Tecumseh is one of the most legendary warriors in Native American history. He was born into the Shawnee tribe in 1768, during a time of constant warfare in the Ohio Valley. Tecumseh’s father was killed when he was just a boy, and his mother migrated to Missouri. Tecumseh was raised by his sister, Tecumpease.
Tecumseh became an important war leader while still a young man. His brother, Lalawethika, one of his brothers, was also an important leader. Lalawethika had visions and prophecies which made him an important religious leader among the Shawnee people. Tecumseh doesn’t seem to have taken his brother’s prophecies seriously until 1806. Lalawethika accurately predicted a solar eclipse. This convinced Tecumseh that his brother was indeed a prophet.
Lalawethika began calling himself “the Prophet.” Tecumseh realized that he could use his brother’s religious followers to unite the Shawnee people. He hoped to unite all Indians so that they could defend their ancient hunting grounds. He traveled from Canada to Florida as he tried to join tribes. He believed that no Native American land could be given up to whites without the approval of all tribes, since all land was held in common. In 1811, Tecumseh called a council meeting of Creeks and other Southern tribes. He told them that they should not negotiate with whites, and that the white race should perish.
The governor of the Indiana territory, William Henry Harrison, believed that Tecumseh was dangerous and should be stopped. He sent troops to Tecumseh’s capital, Prophetstown, along the Tippecanoe River. Tecumseh’s warriors lost the battle and Harrison’s troops burned Prophetstown to the ground. Tecumseh escaped to Canada where the British would protect him.
For several months after the battle of Tippecanoe, Tecumseh’s whereabouts were unknown. He apparently went again to the Southern United States to try to unite various Native American tribes. When the War of 1812 began, he went to Michigan and fought with the British as they captured Detroit.
Eventually the British gave up Detroit. Shortly afterward, Tecumseh and about five hundred Native Americans fought almost three thousand American troops at the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed in the fighting. It is not clear who killed him or where he was buried.
When Tecumseh died, his plans for uniting the American tribes fell apart. If he had succeeded, it might have changed the course of United States history. He has been admired for years because of his bravery and his charisma as a leader.
There is a legend about Tecumseh that survived for many years after his death. His old enemy, William Henry Harrison, was eventually elected president. He caught a cold while delivering his inaugural speech and died a few weeks later. Many Americans wondered if Tecumseh had cursed his former enemy!
Facts About Tecumseh:
- Tecumseh hoped to unite all North American Indian tribes against white people
- Streets, towns, a battleship, and even a Civil War general (William Tecumseh Sherman) have been named in his honor
- Known for his bravery, Tecumseh once became enraged by a British commander who refused to fight