In 1805, Penagashega, or "The Change of Feathers," the prophet of the Shawanese tribe was gathered to his fathers. As soon as the news of the great prophet's death reached a certain Shawanese Indian by the name of Laulewasickaw, the latter rolled his eyes piously towards heaven and fell on his face. How long he remained in this position we know not, but when he arose his actions were singular in the extreme. He shunned his former companions, bearing an important and mysterious air, the very personification of solemnity. He proceeded to engage in long and severe fasts. He resorted to hollow trees and desolate caverns, and there kept up protracted vigils.
At last, tired of this sort of thing or having continued it long enough to suit his purpose, he returned to his village, and with mock humility and a dramatic display of great piety, announced that the spirit of prophecy had entered into him, and that he would no longer be known as Penagashega, but as Tenshacutawan. This startling announcement certainly so overwhelms the reader with astonishment and admiration, that we at once hurry to satisfy the curiosity thus aroused by an explanation of the causes and meaning of this move on the part of our friend, whom we will henceforth know simply as "The Prophet."
According to his own story, the Prophet was descended from a great Creek warrior, his grandfather. On a certain occasion, this esteemed ancestor, then a young and handsome man, had left the village of his tribe, and gone with the leading men to the city of Charleston to hold a council with the English governor.
At some of the interviews which took place, the governor's daughter, a young lady of great beauty and spirit, contrived to be present. She had conceived a violent admiration for the Indian character, and had determined to bestow herself upon some lord of the forest. She took occasion one evening to inform her father of her wish, and begged him to select for her a suitable husband from the noble array of chiefs then in Charleston. Ridicule, argument, entreaties, and tears were of no avail to shake the resolute girl in her purpose.
On the following morning, the governor, pale from loss of sleep, inquired of the Indians which of their number was the most expert hunter. Of course the entire company pointed out the modest young warrior who was destined to become the grandfather of the Prophet, and to hand down to his descendant that characteristic modesty which was so conspicuously absent from the latter. After further interviews with his daughter, the governor announced to the council of Creeks that his daughter was disposed to marry one of their number. Significantly pointing toward the illustrious individual of whom we have spoken, he announced that his own consent was already given.
The chiefs were naturally incredulous. Their doubts, however, were dispelled by the earnestness of the governor and the evident anxiety of the young lady. Satisfied on this point, the Creeks at once began to labor with the young chief. Their arguments, re-enforced by his native gallantry, soon won the day, and proceeded to give the young lady a hearty embrace, to which she seemed perfectly agreeable. He was immediately conducted to another apartment, where he was disrobed of the Indian costume by a train of black servants and clad in a new suit. The marriage ceremony was at once performed.
The Creeks returned to their homes, but the young warrior remained in Charleston with his wife. In time there were born to him two daughters and a son. At the birth of the latter, the old governor caused a round of thirty guns to be fired. At the age of eight years, the boy's father died, and he was taken charge of by the governor. The Creeks frequently visited him, and he in turn from time to time was permitted to make long stays among the people of his father. Gradually, he adopted their dress, customs, and language. There came a time when he refused to return to the whites, and ever afterward lived among the Indians. "This," says the Prophet, "was my father."
However truly our friend the Prophet foretold the future, it is certain that he lied about the past. His father and mother were, in all probability, of the purest Shawanese blood. This tribe was the most restless of all the American Indians. Tradition says that they are the descendants of the famous Eries. At different times we find them living on the Susquehanna River; at the Suwanee River in Florida, giving their name to it; on the Cumberland, in Kentucky; in the Wyoming valley, in Pennsylvania, and on the Wabash in Indiana. The Prophet's family removed from Florida to the north side of the Ohio River about the middle of the eighteenth century.
The Prophet was the youngest of six sons. He passed his boyhood like any other young Indian, in the wigwams and hunting-grounds of his people. He was more distinguished for intrigue and craft than for skill as a hunter or bravery as a warrior. He was a great braggart, telling no end of yarns of his great achievements. Possessing a shrewd insight into character, and never missing an opportunity to impress upon his people his vast importance and ability, he, in spite of his laziness and natural cowardice, managed to maintain a fairly creditable position in his tribe. But for his older brother, or as some will have it his twin, known everywhere as TECUMSEH, or The Shooting Star, he would probably remained in obscurity.
Tecumseh was born about 1768, after his parents had removed to Ohio. His father's death occurring when he was but six years old, he was placed under the charge of his eldest brother, Cheeseekau. The latter was a brave man, of noble character. His chief occupation and care was the proper training of the young Tecumseh, who was early recognized as the hope of the family. It was Cheeseekau who taught the fatherless boy to hunt, who led him to battle, who instructed him in all the athletic exercises, and who, by constant and zealous labor, imbued his mind with a love for truth, a ready generosity, a manly courage in battle, and a dignified fortitude in suffering. It was Cheeseekau who taught him, while but a boy, to use the bow and arrow with a skill which far exceeded that possessed by any other Indian boy of the tribe. It was this same elder brother who had drilled him in the art of eloquence, and who wrought into his mine the idea which afterwards became the inspiration of the great chieftain -- the idea of the salvation of his people from the white men.
There were other children of this interesting family. Of these we have time to mention only Tecumseh's sister, Tecumapease. She was sensible, kind-hearted, and intelligent. Between her and her brother there existed the warmest affection. She was always his favorite. The first fruits of the chase belonged to Tecumapease. The choicest presents of the white man to Tecumseh became trophies for his sister.
Educated by the care of his elder brother, and cherished by the affection of a noble sister, Tecumseh grew to manhood. His ruling passion, even in his early years, is said to have been war. Among his companions he was easily the leader. Mimic combats and sham battles were his favorite sports. While his brother, the Prophet, remained at home engaged in idle and disreputable intrigues, Tecumseh followed the hunters in their chase and the war-parties on their way to battle.
