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A Shooting Star
The weight of authority fixes the birth of this mighty warrior at the Indian town Piqua, on Mad River, in 1768. His father's name was Puckesninwau, of the Kiscopoke band, and his mother's name Methoataske, of the Turtle tribe, of the Shawnee nation. The parents with others of the tribe came from the south to the Ohio valley, under the leadership of the great chief Blackhoof, about the middle of the eighteenth century, and first stopped on the Scioto, but finally removed to the Mad River Valley.
Puckeshinwau was killed in the battle of Kahawha, in 1714, and Methoastaske returned to the south, and lived to an advanced age among the Cherokee Indians. Tecumseh is said to have been carefully educated by his brother Cheeseekau, which education was presumably in the arts of hunting and fighting. True, it is related he was taught a love for truth, and contempt for falsehood. There is little doubt he was taught a love for those cardinal virtues, courage in battle and fortitude in hardship. In all these his instructor seems to have been eminently qualified, according to the savage idea, for his pupil ever after gave evidence of the development of these Indian virtues in a very marked degree. He boasted of his truth and fidelity, which as individual he sustained throughout his checkered career.
The events of the period in which he was ushered into life and action undoubtedly did much to mould his character. All enter an arena under conditions which shape and mould their plastic conduct. He was young during the period of the Revolutionary War, and its influence was felt by the savages, even in the remote Ohio. The fierce and bloody border war, too, had its vitiating effects, for the whites here even vied with the savages in the commission of fiendish barbarities. Rocked in this cradle of carnage, to the lullaby of the war-whoop, he developed a love for war and a hate for Americans. In 1780 he was a participant in the defence of the Machachac villages against Gen. Logan. The conduct of the whites on this occasion was calculated to teach anything but justice or humanity, and if Tecumseh in this, his first battle, did flee from the field, we would call it the result of horror at the cruelty of the whites, rather than cowardice on the part of the warrior. In his next engagement, against some flat boats which were descending the Ohio River, he signalized his bravery in his rash lead according to the Indian idea; but to us he exhibited more genuine courage when he looked with abhorrence on the burning of the single prisoner of the fight, and denounced the fiendish practice in such unmeasured and forcible terms that the horrid rite was abandoned by his immediate followers. The great victories are ever on the side of moral courage, rather than in the field of physical desperation. In 1787, in true harmony with the Shawnee character, he and his brother with a small party of Kiscopokes started westward on an adventurous expedition. They halted for a while on the Mississinewa, but afterwards moved to the Mississippi, and encamped at the mouth of Apple Creek. At the expiration of about nine months they proceeded south to the Ohio, and engaged in a buffalo hunt, in which Tecumseh was thrown from his horse, sustaining such injuries that the party was delayed several weeks opposite Ft. Massac. From here they went south and engaged with the Cherokees in their war with the whites. Here Cheeseekau lost his life, and his younger brother and pupil, Tecumseh, assumed the command during the two following years spent in the south. After a wild career of adventure, in company with eight warriors, he started for the north, crossed the Ohio near the mouth of the Scioto, visited the Machachac villages, and came to the Auglaize in 1790, after an absence from Ohio of about three years. At the time of St. Clair's defeat Tecumseh was acting as a scout, and so did not take part in the battle.
In 1792 he was met in a skirmish by a small party under Simon Kenton, and again the following year he was defeated by a party under the same famous scout.
In the battle of Presque Isle, Tecumseh led a party of Shawnees, where he was opposed by Capt. Harrison, who afterward became his chief antagonist. In 1795 he appears on Deer Creek, simply as a hunter. During the year he undertook the formation of a band of which he was to be chief. The following year they moved to the great Miami, where they remained until 1798, when they joined the Delawares upon White River. Here he continued several years, until some difficulties arose calling forth the council of Urbana in 1799. Here Tecumseh appeared as an orator, whose style was said by the interpreter to be so lofty and his words so eloquent, that his speech was interpreted with great difficulty. At the time of an excitement consequent upon the commission of some border murders, he frankly disavowed and denounced such conduct, and eloquently spoke of the peaceful relations of the whites and Indians. About this time the Prophet Brother arose, who acted in concert with Tecumseh, although his personal means were of a more questionable character. His early and later life is enshrouded in mystery perhaps as deep as that by which he practised upon the credulity of his converts.
