Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership Essay - Critical Essays

R. David Edmunds


Although Edmunds does not grace his work on Tecumseh with a preface, Oscar Handlin, the general editor, suggests a thesis for the work in his statement that “Tecumseh’s ability evoked the admiration of friends and foes alike, yet was inadequate to the task [of unifying the tribes].” After this brief introduction, readers are plunged into Shawnee tribal history a generation before Tecumseh’s birth. Chapter 1 establishes the stormy history of relations between Shawnees and whites, between Shawnees and other tribes, and among groups of Shawnees geographically dispersed. This rehearsal of Tecumseh’s Shawnee heritage sets the stage for what will emerge as the controlling idea of the book: the impossibility of unifying ideologically and ethnically disparate forces.

The Shawnee heritage was one of strife and equivocal relations, not only with British colonizers but also with the politically dominant Eastern Iroquois and various tribes to the west, north, and south upon whose territory the Shawnees impinged as they themselves were pushed westward. Yet Edmunds does not make explicit that this information is Tecumseh’s heritage. In fact, Tecumseh’s name is not mentioned until the beginning of chapter 2.

As Edmunds observes in his endnotes, little factual information is available on Tecumseh’s childhood and early family life. Nevertheless, without stating his intention to avoid speculation, Edmunds practices consistent restraint in interpreting the events that he reports. The accounts of Tecumseh’s family...

(The entire section is 632 words.)