Tecumseh travelled throughout the land sharing his message of solidarity and unity. His tour took him to many towns all throughout the Indian country. The delivery of his message impressed all who listened.
The ‘Daniel Boone of Alabama’, General Samuel Dale, who had fought the Indians, provides an eyewitness account. “At length Tecumseh spoke, at first slowly and in sonorous tones; but soon he grew impassioned, and the words fell in avalanches from his lips. His eyes burned with supernatural lustre, and his whole frame trembled with emotion: his voice resounded over the multitude—now sinking in low and musical whispers, now rising to its highest key, hurling out his words like a succession of thunderbolts. I have heard many great orators but I have never seen one with the vocal powers of Tecumseh!” US Army Brigadier General Samuel Dale
The US Governor of the Indiana territory William Henry Harrison was a dedicated American expansionist. The name Indiana means “Land of the Indians” yet Harrison was committed to the ethnic cleansing of the Indian people for whom the land was named. Harrison was eager to expand the territory, as his political fortunes were tied to Indiana’s rise to statehood. In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson granted Harrison authority to negotiate and conclude treaties with the Native American tribes in the territory. Harrison oversaw the creation of thirteen treaties, purchasing more than 60,000,000 acres of land from Native American leaders, including most present day southern Indiana.
Through his scheming efforts millions of acres of American Indian land was being stolen and sold to white American families. His first goal was to populate Indiana with ‘civilized’ people in order to reach the threshold of 60,000, the required number for a territory to be recognized as a US State. Whites began brutally massacring Indians in a random manner. Harrison for his part in one instance sent his own Doctor to treat several Indian victims, not out of compassion but, as he explained, because, “Such instances exasperate the Indians and will prevent them from delivering members of their tribe who have broken our laws.”
Such a jaundiced and prejudiced mentality was the order of the day.Cheeseekau, the mentor and elder brother of Tecumseh said it perfectly, “When a white army battles Indians and wins, it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre. The white man seeks to conquer nature, to bend it to its will and to use it wastefully until it is all gone and then he simply moves on, leaving the waste behind him and looking for new places to take.” In such a setting Whites escaped punishment for their crimes against the Natives while Indians were frequently hunted down and executed for any crimes committed against the Whites. Gov. Harrison refused to apply the law equally to all but rather continually demanded the extradition of Natives at will. This led to a further breakdown in the relationship between Tecumseh and Harrison.
There was thus great tension on the frontier and it neared the breaking the point after the contentious and disputed 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne. In this treaty Harrison purchased more than 250,000,000 acres of American Indian land in current central Indiana and eastern Illinois. In 1810 Tecumseh decided to try one last effort in convincing Harrison of the illegality and injustice of these treaties and he personally journeyed to Harrison’s stronghold of Vincennes.Tecumseh, with about 400 armed warriors, confronted Harrison and demanded that the Treaty of Fort Wayne be rescinded.
As Tecumseh arrived he was invited to a seat of honor near ‘his father’ Harrison. Rather than being honored Tecumseh stood up tall, pointed to the sky and replied, “Gen. Harrison is not my father. The Great Spirit (God) is my father.” Pointing to the Earth he said,”And the Earth is my mother and I will repose upon her bosom.” So saying Tecumseh sat cross-legged upon the ground. Harrison and his staff were thus forced to join him upon the ground.
Tecumseh boldly confronted Harrison challenging him to be honorable and just and with great sincerity, conviction, eloquence and energy Tecumseh tried to reason with Harrison. “Brother, I wish you to give me close attention, because I think you do not clearly understand. I want to speak to you about promises that the Americans have made. You recall the time when the Jesus Indians of the Delawares (Christian converted natives) lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises of friendship, and thought they were secure, yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus? Brother, I mean to bring all the tribes together, in spite of you, and until I have finished, I will not go to visit your President (in Washington DC).
Maybe I will when I have finished, maybe…But you do not want unity among the tribes, and you destroy it. You try to make differences between them. We, their leaders, wish them to unite and consider their land the common property of all, but you try to keep them from this. You separate the tribes and deal with them that way, one by one, and advise them not to come into this union. Your states have set an example of forming a union among all the Fires (States), why should you censure the Indians for following that example?