As may be imagined, the Indian warfare which raged during all his earlier years made a profound impression on his mind. In childhood he sat around the camp-fires, and with earnest look and fascinated attention heard the stories of the Indian conflicts of the Revolutionary War. The battle of Point Pleasant, the murder of Cornstalk, the siege of Wheeling, the innumerable combats which took place around the block-houses of Kentucky, and along the course of the Ohio, the genius of Brant, the massacre of the Moravian Indians, the terrible defeat of Crawford -- these were the things which formed the subjects of excited discussions around the camp-fires, where were faithfully reported, with vivid description and animated gesture, the details of every combat. These were the things upon which the youthful imagination of Tecumseh was nourished.
In his lonely chase he revolved in his mind the things which he had heard. With clenched fist and determined countenance, he brooded over the wrongs of the white man to his people. There came to him, too, stories of the great Pontiac and his wonderful conspiracy -- the plan a ruin, and its creator an outcast before Tecumseh had drawn the breath of life.
The years passed by, and the terrible warfare with the white man raged without abatement. In this, as a matter of course, Tecumseh took a part. He is said to have fled in fright during the first battle at which he was present. The same story is related of Frederick the Great. Certain it is that Tecumseh never again was guilty of any such weakness. At another time he participated in an attack on a boat descending the Ohio River. After the battle a captive was burned to death. Tecumseh had never seen any thing of the kind before. He broke forth into a storm of denunciation at the fiendish practice. From that time forth no prisoners were burned by any war party of which Tecumseh was a member.
When he was nineteen years of age Tecumseh and Cheeseekau took a long journey to the south. This the elder brother believed would tend to enlarge the understanding of his pupil, and enrich his expanding mind with general ideas. Their travels reached as far as the Creek country. There they found the Cherokees engaged in a war with the whites.
The two brothers from the hunting grounds of the north at once enlisted in the struggle. In an attack on a certain fort Cheeseekau led the charge. Just before the attack he told his followers that in the conflict he would be shot in the forehead and killed. The thing turned out as he had prophesied. He fell, pierced by a bullet midway between the eyes. As he sank, mortally wounded, upon the battle-field, he exclaimed with his expiring breath, "Happy am I to thus fall in battle, and not die in a wigwam like am old squaw." The Indians, panic-stricken at the fall of their leader, as well as at the fulfillment of the prophecy, fled in all directions.
Tecumseh seems to have suddenly become a man. The death of his brother threw him at once on his own resources. The band of warriors who had followed Cheeseekau all the way from the north, chose Tecumseh as their leader. To show himself worthy of this honor Tecumseh took ten men and went to the nearest white settlement, attacked and killed all the men, and took the women and children prisoners. He remained two years in the south, learning many languages, and becoming acquainted with many chiefs. During most of this time he was engaged in the warfare with the white man. No expedition or foray was thought complete without Tecumseh. His military genius won him great renown. One night Tecumseh, with a dozen warriors, was encamped on the Alabama River. All of the men had lain down for the night except Tecumseh, who was dressing some meat by the fire. At that moment the camp was attacked by thirty white men. With a shrill cry Tecumseh roused every warrior to his feet. Their leader at their head, the Indians rushed furiously toward a certain point in the circle formed by their foes. Two white men were killed outright, and the others, giving way before the impetuous charge, suffered Tecumseh and his band to break through, and make their way to their boats.
At the end of two years the young Tecumseh, now renowned for his martial feats, returned to his own people. He arrived in time to take part in the defeat of General St. Clair. In the war during 1794, when General Wayne led his triumphant expedition into the heart of the Indian country, Tecumseh became quite prominent for a young chief. He joined an Indian attack on Fort Recovery. Ninety riflemen and fifty dragoons, having just escorted a supply train to the fort, were returning to the main army. Upon these the Indians precipitated themselves with great fury. Numbers of the white men were killed, and the rest fled toward the fort, and many succeeded in reaching it. The Indians then attacked the fort, but after two days withdrew without having effected their object.
Tecumseh was also present at the battle of Fallen Timbers, a name which it took from the fact that the battle-field was covered with fallen forest trees, wrecked by some tornado. All the world knows that in this battle Mad Anthony Wayne crushed the Indian powers of the Ohio valley. One incident shows that Tecumseh was still young. In the excitement of the fray he rammed a bullet into his gun without first inserting a charge of powder, thus losing the use of the weapon. Driven to the rear by the advancing enemy, he obtained a fowling-piece, which he used with considerable effect. As the Indians began to fly he exerted all his influence and every effort to rally them, and twice succeeded in making a stand with a handful of Shawanese. At last he, with the others, was compelled to retreat.
Tecumseh did not attend the peace council at Greenville. He remained at home in his wigwam, sullen and angry. In the following year he gathered about him a band of followers, calling himself its chief. This new tribe was migratory, like all the Shawanese. One crop of corn was raised on the shores of the great Miami, another was raised near the Whitewater River. In 1798, the Delawares, residing on White River, in Indiana, invited Tecumseh and his tribe to come and dwell with them. This invitation was accepted, and for several years Tecumseh kept his head-quarters at that place.
Numberless incidents are related of Tecumseh about this time. He was a great hunter, partly as a matter of sport, and partly because it enabled him to give the highly prized venison to the sick and poor of his tribe. One day a crowd of young Shawanese wagered him that each of them could kill as many deer in a three days' hunt as he. Tecumseh quietly accepted the challenge, and the hunters made their preparations that evening for a start before daylight. The three days ran by, and the crowd of boasters once more assembled around the camp-fire of their village. The largest number of deer-skins brought in by any one brave was twelve. Tecumseh brought with him thirty.
In 1803, Captain Herrod, who lived sixteen miles north-west of Chillicothe, while felling a tree in the forest, was shot by an unknown foe. Herrod was greatly beloved, and the whole valley of the Scioto was thrown into a panic. Bands of white men, suspecting the murder to have been the work of an Indian, organized for revenge. Wawillaway, an old Shawanese chief, and a great friend of the whites, was returning from one of the settlements where he had been trading his skins. At a spot in the forest, near the cabin of a hunter named Wolf, Wawillaway, a brave and intelligent Indian, and much respected by the whites, was confronted by Wolf and his hired man. The Indian shook hands with the men cordially, and was greeted in the same manner. The trio smoked the peace pipe, and violence on either side seemed not to be thought of. After a while Wolf proposed that they trade guns. While examining the Indian's weapon, the white man secretly removed the priming and then handed it back, saying he would not trade. Wolf's manner then changed, and he asked Wawillaway if the Indians had begun war. "No, no," said the chief, "the Indians and white men are now all brothers." The conversation then turned on the murder of Herrod, of which Wawillaway had not heard. Wolf charged that it was the work of the Indians. The chief replied that he might have been killed by some white enemy. He then shook hands, and turned to go, when Wolf fired from behind, inflicting a mortal wound. The brave Shawanese turned upon his assailants, killed one, and wounded the other. Exhausted by his efforts, and mortally wounded, he fell dead.
