Romanticized late 19th century depiction of Tecumseh by Benson John Lossing.

Tecumseh (March 1768 – October 5, 1813), also known as Tecumtha or Tekamthi, was a Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy that opposed the United States during Tecumseh's War and the War of 1812. He grew up in the Ohio country during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War where he was constantly exposed to warfare.[1]

His brother Tenskwatawa was a religious leader who advocated a return to the ancestral lifestyle of the tribes. A large following and a confederacy grew around his teachings. The religious doctrine led to strife with settlers on the frontier, causing the group to move farther into the northwest and settle Prophetstown, Indiana in 1808. Tecumseh took an active role in confronting Governor William Henry Harrison to demand land purchase treaties be rescinded. He began an attempt to expand the confederacy into the southern United States, but while he was away traveling, his brother was defeated in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe. [2] . During the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his confederacy allied with the British in Canada and helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. The Americans, led by Harrison, launched a counter assault and invaded Canada, killing Tecumseh in the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh has subsequently become a folk legend and is remembered as a hero by many Canadians for his defense of their country.

Tecumseh's War

Rising tensions

In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which a delegation of Indians ceded 3 million acres (12,000 km²) of Native American lands to the United States. The treaty negotiations were questionable as they were unauthorized by the President 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.[3]

Tecumseh's opposition to the treaty marked his emergence as a prominent leader. Although Tecumseh and the Shawnees had no claim on the land sold, he was alarmed by the massive sale as many of the followers in Prophetstown were Piankeshaw, Kickapoo, and Wea, who were the primary inhabitants of the land. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Indian land was owned in common by all tribes, and that no land could be sold without agreement by all.[4]

Not ready to confront the United States directly, Tecumseh's primary adversaries were initially the Indian leaders who had signed the treaty. An impressive orator, Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon accommodationist chiefs and to join him in resistance of the treaty.[5] Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegal; he asked Harrison to nullify it, and warned that Americans should not attempt to settle on the lands sold in the treaty. 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."[6]


In August 1810 Tecumseh led four hundred armed warriors from Prophetstown to confront Harrison at his Vincennes home, Grouseland. Their appearance startled the townspeople, and the situation quickly became dangerous when Harrison rejected Tecumseh's demand and argued that individual tribes could have relations with the United States, and that Tecumseh's interference was unwelcome by the tribes of the area. Tecumseh launched an impassioned rebuttal against Harrison.[7]

(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 ...[8]

Tecumseh began inciting the warriors to kill Harrison, who responded by pulling his sword. The small garrison defending the town quickly moved to protect Harrison. Pottowatomie Chief Winnemac arose and countered Tecumseh's arguments to the group, and urged the warriors to leave in peace. As they left, Tecumseh informed Harrison that unless he rescinded the treaty, he would seek an alliance with the British.[9]

A comet appeared in March 1811. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh, whose name meant "shooting star", told the Creeks that the comet signaled his coming. Tecumseh's confederacy and allies took it as an omen of good luck. McKenney reported that Tecumseh claimed he would prove that the Great Spirit had sent him to the Creeks by giving the tribes a "sign."

In 1811, Tecumseh again met with Harrison at his home after being summoned following the murder of settlers on the frontier. Tecumseh told Harrison that the Shawnee and their Native American brothers wanted to remain at peace with the United States but these differences had to be resolved. The meeting was likely a ploy to buy time while he built a stronger confederacy, and the meeting convinced Harrison that hostilities were imminent. Following the meeting Tecumseh traveled south, on a mission to recruit allies among the Five Civilized Tribes. Most of the southern nations rejected his appeals, but a faction among the Creeks, who came to be known as the Red Sticks, answered his call to arms, leading to the Creek War..[9]

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?[10]


While Tecumseh was in the South, Governor Harrison marched up the Wabash River from Vincennes with more than 1,000 men, on a preemptive expedition to intimidate the Prophet and his followers and to force them to make peace. On November 6, 1811, Harrison's army arrived outside Prophetstown. The Prophet sent a messenger to meet with Harrison and requested a meeting be held the next day to negotiate. Harrison encamped his army on a nearby hill, and during the early dawn hours of November 7, the confederacy launched a sneak attack on his camp. In the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison's men held their ground, and the Indians withdrew from the village after the battle. The victorious Americans burned the town and returned to Vincennes.[11]

