Supernatural Support for Tecumseh

September 29, 2012

Tecumseh left the less than enthusiastic Choctaw with his Shawnee, Kickapoo and Winnebago delegation and crossed the Tombigbee River into Creek country. Here his message would find a much friendlier reception. The two nations were tied by intermarriage. Tecumseh even had relatives of his own living in Creek towns and villages.

Big Warrior, the leading civil chief of the Upper Creek nation, was attending a major conference at the Creek town of Tuckabatchee when Tecumseh arrived. There were delegates already there from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Seminole nations.  Many were already familiar with The Prophet’s message of return to traditionalism having traveled north to Prophetstown to hear it. This along with a ready-made audience of various nations in a country so closely related to the Shawnee afforded Tecumseh the perfect forum to deliver his own message of a pan Indian confederacy.

Something else heralded Tecumseh’s coming that September. A comet appeared in the night sky. It was understood to be a sign from the spirit world pointing to the greatness of Tecumseh. After all, Tecumseh’s name meant Shooting Star.

There was also another delegation at the conference. It consisted of Americans led by the Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins. He was there to proposition the Creek with the government’s intention to build another road through their territory. Big Warrior was no friend of Hawkins and the Creek were still seething about a federal road being imposed upon them six years earlier. Hopoithle Mico or Tame King, the leading chief from the Upper Creek town of Tallassee, had sent a message of protest to President Madison and received the reply that his protest was unreasonable. They cut the road anyway.

Now Hawkins was here regarding a second road. The Creek resisted. Negotiations went nowhere for three weeks until finally Hawkins laid out in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t there to ask them for permission but to inform them that the cutting had already begun. He laid out the terms of payment and left.

Tecumseh let Hawkins make his presentation while remaining silent about his own mission to the Creek nation. He needed a good example of American arrogance and Hawkins provided it. Now it was his turn to address the council.

The delegation from the north mesmerized the conference first with their elaborate war dance followed by Tecumseh’s charismatic oratory. Many eagerly received his vision. This vision of a warrior confederacy and the Prophet’s vision of a total return to traditionalism gave rise to the Red Sticks. They were a warrior society that would go on to lead the most desperate First Nation rebellion the United States would ever see.

Tecumseh left Creek territory bolstered by his success. However, there was yet to be another even more dramatic supernatural sign of his stature and his power. Shortly after his departure a series of major earth tremors occurred. Labelled the New Madrid earthquakes they would be among the severest ever felt on the North American continent. The first arrived on the night of December 16, 1811. The epicenter was in Arkansas south of the town of New Madrid, Missouri. The town was destroyed.  The vibrations made steeple bells ring out in Charleston, South Carolina. They lasted until February of 1812 and for a time the Mississippi reversed course and ran backwards!

The First Nations of the south-east were terrified. A legend grew up that Tecumseh had predicted the collapse of the middle world and its recreation. Word spread that Tecumseh had prophesied that when he returned to Detroit he would stomp his foot and make the earth tremble. These great events fed warrior societies like the Red Sticks and they took ownership of the visions of Tecumseh and his brother The Prophet.

Tecumseh crossed the Mississippi in December and was in Osage country when the tremors began. The Osage were not so anti-American as some of the south-eastern First Nations. Therefore, they were not so quick to ascribe American aggression as the root cause of the quakes. Instead they believed the cause was their general falling away from traditionalism to accept American culture. It was the Prophet who would get credit for the proper interpretation of events.

Tecumseh moved on to spread his message among his own people the Missouri Shawnee as well as the Delaware but ran into the same roadblocks as he did with the Osage. When he returned to the Mississippi he headed north through Fox country to the territory of the Santee Dakota Sioux all the time sharing his vision of a pan Indian confederation to stop American aggression. He even hinted at military aid from the British. The Dakota sent red wampum to the Sauk and Winnebago indicating their approval of Tecumseh’s message and their willingness to go to war.

Tecumseh’s journey was coming to an end. He retraced his footsteps  down the Mississippi then turned east heading for home. He traveled through Illinois territory also speaking at Kickapoo, Ojibwa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa villages. Some chiefs were unwilling to receive his vision but many others joined the Confederacy. All in all the sojourn to gain adherents was a success. However, what would confront him when he arrived home at Prophetstown in late January turned satisfaction at his success to feelings of utter despair.

NEXT WEEK:  Disaster at Prophetstown


Another Round of Land Cessions – Part 3

September 16, 2012

On November 17, 1807 another cession treaty was signed between the United States and several First Nations at Detroit. It involved a huge tract of land mostly contained in the Territory of Michigan but dipping slightly into Ohio Territory. The Treaty of Detroit was negotiated by the Governor of Michigan Territory, William Hull, and the chiefs of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandotte nations including Little Thunder and Walk In the Water.

