Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Tecumseh

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TECUMSEH, or TECUMTHA, Shawnee chief, b. near the site of Springfield, Ohio, about 1768; killed in the battle of the Thames, Canada, 5 Oct., 1813. His father, Puckeshinwa, or Pukeesheno, a Shawnee brave, fell in battle when the son was a child. The latter first appears in a fight with Kentucky troops on Mad river when he was about twenty years old, and is said to have run at the first fire, yet in the campaign that ended in the treaty of Greenville in 1795 he was a bold and active warrior. About 1805, with his brother, Ellskwatawa, the “prophet,” he projected the union of all the western tribes of Indians against the whites. He claimed that the treaties by which large tracts of Indian land had been ceded to settlers were illegal, as the land was the common property of all the tribes, and therefore could be alienated only by common consent. The general discontent was increased by the action of speculators in ejecting Indians from lands, and by British emissaries; and the brothers soon had a large following. They visited the tribes from the Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and, in spite of the warnings of Gen. William Henry Harrison, who was then governor of the Northwest territory, they continued to follow out their scheme. In August, 1810, in response to an invitation to a “quiet talk” with the governor, Tecumseh, with 400 fully armed warriors, encamped in a grove near Vincennes, Ind. He was invited to the portico of the governor's house, but replied: “Houses were built for you to hold councils in; Indians hold theirs in the open air.” He opened the conference in a speech of great eloquence, and at its close, being invited to sit near his “father,” Gen. Harrison, said, boastingly: “The sun is my father, and the earth is my mother; on her bosom I will repose,” suiting the action to the word. In the discussion that followed he boldly demanded the return of treaty lands, and his violent and threatening manner put an end to the council. On the next day Tecumseh expressed regret for his violence, and the conference was resumed, but was productive of no results. William Clark, of Clarksville, Pa., is probably the only survivor of those that were present at this interview between Harrison and Tecumseh. In the following year Indian depredations increased, and another conference was held, at which Tecumseh, awed by a militia force, professed peaceful intentions, while insisting on the vacation of ceded lands; yet a few days later he set out on a journey to secure the Creeks, Choctaws, and Cherokees for his proposed league. He was not in the battle of Tippecanoe. (See Harrison, William Henry.) That defeat ruined his plans, yet he continued his efforts among the southern tribes, and in the autumn of 1812 attended a great council at Toockabatcha, Ala., which had been called by the U. S. Indian agent, Col. Hawkins. Here he made a passionate speech, telling the Creeks that they would know when to begin war on the whites by the appearance of the arm of Tecumseh stretching across the heavens like pale fire. He had been told by the British that a comet would soon appear. To the chief Tustinugee-Thlucco, who opposed him, he said: “You do not believe that the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall believe it. I will go straight to Detroit, and when I get there I will stamp my foot upon the ground and shake down every house in Toockabatcha.” In the following December there was an earthquake shock, and the affrighted Creeks ran from their dwellings shouting: “Tecumseh is at Detroit!” This, and the appearance of the promised sign in the heavens, caused the Creek nation to rise in arms, and brought about their speedy ruin. Tecumseh now joined the English, and commanded the Indian allies in the campaigns of 1812-'13. He refused to meet the American commanders in council, was in the action on Raisin river, and, after being wounded at Maguaga, was made a brigadier-general in the royal army. He led 2,000 warriors in the siege of Fort Meigs, where he saved American prisoners from massacre. After the battle of Lake Erie he urged Gen. Henry Proctor to engage Gen. William Henry Harrison when he landed, but took part in the British retreat, and was wounded while holding the passage of a stream. He aided Proctor in selecting the battle-ground at the Thames, and commanded the right wing, laying aside his sword and uniform and putting on his hunting-dress, in the conviction that he must fall. His Indians were driven back, and he fought desperately till he was killed. His death was unknown to the Americans for several days. Afterward it was claimed for Col. Richard Malcolm Johnston, who had killed a powerful Indian in hand-to-hand combat, that his antagonist was Tecumseh, and the claim occasioned a long controversy, but the fact has not been established satisfactorily. Tecumseh possessed great executive ability, and with proper training would have been distinguished as a general. Says a Canadian historian: “No one can fully calculate the inestimable value of those devoted red men, led on by the brave Tecumseh during the struggle of 1812. But for them it is probable that we should not now have a Canada; and if we had we would not enjoy the liberty and privileges which we possess in so eminent a degree.” See “Life of Tecumseh, and his Brother, the Prophet, with an Historical Sketch of the Shawnee Indians,” based on the accounts of various persons that knew the chief personally (Cincinnati, 1841), and “Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet,” by Edward Eggleston (New York, 1878).