raised his standing among the tribes of the First Nations.

With the clarity provided by hindsight, many scholars believe the redcoats wanted to secure favor among the First Nations but did not want to be seen by the Americans as inciting them.

Tecumseh developed into a fiery orator with a clear message: the First Nations must stand together to save their land and cultures; however, he found organizing First Nations resistance efforts very difficult. The tribes were deeply divided by language and outlook. Central to the combined resistance was the idea that the land belonged to all Aboriginal people and that past and future negotiations with individual tribes were invalid.

Tecumseh's task of building an Aboriginal confederacy was enormous given the forbidding geographical distances, the sense of powerlessness of many of the tribes, the jealousy of the older chiefs, tribal rivalries, and communication in different languages. Even the different Algonquian groups could not understand one another without interpreters. 

Even his enemy, William Henry Harrison respected Tecumseh as more than a great warrion. Harison wrote a tribute in 1811:

"The implicit obedience and respect which the followers of Tecumseh pay to him is really astonishing, and more than any other circumstance bespeaks him one of those uncommon geniuses which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things."
Yet, while Tecumseh traveled preaching for tribal alliance among different Native American societies, the Indiana Governor, William Henry Harrison, signed the Treaty of Fort Wayne that allotted him a mass amount of Native American territory.

Governor Harrison also discovered that Tecumseh was requesting weapons and war supplies. In talks filled with mounting tension, Harrison met Tecumseh at Vincennes in July 1811. There, it is believed Tecumseh erred by telling Harrison that he would be on a long trip to the South and absent from Prophetstown until spring. Harrison rejected Tecumseh's claim that all the Indians formed one nation.

As tensions rose at the meeting, Harrison openly denounced Tenskwatawa as a fraud and a fool, enraging him. Tecumseh ordered his brother to take no action, but Tenskwatawa continued to call for the death of Harrison. Before leaving, Tecumseh informed Harrison that unless the treaty was nullified, he would seek an alliance with the British. 

Tenskwatawa went back to Prophetstown where he was to wait for Tecumseh's return and not engage the enemy. Yet, Tenskwatawa took his brother's absence as an opportunity to raise tensions even higher by further stirring up his followers.

Harrison received the authorization to march against the confederacy in a show of force, hoping that they would accept peace. Soon, Harrison moved a large force near Prophetstown at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers.

As fate would have it, the Prophet was unable to restrain his warriors and sniping between sentries escalated into a full-scale battle. Tenskwatawa, perhaps suspecting that Harrison intended to attack the village, decided to risk a preemptive strike, sending out about 500 of his warriors against the American encampment. The result was disastrous for the natives.

The warriors held their own but were forced to withdraw when they ran out of ammunition. They quickly retreated to Prophetstown where, according to one chief's account, the warriors confronted Tenskwatawa and accused him of deceit because of the many deaths, which his spells were supposed to have prevented. He blamed his wife for desecrating his magic medicine and offered to cast a new spell and insisted that warriors launch a second attack, but they refused. Then, Harrison followed the retreat and entered Prophetstown, finding it deserted except for one elderly woman too old to flee.

Harrison ordered his troops to spare the woman, but to burn down Prophetstown and destroy the Native Americans' cooking implements, without which the confederacy would be hard pressed to survive the winter. Everything of value was confiscated, including 5,000 bushels of corn and beans. beans.Some of Harrison's soldiers dug up bodies from the graveyard in Prophetstown to scalp.

William Henry Harrison was hailed as a national hero and the battle became famous. However, his troops had greatly outnumbered the attackers, and suffered many more casualties during the battle.

Tecumseh was furious with his brother for falling for Harrison's trap and threatened to kill him. It was a devastating blow to the confederacy. However, although it was a significant setback, Tecumseh began to secretly rebuild the alliance upon his return from the south. Frontier violence actually increased after the battle.

Tecumseh still refused to adhere to treaties he had not signed and believed it his duty to keep fighting those who occupied his land. Prophetstown was partially rebuilt over the next year, though it was again destroyed by a second campaign in 1812. Tecumseh's confederacy was ready to launch its own war against the United States, this time with British allies.

When the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, Tecumseh and the group of about 350 warriors from various tribes traveled to Canada to organize militant strategies.

