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