The only way to stop this evil is for all the Red Men to unite in claiming an equal right in the land. That is how it was at first, and should be still, for the land never was divided, but was for the use of everyone. Any tribe could go to an empty land and make a home there. And if they left, another tribe could come there and make a home. No groups among us have a right to sell, even to one another, and surely not to outsiders who want all, and will not do with less.
Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the clouds, and the Great Sea, as well as the Earth? Did not the Great Good Spirit make them all for the use of his children?
The being within me hears the voice of the ages, which tells me that once, always, and until lately, there were no white men on all this island, that it then belonged to the Red Men, children of the same parents, placed on it by the Great Good Spirit who made them.
And that I might make the destiny of my Red People of our Nation, as great as I conceive it could be in my mind, when I think of Weshemoneto (God), who rules this universe! I would not then have to come to Governor Harrison and ask him to tear up this treaty and wipe away the marks upon the land. No! I would say to him, “Sir, you may return to your own country!”
When Jesus Christ came upon the earth, you killed him, the son of your own God, you nailed him up! You thought he was dead, but you were mistaken. And only after you thought you killed him did you worship him, and start killing those who would not worship him. What kind of a people is this for us to trust? Tecumseh
Now, Brother, everything I have said to you is the truth, as Weshemoneto (God) has inspired me to speak only truth to you. I have declared myself freely to you about my intentions. And I want to know your intentions. I want to know what you are going to do about the taking of our land. I want to hear you say that you understand now, and will wipe out that pretended treaty, so that the tribes can be at peace with each other, as you pretend you want them to be.Tell me, brother. I want to know now!” Later observers would recall the impression Tecumseh made.
After witnessing a three hour speech by Tecumseh W.S. Hatch wrote, “The effect of his bitter burning words of eloquence was so great upon his companions that whole the 300 of them could hardly refrain from springing from their seats. Their eyes flashed, and even the most aged, many of whom were smoking, evinced the greatest excitement. The orator appeared in all the power of a fiery and impassioned speaker and actor.”
General Harrison, himself who had long envisioned Tecumseh’s younger brother Tenskwatawa as his primary rival for the hearts and minds of the Indians, now realized that Tecumseh was the true genius behind the resistance. “This brother is really the efficient man – the Moses of the family. He is described by all as a bold, active sensible man daring in the extreme and capable of any undertaking.”
Though impressed by Tecumseh’s words Harrison refused to compromise. He ridiculed Tecumseh’s dream of a unified Indian peoples by saying that if God had wanted them to unite he would not have divided them by language and custom. Harrison then insulted Tecumseh by denying that he had any right to speak for anyone other than his own small band of Shawnee. This enraged Tecumseh and cutting off Harrison in mid-sentence he rose to his feet brandishing his tomahawk axe. Having no guns on hand his warriors all jumped up as well brandishing their native weapons. Tecumseh accused Harrison of lying and as the tension rose Harrison pulled out his sword as the Guard was called to defend the General.For his part General Harrison sternly announced an end to the meeting.
During the night tension reigned as both parties prepared for battle. However Tecumseh regretted his outburst and by the next day emotions had mellowed and the talks began again. Despite the effort at amity nothing was resolved. Rejecting all of Harrison’s points Tecumseh made it plain and simple. The Indians are not interested in annuities or treaties. All they needed and wanted was their land and the freedom to practice their religion and customs as they had for countless millennia.
The two antagonists Tecumseh and Harrison actually met twice for extended meetings. The first meeting took place in August 1810 and the second meeting was held in July 1811. At the second meeting, honest to a fault, Tecumseh informed Harrison of his planned tour of the Southern Tribes living in the region of the modern south-east United States. Harrison was soon to take advantage of his absence. Assuming that he had gained some time by stalling General Harrison, Tecumseh then departed upon his legendary 6 month journey across America. It was his conviction that until the Indian people cease their hostility towards one another and unite in common cause, only then would he be rewarded with success in this sacred mission. Thus in July 1811 Tecumseh began his journey south.