The Battle of Tippecanoe was a severe blow for Tenskwatawa, who lost both prestige and the confidence of his brother. Although it was a significant setback, Tecumseh began to secretly rebuild his alliance upon his return. The Americans soon after went to war with the British in the War of 1812, and Tecumseh's War became a part of that struggle.[11]

On December 11, 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake shook the South and the Midwest. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. For many tribes it meant that the Tecumseh and the Prophet must be supported.[12]

War of 1812

Detroit frontier

Tecumseh rallied his confederacy and led his forces to join the British army invading the northwest from Canada. Tecumseh joined British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock in the siege of Detroit, and forced its surrender in August 1812. 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 there were many more than was actually the case. The fort commander, Brigadier General William Hull, surrendered in fear of a massacre should he refuse. The victory was of a great strategic value to the invaders.[13]

This victory was reversed a little over a year later, as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory on Lake Erie, late in the summer of 1813, cut British supply lines and forced them to withdraw. The British burned all public buildings in Detroit and retreated into Upper Canada along the Thames Valley. Tecumseh and his men followed fighting rearguard actions to slow the US advance.

Battle of the Thames

The next British commander, Major-General Henry Procter, did not have the same working relationship with Tecumseh as his predecessor and the two disagreed over tactics. Procter favored withdrawing into Canada and avoiding battle while the Americans suffered from the winter. Tecumseh was more eager to launch a decisive action to defeat the American army and allow his men to retake their homes in the northwest.[14] Procter failed to appear at Chatham, Ontario, though he had promised Tecumseh that he would make a stand against the Americans there. Tecumseh moved his men to meet Proctor again and informed him that he would withdraw no farther, and if the British wanted his continued help then an action needed to be fought. Harrison crossed into Upper Canada and on October 5, 1813, won a victory over the British and Native Americans at the Battle of the Thames near Moraviantown. Tecumseh was killed, and shortly after the battle, the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit.[15] In 1836 and 1837, in part because of reports that it was he who had killed Tecumseh, Richard Mentor Johnson was elected vice-president of the United States, to serve with Martin Van Buren.



The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has Tecumseh Court, which is located outside Bancroft Hall's front entrance, and features a bust of Tecumseh. The bust is often decorated to celebrate special days. The bust actually represents Tamanend but is sometimes mistakenly referred to as "Tecumseh." [16] The US Navy named four ships , the first one as early as 1863. The Canadian naval reserve unit HMCS Tecumseh is based in Calgary, Alberta. Tecumseh is honored in Canada as a hero and military commander who played a major role in Canada's successful repulsion of an American invasion in the War of 1812, which, among other things, eventually led to Canada's nationhood in 1867 with the British North America Act. Among the tributes, Tecumseh is ranked 37th in The Greatest Canadian list. An 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. He is also honored by a massive portrait which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The unveiling of the work, commissioned under the patronage of Kathryn Langley Hope and Trisha Langley, took place at the Toronto-based RCMI on October 29, 2008. A number of towns have been named in honor of Tecumseh, including those in the states of Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the province of Ontario, as well as the town and township of New Tecumseth, Ontario, and Mount Tecumseh in New Hampshire.

Union Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, was given the name Tecumseh because "my father . . . had caught a fancy for the great chief of the Shawnees."[17] Evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist W. Tecumseh Fitch was named after the general, not after Tecumseh. Another Civil War general, Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, also bore the name of the Shawnee leader.

