CANADA/USA HISTORY THEY FORGOT TO TELL YOU ABOUT #7
We stop here in our story flow of the Canada/USA war of 1812. We
need to tell you about TWO great Indian leaders of this time. We
have already seen some details of the great Indian chief Brant
(the well educated one in speaking and writing English and who
sailed to London England to communicate with the Lords and the
King's representatives on behalf of the Indian people). I need to
let Pierre Burton (author of the 300 page plus book called "The
Invasion of Canada - 1812-1813") tell you in his way about the
other two important Indian leaders of this era. One who is known
as "Prophet" - the other as "Tecumseh," his literal brother, and
the latter probably being the most famous and influential of all
Indian leaders in the context of this war over Canada.
We shall pick up the story in the middle of where Burton is
telling us about the slippery, conniving, "rob his own mother"
"bargain for your goods, give you a nickel, when he knows it's
worth 20 fold" type of scoundrel, the white man's name being
Harrison. We go back to 1810, a few years before the war begins,
when Governor Harrison has already bought land from the Indians
for the USA through his scoundrel purchasing ways.
....But it is not the Prophet who will lead the delegation to
Vincennes. A new warrior is assuming leadership-the tall Indian
who again that night saves Barron's life from a group of squaws
sent to tomahawk him. Harrison has not yet met him, would not
know him to see him, is only now becoming aware of his presence.
Someone who has encountered him has described him to the governor
"as a bold, active, sensible man, daring in the extreme and
capable of any undertaking." He is the Prophet's brother, whom
Harrison now sees as "the Moses of the family, really the
efficient man" - Tecumseh, the Leaping Panther.
VINCENNES, INDIANA TERRITORY, August 16, 1810. Governor Harrison
is seated in an armchair on his estate of Grouseland in the shade
of a canopy on the southwest side of the great brick mansion that
has all but beggared him. To pay the bills for its construction
he has been forced to give up four hundred acres of prime land;
but then, some might say, he wants the Shawnee (for whom he is
waiting) to give up much more.
The Shawnee have kept him waiting for some days and the Governor
is growing impatient. He has made much of this assembly, inviting
the town's leading citizens and their ladies, territorial
officers and supreme court justices, all arranged like chess
pieces on the lawn, in the canopy's shade, guarded by a platoon
If Harrison is nervous, his long features do not reveal it. He
operates under a strict maxim -never show fear in front of an
Indian. This particular Indian, however, has become uncommonly
difficult. Harrison had asked him to come to Vincennes with a
small escort, but Tecumseh, who does not take instructions from
white men, arrived with more than three hundred armed and painted
warriors. That was Saturday. Harrison wanted to start the council
on Monday, but Tecumseh would not be hurried. Suspecting
treachery, he sent his spies and informers to work through the
community, warning of possible trouble. Now it is Thursday; he is
coming at last, accompanied by thirty warriors, their faces
smeared with vermilion war paint, all armed with tomahawks and
Tecumseh advances under the curious scrutiny of the dignitaries -
a handsome figure, tall for his tribe (at least five foot ten),
with an oval rather than an angular face, his complexion light
copper, his nose handsome and straight, his mouth "beautifully
formed like that of Napoleon." Everyone who has met him notices
his eyes, which are a clear, bright hazel under dark brows, and
his teeth, which are white and even. He is naked to the waist,
his head shaved save for a scalp lock. He walks with a brisk
elastic step in spite of a bent leg fractured and imperfectly set
after a youthful fall from a pony. There are some who think him
the finest specimen of a man they have ever seen, but no
authentic likeness exists on paper or canvas, for Tecumseh
refuses to have his portrait painted by a white man.
He halts, looks over the assemblage, sees the soldiers, feigns
anger, pretends to suspect treachery. He will not go near the
canopy, not because he fears the soldiers but because he wishes
to place himself on an equal footing with his adversary. He
intends to speak as in a council circle, which puts every man on
the same level.
