Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? How can we have confidence in the white people?
When Tecumseh's parents met and married, the Pekowi were living somewhere near the present-day site of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The Pekowi had lived in that region alongside the Creek people, since the Iroquois (a powerful confederacy based in New York and Pennsylvania) forced them from the Ohio River valley during the Beaver Wars in the seventeenth century. About 1759 the Pekowi band moved north into the Ohio Country. Not wanting to force Methotaske to choose between staying in the south with him or moving with her family, Puckshinwa decided to travel north with her. The Pekowi founded an Indian settlement named Chillicothe, where Tecumseh was likely born.
Tecumseh (in Shawnee, Tekoomsē, meaning "Shooting Star" or "Panther Across The Sky", or "Blazing Comet," and also written as Tecumtha or Tekamthi) was born in March 1768. Some accounts identify his birthplace as Old Chillicothe (the present-day Oldtown area of Xenia Township, Greene County, Ohio, about 12 miles (19 km) east of Dayton). Because the Shawnee did not settle in Old Chillicothe until 1774, biographer John Sugden concludes that Tecumseh was born either in a different village named "Chillicothe" (in Shawnee, Chalahgawtha) along the Scioto River, near present-day Chillicothe, Ohio, or in a nearby Kispoko village situated along a small tributary of the Scioto. (Tecumseh's family had moved to this village around the time of his birth.)
In October 1774, during Tecumseh's boyhood, frontiersmen killed his father at the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore’s War. The white men "had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty." After Puckshinwa's death, Methoataske may have gone to live with her Creek relatives prior to moving west with the Kispoko in 1779. Methoataske left Tecumseh and his siblings under the care of their married older sister, Tecumapese. Wahskiegaboe, Tecumapese's husband, later became one of Tecumseh's supporters.
Tecumseh's younger brother, Lalawethika ("He Makes A Loud Noise" or "Noise Maker"), who later took the new name of Tenskwatawa ("The Open Door" or "One with Open Mouth") and became known as "The Prophet" or "The Shawnee Prophet", was part of a set of triplet brothers born in early 1775. (One of the triplets died within the first year of his birth, but Lalawethika and his triplet brother Kumskaukau survived.) Lalawethika's early years as a depressed and isolated young man were marked by numerous failures and alcoholism. However, around 1805 Tenskwatawa began preaching and soon emerged as a powerful and influential religious leader of a spiritual revival. The Prophet's beliefs were based on the earlier teachings of the Lenape Prophets, Scattamek and Neolin, who predicted a coming apocalypse that would destroy the European-American settlers.
The North West Indian War brought continued violence to the American frontier. The Wabash Confederacy, a large tribal alliance that included all the major tribes of Ohio and the Illinois Country formed to repel the American settlers from the region. As the war between the Indian confederacy and the Americans expanded in the late 1780s and Tecumseh grew older, he began training to become a warrior and to fight alongside with his older brother Chiksika, an important war leader.
After the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, fifteen-year-old Tecumseh joined a band of Shawnee who intended to stop white settlers from invading their lands by attacking settlers' flatboats as they traveled down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania. "For a while," the Indians "were so effective that river traffic virtually ceased." Tecumseh participated in several raids on Americans between 1786 and 1788, and in time, he assumed leadership of his own band of warriors.
In late 1789 or early 1790, Tecumseh traveled south with Chiksika to live among and fight alongside the Chickamauga faction of the Cherokee. During their trip south, Tecumseh fell from his horse during a hunting expedition and broke a bone in his thigh. The injury took several months to heal and caused him to walk with a slight limp for the remainder of his life. Accompanied by twelve Shawnee warriors, the brothers stayed at Running Water in Marion County, Tennessee, where Chiksika's wife and daughter lived. There Tecumseh met Dragging Canoe, a Chickamauga leader who was leading Indian resistance to American expansionism. Tecumseh remained with the Chickamauga for nearly two years. During this time he fathered a daughter with a Cherokee; however, the relationship was brief and the child remained with her mother.
