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Tecumseh: 1791-1813

When the army of General St Clair is destroyed on the Maumee river in 1791, one of the young Indian warriors in the engagement is a Shawnee by the name of Tecumseh. Four years later, in the treaty negotiations at Fort Greenville, he is outraged that the elders of his tribe, along with all the others, cede their ancestral hunting grounds to the Americans.

It becomes his life's work to resist the transfer of land, a concept which he claims to be incompatible with the Indian tradition of shared hunting rights. 'Sell a country!', Tecumseh exclaims in his speeches. 'Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the great sea? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?'


The concession at Fort Greenville is only one in a continuing series. Between 1802 and the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809 the governor of the territory of Indiana, William Henry Harrison, uses judicious bribery to relieve Indian chiefs of a further 33 million acres of land north of the Ohio - providing ever more fuel for Tecumseh's passionate oratory as he travels among the Indian tribes preaching the need for resistance.

He is helped in this by the charisma of his younger brother Tenskwatawa, a reformed alcoholic whose evangelical talents earn him the name 'the Prophet' and whose rejection of firewater (one of the standard weapons of the white man in negotiating with the Indians) underlines the message that Indians must remain true to their own traditions. In 1808 Tecumseh and his brother together establish a base in Indiana, calling it Prophetstown.


Tecumseh is in the south in 1811, preaching his pan-Indian theme to the Creek Indians, when his brother unwisely attacks a military expedition led into Indian territory by Harrison. The Indians are defeated on the Tippecanoe river near Prophetstown, their wigwam and log-hut capital.

Tecumseh returns from the south to find Prophetstown burnt and deserted, but he continues with his crusade. In the following year, 1812, circumstances at last seem to help him. War breaks out between Britain and the United States. The deceptive promise of British help becomes a reality.


During 1812 Tecumseh fights in several successful engagements alongside British forces in the region of the Great Lakes, but he is killed in 1813 in a battle against General Harrison on the Thames river east of Detroit. Five months later, far to the south in March 1814, Creek Indians carry into battle the red-painted sticks which proclaim their allegiance to Tecumseh and his cause. They are heavily defeated by Andrew Jackson at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa river. As in the Northwest Territory, millions of Creek acres pass into American hands.

Such achievements greatly please American voters. Both Jackson and Harrison are future presidents of the USA.


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