Tecumseh’s War is a term sometimes used to describe a conflict in the Old Northwest between the United States and an American Indian confederation led by Shawnee chief Tecumseh. Although the war is often considered to climax with William Henry Harrison’s victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, Tecumseh’s War essentially continued into the War of 1812, and is often considered a part of that larger conflict.
The two main opponents in the war, Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison, were both junior participants in the Battle of the Fallen Timbers at the end of the Northwest Indian War in 1794.
Tecumseh refused to sign the Treaty of Greenville which ended the war. and handed over much of present-day Ohio, which had long been settled in the United States by Shawnee and other Native Americans. However, many Indian leaders in the region accepted the Greenville terms, and for the next ten years all-tribal resistance to American hegemony seemed to fade.
After the Treaty of Greenville, most of the Ohio Shawnee settled in the Shawnee village of Wapakoneta on the Oglaise River, where they were led by Black Hough, a senior chief who had signed the treaty.
The Little Turtles of Miami, who had also participated in an earlier war and signed the Treaty of Greenville, lived in their village on the Eel River. Both Black Hoof and Little Turtle urged cultural adaptation and habitat with the United States.
However, a nativist religious revival emerged in 1805, led by Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa (“The Prophet”), threatening the influence of the housing chiefs. Tenskwatawa urged the Indians to reject the methods of the Whites and to refrain from handing over any more land to the United States.
Many Indians – not coincidentally, who were willing to ally with the United States – were accused of witchcraft, and some were executed by Tenskawa’s followers. Black Hough was accused of a witch-hunt, but was not harmed. From his village in Greenville, Tenskwatawa also compromised Black Hough’s friendly relations with the United States.
By 1808, tensions with whites and the Wapconeta Shawnees forced Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh to move further northwest and establish the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers (near present-day Battlefield, Indiana).
Little Turtle told the Shawnee brothers that they were not welcome, but the warnings were ignored. Tenskwatawa’s religious teachings became widely known, and they attracted Native American followers from many different countries, including Shawnee, Canadian Iroquois, Chickamauga, Fox, Miami, Mingo, Ojibway, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Delaware (Lenepe) , Muscotten, Potawatomi, Sock, and Wyandot.
Although Tecumseh would eventually emerge as the leader of this confederation, it was built on a foundation established by the religious appeal of his younger brother.
Meanwhile, in 1800, William Henry Harrison had become governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory, with Vincennes as its capital. Harrison sought to secure rights to Indian lands to allow for American expansion; In particular he hoped that the Indiana Territory would attract enough white settlers to qualify for the state.
Harrison negotiated several land acquisition treaties with the American Indians, which culminated with the Treaty of Fort Wayne on 30 September 1809, in which Little Turtle and other Aboriginal leaders gave the United States approximately 2,500,000 acres (10,000 km) of Indian land. sold.
Tecumseh was angered by the Treaty of Fort Wayne, and thereafter he emerged as a prominent political leader. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by Shawnee leader Blue Jackets and Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which held that American Indian lands were owned by all tribes, and thus any land without the agreement of all. could be sold.
Not yet ready to face the United States directly, Tecumseh’s primary opponents were initially the Native American leaders who signed the treaty, and they threatened to kill them all. Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon housing chiefs and join the resistance at Prophetstown.
Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne Treaty was illegitimate; He asked Harrison to annul it, and warned that the Americans should not attempt to settle the land sold in the treaty.
In August 1811, Tecumseh met with Harrison in Vincennes, assuring him that the Shawnee brothers meant to live at peace with the United States. Tecumseh traveled south on a mission to recruit allies among the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes”.
Most of the Southern nations rejected his appeals, but a fact among the Creeks, which became known as the Red Sticks, responded to their call for arms, leading to the Creek War, a part of the War of 1812. also became.
Expedition to the Tippecanoe
Meanwhile, while Tecumseh was to the south, Governor Harrison with over 1,000 men marched from Vincennes to the Wabash River, on an expedition to intimidate the prophet and his followers, en route to Fort Harrison (present-day Terre Haute). near).
While at Fort Harrison, Harrison received orders from Secretary of War William Eustis authorizing Harrison to use force if necessary to disperse the Indians at Prophetstown. On 6 November 1811, Harrison’s army arrived outside Prophetstown, and Tenskwatawa agreed to meet with Harrison at a conference to be held the next day.
Tenskwatawa, probably suspecting that Harrison intended to attack the village, decided to risk a preemptive strike, sending his warriors (about 500) against the American forces. At the Battle of Tippecanoe, fought before dawn the next day, Harrison’s men held their ground and the Indians withdrew from the village after the battle. The victorious Americans burned the city and returned to Vincennes.
Harrison (and many later historians) claimed that the Battle of Tippecanoe was a death for Tecumseh’s Confederacy. Harrison, then nicknamed “Tippecanoe”, eventually became President of the United States to commemorate this victory.
The war was in fact a severe blow to Tenskwatawa, who had lost the prestige and the trust of his brother. However, although this was a significant setback, Tecumseh began to rebuild the alliance secretly upon his return from the south.
Now that the Americans were at war with the British in the War of 1812, Tecumseh also found British allies in Canada. Canadians would later remember Tecumseh as a defender of Canada, but his actions in the War of 1812 – which cost him his life – were a continuation of his efforts to secure Native American independence from outside domination.