After a brief return to the Ohio Country in 1791, Tecumseh and his band of Shawnee warriors rejoined his brother in the Cumberland River area in Tennessee, where Chiksika was killed while leading a raid in September 1792. Tecumseh assumed leadership of the small Shawnee band and subsequent Chickamauga raiding parties before he returned to the Ohio Country at the end of 1792. Afterwards, Tecumseh took part in several battles, including that of the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), in which the Americans defeated the Indians to end the Northwestern Indian Wars in the Americans' favor. Despite the loss, Tecumseh refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville (1795), in which the Indians ceded large tracts of their lands in the Old North West Territory (about two-thirds of the present-day state of Ohio and portions of present-day Indiana) in exchange for goods valued at $20,000.
Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison, the two principal adversaries in Tecumseh's War, had both been junior participants in the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794) at the end of the North West Indian War. Although Tecumseh was not among the signers of the Treaty of Greenville (1795) that ceded much of present-day Ohio, long inhabited by the Shawnee and other American Indians, to the U.S. government, many of the Indian Leaders in the region accepted the Greenville treaty's terms. For the next ten years pan-tribal resistance to American hegemony faded.
Tecumseh took a wife, Mamate, and had a son, Paukeesaa, born about 1796. Their marriage did not last. Tecumseh's sister, Tecumapese, raised Paukeesaa from the age of seven or eight.
German Sculptor Ferdinand Pettrich (1798–1872) studied under the neo-classicist Danish Sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen in Rome and moved to the United States in 1835. He was especially impressed by the Indians. He modelled The Dying Tecumseh ca. 1837–1846; it was finished 1856 in marble and copper alloy. The sculpture was put on display in the U.S. Capitol, where a stereoscopic photograph was taken of it in the later 1860s; in 1916 it was transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
After the Treaty of Greenville was signed, most of the Shawnee in Ohio settled at the Shawnee village of Wapakoneta on the Auglaize River, where Black Hoof, a senior chief who had signed the treaty was their leader. Little Turtle, a Miami war chief, a participant in the North West Indian War, and a signer of the treaty at Greenville, lived in his village along the Eel River. Black Hoof and Little Turtle urged cultural adaptation and accommodation with the United States. The tribes of the region also participated in several additional treaties, including the Treaty of Vincennes (1803 and 1804) and the Treaty of Grouseland (1805), that ceded Indian-held land in southern Indiana to the Americans. The treaties granted the Indians annuity payments and other reimbursements in exchange for their lands.
Tecumseh eventually settled near Greenville, Ohio, in an Indian community that Tenskwatawa formed with his followers along the White River in western Ohio in 1805. Tenskwatawa, who proved to be harsh, even brutal, in his treatment of those who opposed him and his teachings accused his detractors and anyone who associated with Americans of witchcraft. His teachings also led to rising tensions between the settlers and his followers. Opposing Tenskwatawa was the Shawnee leader Black Hoof, who was working to maintain a peaceful relationship with the United States.
The earliest record of Tecumseh's interaction with the Americans occurred in 1807, when U.S. Indian agent william Wells met with Blue Jacket and other Shawnee Leaders in Greenville to determine their intentions after the recent murder of a settler. Tecumseh, who was among those who spoke with Wells and assured him that his band of Shawnee intended to remain at peace and wanted only to follow the will of the Great Spirit and his prophet. According to Wells's report, Tecumseh also told him that the Prophet intended to move with his followers deeper into the frontier, away from American settlements. By 1808, as tensions between the Indians at Greenville and the encroaching settlers increased, Black Hoof demanded that Tenskwatawa and his followers leave the area. According to Tenskwatawa's later account, Tecumseh was already contemplating a pan-tribal confederacy to counter American expansion into Indian-held lands.
In 1808 the Prophet and Tecumseh were Leaders of the group that decided to move further west and establish a village near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers (near Battle Ground, north of present-day Lafayette, Indiana). Although the site was in Miami tribal territory and their chief, Little Turtle, warned the group not to settle there, the Shawnee ignored the warning and moved into the region; the Miami left them alone. The Americans called the Indian settlement Prophetstown, after the Shawnee spiritual leader. The village gained significance as a central point in the political and military alliance that was forming around Tecumseh, a natural and charismatic leader.
