Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November 1, 2013

The Day Tecumseh’s Prophecy Rocked the  World
Condensed by Native Village

“Of all the Native leaders to emerge in the struggle against the U.S., Tecumseh had the charisma to band them together. The thing about Tecumseh is that he’s still as charismatic as he was. Even 200 years later, he’s still exerting that charisma beyond the grave.”  Lisa Gilbert, Historian

Ohio: He was romanticized by whites. His Native peers described him as having powerful medicine. The legends surrounding Tecumseh are as great as the truths, says Shawnee Second Chief Ben Barnes.

“He was part of the warrior division of his tribe,” Barnes said. He described Tecumseh as “a self-prescribed leader who became a war chief by assuming that mantle.

There is evidence that Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, were prophets and visionaries. They might have changed history with more support from the British and more faith from certain tribes.

Tecumseh's charisma and persona drew respect and admiration of whites and Natives alike. Historic documents describe him as being “of commanding figure, nearly six feet tall and compactly built, dignified bearing and piercing eye, charitable in thought and action, brave as a lion, but humane and generous with all. An aboriginal American knight.”

Tecumseh was born near Xenia, Ohio on March 9, 1768. At the exact moment of his birth, a comet streaked across the sky. It was a signal that great things were to be expected from this Shawnee child.

His name, Tekumthi, means "Panther Passing Across the Sky At Night."  It also means "Shooting Star," for Shawnee legends said that comets were panthers crossing the sky looking for a place to rest.

Tecumseh excelled in all aspects of life and had an innate code of honor. He was only a child when he watched the Shawnee burn Daniel Boone’s 14-year-old son. Appalled, Tecumseh protested against such violence.  His convincing arguments turned the tides toward a gentler society for his people. He was known to treat all people -- men, women, enemies and prisoners -- with justice and fairness.

Tecumseh's younger brother, Tenskwatawa, was a victim of the times. His intense longing for the ways of his childhood led to a sense of hopelessness for the future. Lost in alcoholism,  Tenskwatawa one day fell into a fire, and lived. Reborn into a spiritual fervor, he became known as The Prophet. He declared that the Master of Life had insisted that all ways associated with the white man must be abandoned.

Fed up with encroaching settlers, Tecumseh took his brother’s prophecy and called for all Natives to unite against the whites. Indians from as far away as Florida and Minnesota heeded Tecumseh's call. By 1810, he had organized the Ohio Valley Confederacy, which united Indians from the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Winnebago, Menominee, Ottawa, and Wyandot nations.

. . .the only way to stop this evil [white settlement of the Indians' land], is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land as it was at first, and should be now - for it never was divided, but belongs to all. . . .Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds and the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit [Master of Life] make them all for the use of his children?" Tecumseh

His ability to mobilize thousands of Natives proved to the U.S. that the Revolutionary War had not been won. The British were still in America, they were thriving in Canada, and they wanted their "colonies" back. They were encouraging Tecumseh and offered him support.

The U.S. attempted to discredit The Prophet by insisting that the Indians seek proof that Creator supported them.  They got it. The prophet called for a sunless sky, which arrived shortly after in the form of an extreme total eclipse.

While comets, earthquakes and eclipses were attributed to the prophecies of Tecumseh and his brother, “It is hard to know without proof or specific oral history just exactly what happened,” Barnes said about the New Madrid earthquakes.

A Robust Aftershock Sequence
Aftershocks are Earthquakes!

December 16, 1811 - Magnitude ~7.0

Six aftershocks in the first two days in the range of M5.5 to M6.3. Hundreds of quakes felt into 1813.

(U.S.  Geological Survey).

Legend has it that in 1811, Tecumseh went among the Creeks and invited them join his confederacy. When they refused, he threatened: if they hadn't enlisted by the time he reached Detroit, he would stamp his feet three times and they would feel their houses shake down through Mississippi.

On December 16, 1811, the first of three earthquakes occurred when he reached Detroit. Named the New Madrid earthquakes, the first earthquake was 10 times stronger than the one that destroyed San Francisco in the late 1800s. Its severity alarmed the population over an area of 1,553,428 square miles.

 The massive quake caused such a major shift of seismic plates that:

Church bells rang in Boston Sidewalks cracked in Washington, D.C Forests disappeared Villages were swallowed
Lakes were created And for a few hours even the Mississippi River ran backwards.

Tecumseh’s plans were crushed in November 1811 when the U.S. Army defeated his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe (Indiana). After the loss, Tecumseh allied with the British against the U.S. He was given a regular commission as brigadier general. Under his command were 2,000 warriors of the allied tribes.

Tecumseh, who was regarded as a hero among the tribes, Canada, and Britain, led the First Nations into battle,  They defended Detroit, blocked off American supply lines, and preserved areas in Northwest Canada.

While Tecumseh had agreed to join British forces in exchange for his homeland, that promise was never delivered. The British were retreating into Canada when Tecumseh and his warriors joined them. The Battle of the Thames marked the collapse of his Native forces -- one of the greatest Native forces of all times.

“Tecumseh became a symbol of the potential for success and promises never lived up to,” said
Charlene Houle, tourism officer for Chatham-Kent, Ontario, where the Battle of the Thames was fought.  “He has this legacy of being a great leader who was betrayed.”

Lisa Gilbert, a War of 1812 historian, believes Tecumseh knew he would die there. Before the battle, the chief said that he “could not exactly tell, but it was an evil spirit which betokens no good.”

“Tecumseh had a premonition of his own death,” she said. “He painted his face black that day.”

The Battle of Thames took place on October 5, 1813 when the U.S. launched a surprise attack against the British and First Nations. The British fled, leaving Tecumseh's troops outnumbered 6 to 1. But Tecumseh fought fiercely. During this final stand against the Americans, Tecumseh was killed. He was 45.

“No one knows exactly where he fell or who killed him,” Gilbert said. “There still is controversy over where he was buried.”

At least 24 people took credit for killing Tecumseh.  William Henry Harrison, the 9th U.S. president, built his reputation as the "vanquisher of Tecumseh.”  Richard Mentor Johnson, America's 9th vice president, also claimed to have killed him.

Tecumseh’s legacy has grown exponentially since his death. Once viewed as an enemy, he now is celebrated as a hero. Gilbert attributes that legacy to Tecumseh’s personality and charisma.

“Of all the Native leaders to emerge in the struggle against the U.S., Tecumseh had the charisma to band them together,” she said. “The thing about Tecumseh is that he’s still as charismatic as he was. Even 200 years later, he’s still exerting that charisma beyond the grave.”

This article includes information from other sources, including a second Indian Country Media Network article entitled  "Native History: Tecumseh Defeated at Battle of the Thames"

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