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Tenskwatawa -
The Prophet

First Nations


Map of Tippecanoe Battle

History has not been kind to Tenskwatawa, otherwise known as The Prophet. He is inevitably compared to his heroic brother Tecumseh and fails to measure up in both physical and moral stature. An unimpressive-looking man of below-average height, he was fond of wearing jewelry, especially small medals which he hung from his pierced nose and ears. His most striking physical characteristic was his damaged right eye, which was permanently closed.

Tenskwatawa was not a likable person. He was not accepted by the other Shawnee youths and refused to take part in traditionally prestigious male activities such as hunting and fighting. As a young man he would boast of his abilities but seemed to lack any ambition.

Two activities Tenskwatawa did like were drinking and talking. He wasn’t as gifted a speaker as his brother Tecumseh, but he was nonetheless manipulative and forceful. Using these qualities he became a medicine man in Tecumseh’s village.

Tenskwatawa’s transformation from a lazy drunkard into a powerful spiritual leader came after a dream in which he claimed to have been visited by the Great Spirit. White settlers began to call him The Prophet because he said the gods had shown him the path to salvation for his people. This new religion called upon Natives to reject white culture and return to the traditional way of life. Tenskwatawa gave up alcohol and urged his followers to do the same.

At the heart of these new teachings was the belief that the land was held in common by all the tribes. The Prophet preached that no tribe had the right to give up their territory, because it belonged to all Natives. This infuriated white settlers and leaders such as Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison.

Tenskwatawa soon attracted a considerable following, especially among the younger, more radical warriors. The Prophet and Tecumseh decided to move these followers farther away from the harassment of white settlers and closer to undisturbed food sources. They established a new village at the point where the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers meet. The settlers called it Prophet's Town while the Natives named it Tippecanoe.

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