Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership

by R. David Edmunds
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Compare Tecumseh's plan to help his people to Black Hoof's plan. What were the problems facing the Shawnee, and what eventually happened to the Indians?

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In the aftermath of the Battle of Fallen Timbers, a devastating defeat for the Shawnee and other Ohio Valley Indian peoples, Black Hoof, a Shawnee war chief, urged his people to assimilate to American life as a means of survival. He argued that to do otherwise would lead to certain destruction. He led a faction of Shawnee people that set up farms and villages in Ohio, appealing to then-President George Washington's claims that white men and Native peoples could live side-by-side, providing the latter were willing to accommodate expansion and adopt what the United States government recognized as "civilized" living.

Tecumseh, a young man in the wake of the Treaty of Greenville that followed Fallen Timbers, advocated open resistance. Along with his brother Tenskwatawa, he promoted a revival of traditional Native ways, including a rejection of Christianity, alcohol, and (except on Native terms) market-driven trade. The ambitious Tecumseh attempted to assemble a broad-based pan-Indian alliance, bringing Ohio Valley peoples with Southeastern Natives, including Creeks. This was a direct repudiation of the counsel of Black Hoof, and the United States government perceived this revival as a military threat. Tenskwatawa was defeated at Tippecanoe in 1811, but Tecumseh urged his followers to cast their lots with the British in the War of 1812. He was killed, along with his dream of a sovereign nation of Native peoples, at the Battle of the Thames during that conflict.

In the decades that followed, the Shawnee faced removal from the upper Midwest. Black Hoof opposed signing a removal treaty but led some of the Shawnee to federally-designated territory in Kansas. He died shortly thereafter, with both his and Tecumseh's plans for maintaining Shawnee lands meeting with tragedy.

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