In 1805 the Tawa Shawnees, at the head of the Auglaize, sent a deputation of visitors to Tecumseh and other chiefs to invite them to the Tawa villages. The invitation was accepted, but on the way Tecumseh and Laulewusikaw met at Greenville, where they concluded to remain. The latter had gathered hints enough from the missionaries to be crafty and cunning. He did not mutter from dark ledges, nor tell fortunes in the sand. He could not be a sorcerer nor impostor, because he was a preacher and a prophet. In November, 1805, he addressed an assembly at Wapakoneta. setting forth his new mission, and declaring some tenets he had received from the Great Spirit. He it was who had visited the clouds and entered the dwelling place of the devil, where he saw all who had died drunkards with flames issuing from their mouths. Consequently, he denounced drunkenness and many other evils, and closed by assuring them that the Great Spirit had given him power to confound his enemies, to cure diseases, and prevent death. These claims were calculated to impress the superstitious minds of the Indians. President Jefferson wrote of the Prophet:
"He is more rogue than fool, if to be a rogue is not the greatest of all follies. * * * His followers increased until the British thought him worth corrupting and found him corruptible." He burned his victims for witchcraft when no more plausible pretext could be invented; was cruel and heartless, even fiendish in his ambitious designs, and did not scruple to employ diabolical methods when they promised success.
The first check he received was on the occasion of the execution of the sentence of death for witchcraft passed upon the wife and nephew of Teteboxti. The nephew died at the hands of relentless fanaticism and heartless ambition, but when the time for the burning of the woman arrived, her brother, a young man of twenty, humane and brave enough to be noble, started up and led the condemned sister from the house, exclaiming, "The Devil (the prophet) has come amongst us, and we are killing each other." It penetrated the uncouth exterior of the savages and touched the hearts of the assembly till their response was sympathetic. It is enough for our general purpose to say of the Prophet that he used all the seductive arts of which he was master in the interest of his brother's cause, and in his devotion to that cause did not scruple to adopt means nor hesitate to practise arts on which the higher nature of that brother must have looked with abhorrence and contempt. He made himself powerful as an ally, being able to command and willing to endure. We turn then to the nobler character, and behold in Tecumseh a picture of more refreshing tint and a life of higher symmetry.
We speak of the individual virtues of Tecumseh as standing in contrast to the sordid character of the Prophet, but we remember all the sordid measures of the vicious character were employed by the agent, and with the knowledge of Tecumseh. When he had not the desire to act, he stood behind the curtain and gave his sympathy to those actors who played for his glory. Ambition at times seized and controlled the man like the evil spirits of olden legend. Where his manhood benumbed his tongue, he spoke through the Prophet as a medium, and where his heart paralyzed his hand he commanded agents who were devoid of hearts.