This occurrence operated to inflame the whole country, and a frontier war seemed imminent. A company of prominent citizens, in the hope of quieting matters, rode to Greenville, Ohio, in the Indian country, where they found Tecumseh with a large body of Indians. A council was held, and the whites candidly related all the circumstances connected with the murder of Wawillaway. After some hesitation, the Indians accepted the explanation, and declared their intention of abiding by the treaty of Greenville. This, however, was not enough. Tecumseh agreed to go to Chillicothe and exert his influence in behalf of peace. In the council held at that place Tecumseh fulfilled his promise in a speech of great power and eloquence, which effectually quieted the disturbance.
One incident connected with the murder of Wawillaway deserves mention. His two sons vowed vengeance upon Wolf. The latter fled to Kentucky, and employed an agent to negotiate with his enemies. After much debate and delay, the two Indians agreed, for the consideration of a horse and a new saddle, bridle, and gun apiece, to bury the hatchet. On an appointed day, the settlers from far and near came together to witness the fulfillment of this contract. In the midst of a hollow square stood Wolf, with his horses and their trappings. Opposite him stood the two young Indians. The latter lifted their hands toward heaven, calling on the Great Spirit to avenge the wrong which they had suffered, and at the same time to witness the sincerity of their forgiveness of their father's murderer. They took Wolf by the hand, and the three sat down together to smoke the calumet of peace. The two parties to this singular contract were good friends ever afterward.
It is to another class of events, however, that we must look to get glimpses of the motives and ideas of Tecumseh's interior life at this time. The early tendency of his mind to dwell upon the wrongs of the white man against his race expressed itself in a long study of the problem as to how the ruin of the red man and his extinction might be averted. Tecumseh did not talk much. He kept himself in the background. While the records of these years abound with the names of Blue Jacket, The Owl, and Turkey Foot, that of Tecumseh is not mentioned. There is evidence to show that his mind was actively employed on the great subject which we have mentioned.
Things were constantly occurring to give him food for thought. The Indian wars were over, but the outrages and wrongs continued. In 1801 William Henry Harrison was appointed governor of that portion of the North-west Territory known as Indiana. At the very first talk which the new governor had with his Indian constituency, the latter had no less than six murders by white men to complain of, the murderers having gone "unwhipt of justice." One of the cases bore heavily upon the minds of the Indians. Two warriors, a squaw, and some children had been hunting on Blue River, when their camp was discovered by three white men, who approached as friends, and were hospitably entertained. At an opportune moment the villainous visitors had murdered the whole party of Indians, made off with their property, and boasted of their feat in the white settlements without fear of punishment.
The able and interesting communications of Governor Harrison are full of details as to the irritation between the whites and the Indians. Besides these open outrages, the poor Indians suffered in many ways. Six thousand gallons of whisky were sold each year to the Indians upon the Wabash, who scarcely numbered six hundred warriors. "Every horror is produced," says Governor Harrison, "among these unhappy people by their intercourse with the whites. This is so certain that I can at once tell, upon looking at an Indian whom I chance to meet, whether he belongs to a neighboring or more distant tribe, the latter is generally well clothed, healthy, and vigorous, the former half naked, filthy, and enfeebled by intoxication; and many of them without arms, excepting a knife, which they carry for the most villainous purposes."
Among the many murders committed was one at a tavern, where a white man and an Indian, who were drinking together, got into a quarrel. Another white man took the Indian away to a distant house to keep him till he sobered off. The man with whom he had quarreled procured a cudgel, proceeded to the house, forced open the door of the room where the Indian lay, and beat him to death with a club. The murderer was arrested, tried, made no attempt at defense, and yet the jury of white men, although the facts of the murder were proved without contradiction or question, brought in a verdict in five minutes of "not guilty," simply on the ground that the victim was an Indian.
It is not to be forgotten that agents of the British Government continually circulated among the Indians, promising help from England in case they would make war upon the whites. This was also an important factor in the problem which was being worked out by Tecumseh. From childhood he had been taught to regard the great Pontiac as the foremost of all the Indian leaders of the past, and he did not fail to see that as Pontiac's scheme hinged upon the assistance of France, so his own plans might be confidently formed with regard to help from England.
The assumption of prophetic powers by Tecumseh's brother, the Prophet, in 1805, was in some way intimately connected with Tecumseh's plans. The chief, assisted by the smaller cunning of his brother, and thoroughly understanding the Indian character, saw that for the purpose of laying hold of the hearts and minds of the Indians; of uniting scattered and broken tribes in the execution of a single great enterprise; of the revival of the spirit of his people, among whom the effects of Wayne's victory in the battle of Fallen Timbers were still painfully manifest, and of the rallying of a wide and enthusiastic following, the Indians could be approached in no way so successfully as through their superstitions. Speaking strictly, Tecumseh's brother was an Indian Mohammed.
So the Prophet changed his name. He preached that he was the Anointed of the Great Spirit to reform the manners of the red men. All the innovations in dress and habits which they had learned from the white men must be abandoned. Calling together a large assembly in northern Ohio of Indians from many tribes, he, in the presence of this company, made an official announcement of his doctrines. He denounced witchcraft and drunkenness. He said that he had been carried up into the clouds, and had been shown the dwelling-place of the devil. Here he had seen the multitudes of those who had died drunkards in their eternal home. From the mouth of every one of them proceeded flames of fire.
When he was questioned as to whether he was not a drunkard himself, he admitted the truth, but said that the fright from his vision prevented him from drinking any more. He attacked the practice of Indian women marrying white men, and also the growing tendency toward individual property. He proclaimed celestial rewards for all who would become his followers, and boldly laid claim to the power of foretelling future events, curing sickness, preventing death on the battle-field, and working all sorts of miracles.
