Original article by Mike Connell
Condensed and edited by Native
Ontario: On Walpole Island, across the St. Clair River from Algonac, a
monument marks the final burial place of the heroic Shawnee warrior
Tecumseh. It's disputed whether his bones are actually there. What's beyond argument,
however, is that Tecumseh is among the most compelling figures of North American history.
Had things gone differently, Tecumseh might be remembered as
another George Washington, or perhaps as another Saladin,
a warrior-king who rescued his people from an invading horde.
Tecumseh was everything you could wish in a leader, a rare blend
of charisma, courage, athleticism and intelligence. In Canada, he is
hailed as a national hero, a fearless ally who helped keep southern
Ontario from being forcibly annexed into the United States.
Even his enemies -- the American troops who killed him at the
Battle of the Thames on Oct. 5, 1813 -- respected him as a brave and
In 1774, Tecumseh's father, (Pucksinwa,) died at the Battle of Point Pleasant
in today's West Virginia. The bloody
clash near the Ohio River pitted Virginia frontiersmen against a Shawnee-Mingo army. According to lore, the
dying father took the
hand of his eldest son, (Chicksika), and implored him to
raise the 6-year-old Tecumseh as a warrior who never would surrender
The promise was kept. By the early
1800s, Tecumseh and his youngest
brother, a visionary known as The Prophet, sought to unite the
Midwest and Southern tribes in an alliance against the
illegal immigrants who threatened their way of life.
In the War of 1812, Tecumseh's
confederation join the British army in Canada at the
headwaters of the St. Lawrence River. At first, the
fight went well. Tecumseh and a brilliant British
commander, Gen. Isaac Brock, captured Detroit and seized
control of the Michigan Territory.
In the autumn of 1812, however, the
tide turned when Brock was killed in battle near Niagara
Falls. Late the next summer, American naval forces won
the Battle of Lake Erie. "We have met the enemy, and they
are ours," Oliver Hazard Perry reported to Gen. William
Henry Harrison, commander of the Army of the Northwest.
Perry's victory forced Brock's
successor, Gen. Henry Procter, to flee Fort Detroit. His
army followed the Thames River as it retreated toward
the Niagara Escarpment.
Despite a premonition of his own death,
Tecumseh convinced Procter to make a stand northeast of Chatham,
About 500 Indian warriors and 800 British foot soldiers lined up
against about 3,500 Americans. The blundering Procter struggled to
prepare his troops for battle. A fierce charge by
Kentucky horsemen broke the British lines and sent
Procter running. He escaped, but most of his men were
captured. Proctor would later be court-martialed for his
The Indians held their ground and fought against impossible odds
until Tecumseh fell. With his death, it was over. The battle was
lost, and with it went the dream of an independent Indian nation
bordering the Great Lakes. American forces soon reclaimed Michigan.
Over the years, dozens of versions of Tecumseh's death
have been told. In some cases, eyewitnesses who had fought side by side
told very different stories. One popular account credited Col. Richard Mentor
Johnson for Tecumseh's death. Johnson, who became Vice-President
under Martin Van Buren, was honest about his doubts.
"They say I killed him; how could I tell?" Johnson told an
interviewer. "I was in too much of a hurry, when he was advancing on
me, to ask his name, or inquire after the health of his family."
William Henry Harrison also gained fame for his actions. He
became President in 1840, but died of pneumonia on
his 32nd day in office.
It's still unsure what happened to Tecumseh's body.
Some say Tecumseh's comrades carried his corpse from the
battlefield to keep Americans from mutilating it. (Mutilation was
often practiced by whites
and Indians alike in that era's genocidal wars.) Many believe his
body is buried on Walpole Island. But not everyone
Thomas Wildcat Alford, a member of the Absentee Shawnees of
Oklahoma and Tecumseh's great-grandson, investigated the question.
He concluded the body was buried near the battlefield at a site that
later flooded, washing away all evidence of the grave.
"Rather than dig haphazardly in an effort to find the bones, the
remains were left in place," he wrote. "The Shawnees still maintain
their vigil at this spot with racial fidelity, in sorrow and
Tecumseh's gravesite is a mystery that may never
be solve. As one elderly clergyman from Moraviantown
puts it, the location of the grave is "a secret no white man
can ever know."