The Danger Period -- Indian History

Tecumseh and the Prophet

A factor in our Indiana troubles that became historic was the influence of the Shawnee chief, Tecumtha (often written Tecumseh) and his brother, known as the "Prophet," and the part that influenced played in precipitating important issues. These two remarkable Indians first appeared in Indiana history in 1805, among the Delawares on White River, where the Prophet fomented a witchcraft craze which resulted in the murder of several victims accused by him, and which had somewhat the complexion of a crusade of vengeance against those who were friendly to the settlers and who had sanctioned the sales of land. In 1808 the tow appeared among the Potawatomis and established themselves at the mouth of Tippecanoe River a few miles above the site of Lafayette. Here they drew about them Indians of various tribes and the place became known as the Prophet's Town. The Prophet was a religious teacher whose propaganda was a strange mingling of ethics, wisdom and gross superstition. He claimed to be a divine spokesman and to have supernatural vision, and this seems to have been the great source of his power among his followers. This power he exercised in the furtherance of the plans conceived by his brother Tecumseh.

Tecumseh was one of the most notable Indians of history, being an aboriginal orator, patriot and statesman. Foreseeing the ultimate destruction of his race, the effort of his life was to stop the advancing host of invaders, and to this end he planned and worked to federate the red tribes and thus create a power that could hope to stem the oncoming tide. The heterogeneous gathering at the Prophet's Town was but a nucleus of the federation that was hoped for. He took a bold and consistent stand against the selling of lands to the United States government, maintaining that many of the Indians concerned did not agree to these sales, and that they were not valid without the consent of all the tribes. The claim of the Shawnees was based on the fact that when, by the Treaty of 1795, the settlers took Ohio and the Ohio Indians were all pushed back into the Miami territory in Indiana, they too became part owners of that territory (Dunn). When, in 1809, a new treaty cut off about three million acres more from the Indian holdings and carried the boundary line far up the Wabash, Tecumseh's opposition became threatening. IN 1810 he visited Vincennes and his retinue for a council with Governor Harrison, and expressed his views with such plainness that a clash was narrowly averted. His final assurance at this memorable conference was that if the settlers crossed the old boundary line with their surveyors there would be bad consequences.

After this Tecumseh went on a tour among the tribes of the south to spread his doctrine of Indian Federation and during his absence the decisive Battle of Tippecanoe was fought, ending his dreams of a successful resistance. When the War of 1812 broke out he joined the British and was killed in the Battle of the Thames.

After the Battle of Tippecanoe the Prophet, who had precipitated that battle and urged his followers on, assuring them that the bullets of the enemy could not harm them, fell into disrepute among his people, and after living in "a sort of disgrace" among various bands, died beyond the Mississippi in 1834.