War of 1812people

Tecumseh


“Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it is his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.”
- Tecumseh at Fort Walden, Sept. 1813

First Nations

Tecumseh's Speeches

Descriptions of Tecumseh

Tecumseh's Brother

Tecumseh at Detroit

Tecumseh at Moraviantown

Editor's note


Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

Tecumseh’s name - often translated to mean Shooting Star - is a fitting symbol of an extraordinary life. He burst onto the violent and unstable frontier that was the south and west territory of the Great Lakes in the second half of the eighteenth century. Some forty-five years later, in the fall of 1813, he was killed amidst the battle cries and gun shots of the Battle of Moraviantown. In the meantime he blazed into history as arguably the greatest Indian warrior and political leader of all time, and ultimately lived up to his promise to protect Indian territory and traditions or to die trying.

Tecumseh’s stature is proven by the fact that after the War of 1812 both sides came to view him as one of the conflict’s most appealing characters. To Canadians he became a heroic ally who played an essential role in saving Upper Canada, while Americans viewed him as an honourable enemy who fought bravely to defend his people.

Tecumseh’s reputation for generosity and compassion is almost surprising considering the events surrounding his youth. It was a period of continual strife between Natives and whites. These skirmishes and the accompanying horrors of scalping, torture and pillage were a reality for everyone in the Old Northwest border region.

Both Tecumseh’s father and his eldest brother were killed while fighting whites. His father’s dying wish was that his eldest son would continue to lead his family in battle. Despite this background, people who knew Tecumseh say he had a deep aversion to unnecessary acts of cruelty. After witnessing the torture of prisoners as a young warrior he vowed never to allow captives to be mistreated in his presence.

The defining feature of Tecumseh’s life was the white settlers’ insatiable appetite for new land. Against this background the Shawnee leader dedicated his life to building an alliance of the culturally and geographically-fragmented First Nations. Tecumseh had a burning vision of a Native Confederacy spreading from the Great Lakes to Mexico. He believed this was the only way to effectively resist the encroachment of white civilization and traveled tirelessly in order to spread his message of Indian unity. An extremely talented public speaker, Tecumseh used these skills to convince the chiefs of the politically decentralized First Nations to join his cause.

When Tecumseh’s efforts to start an all-out native offensive against the Americans were caught up in the events leading to the War of 1812, he inevitably decided to join forces with the British. Without Tecumseh it is highly unlikely the British would have been able to defend Upper Canada at the beginning of the war. The Native Alliance was central to Isaac Brock’s strategy and it is the thought of Tecumseh and his warriors sweeping into the fort at Detroit which caused U.S. General William Hull to have a nervous breakdown and surrender. This does not mean Tecumseh was a pawn of the British. He joined the war to protect native interests, not the British presence in North America.

It is said that Tecumseh had a vision before the battle of Moraviantown in which he foresaw his own death. Whether or not this is true, his burial place has never been found. The violent death of this inspired leader only helped to propagate the legends surrounding his life. To this day stories circulate about a select group of descendants of Shawnee warriors; that they are the only ones who know the location of Tecumseh’s grave. The secret has been passed down from generation to generation, guarded from outsiders.