While his inmost nature must have revolted at the fiendishness of his brother, that brother was his agent, and ambition saw no misery and knew no right. Ambition like a fiend seized victim after victim among the chiefs and destroyed them by the Prophet for witchcraft. True, Tecumseh was behind the curtain, but the Council of 1807 discovered him behind his mask of falsehood and his methods behind the curtain of pretence. Deaf Chief asked of the Governor why he was not called to confront Tecumseh, as he was desirous of asserting the truth to his brethren. When this became known to Tecumseh, he sent an order to have the aged chief killed on his return. A friend of the latter warned him, but the intrepid chief returned to his family, put on the war paint and dress, seized his rifle and other weapons, and went over to the camp of Tecumseh. Mr. Baron, the Governor's interpreter, was present. As soon as the chief advanced, he upbraided Tecumseh for having given the order to assassinate him as cowardly and unworthy of a warrior. But rising, the personation of right and exponent of honor, he exclaimed, "but here I am now; come and kill me." Tecumseh quailed before the man he would assassinate, but dared not meet on equal terms. "Then," exclaimed the enraged warrior, "you and your men can kill the white people's hogs and call them bears, but you dare not lace a warrior." Tecumseh was still silent when the chief heaped upon him every insult which might provoke a duel, told him that he was the slave of the red-coats, and at length applied that term of reproach which an Indian never forgets nor forgives. Disgusted with what he called the cowardice of Tecumseh, the chief raised the war-whoop of defiance, and left the place. That the cowardly order of Tecumseh was executed is evidenced by our authority, who states: "The Deaf Chief was no more seen at Vincennes." Ambition has chilled the nature and calloused the heart of brighter lights than Tecumseh; it has surrounded once noble, generous natures by icy atmospheres of repulsion and stifled the nobler promptings and holier emotions of naturally more sensitive organizations than that of the savage. It destroys the temple of manhood, and erects upon its ruins impostors, murderers, and assassins. Of Tecumseh it first made a pretender, and his life, thus be harmony than the role of a masked assassin. True, the arm was too humane to strike the ignoble blow, but diabolical agents abound who know no humanity and know no heart. Pitiless at first, they are remorseless at last.
At the time of the peace negotations, Tecumseh was one of a deputation who returned to the seat of government with the commissioners. On this visit to the Governor he attempted to prove the nullity of all treaties, as he claimed the lands could not be sold by any tribe, as they were the inheritance of the whole red race.
In 1807 we find him in council at Springfield, where his ambition stultified his prudence and manifested a course of rash defiance rather than his usual pacific role as peacemaker. He at length revealed his plans, turned the Prophet's fame and power to his purpose, and that purpose was the confederation of all the Indians for the repulsion of the whites and their ultimate repression beyond the Alleghenies. Pontiac was his model, and so it required no genius to plan the scheme, for the model had planned it years before. It did require genius of a peculiar character to execute the borrowed design. The originality of Tecumseh is manifest in his adoption of the means placed in his hands by his unscrupulous brother. If the brother was a fanatic, he was heartless; if Tecumseh was a despot, he was noble. Glory was his ruling passion, and this passion sometimes governed his nobler instincts and higher impulses. He had witnessed the union of the "Seventeen Fires," and sought the union of the more numerous tribes.
In 1809 he attempted to secure the co-operation of the Wyandots and Senecas, but was opposed by the Crane, who "feared Tecumseh was working for no good purpose at Tippecanoe, and preferred to wait a few years, and if they found their red brethren then contented and happy, they would probably join them." In 1810 the conviction prevailed that the plans of Tecumseh were hostile to the United States. The imprudence of the Prophet exposed the scheme, for he had boasted he "would follow the footsteps of the great Pontiac." An overt act, the refusal to accept an annuity sent from Vincennes, gave not only a hostile but defiant air to his purpose. Tecumseh was then with the Shawnees at Wapakoneta seeking their assistance, but met here in Blackhoof that opposition and repudiation he had previously encountered in the Crane among the Wyandots and Senecas. Failing in a few instances of this character, his work was delayed, and the Prophet interposed to remove some of the opposition engendered by destroying Leather Lips and others for witchcraft, when he could not impose upon them by superstition. At this juncture he appeared to consider the case of that desperate character which demands desperate methods. The second overt act was the seizure of annuities in transit for other tribes. Again Tecumseh was absent, having gone south after telling General Harrison he would be absent about a year. This was evidently not his intention; at all events he had accomplished his mission and returned in much less time; but he returned to witness the ruins of his whole ideal government, to see the frustration of his life plan, and become a victim of that disappointment which stings to desperation.