The tract of land ceded included all of the south-eastern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. Reserved out of this tract were some eight reservations scattered between the Miami River of Ohio to just north of the Huron River above Detroit. It also included six tracts of one square mile each to be located at places chosen by the “said Indians…and subject to the approbation of the President of the United States”.

Although Hull managed to acquire a huge chunk of Michigan Territory he wasn’t very visionary. The reservations laid out which, by the way coincided with First Nation villages, prevented a straight road being built between the American communities of Ohio and Detroit. So he was back the following year to negotiate right-of-ways through the reservations that blocked the soon to be built road. He managed to negotiate the Treaty of Brownstown on November 25, 1808. This treaty also included the signature of Black Hoof for the  Shawnee.

However, William Hull was not as successful in dealing with the Chippewa of Saginaw. The chiefs from there had been attending conferences at Greenville with chiefs from the other nations and they formed the consensus that there should be no more land cessions. When he approached the Saginaw chiefs with a proposal they flatly refused and when he tried to insist they insisted he leave and never return.

The First Nations were becoming obstinate aggravated by the Americans gobbling up their hunting territories. Not only were they feeling cheated and abused they were angry that annuities promised from the 1805 treaty were over two years late. Of course there were still some that had always been adamant that the original boundary negotiated in 1768 between the United States and “Indian Country” should be adhered to. The premier chief of this group was of course Tecumseh. His brother Tenskwatawa was a leading holy man and strongest ally.

Tenskwatawa as a young man had become a drunk but after just a few years received a life-altering vision from the Master of Life. He abandoned his wanton ways and was received among his nation as a master shaman. He was a good orator and made a striking figure with the eye patch which he had worn since an accident had cause the loss of his right eye in his childhood. 

The Potawatomi War Chief and shaman Main Poc allied himself with Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa. Both Main Poc, who was noted for his spiritual powers and Tenskwatawa who was also called The Prophet were holy men. In late 1807 Main Poc suggested that The Prophet move his followers to Potawatomi territory. The following spring Tenskwatawa settled about one hundred of them near the junction of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers.

Both Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh began to grow in stature. Between 1808 and 1811 The Prophet’s modest village grew to over one thousand followers and the American’s were calling it Prophetstown. The Prophet’s vision was one of a common lifestyle where all First Nations would reject the European ways and return to their traditional way of life. This applied especially to the abstinence of alcohol. To this end he would send out his disciples to preach his message. One such disciple was Trout who was recorded at Michilimacinac preaching a return to the Indian ways and teaching that the Americans, but not other whites, were the offspring of The Evil One.

Tecumseh’s vision was not as spiritual as his brother’s. He envisioned a pan Indian Confederacy from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior as the only way to stop American expansion. He worked tirelessly toward this goal building a coalition of warriors from various First Nations using Prophetstown as his base. Most of his warriors were from nations other than the Shawnee as most of them followed Black Hoof and his policy of assimilation acceptance.

Since 1798 the Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw nations had held councils to discuss a united effort to protect their lands. They held one in 1810 and Tecumseh knew about it. There was another to be held at Tuckabatchee on the Tallapoosa River the following year. Tecumseh planned on attending to sell his vision of a pan Indian confederacy stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior. He headed south that summer well in advance of the scheduled conference at Tuckabatchee. Tecumseh wanted to visit chiefs throughout the south and the Choctaw were his first to receive him.

The Choctaw nation had three territories each with a principal chief. The first chief he visited was Moshulatubbee head chief of the northeast. Moshulatubbee listened to Tecumseh but showed no indication of his feelings on Tecumseh’s message. Instead he sent runners throughout Choctaw territory calling them to a grand council at he’s village of Moshulaville. While the runners were out calling the chiefs to convene Tecumseh visited many surrounding towns spreading his message.

Tecumseh’s final oratory was given at the grand council called by Moshulatubbee. Many attended including the principal chief of the southern territory Pushmataha. In fact all three principal chiefs attended the August grand council but it would be Pushmataha that would be Tecumseh’s nemisis.

Tecumseh passionately laid out his vision. On the second day Pushmataha spoke just as passionately against it. All three chiefs were receiving U.S. pensions and Pushmataha had recieved five hundred dollars for supporting the ceding of Choctaw lands in 1805. In the end Pushmataha’s message of peace and friendship with the United States won out. Tecumseh’s trip to Choctaw country had failed but he remained resolved to carry on. Leaving the land of the Choctaw he crossed the Tombigbee River into the country of the Creek Nation.

Next Week: Supernatural Support for Tecumseh