The game continues. Harrison's interpreter, Barron, explains that
it will be a nuisance to rearrange the seats. Tecumseh disagrees;
only the whites need seats, the Indians are accustomed to sitting
on the ground: "Houses are made for white men to hold councils
in. Indians hold theirs in the open air."
"Your father requests you sit by his side," the Governor.
Tecumseh raises an arm, points to the sky.
"My father! The Great Spirit is my father! The earth is my mother
- and on her bosom I will recline." And so sits cross-legged on
the ground, surrounded by his warriors.
The problem is that Tecumseh refuses to act like a Harrison
Indian. Nor does he act like a white man. He is unique and knows
says Barron, indicating it. On his endless missions to other
tribes, in his dogged attempt to forge an Indian confederacy, it
is necessary for him to say only "I am Tecumseh." That is enough
to explain his purpose.
This attitude disconcerts Harrison. In his reports to Washington
he tries to shrug off Tecumseh: his speeches here at the great
council, he says, are "insolent and his pretensions arrogant."
Yet he is forced to take him seriously. The talks drag on for
days; but when the Shawnee war chief speaks, the Governor
listens, for this half-naked man in the deerskin leggings is one
of the greatest orators of his time.
His reputation has preceded him. He is known as a consummate
performer who can rouse his audience to tears, laughter, fury,
action. Even those who cannot understand his words are said to be
held by the power of his voice. White men who have heard him
speak at past councils have struggled to describe his style: in
1806 at a council at Springfield, Ohio, "the effect of his
bitter, burning words ... was so great on his companions that the
whole three hundred warriors could hardly refrain from springing
from their seats. Their eyes flashed, and even the most aged,
many of whom were smoking, evinced the greatest excitement. The
orator appeared in all the power of a fiery and impassioned
speaker and actor. Each moment it seemed as though, under the
influence of his overpowering eloquence, they would abruptly
leave the council and defiantly return to their homes!
Like his physical presence, Tecumseh's oratory is, alas, filtered
through the memories of eyewitnesses. Even the best interpreters
cannot keep up with his flights of imagery, while the worst
garble his eloquence. Occasionally, in the printed record -
admittedly imperfect - one hears faintly the echoes of that
clear, rich voice, calling across the decades:
"It is true I am Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son
is a warrior. From them I take only my existence. From my tribe I
take nothing. I am the maker of my own fortune. And oh! that I
might make that of my red people, and of my country, as great as
the conceptions of my mind, when I think of the Spirit that rules
"The way, and the only way, to check and stop this evil, 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 yet; for it never was
divided, but belongs to all, for the use of each. That no part
has a right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers
who want all and will not do with less....
"Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds and the great
sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all
for the use of his children?"
In this three-hour speech at the great council of Vincennes,
Tecumseh threatens to kill any chief who sells land to the white
man: "I now wish you to listen to me. If you do not it will
appear as if you wished me to kill all the chiefs that sold you
the land. I tell you so because I am authorized by all the tribes
to do so. I am the head of them all. I am a Warrior and all the
Warriors will meet together in two or three moons from this. Then
I will call for those chiefs that sold you the land and shall
know what to do with them. If you do not restore the land you
will have a hand in killing them."
But from his opening words it is clear that Tecumseh feels that
he is not getting through to Harrison:
"Brother, I wish you to listen to me well - I wish to reply to
you more explicitly, as I think you do not clearly understand
what I before said to you. I will explain again...."
He is like a patient parent, indulging a small unheeding child.
But Harrison will never understand, cannot understand. Land is to
him private property, circumscribed by fences and surveyors'
pins, tied down by documents, deeds, titles. He wants to be fair,
but he cannot comprehend this Indian. The land has been bought
from its rightful owners and paid for. It is purely a business
Now it is the Governor's turn to speak. He ridicules the idea of
a single Indian nation, dismisses the Shawnee claim to ownership
of the disputed lands (the Shawnee, he points out, come from
farther south), praises the United States above all other nations
for a long record of fair dealing.