He had warned his brother against exposure, and told him to avoid trouble at all hazards. The Prophet failed because his insolence overcame his judgment, and General Harrison moved against the Tippecanoe confederacy. On October 7, he fully saw and appreciated the designs of the Prophet, moved upon his village, met him, defeated him, and the confederacy was lost. Tecumseh returned in a few days to behold the ruins of his cause, and the disgrace of the Prophet. So deep was his mortification, that he reproached his brother, and even threatened to kill him. Deeply humiliated as he was, he was yet denounced as a murderer, and sank into obscurity. Tecumseh now spent some time in minor changes, until at last he was refused ammunition by the government agents, when he went to Malden and joined the British.
Subsequently he participated in all the sieges and battles of the western forts, until his death at the battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813. The bloodthirstiness of his warriors was only checked by his presence. The British officers either could not or would not curb their ferocity; hence the distressing and horrid massacres of the Raisin and Fort Meigs were committed in the absence of Tecumseh. In the latter instance, General Proctor is said to have permitted the Indians to select their victims and massacre them in whatever manner they saw fit; he is even represented to have witnessed this operation during the period of two hours, which, if it be true, would make the veiy earth blush with shame, and the cold forts rain tears of pity. If true, it is to the shame, not of a nation or day alone, but of the race and age, and if false, it is to the credit of the nation and race. At all events Tecumseh rode up as fast as his horse could carry him to a spot where two Indians were killing a prisoner. He sprang from his horse, caught one Indian by the throat and the other by the breast, and threw them to the ground; then, drawing his knife and hatchet, and running between the Indians and prisoners, brandished his weapons wildly and dared the attack on another prisoner. Maddened by the barbarity which he loathed, he sought General Proctor, and demanded why this massacre was allowed.
"Sir," replied the General, "your Indians cannot be commanded."
"Begone!" answered the chief with a sarcastic sneer, "you are unfit to command; go, you are not a man." Let the rebuke be the reproach of a savage; it is worthy of recognition to-day, for in the humanity of manhood is the philosophy of life. Let the gem be found among the debris, it is just as lustrous as if found in the ocean depth; let a truth rise out of the depth, it is just as beautiful as if it had descended from the azure heights on a sunbeam; let the lesson be taught by savage or civilized agent, it loses none of its intrinsic worth. The whites did not monopolize the higher traits of character. After his reproach upon General Proctor his attention was directed to a group of Indians with something in their midst. Pointing to this group, Colonel Elliott said, " Yonder are four of your nation who have been taken prisoners, you may do with them as you think proper." The chief walked up to the company and found four Shawnee Indians, Big Jim, Soldier, and the Perry Brothers. Addressing them he said, "Friends, Colonel Elliott has placed you under my charge; I will send you back to your nation with a talk to our people." This he did, discharging them on parole, which stands in contrast against the part of Proctor, as the sunbeam with the night cloud.
His life as an individual, throughout exhibits deeds of fidelity, prompted by his noble nature when not influenced by his sordid ambition. As an individual he was brave and generous, but led warriors of hyena-like propensities. To keep these in check sometimes demanded an iron hand.
As intimated, he continued in the service of the British until the battle of the Thames, in 1813, when he fell, shot by a revolver in the hands of a cavalry man, by many believed to be Colonel Johnson, who commanded the cavalry. This is the account of Shaubena and others who claimed that Colonel J. shot him with a pistol at the moment the chief aimed his tomahawk at the Colonel. The battle was a desperate hand to hand encounter after the dash upon the Indians by the cavalry. This body was almost cut to pieces, but dismounting, although their Colonel was wounded, they saved the field. In a conflict of this kind it would be next to impossible to distinguish who shot this or that particular individual. At his fall the Indians became demoralized and fled to the swamps.
He was buried by the Indians after the return of the Americans, and there on the border of a marsh adjoining the battle ground, the willow and wild rose decorate the grave where rest the remains of the "Indian Bonaparte."
From "History of Auglaize County, Ohio, with the Indian History of Wapakoneta, and the First Settlement of the County", Robert Sutton, Publishers, Wapakoneta, 1880