(History of the World: The 19th Century)

0111303078-Tecumseh.jpg (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Leading Indians of the Old Northwest in a united defense against the intrusion of white settlers, Tecumseh contributed significantly to the development of pan-Indianism in American history.

Early Life

In the Shawnee village of Old Piqua on the Mad River of what is modern western Ohio, Tecumseh was born to Methoataske, a Creek Indian woman. Her Shawnee husband, Puckeshinwa, had met her earlier, while staying with Creek Indians in Alabama. When Tecumseh was still a very young boy, Virginians began pushing into Kentucky onto lands used extensively for hunting by the Shawnee. The Indians resisted, and in 1774, Virginia Governor Lord John Dunmore led troops into the area. Puckeshinwa died in one of the subsequent battles, leaving support of his family in the hands of relatives and in those of a war chief named Blackfish from a nearby village.

During the American Revolution, the Shawnee again went to war against whites. In 1779, local Kentuckians wrongly accused several Shawnee, including a popular leader known as Cornstalk, of some recent killings and senselessly killed them. The intense fighting that followed eventually led about a thousand members of the tribe to move for a time to southeastern Missouri. Methoataske was one of the migrants, but Tecumseh and his seven brothers and sisters did not accompany their mother. Instead, other family members took the children. Tecumseh moved in with his sister Tecumpease and her husband and eventually developed a very close relationship with his older sibling. The muscular young Shawnee also became popular among his peers, distinguishing himself in games and in shooting skills. At age fifteen, Tecumseh experienced his first battle. American pioneers again started flooding onto Shawnee lands near the end of the Revolution, many of them crossing the Appalachian Mountains and then descending the Ohio River in flatboats. In 1783, the young warrior accompanied his brother Chiksika on a war party in an effort to stop the flatboat traffic.

After winning independence, Americans considered themselves the owners of lands formerly claimed by Great Britain, including the Old Northwest (the area bordered by the Appalachian Mountains on the east, the Mississippi River on the west, the Ohio River on the south, and Canada on the north, comprising the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan). Kentuckians attacked Shawnee villages in 1786 after blaming that group for raids actually launched by the Mingoes and Cherokee in opposition to settlement west of the Appalachians. The Shawnee hit back, with Tecumseh frequently taking part in the fighting. In 1787, he joined a war party led by his brother that went south and helped Cherokee attack settlements in Tennessee and southern Kentucky. Chiksika was killed in the action. The death of his brother greatly intensified Tecumseh’s hatred for the expansionistic whites, and he stayed in the area for the next two years, seeking vengeance.

With Chiksika no longer in a position of leadership, Tecumseh was able to assert himself. Five feet, ten inches tall, with a powerful physical presence and a dynamic speaking ability, he quickly gained a large following, especially among the younger, more antiwhite members of his tribe. By the time the group of Shawnee warriors returned to the Old Northwest in 1790, Tecumseh had emerged as a popular war chief. In addition to his outstanding skills in warfare, however, he also gained a reputation for being kind and good-humored. He frequently demonstrated compassion for those who were weakest or least privileged and an aversion to the torture or murder of prisoners. These qualities made him exceptional at a time when indiscriminate brutality was common on both sides in frontier warfare.

Life’s Work

Upon his return to the Old Northwest, Tecumseh found his antiwhite sentiments increasingly in tune with those of many Indians in the region. Settlers had been pouring into the southeastern Ohio River valley, and the frontier again erupted into violence. In the early 1790’s, the United States government sent armies in on two occasions in attempts to counter Indian resistance, but in both cases, tribes united to hand the whites embarrassing defeats. Together with the prodding of the British to the north in Canada, these victories encouraged tribes to join in a common political front to negotiate a permanent Indian state in the Old Northwest. Differences among the groups, however, prevented success in the effort. The United States then tried a third time for a military solution, sending an army under Major General Anthony Wayne. This time the results were different, with the Americans claiming victory in the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers. The next year, some of the defeated Indians signed the Treaty of Greenville, giving up more than two-thirds of what became Ohio.

Tecumseh fought well in the last two of the three famous battles for control of the Old Northwest and thus added to his growing reputation. He refused to accept the outcome of the Treaty of Greenville, however, and soon was recognized as the...

(The entire section is 2107 words.)


(Native Americans: A Comprehensive History)

0111200652-tecumseh.jpg Portrait of Tecumseh painted by Mathias Noheimer (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Tecumseh was one of the first Indian leaders to attempt (and, to a degree, succeed in) the forging of an alliance among all Indians to resist the westward expansion of white settlements in North America.

Tecumseh was the fifth child of a Creek woman named Methoataske (Turtle Laying Eggs), who lived in a Shawnee village in western Ohio near modern Chillicothe. His name, Tecumseh, means “shooting star” in the Shawnee language. His father, Puckeshinwa, a Shawnee war chief, had married Methoataske during the French and Indian War (1756-1763). The couple later had four more children.

Puckeshinwa died in battle during Pontiac's Rebellion in 1774. Tecumseh's oldest brother, Chiksika, attempted to provide for the family, but Methoataske often had to rely on the charity of her husband's kinsmen to survive. When the American Revolution began in 1776, Shawnee warriors participated in raids on U.S. settlements in Kentucky, provoking a war between U.S. citizens and the Shawnee. Many Shawnee subsequently moved west to avoid the horrors of war. Methoataske and her youngest children joined an exodus of more than one thousand Shawnee to southeastern Missouri. Tecumseh and his older siblings remained in Ohio, where they were cared for by their older sister, Tecumpease, and her husband.

Tecumseh grew to manhood during a turbulent time in his tribe's history. In the period between 1780 and 1782, George Rogers Clark led two U.S. military expeditions against the Indian villages along the Mad and Great Miami Rivers. In 1782, the Shawnee joined with other tribes to defeat a U.S. military attack led by Colonel William Crawford, with the Americans suffering large losses. In alliance with the British, the Shawnee also participated in an invasion of Kentucky in 1782. Growing to manhood during the turmoil of war profoundly influenced Tecumseh's subsequent development. The prolonged struggle magnified the importance of war chiefs and warriors among the Shawnee. Tecumseh, at the age of fourteen, took part in several of the battles against the Americans in 1782-1783.

After the Revolutionary War, the U.S. government concluded a series of treaties (of questionable legality) with minor Indian chiefs which transferred much Shawnee land in Ohio to the U.S. government. Many Shawnee leaders refused to recognize the legitimacy of the treaties and resisted white settlement in the region by force. Tecumseh took part in the numerous raids on white settlements, usually in war parties led by Chiksika. Chiksika died from wounds he received in one of those raids (this one in Tennessee) in 1787. Most of the Shawnee...

(The entire section is 1086 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

Article abstract: Military significance: Tecumseh’s alliance was defeated at the Battle of Tippecanoe, opening much of the Ohio River Valley for European-American settlement.

Tecumseh, a Shawnee, was said to have been a muscular man of great physical endurance. He was a skilled hunter who often provided for several families other than his own with a legendary generosity. He had a full, high forehead, a slightly aquiline nose, and penetrating black eyes nestled under prominent eyebrows. Tecumseh was a studious man who could read English, and had something of a passion for books. He surprised some British and American observers with his knowledge of Shakespeare and the Scriptures, as well as other...

(The entire section is 625 words.)