The Indians listen patiently, waiting for the translations. Not
far away on the grass lies the Potawatomi chief Winemac, in fear
of his life at Tecumseh's hands, for he is one of those who has
agreed to cede the land. He hides in his buckskins a brace of
pistols, a gift from the Governor to guard him from
assassination. A sergeant and twelve soldiers, originally
detailed to guard the assembly, have moved off a distance to
escape the searing sun.
The Shawnee translation of Harrison's remarks ends. The
Potawatomi translation begins. Suddenly Tecumseh rises and, with
violent gestures, starts to shout. Harrison notes, with concern,
that Winemac is priming his pistols. John Gibson, the Indiana
secretary, who under stands the Shawnee tongue, whispers to
Lieutenant Jesse Jennings of the 7th Infantry to bring up the
guard quickly: "Those fellows mean mischief." Tecumseh's
followers leap to their feet, brandishing tomahawks and war
clubs. Harrison draws his sword. A Methodist minister runs to the
house, seizes a rifle, and prepares to protect the Governor's
family. Up runs the twelve-man guard, muskets ready. Harrison
motions them to hold their fire, demands to know what Tecumseh is
saying. The answer is blunt: the Governor is a liar; everything
he has said is false; the United States has cheated the Indians.
The angry Harrison banishes Tecumseh and his followers from
Grouseland. They leave in a fury, but the following day, his
anger spent, Tecumseh apologizes.
What is the meaning of this singular incident? Had Tecumseh
planned a massacre, as some believe, only to be faced down by
Harrison and his troops? That is unlikely. It is more probable
that, hearing the translation of Harrison's words, he briefly
lost his remarkable self-possession. It is also possible that it
was a carefully staged part of a plan to convince Harrison of
Tecumseh's strength and leadership.
Harrison, mollified by the apology, visits Tecumseh at his camp
on the outskirts of Vincennes and finds the Shawnee in a totally
different mood. The menacing savage has been transformed into a
skittish adversary. The two sit together on a bench, Tecumseh
talking all the while and edging closer to the governor, who is
forced to move over. Tecumseh continues to talk, continues to
crowd Harrison, who presently finds himself on the very end of
the bench. Harrison at length protests. The Shawnee laughs: how
would he like to be pushed right off, as the Indians have been
pushed off their lands by white encroachment?
But beneath this burlesque Harrison recognizes a firmness of
purpose that makes him apprehensive. As the council proceeds
Tecumseh makes it clear that he intends to prevent, by force if
necessary, the lands ceded at Fort Wayne from falling into the
hands of the whites. His final words are unequivocal:
"I want the present boundary line to continue. Should you cross
it I assure you it will be productive of bad consequences."
Harrison has no choice but to halt the surveys of the disputed
territory. He will not get his two dollars an acre until the
power of the Shawnee brothers is broken forever.
WHO ARE THESE SHAWNEE BROTHERS?
Harrison may well ask himself. Where have they sprung from? What
was it that produced from one Indian tribe and from the same
parents the two most compelling native leaders of their time?
What has made them rise above their own fellows, their own kin,
so that their names are familiar to all the tribes from
Michilimackinac to the borders of Florida?
The two do not even look like brothers. If Tecumseh is grudgingly
admired, the Prophet is universally despised. To the white
romantics one is a "good" Indian, the other "bad" - the noble
savage and the rogue native, neat stereotypes in the bosom of a
single family. Part of the contrast is physical. Tecumseh is
almost too handsome to be true; his younger brother is ugly,
awkward, and one-eyed, a handkerchief masking the empty socket,
mutilated in childhood by a split arrow. One is a mystic,
mercurial and unpredictable, the other a clear-eyed military
genius. Yet the two are indivisible, their personalities and
philosophies interlocking like pieces of an ivory puzzle.
In looking forward to a new future for the tribes, the brothers
are gazing back upon an idyllic past when the vast
hunting-grounds were open to all. The idea of land held in common
springs directly from the Shawnee experience and must have been
held by others before them. Always partially nomadic, the Shawnee
were deprived of any share of the profits from lands sold to
white men in Kentucky. The sedentary Iroquois pocketed the cash
while the advancing pressure of settlement forced the Shawnee
northward and westward always onto lands occupied by other
tribes. For years now they have been hunting over the disputed
territory east of the Wabash, but in Harrison's conventional view
they do not "own" it because the Miami were there first.
