CANADA/USA HISTORY YOU WERE PROBABLY NEVER TAUGHT #9
TECUMSEH'S LAST STAND
Continuing with "Canada - A People's History" a 30 hour
documentary film by the CBC of Canada.
Tecumseh is recruiting warriors as far as 1,000 miles away, when
General Brock falls at Queenston Heights. By now the Shawnee
chief is known by every tribe from the Canadian border to the
Gulf of Mexico. The war has given him an opportunity to realize a
vision - a unified and independent confederacy, powerful enough
to resist American expansion - a nation within a nation. He
"The whites have driven us from the sea to the lake, can't go no
further. Unless every tribe unanimously bind to give a check to
the ambitions of the whites, they will soon conquer us apart and
disunited we will be driven from our native country, and
scattered as autumn leaves before the wind."
To American leaders intent on expanding settlements, Tecumseh is
a dangerous man. Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison both
fears and admires him. He writes:
"The implicit obedience and respect which followers of Tecumseh
pay to him, bespeaks him one of those uncommon geniuses which
spring up occasionally to produce revolutions."
Tecumseh has emerged as one of the most powerful leaders on the
continent. As the war enters its second year, he has demonstrated
his courage and skill in half a dozen battles. But in September
of 1813 he can only listen to a far away battle and wait.
Out on Lake Erie the sound of ships carries for 30 miles. The
American and British fleets are in the midst of a battle that
will change the course of the war. An Englishman had once sneered
the American navvy as nothing but a few frigates, manned by
bastards and outlaws. But today they would be good enough. When
it is over the Americans have command of all Lake Erie.
Tecumseh knows what will come next. His old enemy William Henry
Harrison is waiting with an invasion force of 5,000 men. Tecumseh
looks forward to the fight. But his allies have other ideas, now
that they have lost the control of the Lake, the British fear
they can be cut off and trapped on the Detroit frontier, so they
choose to retreat. Fort Detroit, which Tecumseh and Brock had
captured a year earlier is abandoned. In a rage Tecumseh
confronts the British General Henry Proctor and accuses him of
cowardness. He says:
"We must compare out father's conduct to that of a fat dog, who
carries his tail on his back, but when frightened, drops it
between his legs and runs off. We wish to remain here and fight
our enemy. You have got the arms and ammunition, if you intend to
retreat, give them to us and you may go. Our lives are in hands
of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and
if it be his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them."
Proctor is unmoved. The British will pull back up the Themes
river, all the way to York if necessary.
It is an agonizingly slow retreat. For a week Harrison's army
chases them down, gaining every day. When finally General Proctor
turns to make a stand, the red-coats and Tecumseh's warriors are
exhausted and disheartened. Most have not eaten in more than two
days. They have only a single cannon and not much ammunition, and
they are out-numbered 2 to 1.
The Americans mount a cavalry charge, for the red-coats and
private Shadrack Bifield, a vet of Detroit and Queenston Heights,
the battle is over in less than ten minutes. He writes:
"After exchanging a few shots our men gave way, one of our
Sergeants exclaimed, 'For God's sake men stand and fight.' I
stood by him, and fired one shot, but the line was broken, and we
were retreating, then made I my escape into the woods."
General Proctor fled for safety as soon as the fighting started,
leaving his men to be captured or killed.
On the right flank Tecumseh and a few hundred warriors now
hopelessly out-numbered fight on for another hour.
Then the sound of Tecumseh's voice, which all had heard urging on
the fight, is gone.
It is not certain who killed Tecumseh or what happened to his
body. What is certain is that wherever he lies there is nothing
to mark the place.
One warrior said: "The great warrior was broken, it was my last
fight. My heart was very big then, Tecumseh filled it. It has
been empty ever since."
Tecumseh's army had been broken. Never again was the military
service of the Indians to gain importance in Colonial affairs.
Tecumseh's dream of a Pan-Indian Confederacy dies with him.
The Americans have control of Upper Canada!
To be continued