In September 1809, William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne in which a delegation of Indians in the Wabash River area ceded 2.5 to 3 million acres (12,000 km) of land in what is present-day Indiana and Illinois to the U.S. government. The validity of the treaty negotiations were challenged with claims that the U.S. President, and thus the U.S. government, had not authorized them. The negotiations also involved what some historians have described as bribes, which included offering large subsidies to the tribes and their chiefs, and liberal distribution of liquor before the negotiations began.
In recent years, Peter Wolf Toth has created the Trail of the Whispering Giants, a series of sculptures honoring Native Americans. He donated one work devoted to Tecumseh to the City of Vincennes, which was Indiana's territorial capital in the years around 1810, where Tecumseh confronted governor William Henry Harrison, and in the area of which Tecumseh's war then happened and the War of 1812 started. In Lafayette, Indiana, Tecumseh appears along with the Marquis de Lafayette and Harrison in a pediment on the Tippecanoe County Courthouse (1882).
After the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, Tecumseh resumed his role as the military leader of the pan-Indian confederation, but the battle ended his plan to form a larger, pan-Indian alliance. Tecumseh and the Indian resistance movement allied with the British against the Americans during the War of 1812, but his death at the Battle of the Thames in 1813 and the end of War of 1812 led to the collapse of the alliance. Over the next several years the Indians ceded their remaining land east of the Mississippi River to the U.S. government. As most of the Indians removed to reservation land in the western United States, white settlers claimed the former Indian lands in the Old North West Territory for themselves.
A replica of the War of 1812 warship HMS Tecumseh was built in 1994 and displayed in Penetanguishene, Ontario, near the raised wreck of the original HMS Tecumseh. The original HMS Tecumseh was built in 1815 to be used in defense against the Americans. First on Lake Erie, she moved to Lake Huron in 1817. She sank in Penetanguishene harbor in 1828, and was raised in 1953.
The Ontario Heritage Foundation & Kent Military Reenactment Society erected a plaque in Tecumseh Park, 50 william Street North, Chatham, Ontario, reading: "On this site, Tecumseh, a Shawnee Chief, who was an ally of the British during the war of 1812, fought against American forces on October 4, 1813. Tecumseh was born in 1768 and became an important organizer of native resistance to the spread of white settlement in North America. The day after the fighting here, he was killed in the Battle of Thames near Moraviantown. Tecumseh park was named to commemorate strong will and determination."
Tecumseh's death was a decisive blow to the American Indians. It had larger implications during negotiations for the Treaty of Ghent (1814). During the treaty process, the British called for the U.S. government to return lands in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan to the Indians. For decades the British strategy had been to create a buffer state to block American expansion, but the Americans refused to consider the British proposal and it was dropped. Although Article IX of the treaty included provisions to restore to native inhabitants "all possessions, rights and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811", the provisions were unenforceable.
Benson Lossing's engraved portrait of Tecumseh, in his 1868 The Pictorial Fieldbook of the War of 1812 (p. 283), was based on a Sketch done from life in 1808. 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. On the other hand, the Artist quotes Captain J. B. Glegg as follows: "Three small silver crosses or coronets were suspended from the lower cartilage of his aquiline nose[...]". (Tecumseh's brother "The Prophet" is depicted with a nose ring in Lossing's book—as well as by George Catlin.) Apart from Tecumseh's "gala dress" (at a celebration of the Surrender of Detroit) Lossing referred to, also his face may not be rendered faithfully—no fully authenticated portrait of the Shawnee leader exists. In general, many known portraits and sculptures have been made decades after Tecumseh's death, by artists unfamiliar with Tecumseh's actual appearance.
The above account has since remained very popular, being continually mentioned and quoted in books, reviews and websites. Its trustworthiness however was already questioned in 1895 by historians Henry Sale Halbert and Timothy Horton Ball, according to whom "there is no reasonable evidence that it contains the substance of the statements of Tecumseh", and it shows a "murderous, vengeful, barbarous Tecumseh of imagination rather than of fact". Some ninety years later the whole question was thoroughly examined again by British Historian John Sugden, who came to even sharper conclusions: "Claiborne's description of Tecumseh at Tuckabatchie ... is fraudulent" and "students are ... warned against using [his] influential but bogus accounts".