The Prophet was a first-rate orator, though wanting in the courage and truthfulness of his brother. President Jefferson wrote of him as follows:
"The Wabash Prophet is more rogue than fool, if to be a rogue is not the greatest of all follies. He rose to notice while I was in the administration, and became of course a proper subject for me. The inquiry was made with diligence. His declared object was the reformation of his red brethren and their return to their pristine manners of living. He pretended to be in constant communication with the Great Spirit; that he was instructed by him to make known to the Indians that they were created by him, distinct from the whites, of different natures, for different purposes, and placed under different circumstances adapted to their nature and destinies; that they must return from all the ways of the whites to the habits and opinions of their forefathers; they must not eat the flesh of hogs, of bullocks, of sheep, etc., the deer and buffalo having been created for their food. They must not bake bread of wheat, but of Indian corn; they must not wear linen nor woolen, but must dress like their fathers, in the skins and furs of animals; they must not drink ardent spirits, and I do not remember whether he extended his inhibitions to the gun and gunpowder in favor of the bow and arrow.
"I concluded from all this that he was a visionary, enveloped in their antiquities, and vainly endeavoring to lead back his brethren to the fancied beatitudes of their golden age. I thought there was little danger of his making many proselytes from the habits and comforts they had learned from the whites to the hardships and privations of savagism, and no great harm if he did. But his followers increased until the British thought him worth corrupting, and found him corruptible. I suppose his views were then changed, but his proceedings in consequence of them were after I left the administration, and are therefore unknown to me; nor have I ever been informed what were the particular acts on his part which produced an actual commencement of hostilities on ours. I have no doubt, however, that the subsequent are but a chapter apart, like that of Henry and Lord Liverpool in the book of the kings of England."
At first the following of the Prophet was small, but superstition is always ready to take up with the new leaders. The bolder the imposition, the more followers it finds. As the stories of the Prophet passed from mouth to mouth, the wonders ascribed to him grew with lightning rapidity. As the tales were borne to the far off shores of Lake Superior, miracles of the most prodigious proportions were related. Still such reports were not confined to distant tribes. The people in the very next wigwam to the Prophet's would affirm with dogged obstinacy, bold faces, and invincible positiveness the details of wonders which the Prophet had wrought, and which they themselves had witnessed. Perhaps an explanation for this may be found in the fact that, hearing others relate stories of the Prophet's miracles, which their credulous minds believed, they, in turn, not wishing to be behind the rest, thought it necessary to bear testimony to wonders themselves. In fact, the nearer they were to the Prophet, and the closer their relations with him, the keener would be their pique if they had no stories to tell. So each of the Prophet's followers strove to surpass the rest in the tales which he could tell of supernatural occurrences.
All this sort of thing, it will be observed, has for its foundation of belief that miracles did occur; in short, in their possibility and reality as a general thing, the only question being as to the particular details. If such a belief in the possibility of the miracles, and in the fact that they really were occurring, had been absent from the Prophet's followers, it is evident that the above explanation would be incorrect. Some other reason would have to be found to account for the existence of the testimony to his miracles. Perhaps it would not be necessary to go farther in such a case than to say that the stories were lies. In the present instance, however, there can be no doubt that the followers of the Prophet believed him to be an actual miracle worker, the only question in their minds, if there was any at all, being as to what particular miracles he had wrought.
It is the invariable course of history for Superstition to go hand in hand with her sisters, Intolerance and Persecution. Such was the case with the Prophet. He instituted a persecution against witchcraft. An old woman was denounced as a witch by him, and she was called upon repeatedly to give up her charm and medicine-bag. She was put to the stake and burned. In her fearful agony, hoping for relief, she screamed out that her grandson had her charm. This accusation, instead of saving her, resulted in the young Indian, who was out hunting, being forthwith pursued and arrested. He confessed that he had borrowed the charm, and by means of it had flown through the air over Kentucky to the banks of the Mississippi, and back again, before bed-time. He insisted, however, that he had returned the charm to his grandmother, and was finally released.
On the following day an old chief named Teteboxti was accused of being a wizard. Knowing that his doom was fixed, the old man arrayed himself in his finest clothes, and confronted the grim circle of inquisitors in the council-house. The trial was speedy. The sentence was passed. The old chief calmly assisted in the construction of his own funeral pile. Touched by his white hairs, the council became merciful. They voted to tomahawk him and burn his body afterwards. This was done. Many others met the same fate.
When Governor Harrison heard of the witchcraft delusion and the far-reaching influence of the Prophet, he was justly alarmed. No one knew better than he the sway of superstition among ignorant minds. He knew that, although the Indians had been quiet for ten years, and could be roused by the call of no ordinary leader, nevertheless deceived by a mask of religion, they might once more plunge the frontiers into bloody was. He wrote them a most earnest letter, urging them to drive out the Prophet, and boldly asserting that the latter was a fraud. He told the Indians that the pretender could work no miracles. "Ask of him to cause the sun to stand still, the moon to alter its course, the rivers to cease to flow, or the dead to rise from their graves."
The Prophet took the governor at his word. He announced that on a certain day he would cause darkness to cover the sun. By some means he had learned that a total eclipse of the sun would occur on a certain day. The reports of the prophecy spread to a thousand villages.
On the appointed day a vast assemblage of Indians from far and near gathered to witness the miracle. They were arranged in a great circle. Painted Ottawas, wild Ojibwas, fierce Dacotahs, ugly Kickapoos, and curious Illinois, as well as numbers from nearer tribes, were there. Over the multitude hung a deathlike silence. The rattling tongues of the squaws were hushed, and the cheeks of the boldest warriors were blanched with unnatural pallor.
An hour before noon the Prophet, dressed with dazzling magnificence, came out of his wigwam, and strode with slow and stately steps toward the center of the circle. A slight buzz of apprehension went through the assembly. A few Indian youths ran from one point to another, carrying messages and perfecting details. At last all was ready. The Prophet rose. Extending his right arm and turning his face towards the heavens, he pronounced an unintelligible incantation. As he proceeded a disc of darkness was observed to be slowly appearing upon the edge of the sun. the eyes of the vast assemblage were turned from the Prophet toward the phenomenon. As the moments progressed the dark spot enlarged. There was a perceptible diminution of light.
