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100 Years Ago

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Born amongst the Shawnee in the late 1700s to a war chief who died at the Battle of Point Pleasant, were two brothers, Tecumseh and the Prophet; destined to become ‘heroes’ to the Indians and ‘villains’ to the white settlers along with the American government.

One of the brothers, Lalawethika (‘The Rattle,’ not a complimentary name), a drunk, had a vision in 1805 from the Great Spirit to spread his message among the Indians. After awakening from a long trance while at the Shawnee camp in Wapakoneta, he became a changed character, traveling to different tribes with a message that called for total rejection of white culture and all that it embraced. He preached a return to the Indians’ primitive ways and changed his name to Tenskwatawa (The Open Door).

Giving his message credence, in 1806, Tenskwatawa predicted a solar eclipse that actually occurred. By now, he had earned the name of "Prophet" to honor his uncanny powers. The Indians hailed him, while many whites believed he had consulted a British almanac.  The Prophet’s message proclaimed ‘that since the signing of the Greene Ville Treaty in 1795 almost 50 million more acres of land have been lost to Indian ownership. The white man was evil and tribal unity was necessary to stop his advancement.’ His preachings coincided with the beliefs of his famous brother who came closer to the dream of implementing an Indian confederacy that any other leader. His name was Tecumseh.

In 1808, the brothers set up camp at the old Miami village of Tippecanoe in Western Indiana. The Prophet’s message was spreading throughout the region, and many warriors traveled to Tippecanoe; which soon became known as Prophet’s Town. His compelling discourse echoed in the ears of those who would stop the white man. "Lift up your hatchets; raise your knives; sight your rifles! Have no fears - your lives are charmed! Stand up to the foe; he is a weakling and coward! Fall upon him! Leave him to the wolves and the buzzards!"

The young Tecumseh, embittered by the loss of his father, was always an opponent of the ‘invaders.’ He held that no tribe could barter away its territory, since the Ohio Valley was a common heritage of all. He had led Shawnee warriors during Little Turtle’s War and was no stranger to warfare. Tecumseh traveled as far south as Florida seeking commitments from the eastern tribes for a new confederacy. With his new alliance becoming a reality, events in Indiana caused him to begin the trek back to that territory.

The territorial governor, William Henry Harrison (destined to become a U.S. president in 1840) took advantage of Tecumseh’s absence and attacked Prophet’s Town with 1,000 men. Earlier trouble between the whites and tribes had prompted the attack. The Prophet, who was in charge of the town while Tecumseh was away, announced that his sacred power would make the warriors immune from harm and ordered a counterattack. Believing they were safe from injury, the Indians charged their bitter enemy, killing 50 militiamen but suffering losses themselves. The Prophet’s message was flawed, the white man’s bullets could not be stopped and Indian deaths occurred.

The visionary’s dream died that day, and so did Prophet’s Town, burned to the ground by Harrison after the Shawnee, Miami and Delaware deserted it. Tecumseh declared war on the region’s settlers and in 1811 continued to lead a coalition of warriors in attacks and skirmishes against their settlements.

The years leading up to 1812 were filled with anger and resentment toward the English and French who, because of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, had imposed economic sanctions on neutral countries; restrictions that particularly hurt the United States. American ships were stopped and boarded on the high seas on the pretext of looking for English deserters. Many American citizens were kidnapped and impressed into the British forces. In addition, the British in Canada were supplying Tecumseh and his tribal coalition with guns and ammunition. The settlers in the Ohio Valley and Mississippi Valleys were particularly vocal about their resentment toward the English, and advocated war with the intentions of driving the British out of Canada.

'Indian' segment written in December, 1997 by David Lodge


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