Tecumseh and his men were assigned to overtake the city of Detroit with Major General Isaac Brock. The taking of the city was a major success as the Americans surrendered due to fear of the unknown numbers of Native Americans there attacking. Tecumseh, who led the First Nations into this battle, was regarded as a hero among the tribes, Canada, and Britain.

Then, the First Nations were utilized in defending Detroit, blocking off American supply lines, and preserving areas in Northwest Canada. The British, in effect, selfishly used the First Nations to secure Canada for themselves, caring little about helping the natives regain their Ohio homeland.

The British position depended on maintaining command of Lake Erie. The sparsely populated region produced insufficient crops and cattle to feed British troops, the sailors of the British ships on the Lake, and above all, the large numbers of Native warriors.

On September 10, Perry gained a complete victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, after a hard-fought battle. On receiving Perry's hastily written note that "We have met the enemy and they are ours," Commander William Henry Harrison knew that British Major General Procter would be forced to retreat, and ordered an advance. One thousand mounted troops began advancing along the lake shore to Detroit, and 2,500 foot soldiers were carried there and to Amherstburg by Perry's ships once the damage they had received in the battle had been repaired.

Even before Perry's victory, Procter had made preparations to fall back to the British position at Burlington Heights at the western end of Lake Ontario. Tecumseh and his warriors faced certain death unless they retreated. Tecumseh also knew that this would remove all protection from the tribes in the confederation whose lands lay to the west of Detroit and had attempted to dissuade Procter, saying:

"Our fleet has gone out, we know they have fought; we have heard the great guns but know nothing of what has happened to our Father with one Arm (Barclay, who had lost an arm in 1809). Our ships have gone one way, and we are much astonished to see our Father [Procter] tying up everything and preparing to run the other, without letting his red children know what his intentions are ... We must compare our Father's conduct to [that of] a fat animal that carries its tail upon its back; but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off."

Harrison pursued Procter on October 2, and his men captured several abandoned boats and a steady stream of British stragglers. They caught up with the retreating British and Indians late on October 4

William Henry Harrison's force numbered at least 3,500 infantry and cavalry. Procter had about 800 soldiers. Tecumseh led a group of around 500 native warriors.

The British soldiers were becoming increasingly demoralized, and Tecumseh's warriors grew ever more impatient with Procter for his unwillingness to stop and fight.Tecumseh skirmished with the Americans near Chatham to slow the American advance, but the warriors were quickly overwhelmed. The batteaux carrying reserve ammunition and the last of the food went aground and were left behind, to be captured by an American raiding party.

The Battle of the Thames

The night before the end, Tecumseh told First Nation leaders who had gathered: "Brother warriors, we are about to enter into an engagement from which I shall never return. My body will remain on the field of battle." He then gave a sword the British had given him to another Indian and said, "When my son becomes a noted warrior, give him this." 

It is said when the great warrior went into battle the next day, Tecumseh wore buckskin, ostrich feathers on his head and a medal around his neck. 

Shortly after daybreak on October 5, after ordering his troops to abandon their half-cooked breakfast and retreat a further two miles, Procter formed the British regulars in line of battle with a single 6-pounder cannon. He planned to trap Harrison on the banks of the Thames, driving the Americans off the road with cannon fire. However, he had taken no steps towards fortifying the position (e.g. by creating spiked wooden defences or throwing up earthworks), so the ground presented no obstacle to the American mounted troops, while scattered trees masked the British fire.

Tecumseh's warriors took up positions in a black ash swamp on the British right to flank the Americans. Tecumseh rode along the British line, shaking hands with each officer, before joining his warriors.

Richard Johnson charged into the Indian position at the head of about 20 horsemen to draw attention away from the main American force, but Tecumseh and his warriors answered with a volley of musket fire that stopped the cavalry charge. Fifteen of Johnson's men were killed or wounded, and Johnson, himself, was hit five times.

General Harrison surveyed the battlefield and ordered James Johnson (brother of Richard Mentor Johnson) to make a frontal attack against the British regulars with his mounted Kentucky riflemen. Despite the Indians' flanking fire, Johnson broke through, the British cannon having failed to fire. The exhausted, dispirited and half-starved British troops fired one ragged fusillade before giving way. Immediately Procter and about 250 of his men fled from the field. The rest surrendered.