1811 the Year of Decision
The year 1811 was one of those crucial moments in history when the destiny of humanity itself hangs in the balance. It was a fork in the road, a choice and a final chance was given to choose justice and righteousness over greed, cruelty and mayhem. Tecumseh, sent by the ‘Maker of Life’ (God) urged the Indian people to unite in a solid alliance and in so doing create a virtual “Great Wall of America”. Tecumseh himself referred to it as ‘a dam to resist the mighty waters flooding over Indian lands.’ Rather than bricks and mortar this dam was to be made of the spirit, willpower and manpower of the combined native population of the entire continent. He had the vision but it was up to the Indian people to make it a reality.
Many strange omens and portents began appearing. Natural disturbances occurred unsettling both the White settlers and the Indians. Torrential rains flooded the land forcing one and all to seek shelter in the hills. Squirrels, who do not roam in packs, suddenly joined together in packs of ‘tens of thousands’ rushing madly from the north, through the forests and dashing into the Ohio River only to helplessly drowned. An ‘unprecedented sickness’ swept the region emptying towns.
Then in March 1811 a massive comet appeared in the skies. In North America it was soon to be called ‘Tecumseh’s Comet. The comet, with an orbit of 3,065 years, was last seen during the time of Ramses II of Egypt. Its head was a million miles across and its tail was 132 million miles long. At first it was not visible in America. Then in September it suddenly became visible. Coinciding with Tecumseh’s arrival in the South the comet lit up the night, travelling like Tecumseh, from west to east.
Everywhere he went the comet seemed to follow Tecumseh announcing his arrival. The forests and fields were ‘lit up in a dull twilight’ as the awesome phenomenon inspired awe and consternation, not just in America, but across the world. Many assumed the end of the world was nigh. Panicked descriptions and warnings filled the conversations and press around the world.
The comet reached its brightest on October 15th, 1811. For many Natives the comet was a sign from the Creator and served to inspire confidence in the authenticity of Tecumseh’s message. Everywhere Tecumseh went that awesome comet, brilliant and searing across the night skies, reminded one and all that the Great Celestial Panther himself was indeed among them.
Tecumseh’s people, the Shawnee, identified meteors and comets as a ‘Celestial Panther Flying Across the Sky’. At his birth a meteor burst through the skies and thus Tecumseh was named after this phenomenon. Surely it was no mere coincidence that this great comet appeared along with he whose very name, Tecumseh, means meteor or comet and he whose birth was marked by this very same ‘Panther Across the Sky’. Indeed Tecumseh was a Divine Messenger sent by God. He represented the last chance for the Red People to unite and thus save themselves and their civilization as they hovered on the brink of extinction.
Tecumseh, handsome, dynamic and bold was already quite an impressive figure. Now silhouetted by the great comet for which he was named at birth, decorated with body paint and a red headband, 2 crane feathers in his hair- one white for peace the other red in preparation for war, silver armbands and 3 silver rings hanging from the center of his nose, Tecumseh appeared magnificent and inspiring.
Tecumseh’s Call for Indian Unity
Tecumseh had instructed his warriors to carry only Indian weapons and to wear only native dress to show that they relied solely upon the Indian ways. While Tecumseh was dressed in a simple fashion his group of 30 or so followers dressed in a ‘fantastic fashion’ with eagle and hawk feathers in their hair and buffalo tails jutting from the back of their belts as other tails and hawk feathers protruded from their arms.Their bodies were painted black, red semi-circles and slashes were beneath their eyes and across their cheekbones, They had red circles on their foreheads and red jagged lightning bolts streaked down their arms and legs. Their heads were shaven except for three braided scalp-locks that hung down their backs. The entire composition was accentuated by a large red circle upon their chests.
Just as in in Hindu and Polynesian ceremonies a sacred conchshell was blown announcing the beginning of the ceremony and then Tecumseh was formally introduced to the audience.