An hour went by. The Prophet still continued his diablarie. The landscape, before so sunny, took on somber hues of brown. The air was close and still. It grew darker and darker. The multitude was thrilled with awe. They clung closely to one another. Not a few believed that the end of the world was hand. The deep shadows, the darkened air, the increasing obscurity, which at sunset would have attracted no attention, occurring in the middle of the day, with the sun in high heaven, seemed portentous and awful. The Prophet alone remained calm and unmoved. At the moment of total eclipse, he cried out in a loud voice, "Behold! did I not prophesy truly?"
The reports of this miracle gave a wonderful impulse to the cause of the Prophet. Tecumseh now appeared on the scene. He took care to lend the aid of his powerful name and influence to the Prophet by an ostentatious reverence. The latter returned the compliment by pointing out Tecumseh as the leader chosen by the Great Spirit to save the red man. Thus these two brothers acted well their parts. With Tecumseh to do the heavy tragedy, and the Prophet to shift the scenes and throw on the red lights, the drama proceeded well. The Indians were fired with fanaticism and military enthusiasm.
The whites were alarmed. The ever-increasing throng of savages about Tecumseh and his brother seemed ready to break out into violence. At a council in Ohio, Tecumseh made a three hours' speech. He reviewed all the treaties with the white men, and undertook to prove their nullity. Every appeal which could rouse the passions of his followers and stir their hearts with bitterness and hostility was made. The orator hurled a bold defiance against the enemies of his people. The Indians who were present, excited by his fiery eloquence, were unable to keep their seats.
While Tecumseh's influence was rising at home, the fame of the Prophet was spreading abroad. In a village of the Ojibwas, on Lake Superior, was an unfortunate captive named John Tanner. He afterwards escaped, and related that one day a strange Indian arrived in the village. For days he preserved the most mysterious silence. Then he told them that he was a messenger from the great Shawanese Prophet. On a certain day the Indians assembled in their council-house. In the midst of the room stood an object in form and size something like a prostrate man. Over it was thrown a blanket. The stranger carried four strings of beads, said to be made from the flesh of the Prophet. Each Indian in the assemblage took hold of these beads, and by this act adopted the new religion. They also, though with reluctance, gave up their medicine-bags.
The more fanatical of the Indians went to dwell with the Prophet. In this movement we see a new proof that the laws of society, whether civilized or barbarous, are the same. This great religious uprising among the Indians, and the war which followed it, were parallel to such religious wars as those of Mohammed and of many another leader. Religion, the very genius of which is peace, has more often than any thing else been the cloak of the great soldier.
The Indians, followers of Tecumseh and the Prophet, who had taken up their residence on the banks of the Wabash, at a village called "The Prophet's Town," soon began to mingle warlike exercises with their religious devotions. The great plan to which Tecumseh had devoted all his genius and energies was nothing less than a mighty confederation of the Indian tribes of the continent, who were to unite and drive the white men beyond the Alleghanies.
As the great scheme had taken shape in his mind its form became less and less that of a mere temporary alliance, such as the immortal Pontiac had sought; and more and more that of a "great and permanent confederation, an empire of red men, of which Tecumseh should be the leader and emperor." For four years he traveled incessantly in the propagation of his enterprise. Now he visited the farthest extremities of Lake Superior. At another time he traversed the unknown regions beyond the Mississippi. Again he labored with the Creeks, securing Red Eagle as his most illustrious convert.
The United States Government was alarmed. It was reported in the spring of 1810 that Tecumseh controlled more than sixteen hundred warriors. It was evident that the exposed settlements in Indiana were in danger. Shortly, faithful scouts reported that Tecumseh's following numbered three thousand warriors.
Many messages, threatening on the part of Governor Harrison, deceitful or defiant on the part of Tecumseh, passed back and forth. There were frequent councils. The Indian chief, with forty braves, visited Vincennes to have a talk with Governor Harrison. After much singular dancing and conjuring, Tecumseh began the council. He demanded that the "Seventeen Fires," as he called the United States, give up the lands which they claimed by virtue of treaties with separate tribes. He boldly announced that he intended to go to war unless this was done. To these Governor Harrison replied with definite refusals. Tecumseh became so angry, that the peace talk came near ending in a free fight. An adjournment to the following day operated to quiet matters somewhat.
This council was held on the 12th of August, 1810. It broke up, leaving the Indians irritated and defiant and the white people of Vincennes alarmed and apprehensive. As the year progressed, evidences of Indian hostility became more frequent. Horses were stolen. Here and there murders were committed. The Indians, in the spring of 1811, captured a boat filled with salt. It had been sent up the Wabash for distribution among all the tribes. In the previous year the Prophet had refused to take any salt, sending an insulting message to Governor Harrison. This year he was wiser. He took all the salt, including not only their own, but that which belonged to a dozen other tribes. At a council held afterward, Tecumseh hissed out to General Harrison that he was hard to please, and that he was angry at one time because the Indians took no salt and another year because they did take it.
The good people at Vincennes lived in the shadow of a constant fear. They knew that Tecumseh might, at any time, launch his fleet of light canoes at the Prophet's town and, gliding down on the swift current of the Wabash, suddenly attack Vincennes before a single word of warning could reach and rouse their victims. Meanwhile reports continued to come in of Tecumseh's intrigues among distant tribes.
The last council with Tecumseh was held at Vincennes on the 27th of July, 1811. The chieftain, accompanied by a retinue of one hundred and seventy-five well-armed Indians, took his position on one side of an arbor prepared for the council, while Governor Harrison, with seventy soldiers, occupied a position opposite. Tecumseh's speech when called upon to surrender a number of Indians, who had murdered some whites, was artful and ingenious. He preached a regular sermon to the white men, on the duty of forgiveness of injuries. He also begged that nothing be done with the Indians during his absence, which was about to transpire, on a journey to the South. He assured Harrison that his only object was to prevail on all the tribes to unite in the bonds of peace.