In Canada, the Royal Ontario Museum exhibits a bust of Tecumseh created by Hamilton MacCarthy in 1896.
Other sources have credited william Whitley as the person responsible for Tecumseh's death, but Sugden argued that Whitely had been killed in battle prior to Tecumseh's death. In his 1929 autobiography, James A. Drain Sr., Whitley's grandson, continued to claim that his grandfather single-handedly shot and killed Tecumseh. As Drain explained it, Whitley was mortally wounded, but he saw Tecumseh spring towards him, "intent upon taking for himself a scalp," and drew his gun "to center his sights upon the red man's breast. And as he fired, he fell and the Indian as well, each gone where good fighting men go."
Edwin Seaborn, who recorded an oral history from Saugeen First Nation in the 1930s, provides another account of Tecumseh's death. Pe-wak-a-nep, who was seventy years old in 1938, describes his grandfather’s eyewitness account of Tecumseh’s last battle. Pe-wak-a-nep explained that Tecumseh was fighting on a bridge when his lance snapped. Tecumseh "fell after ‘a long knife’ was run through his shoulder from behind."
Tecumseh's dream of a pan-Indian confederation would not be realized until 1944, with the founding of the National Congress of American Indians.
According to Sugden, Tecumseh's body had been defiled, although later accounts were likely exaggerated. Sugden also discounted some conflicting Indian accounts that indicated his body had been removed from the battlefield before it could be mutilated. From his analysis of the evidence, Sugden firmly claimed that Tecumseh's remains, mutilated beyond recognition, were left on the battlefield. Sugden's Tecumseh's Last Stand (1985) also recounted varied accounts of Tecumseh's burial and the still unknown location of his gravesite.
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.
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. The Canadian naval reserve unit HMCS Tecumseh is based in Calgary, Alberta. The Royal Canadian Mint released a two dollar coin on June 18, 2012 and will release four quarters, celebrating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. The second quarter in the series, was released in November 2012 and features Tecumseh.
Schools named in honor of Tecumseh include, in the United States: Tecumseh Junior – Senior High in Hart Township, Warrick County, just outside Lynnville, Indiana. Lafayette Tecumseh Junior High in Lafayette, Indiana. Tecumseh-Harrison Elementary in Vincennes, Indiana. Tecumseh Acres Elementary, Tecumseh Middle and Tecumseh High in Tecumseh, Michigan. Tecumseh Elementary in Farmingville, New York. Tecumseh Elementary in Jamesville, New York. Tecumseh Middle and Tecumseh High in Bethel Township, Clark County near New Carlisle, Ohio and their district, the Tecumseh Local School District. Tecumseh Elementary in Xenia Township, Greene County near Xenia, Ohio. Tecumseh Middle and Tecumseh High in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. And in Canada: Tecumseh Elementary in Vancouver. Tecumseh Public in Burlington, Ontario. Tecumseh Public School in Chatham, Ontario. Tecumseh Public School in London, Ontario. Tecumseh Senior Public in Scarborough, Ontario.
Numerous depictions show how Colonel Richard Johnson, leading a cavalry attack of the Battle of the Thames, shot Tecumseh—see above for doubts (it has been reported that an Indian raised his tomahawk against Johnson and was shot by the latter, while some reports deny that this Indian was Tecumseh). These depictions range from a book illustration to a section of the frieze of the rotunda of the United States Capitol.
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 was originally meant to represent Tamanend, an Indian chief from the 17th century who was known as a lover of peace and friendship, but the Academy's midshipmen preferred the warrior Tecumseh, and have referred to the statue by his name.
The circumstances surrounding Tecumseh’s death are unclear due to several conflicting accounts. Some sources claim that Colonel Richard Johnson killed Tecumseh during a cavalry charge. However, the Wyandott Historian, Peter D. Clarke, offered a different explanation after talking with Indians who had fought in the battle: "[A] Potawatamie brave, who, on perceiving an American officer (supposed to be Colonel Johnson) on horse ... turned to tomahawk his pursuer, but was shot down by him with his pistol .... The fallen Potawatamie brave was probably taken for Tecumseh by some of Harrison's infantry, and mutilated soon after the battle."