Prophet Dies at Battle of the
Thames by Jeff Provine
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new nation of the United States spread across North America, their
frontiersmen encroached on lands that had belonged to the Native Americans
for centuries. While Native Americans were quick to adapt to muskets and
rifles, the whites carried a distinguishable technological edge.
Smallpox had devastated the Native population, killing as much as
ninety percent. The remaining Native Americans, outgunned but not
outmatched, often formed confederations such as those of the Iroquois and
Cherokee for mutual defense as they had in their own wars.
In the Northwest, Tecumseh (translated as "shooting star" or "panther
across the sky) arose as a leader to create a grand confederation west of
Ohio. His father had died at the Battle of Point Pleasant in Dunmore's War
between Virginia Militia and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes. Tecumseh
himself fought routinely against the growing threat of Kentucky militiamen
until finally settling in Ohio with his brother, Tenskwatawa, who would
become known as the Prophet. An outbreak of smallpox in 1805 would cause a
spiritual revival, and Tenskwatawa would be transformed. He had been a
slave to alcoholism, but visions from the Giver of Life caused him to give
up drink and preach to others to give up all artificial things of the
With the Prophet as the voice and Tecumseh as the leader, the two began a
movement that gathered followers in a return to the peaceful times before
the chaos of the whites, said by the Prophet to be children of the Great
Serpent. They moved westward into the frontier and away from the menace to
what became known as Prophetstown, a village at the confluence of the
Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. While treaties with the white men,
specifically Governor of Indiana William Henry Harrison, kept clear which
lands were open to settlement and which were Native American, the
encroachment continued, causing Tecumseh to speak out. All lands were
owned by all Native Americans, and so none could be sold without the
agreement of all. He threatened rival leaders and rose to prominence as
head of a vast confederation in the Northwest. Traveling south, he tried
to bring more tribes into his alliance, but the Five Civilized Tribes
notoriously turned him down, with the exception of the Red Sticks of the
"So in this story the Shawnee stayed where they
were? Nice idea, but with the whites pouring in mob-handed, no Indian was
safe east of the Mississippi. Ask the Cherokee sometime. " - reader's
commentsTecumseh and Harrison met on a number of occasions, but
their discussions only led to rising tensions and then Tecumseh's War. In
reality, Tecumseh's brother had started the war while Tecumseh was on his
travels, calling for the death of Harrison and the whites to be driven
back east. Harrison led an army to Prophetstown and destroyed the
settlement in 1811. While this was a serious blow, Tecumseh returned and
rebuilt his confederation, finding new allies in the British as America
began the War of 1812.
Taking up with British Major General Henry Procter, Tecumseh and his
warriors moved into Ontario, giving defense to Canada as Tecumseh's
nemesis General Harrison marched toward Fort Detroit. The British defense
of Lake Erie fell, and Procter began a speedy withdrawal. Tecumseh tried
to stop the general, noting the defenseless tribes beyond in Michigan. The
troops were poorly geared and in bleak morale, and Harrison took up
pursuit, finally catching them at the Thames River.
Tecumseh warmed the men by personally shaking hands with every officer and
cheering the troops, both British and his own. Procter, however, neglected
proper defense, and the battle would prove to be a foregone rout.
Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa made to flee, but Tecumseh stopped him with
a hand on the shoulder, saying that the Prophet was needed. While the
British retreated, the Native Americans fought on until, keeping nervously
close to Tecumseh, the Prophet was killed by a round aimed at his brother.
Seeing the death of the Prophet, Tecumseh gave the call to retreat. The
battle ended with an American victory, which they celebrated by burning
the nearby village of Moraviantown, populated by the Munsee tribe of
Christian Native Americans who had no part of the conflict. With
enlistments about to expire, Harrison fell back to Detroit, ending much of
the warfare in Michigan.
Tecumseh spent a month alone mourning his brother until he emerged from
the woods saying that he, too, had been given a vision by the Giver of
Life. The Prophet had perished, but he lived on in the next world and
would continue to give his words of freedom from the white man's grasp.
Tactically, the battle was a defeat for the Native Americans and their
British allies, but it would be a strategic victory as word spread of the
Prophet's death. Coupled with fear inspired by the attack on Moraviantown,
Tecumseh's confederation grew to include nearly all of the Native
Americans of the Northwest.
As the war turned against the Americans with British sea-raids and the
solid defense of Canada, the southern natives joined in the attack.
General Andrew Jackson became famous as a fighter of Creeks, which stalled
his march toward New Orleans. When the War of 1812 ended with the British,
Tecumseh and Harrison met to discuss what both hoped would be a
long-lasting treaty between the US and the Indian Confederacy. Borders
were drawn, and Tecumseh led his people in a unified defense on the
western frontier of the white man's America. Native warriors were trained
as militia, and white tactics were studied.
The peace continued for over a decade with border squabbles settled by
reparations. When Jackson ascended the presidency, however, the burgeoning
white pressure to settle erupted into the Great Indian War. Guerilla
warfare would drag on for years, solidifying hatred between the two races,
but the eventual upper hand would go to the Americans. Tribes would be
pushed to the northwest, causing an evacuation of the South known as the
Trail of Tears. With final mediation by the British, a new country later
to be called Tecumseh was founded west of the Great Lakes, serving to
settle President Polk's border question.
Shortly after the treaty, Tecumseh began the exodus to where his bones
would be buried, and the country would settle and prosper. Using British
and American political powers to balance one another, the Native Americans
would keep pressure up to prevent the encroachment of settlers that had
always plagued them. As the Industrial Revolution crept westward, they
would become a wealthy land of mines, foundries, and factories in addition
to farms, dairies, and orchards. Periodic struggles in the latter
nineteenth century would threaten them with extinction, but well regulated
militias kept the borders sound.
In the twentieth century, a sort of friendship would start up between
Tecumseh and their white neighbors as Americans became fascinated with
Native goods, particularly their automobiles. In World War II, Tecumseh
would prove a strong ally, producing munitions for the American war
effort. After the war, Native industry would begin to decline as cheaper
employment could be found internationally. The economic slide spurred
renewed internal struggles and interest in the Old Ways, many of which
became mirrored with communism. The Cold War brought distrust of Red
Tecumseh, which became a land struggling with poverty under the growing
political influence of the United States. Many Native Americans have even
called for annexation, but they remain a minority.
says in reality Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames. The
Prophet had fled, but he would never regain a position in leadership. He
went on to assist the United States with the removal of the Shawnee,
settling them at a village that would later become Kansas City, Kansas,
where he would die in 1836.
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Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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