Tecumseh's own wanderings underline the Shawnee dilemma. He has
no fixed home but has moved northward from settlement to
settlement, from Kentucky to Indiana to Ohio to Prophet's Town on
the Tippecanoe. Men with such a history must feel the land
belongs to all.
Unlike the Prophet, Tecumseh is a warrior. The major influence in
his life was his older brother, Cheeseekau, fourteen years his
senior and clearly a replacement for his father, who died when
Tecumseh was an infant. Cheeseekau taught him to hunt with bow
and arrow (nurturing in him a contempt for firearms, which
frighten away deer), to fight with a tomahawk, and to develop his
scorn and hatred of the white man, especially white Americans.
From the age of fifteen, when he survived his first skirmish at
his brother's side against the Kentucky volunteers, he has done
battle with American frontiersmen and American soldiers. He has
fought in every major engagement, rising to band leader after
Cheeseekau's death in the Cherokee war in 1792 and emerging
unscathed two years later at the disastrous Battle of Fallen
Timbers, when another brother fell to an American musket ball.
Yet his closest companion for fifteen years was a white youth,
Stephen Ruddell, who has become a Methodist missionary to the
Shawnee. Captured by the tribe during the Revolution and adopted
into a Shawnee family, young Ruddell was present on the famous
occasion when, at sixteen, Tecumseh impassively watching a white
prisoner being consumed by the slow fire of the stake, rose up
and in a speech that foreshadowed later eloquence swore he would
never again allow such horror in his presence.
It is this mixture of savagery and compassion that baffles men
like Harrison. In battle, stripped naked save for a breech cloth,
his face daubed with ochre, his tomahawk stained with blood,
Tecumseh is demonic. Yet Ruddell remembers that from his boyhood
he was "remarkable ... for the dignity and rectitude of his
deportment." He does not like to take prisoners in battle, but
when he does he treats them with humanity. Nor will he allow the
killing of women and children.
Like his younger brother, he has managed to conquer alcohol, not
as the result of the mystical experience that transformed the
Prophet from an idler and a wastrel into a native messiah but as
a simple act of will. Alcohol befuddled his ambition, interfered
with the clarity of his vision.
For similar reasons he has managed to free himself from the
tyranny of sex. To him, women are inferior creatures; he treats
them with courtesy but will not hunt in their company. And like
alcohol, they may divert him from his purpose. As a young man he
realized his own attraction to the tribal beauties but was
determined not to be ensnared. "The handsome are now anxious for
me," he told a white acquaintance, "and I am determined to
His first wife, Manete, whom he married at twenty-eight, was a
mixed blood, considerably older than he and certainly no beauty.
From her as from all his other women he demanded affection and
absolute obedience. The day of reckoning came when he asked her
to make him a pouch to hold his war paint. She told him she did
not know how and offered to find a friend who did. It was the end
of the marriage. Tecumseh snatched back the materials, declared
that he would save her the trouble, gave her some presents, and
banished her forever.
Another wife - the Shawnee are allowed as many as they wish
received a similar rebuff. Tecumseh had killed a turkey and
invited friends to dine; he was discomfited to find a few
feathers clinging to the fowl when his wife served it. After his
guests had gone, he handed her a bundle of clothing and ordered
her to leave. Tears, entreaties, promises to do better next time
all failed to move him. "I am ashamed of you," said Tecumseh. "We
must separate." He did not see her again.
One woman, it is said, intrigued him above all others: Rebecca
Galloway, a white girl of sixteen, the daughter of a literate
frontiersman at Old Chillicothe, Ohio. She spoke his language,
taught him English, introduced him to the Bible, Alexander the
Great, Shakespeare's plays (his favourite was Hamlet). The
passionate Shawnee fell in love; he brought her gifts (a silver
comb, a birchbark canoe, furs, venison), called her Star of the
Lake, asked for her hand in marriage offering thirty silver
brooches as a lure. She was agreeable but made one condition: he
must give up the Indian life, adopt white customs and dress.