We get a sample of this introduction from his visit to the Creek Indians of Tukabatchee, Alabama. The Creek Chief Big Warrior announced Tecumseh. “From somewhere in the outer darkness, where the Spirits (gods) live beyond the moon, a comet torch is racing towards us – a thing of wonder, a sword of fire! To those of us whose hearts are downcast, whose breath is a stabbing pain, it puts into our hands a tool, a weapon, it gives us hope for our salvation. It gives us hope to avenge the wrongs against us. Tecumseh, springing like a panther, whose eyes are coal of deadly fire, gives hope to all who listen. Look now! Tecumseh Comes!
In a three-part dance series Tecumseh and his troupe performed new dances including the “Dance of the Lakes” which soon became a favorite for the Indians of the Alabama region. As they danced they placed themselves at the center of the square and then Tecumseh announced loudly, “ Just see the fiery arm of Weshemanitou (God) flying across the sky! And remember that I am Tecumseh – the Shooting Star. Behold the Shooting Star of Weshemanitou!” This was followed by the loud whooping of his followers. A ceremonial pipe was lit and passed around the gathering. Then as the audience was in a state of great excitement and their attention fully gathered Tecumseh began to speak with intensity and power. His was the voice of a brilliant mind and his words stirred the imagination of all who saw him. His countenance brightened and his erect body swelled with emotion as his personality enthralled his audience.
Words like a Succession of Thunderbolts
Brothers — My people wish for peace; the red men all wish for peace; but where the white people are, there is no peace for them, except it be on the bosom of our mother. Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pokanoket, and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and the oppression of the White Man, as snow before a summer sun. Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn without a struggle, give up our homes, our country bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead and everything that is dear to us? I know you will cry with me, Never! NEVER!.
Brothers – The annihilation of our race is at hand! This is assured unless we unite in one common cause against our common foe. Think not, brave Choctaws and Chickasaws, that you can remain passive and indifferent to the common danger, and thus escape the common fate. Your people, too, will soon be as falling leaves and scattering clouds before their blighting breath. You, too, will be driven away from your native land and ancient domains as leaves are driven before the wintry storms.
Sleep no longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws, in false security and delusive hopes. Our broad domains are fast escaping from our grasp. Every year our white intruders become more greedy, exacting, oppressive and overbearing. Every year contentions spring up between them and our people and when blood is shed we have to make atonement whether right or wrong, at the cost of the lives of our greatest chiefs, and the yielding up of large tracts of our lands.
Brothers, The white people send runners amongst us; they wish to make us enemies, that they may sweep over and desolate our hunting grounds, like devastating winds, or rushing waters. If there be one here tonight who believes that his rights will not sooner or later be taken from him by the avaricious American pale faces, his ignorance ought to excite pity, for he knows little of our common foe…
Now listen to the voice of duty, of honor, of nature and of your endangered country. Let us form one body, one heart, and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.
Brothers, we must be united; we must smoke the same pipe; we must fight each other’s battles; and, most importantly, we must love the Great Spirit (God): he is for us; he will destroy our enemies, and make all his red children happy.
Tecumseh travelled throughout the land sharing his message of solidarity and unity. His tour took him through many towns throughout the Indian country. The delivery of his message impressed all who listened.
The ‘Daniel Boone of Alabama’, General Samuel Dale, who had fought the Indians, provides an eyewitness account. “At length Tecumseh spoke, at first slowly and in sonorous tones; but soon he grew impassioned, and the words fell in avalanches from his lips. His eyes burned with supernatural lustre, and his whole frame trembled with emotion: his voice resounded over the multitude—now sinking in low and musical whispers, now rising to its highest key, hurling out his words like a succession of thunderbolts. I have heard many great orators but I have never seen one with the vocal powers of Tecumseh or the same command of the muscles in his face.” US Brigadier General Samuel Dale
The Enemy Within
Despite his eloquence the jealousy and fear of many Indian Chiefs and Elders rose up to oppose him. Everywhere Tecumseh went he was followed by a Choctaw Chief named Pushmataha. He had been bribed by the Americans to follow Tecumseh from town to town to discredit and deflate the impression he made. He would follow Tecumseh’s speech with a speech of his own ridiculing Tecumseh’s words and spreading American propaganda throughout the tribes. He rejected the offers of alliance and reconquest proffered by Tecumseh and instead Pushmataha and his tribe sided with the Americans during the War of 1812.