We now know how different was his real mission. Every effort was made by frequent changes of garb, and skillful maneuverings to impress Tecumseh with the military strength of Vincennes. A Pottawatomie, called the Deaf Chief, was present at the council, but unable to hear the proceedings. In the evening he was informed as to what had taken place, and going up to General Harrison, told him that he would have confronted Tecumseh with proofs of his hostility had he understood the latter's pretensions of friendliness.
This incident was related to Tecumseh, who quietly informed his brother that the Deaf Chief must be put out of the way. The latter heard the threat. He calmly repaired to his tent, arrayed himself in the full costume of the warrior, sprang into his canoe, and paddled his solitary way to Tecumseh's camp. Arriving in the presence of the great chief, the Indian reproached him bitterly for the threat of assassination, and dared him to an open combat. To every taunt and insult Tecumseh returned majestic indifference. With a war-whoop of defiance, the Indian again betook himself to his canoe. A little later a sharp crack from a rifle was heard from the bushes along the shore. The boatman might have been seen to fall heavily backwards, and the canoe without a helmsman bearing the corpse of its owner drifted on into the night.
In August, the governor again sent a demand for the surrender of some murderers, to which the Indians replied with the usual insulting refusal. Under strict orders to preserve peace if possible, Governor Harrison resolved to confront the Indians with a strong military force before Tecumseh should return. In order to stop the outrages of which reports were brought in every day, and in compliance with loud demands from the citizens of Vincennes and other settlements, the Governor resolved to erect a fort on the Wabash, and break up the large and dangerous assemblage of hostile Indians at the Prophet's town.
On the 26th of September, 1811, Governor Harrison marched out of Vincennes at the head of nine hundred troops. Six days afterward the army encamped on the eastern bank of the Wabash, at a point two miles above the present bustling city of Terre Haute. Here the men were employed in the construction of a log fort, named by the soldiers Fort Harrison.
Evidence accumulated to show that the host of Indians at the Prophet's town, instead of submitting on the approach of the army, were preparing to risk a battle. This was expressly contrary to Tecumseh's orders. It seems possible that the Prophet, jealous of his brother's sudden fame, was all the more anxious for a battle in the latter's absence. His town, which was the objective point of the invaders, was the center and capitol of the new religious fanaticism. Here the Great Spirit was supposed to dwell. Here were performed the strange and mysterious rites with which the new worship was carried on. Hideous dances, midnight orgies, self-inflicted tortures, and the dark ceremonies of Indian magic occupied the frenzied savages.
To the thousands of converts, who had everywhere adopted the religion of the Prophet, this sacred town was as Jerusalem to the Jews, and Mecca to the Mohammedans. Its fortifications were believed to be impregnable, and here a thousand braves, the flower of a hundred warlike tribes, worked into a frantic frenzy, alike by the fervor of fanaticism, the promptings of patriotism, the fever of hatred, and the undying love of warfare, prepared to give battle to the invading army.
Leaving a small garrison at Fort Harrison, the troops advanced along the south-east bank of the Wabash. After passing Big Raccoon Creek it was determined to cross the Wabash, in order to avoid the woody shores on the south-east side. This was effected at a point near the site of the present town of Montezuma, Parke county, Indiana.
On the 6th of November the army came in sight of the Prophet's town. Small bodies of Indians, armed and painted for battle, could be seen scurrying hither and thither across the country. As the army continued to advance every effort was made to communicate with these savages, and assure them of the peaceful intentions of the whites. While this fact is well authenticated, it must be confessed that an army of a thousand men approaching within a mile of their principal town, and which had already constructed and garrisoned two forts, was not calculated to cause the savages to regard the invaders' intentions as purely peaceful. In fact the thing now wears the appearance of a huge joke. However, toward evening three chiefs, advanced, representing that the Prophet on his part, also, contemplated nothing but peace, and that his heart was overflowing with love for his white brethren. Thus the Indian answered one joke with another. He also asked that the white men refrain from hostilities until the following day, when a peace talk could be had.
The army encamped for the night about three-quarters of a mile from the Prophet's town, on the now famous Tippecanoe Battle Ground, seven miles north-east of the present city of Lafayette. The place was a beautiful spot of timber-land, about ten feet higher than the marshy prairie in front, which stretched away toward the prophet's town, and perhaps twice that height above the prairie in the rear. Here the army encamped.
Meanwhile the Indians were by no means idle. All night long the chiefs sat in council. A dozen different plans for the attack were proposed. At one time it was decided to meet the whites in council on the next day, agree to their proposals, and withdraw, leaving behind two Winnebagoes, who were to rush forward and assassinate the governor. This was to be the signal for battle. Later in the night, which was dark and rainy, the plan was changed. The Prophet, mixing some mysterious hell-broth, pretended to read in it the fact that one-half of Harrison's army was dead, and the other half crazy. Encouraged by this assurance the whole body of warriors, at four o'clock in the morning, began to creep across the miry prairie toward the American camp.
Early it was, General Harrison had risen, and was pulling on his boots before a camp-fire. The drummer was just being roused to wake the men. Suddenly a shot was heard, followed by a loud yell from multitudes of savage throats. The men, who slept in rank with their clothes on and arms in hand, sprang to their feet. A number of Indians made their way into the heart of the camp before they could be arrested. The place was dark except as it was illuminated by the glow of the smoldering camp-fires. The men hurried to put these out as quickly as possible, to prevent the enemy from having so good a mark. They soon rallied from the surprise, and began to fight with great courage.
In the confusion of the moment the large white horse of Governor Harrison could not be found, and the American commander was forced to mount a borrowed plug of a different color. This circumstance no doubt saved his life. One of his aids, who also rode a white horse, fell, pierced by a dozen balls, in the very beginning of the attack. There can be no doubt that he was mistaken for his chief.
Harrison took a most active part in the battle, riding from point to point, rallying and encouraging his men. Not so with the Prophet. Selecting for himself an elevated position, he chanted a wild war-song. Though invisible in the darkness, his shrill and piercing voice could be distinctly heard above the din of the battle in every part of the field. Here, like an evil genius, he presided over the destinies of the battle until his braves, wounded and dying, were being driven back from the point of attack.