Tecumseh struggled with this dilemma, but his decision was
foreordained. He could not bring himself to adopt a course that
would cost him the respect of his people. Reluctantly they
parted, never to meet again.
Now he is determinedly single. His last wife, White Wing, a
Shawnee woman whom he married in 1802, parted from him in 1807.
There would be no more women in Tecumseh's life. He is wedded
irrevocably to an ideal.
He dreams Pontiac's ancient dream of an Indian confederacy
stretching from Florida to Lake Erie - a confederacy strong
enough to resist white pressure. To that end he is prepared to
travel astonishing distances preaching to the tribes - to the
Kickapoo, Wea, Creek, Wyandot, Sauk, Fox, Potawatomi, Miami,
Choctaw, Osage and other Indian bands who, like Balkan
communities, argue and squabble among themselves, to their own
misfortune and the white man's benefit. The nucleus of this
alliance already exists at the mouth of the Tippecanoe where the
disaffected members of half a dozen tribes have flocked in
response to the mystic summons of Tecumseh's younger brother.
The Prophet's background is as remarkable as Tecumseh's, though
quite different. Born after his father's death, he was raised by
a sister who clearly favoured his older brother. While Tecumseh
was dazzling his fellow tribesmen with his skill as a hunter and,
later, his prowess as a warrior, the future Prophet, born
Laulewausika, was a layabout. He seemed to be a man with no-
future, no ambition. Then, with the suddenness of a rocket's
flare, he changed, overcome by a sense of sin. There was talk of
a trance, a visit to the Great Spirit, a vision in which he saw a
forked road before him - misery in one direction, happiness in
the other. What brought about this miraculous transformation that
caused him to be as one reborn? There are only hints, but it is
believed in Vincennes that the Shaker preachers, who were
influential in the area (their new home only a few miles
distant), had their effect. The new name that he adopted to
symbolize his reform, Tenskwatawa, is translated as "I am the
door," a phrase used by Jesus, and much of his preaching, which
began in 1805, resembles fundamentalist Christianity. He urges
his followers to give up strong liquor (as he himself did
instantly), to stop beating their wives, to cease intertribal
warfare, to renounce crimes of theft.
But there is something more, which suggests that the Prophet is
in the mainstream of a mystical movement going back to the
Delaware prophet who, in 1762, laid the basis for Pontiac's
confederacy. The same movement will go forward to future prophets
including the most influential of all, Wovoka of the Paiutes, who
in the late eighties will spread the ritual of the Ghost Dance
across the nation.
These native messiahs invariably appear during the death
struggles of a threatened culture; their authority is
supernatural, their message nostalgic: their people are to return
to the old customs and rid themselves of the white man's ways.
Tenskwatawa, the Open Door, preaches that his followers must
revert to the clothing, the implements, the weapons, the foods
that were in use before the Europeans reached North America.
Implicit in this philosophy is a rejection of the white man.
Harrison has been told, specifically, by two Indian messengers
that the Prophet preaches that "the Great Spirit will in a few
years destroy every white man in America."
Tecumseh has been fighting white Americans since 1783; how much
has he contributed to the Prophet's thoughts? Harrison cannot
know, but it is clear to him that at some time in the first
decade of the century the two brothers, who like, respect, and
listen to one another, have come together in their thinking. The
Prophet's followers become Tecumseh's followers; onto the
Prophet's religion is grafted the politics of the older brother.
It is a dangerous combination; Harrison cannot suffer it much
longer, especially with the Indians leaning toward the British.
The time is ripe for a preventive war.......
End Quote ("The Invasion of Canada - 1812-1813" pp.53-63)
We shall next pick up the story back in the war and as the
"Canada - A People's History" heads it: "Tecumseh's Last Stand"
That's for next time!