Tecumseh in fiction

  • Fritz Steuben's Tecumseh anthology is a work of fiction, consisting of eight volumes covering Tecumseh's life, from his youth (Tecumseh - The Flying Arrow, 1930) to his death (Tecumseh - Tecumseh's Death, 1939).
  • Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa are depicted in the 1952 film Brave Warrior. Tecumseh is played by Jay Silverheels.
  • Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa appear as primary characters in Allan W. Eckert's The Frontiersmen: A Narrative, originally published in 1967.
  • Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa also appear as primary characters in Red Prophet, the second book in The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card. The series follows an alternative timeline in the United States, the second book covering the period from early 1805 until shortly after the War of 1812. The book involves the suspected love between Tecumseh and A white pioneer girl Rebecca Galloway. In the story they are married and she is called Becca.
  • Panther in the Sky is a novel written by Bloomington, Indiana author James Alexander Thom. The TNT film Tecumseh, The Last Warrior is based on the novel.
  • Tecumseh's life is depicted in the outdoor drama Tecumseh!, written by Allan W. Eckert. It is seen by thousands each summer in the 1,800 seat Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre near Chillicothe, Ohio.[18]
  • Tecumseh (played by a Serbian actor Gojko Mitić) appears as primary character in an East-German Red Western[19] (1972).
  • Tecumseh and the Prophet are referred to briefly in Sara Donati's "Wilderness" series of novels: Fire Along the Sky (2004) and Queen of Swords (2006).
  • A statue of Tecumseh was a fixture in the bar (by the entryway) featured in the long-running and highly-rated television comedy series, Cheers. [20]
  • Ann Rinaldi's The Second Bend in the River depicts a fictionalized version of the suspected romance between Tecumseh and Rebecca Galloway, a white pioneer girl.[21]
  • Polish writer Longin Jan Okon has written a trilogy describing Tecumseh's War and War of 1812.
  • Tecumseh was also metioned in the novel Jeremy's War 1812
  • Tecumseh was the name of Rhett Butler's horse, in the book Rhett Butler's People, by Donald McCaig.



  1. Allen, Robert S (2009). "Tecumseh". The Canadian Encyclopedia > Biography > Native Political Leaders. Historica-Dominion. Retrieved 2009-10-03. 
  2. Allen, Robert S (2009). "Tecumseh". The Canadian Encyclopedia > Biography > Native Political Leaders. Historica-Dominion. Retrieved 2009-10-03. 
  3. Treaty with the Delawares, Etc., 1809. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau.
  4. Owen, p. 203
  5. Owen, p. 209
  6. Steinberg, Theodore. Slide Mountain or The Folly of Owning Nature. Chapter 5, "Three-D Deeds: The Rise of Air Rights in New York" University of California Press, 1996.
  7. Langutth, p. 165
  8. Turner III, Frederick. "Poetry and Oratory". The Portable North American Indian Reader. Penguin Book. p. 245–246. ISBN 0-14-015077-3. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Languth, p. 167
  10. Turner III, Frederick. "Poetry and Oratory". The Portable North American Indian Reader. Penguin Book. p. 246–247. ISBN 0-14-015077-3. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Langguth,p. 168
  12. Ehle p. 102–104
  13. Burton, Pierre (1980) The Invasion of Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, pp. 177-182.
  14. Langguth, p. 196
  15. Langguth, p. 206
  17. WTS Memoirs, 2d ed. 11 (Lib. of America 1990)
  18. Tecumseh! Official webpage for the outdoor drama program
  19. Tecumseh on IMDb
  21. *Galloway, William Albert. Old Chillicothe. Xenia, OH: The Buckeye Press, 1934.


Further reading

  • Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
  • Drake, Benjamin. Life Of Tecumseh And Of His Brother The Prophet; With A Historical Sketch Of The Shawanoe Indians. (Mount Vernon : Rose Press, 2008).
  • Eckert, Allan. A Sorrow in Our Hearts: The Life of Tecumseh. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
  • Edmunds, R. David. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership. Boston: Little Brown, 1984.
  • Gilbert, Bil. God Gave us This Country: Tekamthi and the First American Civil War. New York: Atheneum, 1989.
  • Green, James A., "Tecumseh," in Charles F. Horne, ed., Great Men and Famous Women, vol. 2: Soldiers and Sailors, 308. New York: Selmar Hess, 1894.
  • Pirtle, Alfred. (1900). The Battle of Tippecanoe. Louisville: John P. Morton & Co./ Library Reprints. pp. 158. ISBN 9780722265093.,+Alfred.+(1900).+The+Battle+of+Tippecanoe.  as read to the Filson Club
  • Burr, Samuel Jones. The Life and Times of William Henry Harrison . New York: L. W. Ransom, 1840, pgs. 101 & 102.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Tecumseh. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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