The American troops which were encamped around the edge of the spot of woodland, succeeded in keeping the Indians out of the camp until it became sufficiently light for a general charge, which resulted in the complete rout of the Indians. During the battle many instances of heroism occurred. Captain Warrick was shot through the body. His wound was dressed, and though it was evident he could live but a few hours, his great physical strength was unexhausted. He insisted on going back to head his company. This was but one of many such occurrences.
When the Indians fled, the whites found thirty-seven of their own number killed, and a hundred and fifty-one wounded. Twenty-five of the latter afterwards died from their wounds. During the day the shattered army was employed in strengthening their position. Their only food was broiled horseflesh. On the following day they advanced to the Prophet's town. No defiant war-whoop greeted them. The place was desolate and deserted. It had been abandoned in a panic. The Indians, more civilized than the wild tribes of the plains which we know to-day, had left behind all their household furniture, many fire-arms, great quantities of corn, numbers of hogs and chickens. The only human being in the village was an old chief, with a broken leg. He had been left behind by his people, and was unable to escape. The whites ministered to his wants and left him. Taking the provisions for their own use, the entire village was destroyed. The Prophet's influence was forever broken.
Tecumseh was already on his way home. His trip had been successful. Red Eagle and the Creeks were preparing for war. The Cherokees, the Osages, the Seminoles, were all ready to take up the hatchet. The great confederacy seemed almost an accomplished feat. Confident and happy, Tecumseh hurried back to the Prophet's town. He was ignorant of what had happened. As he and his party approached they gave the salute-yell. Instead of a wild chorus of replies from the direction of the village, all was wrapped in utter silence.
Anxious and alarmed, he hurried forward. He caught sight of the spot of where the village had been. Not a cabin was to be seen. He rubbed his eyes and looked again, to see if it was not a dream, a nightmare. Not so. The village had disappeared. Only heaps of ashes marked its site. All its fortifications, all the stores of food and ammunition, and the collection of arms, the fruit of years weary toil, were gone. Tecumseh saw at once what had happened. He was overwhelmed with sorrow. Just at the moment of apparent triumph he found the very foundation of the fabric dissolved in thin air. Guided by some stragglers Tecumseh hurried to the camp, twenty miles away, where the disgraced Prophet awaited with fear and trembling his brother's return. Great and terrible was Tecumseh's rage. He seized the unfortunate imposter by the hair, and threatened to kill him. The battle had been fought in direct opposition to his orders.
All had been staked, and all was lost. The Prophet's influence was utterly gone. He was the object of contempt and abuse. The very boys yelled at him as he sneaked through a village. Yet, because he was Tecumseh's brother, he was saved from further punishment. Tecumseh wrote to General Harrison that he desired to go to Washington. The request was granted, but he was required to go alone. This wounded the spirit of the disappointed man. The would-be emperor refused to go without a retinue. Filled with unutterable fury, he joined the English army in Canada. When invited to take part in a peace-council, he said: "No! I have taken sides with the king, and I will suffer my bones to bleach on this shore before I will recross that stream to take part in any council of neutrality."
Tecumseh took an active part in the war, and before long found himself at the head of seven hundred warriors. Nearly all the leading chiefs followed his lead and went over to the British side. Fort Dearborn, then a lonely post on the spot where Chicago, the "Wonder of the West," now handles the commerce of a continent, was evacuated by its occupants. The departing garrison and the families of the fort were assaulted by savages, and nearly all killed. Tecumseh also devised two sieges to be conducted by Indians.
Fort Wayne was a wooden fortification, garrisoned by seventy men. Early in September word reached General Harrison, at Cincinnati, that this post was besieged and in great peril. Five men, headed by Logan, an Indian chief of wide fame, undertook to communicate with the garrison. At the moment of their arrival the besiegers were gathered on two sides of the fort, in an attempt to take the place by stratagem. The messengers reached the very walls of the place without opposition, and came suddenly upon four Indian chiefs, with a flag of truce, who were attempting to lure the officers of the fort into a peace-talk outside the fortification, where they might be assassinated. The alarmed chiefs made off, while the five scouts entered the fort.
The situation was found to be full of distress. As soon as a letter could be written the bold men sallied forth, and dashed through the lines of the astonished besiegers, to carry the news to General Harrison. The defenders of Fort Wayne deposed their commander, and elected Lieutenant Curtis as his successor. Troops failing to arrive, the Indians demanded the surrender of the place, and this being refused, made a heavy attack. They had two cannon, which burst at the first fire, being made of wood and hooped with iron, by some scalawag English traders. The garrison fought well. The Indians were repulsed with heavy loss. General Harrison at last arrived in the vicinity, and failing to ambush him, the Indians withdrew.
Captain Zachary Taylor, afterwards President of the United States, was the commandant of Fort Harrison. His force numbered about thirty-five effective men. On the 3d of September a lot of Indians with their women and children appeared before the fort, and begged for admission, under pretense of holding a council. Failing in this, they continued to linger around, and at midnight the garrison was aroused by an alarm of fire. One of the block-houses at the corner of the fortification, was in flames. Several barrels of whisky took fire, and the whole structure was so quickly ablaze that no efforts to extinguish the flames could avail. A strong force of Indians poured volleys of balls into the fort, and were evidently preparing to force an entrance through the gap left by the destruction of the block-house.
The men prevented the spread of the flames as well as they could, while their captain, sick with bilious fever, tore down a log structure, and braving the bullets of the savages, constructed a hasty barricade opposite the gap. Behind this the men fought bravely, repulsing every assault. So inevitable did the destruction of the garrison seem, that two men attempted to escape through the gap left by the fire. One was killed; the concealed himself, and was re-admitted to the fort in the morning. The loss of their provisions threatened the handful of men with starvation. A wagon-train from Vincennes coming to their relief was attacked, and nearly the whole escort killed. In time a stronger force made its way to the little outpost. The Indians, to revenge themselves for their disappointment, attacked a settlement at Pigeon Roost, on a branch of White River, in Clarke county, Indiana, and massacred twenty-one men, women, and children.