He even went so far as to warn Tecumseh directly that he would fight against anyone who fought against the United States. A Cherokee Chief named Nunnehidihi (The Ridge) reportedly threatened Tecumseh with death if he tried to spread his message to the Cherokees. However in fulfillment of Tecumseh’s prophetic warnings every Indian tribe, be they friend or foe were soon forced off their lands and driven across the Mississippi River.
Despite their vocal and strident support for the Americans both Pushmataha and Nunnehidihi, like some of Tecumseh’s own Shawnee that also supported the US, were later forcibly removed and betrayed by the US Government’s Indian Removal Act. Nunnehidihi along with his son were eventually assassinated by their fellow Cherokees for signing the Treaty of Removal leading to the loss of nearly all the Cherokee homelands.
Chief Yonaguska and the White Cherokee
In the end only one small group of Cherokee Indians were allowed to remain in their original homelands. This group of Cherokee of the Qualla Township, inspired by a follower of Tecumseh named Tsali (who was martyred) and guided by their chief Yonaguska represent a rare example of native survival. Chief Yonaguska was a remarkable man who like Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa had a vision after nearly dying. Like Tenskwatawa he had spent years drinking alcohol and recognized its debilitating impact upon his people.
“When he was 60 years old and critically ill, Yonaguska fell into a trance. Certain that the end had come, his people gathered around him at the Soco Council House and mourned him for dead. In approximately 24 hours, however, Yonaguska awakened. When the chief addressed his people, he relayed a message from the spirit world: “The Cherokee must never again drink whiskey. Whiskey must be banished.” He then had Will Thomas write out a pledge: “The undersigned Cherokees, belonging to the town of Qualla,” it read, “agree to abandon the use of spirituous liquors.” Yonaguska then signed it, followed by the entire council and town. Preserved among Thomas’ papers, the pledge is now in the archives of the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University. From the signing of the pledge until his death in 1839 at the age of 80, whiskey was almost unknown among the Cherokees.” Kephart, Horace (1936). The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains
When Christian missionaries came among his people to preach the Bible he insisted that it first be read to him before allowing it to be circulated among his people. After hearing the words of the Bible Chief Yonaguska responded,” Well, it seems a good book – strange that the white people are no better, after having had it for so long.”
In a move that assured the future of his people Chief Yonaguska adopted an orphaned white 14 year old boy named William Holland Thomas. The boy learnt the Cherokee customs as well as how to write in Cherokee. He also learned their legends, history, and culture. Furthermore, at the age of 16, Will opened his first business (a general store) and perfected his organizational, leadership, and managerial skills. With a volume of law books, Thomas also became a self-taught and persuasive lawyer and acquired knowledge that would prove critical to the Cherokees’ survival.
William Holland Thomas was later elected as a State Senator and through his business and political acumen he was able to protect his adopted people. Thus the Cherokee of Qualla, North Carolina successfully resisted the US Govt’s Indian Removal Act. Through the use of his own funds William H. Thomas purchased the land demanded from the Indians and then left it in the care of the Cherokee people. As a white man, Thomas could legally hold a deed to the lands and allow the Cherokee to live on them. Thus to this day the Eastern Band of the Cherokee people remain in their original ancestral homelands.
2011 US Guv Honors Tecumseh’s Visit
Though his travels occurred over 200 years ago its impact is felt to this very day. On September 27, 2011 the Governor of the US State of Alabama issued a proclamation in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Tecumseh’s visit to Tukabatchee, Alabama.
‘WHEREAS In the fall of 1811, Tecumseh of Creek and Shawnee ancestry came here to his mother’s town to persuade the Nation’s warriors to adopt his ideas of rejection of the presence of American intruders and return to traditional ways;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert Bentley, Governor of Alabama, do hereby do proclaim the October 1, 2011 “Tecumseh at Tukabatchee Bicentennial Day” in Alabama and extend honorable and warm greetings and hospitality to the Creek Nation of Oklahoma.”