Tecumseh and his followers remained and carried on fighting. Richard Johnson charged into the Indian position at the head of about 20 horsemen to draw attention away from the main American force, but Tecumseh and his warriors answered with a volley of musket fire that stopped the cavalry charge. Fifteen of Johnson's men were killed or wounded, and Johnson was hit five times. General Harrison’s infantry could not dislodge the natives from the swamp

Johnson's main force became bogged down in the swamp mud.  The battle raged on for quite a long time. It is believed that Tecumseh was killed in the afternoon of October 5, 1813. His shocked warriors lifted his body and fled into the woods. It is said that the warriors buried Tecumseh, then age 45, in some unknown location.

The main force finally made its way through the swamp, and James Johnson's troops were freed from their attack on the British. With the American reinforcements converging and news of the death of Tecumseh spreading quickly, native resistance quickly dissolved.

* As a sidenote: At least 24 people took credit for pulling the trigger that killed Tecumseh. Harrison, who served as the ninth U.S. president, built his reputation as “vanquisher of Tecumseh.”  Richard Mentor Johnson also claimed to have killed the Shawnee chief. Richard Mentor Johnson eventually became Vice President to President Martin Van Buren, based partly on the belief that he had vanquished the great warrior. As Martin Van Buren's running mate, Johnson's campaign slogan was: "Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh."

* Another of the grisly legends that grew out of that battle was the skinning of Tecumseh. For years afterward, Kentucky veterans of the battle would show their friends strips of leather they claimed were made from the hide sliced from the recumbent form of Tecumseh himself. 

* Some of Tecumseh's braves later told a different story. His face stained with blood from a head wound, Tecumseh shouted encouragement to his warriors until he was mortally wounded by a bullet in his left breast. A few followers then carried him from the field and secretly buried him. His body was never recovered, at least not by white men.

In May 1814, Procter was charged with negligence and improper conduct. The court martial judged that Procter had managed the retreat badly, failing to secure his stores, and also disposed the troops ineffectively at Moraviantown. He was sentenced to be suspended from rank and pay for six months.


Tecumseh is arguably the greatest leader his culture has ever produced. Many noted his vision, honor and eloquence. He repeatedly proved himself to be brave, charismatic, fearless and fair. On the battlefield he was fierce and disdained cowardice. Adamantly, he insisted that prisoners be treated humanely.

Tecumseh represented the uncompromising Native American struggle against U.S. expansion, and although he never personally experienced victory, he influenced many future tribes to continue their resistance. It is easy to see the heart of the man: He simply wanted to life in happiness and freedom on his ancestral lands.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Tecumseh-- his life, character, accomplishment, and, yes, even his failure -- is that nothing in the life of this Native American martyr is either fictionalized or exaggerated. The truth defies fiction: This man lived an entire life fighting, leading, and negotiating to secure his beloved homeland despite scant support for his Pan Indian movement. Against staggering numbers of interlopers, Tecumseh represented hope to all Native Americans, and he lived up to his given name like a meteoric shooting star, the Panther across the dark sky. No other person symbolized the tragedy, mistreatment, and organized calamity that befell his native people.

That calamity is the genocide of the natives by largely European immigrants who believed in settling in new homelands, pushing out the old inhabitants, and claiming ownership of the very real estate created by Mother Nature and the Great Spirit. With Finnish, Scotch-Irish, and English roots, I am a part of this terrible injustice. I must bear this, yet I fear I do not do enough to protect this land I love. The biography of Tecumseh reminds me of a man who never compromised his mission to live here and to proper here.

Sometimes I look at my beautiful Scioto homeland in its present state of human indifference and decline, and I wish I were born hundreds of years before in a Shawnee village where I would have been taught proper respect and care for my surroundings. The land upon which we live is alive not only with its natural beauty but also with its bittersweet history. I believe it is our sacred duty to teach our children well. We must re-instill appreciation and confidence that we can be better stewards of our home ... a land we occupy for awhile and never truly own, as we dwell on its sacred ground.

"Brother, I was glad to hear what you told us. you said that if we could prove that the land was sold by people who had no right to sell it, you would restore it. I will prove that those who did sell did not own it. Did they have a deed? A title? No! You say those prove someone owns land. Those chiefs only spoke a claim, and so you pretended to believe their claim, only because you wanted the land. But the many tribes with me will not agree with those claims. They have never had a title to sell, and we agree this proves you could not buy it from them."


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