In the progress of the war, a Shawanese chief named Logan proved to be a most valuable scout for the Americans. He was, however, suspected of treachery. Deeply hurt, he, with Captain Johnny and Bright Horn, his inseparable companions, started out to prove his fidelity. They were surprised by some hostile Indians, and captured. Logan pretended to be deserting to the British, and succeeded in retaining his arms. One of the guards, noticing something in Captain Johnny's mouth, looked inquiringly toward him. The latter coolly said, "Me chaw heap tobac." The tobacco was a bullet. While some of their captors were searching the woods for black haws, Logan and his companions attacked the remainder. Five Indians were killed. Logan received a mortal would. He made his way back to the American camp. He lingered two days in the greatest agony. The men, understanding that he had fallen to vindicate his honor, bestowed every attention possible. The faithful chief passed away with a smile of triumph on his face, satisfied that he had answered his accusers, though at the cost of his life. His mother was Tecumapease, the only sister of Tecumseh.
Among the many tragic occurrences of the Indian warfare in 1812, none was more fearful than the battle and massacre of Raisin. Frenchtown was on the river Raisin, only eighteen miles from Malden, Canada, where the British had their entire force. A cry for help came from the place, and in the dead of winter six hundred men marched from the Maumee to this place. A sharp battle resulted in the evacuation of Frenchtown by the British, two hundred and fifty more Americans were then sent forward to re-enforce the first army. On the morning of January 22, 1813, two thousand British and Indians attacked the Americans. A bloody battle resulted in the surrender of the entire American force. The English commander left the wounded in the place, taking the rest to Malden. On the following morning two hundred Indians, painted black and red, entered the place, and barbarously massacred the helpless wounded. Many were burnt alive in the buildings in which they lay. Nearly three hundred perished in the battle and the massacre together. The whole town was filled with corpses. Tecumseh was in the Wabash region at the time, raising re-enforcements.
In April Tecumseh appeared before Fort Meigs, on the Maumee River, where General Harrison had his head-quarters. The English erected three batteries. To this match this, Harrison constructed an earth embankment, twelve feet high, in which the cannon-balls buried themselves harmlessly. General Clay at last approached to the relief of the fort with eight hundred men. A battle ensued in the attempt to throw themselves into the fort. The activity of Tecumseh's warriors defeated the effort, less than two hundred out of the whole number reaching the fort. The English commander allowed the Indian allies to tomahawk such of the prisoners as they pleased, more than twenty being brutally murdered. Tecumseh had been in another part of the battle-field. Discovering what was going on, he rode at full speed to the spot, dismounted, and with drawn tomahawk beat his men off the prisoners, and cursed the English commander for his crime. The latter said he could not control the Indians, but Tecumseh answered, "Begone! You are unfit to command; go and put on the dress of a squaw."
Tecumseh was an unruly ally. He despised Procter, the English commander with whom he operated. One day, provisions being scarce, salt beef was given the English soldiers, while the Indians received only horse-flesh. Angered at the outrage, Tecumseh strode to Procter's tent and demanded an explanation. Seeing the English general about to treat the complaint with indifference, Tecumseh significantly struck the hilt of the commander's sword, touching at the same time the handle of his tomahawk, and said, "You are Procter -- I am Tecumseh." This hint at a mode of settling the difficulty, brought Procter to terms at once.
Tecumseh's last grudge against Procter was the retreat of the English from Malden after Commodore Perry's victory on Lake Erie. Tecumseh urged a battle with every argument and taunt. "We must compare our father's conduct to a fat dog that carries its tail on his back, but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off." Tecumseh, disgusted at the retreat, would have deserted the English cause but for the fact that he had induced other tribes to join it. Procter pretended from time to time that he would halt and give battle. When the retreat commenced, Tecumseh said, "We are now going to follow the British, and I am sure that we shall never return." At last, on the 5th of October, Procter was forced to halt and oppose the pursuing Americans in the battle of the Thames. Just before the engagement, Tecumseh said to the group of chiefs about him; "Brother warriors, were are now about to enter into an engagement, from which I shall never come out -- my body will remain on the field of battle." Unbuckling his sword and handing it to a chief he said, "When my son becomes a noted warrior, and able to wield a sword, give this to him."
As the battle advanced, the victory of the Americans became apparent. The Indians fought well, until they suddenly missed the loud, commanding battle-cry of Tecumseh. There was a pause, a shudder, and then all incontinently fled. The great chieftain had fallen, pierced by a pistol ball. The discussion as to who killed Tecumseh became a singularly heated one in subsequent political campaigns, the chief recommendation for office in that day being skill as an Indian fighter. The preponderance of evidence seems to indicate that Colonel Richard M. Johnson was the slayer of the famous chief.
Tecumseh never allowed his portrait to be painted. Hi is described as a perfect Apollo in form, his face oval, his nose straight and handsome, and his mouth regular and beautiful. His eyes singularly enough, were "hazel, clear, and pleasant in conversation, but like balls of fire when excited by anger or enthusiasm." His bearing was that of a noble and lofty spirit, a true "King of the Woods," as the English called him. He was temperate in his habits, loving truth and honor better than life. His mind was of a high order. He possessed a genius which must have made him eminent at any age or country. Like Powhatan, Pontiac, and Brant, his illustrious predecessors, he had failed; yet like them he was great in defeat. He was the first great chieftain who prohibited the massacre of prisoners. He died at forty-four, in the prime of life,
The Prophet survived his brother twenty-two years. He, with the remnant of his tribe, removed to the Indian Territory, where, shorn of his power, he still continued in a small way to exercise his "supernatural" gifts for the delusion and mystification of a few ignorant dupes. He had only one eye, and possessed a countenance of which every line revealed craft and deceptiveness. In 1823, Isaac Harvey, a Quaker missionary at Wapakoneta, one day visited a sick Indian, a consumptive. Entering the cabin, he found the sick man lying face downwards, his bared back cut in several places, and faint from loss of blood. Standing over him was the Prophet, with a bloody knife in his hands. He explained that the sick man was bewitched, and that the gashes in his back were to let out the demon. The good Quaker put the fraud out of the room, and dressed the sick man's wounds. Nor did his work stop here. At great personal risk he continued to fight the belief in witchcraft, and to oppose the Prophet's delusions, until the lunacy was banished entirely from the Shawanese tribe. The imposter himself alone continued the pretense of belief in it.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh