CHRONICLES OF CANADA
Edited by George M. Wrong and H. H. Langton
In thirty-two volumes
A Chronicle of the last Great Leader of his People
By ETHEL T. RAYMOND
I. THE BOYHOOD OF TECUMSEH
II. THE BAPTISM OF FIRE
III. A LEADER AMONG HIS PEOPLE
IV. THE PROPHET
V. A GIFTED ORATOR
VI. THE BATTLE OF TIPPECANOE
VII. UNDER THE BRITISH FLAG
VIII. FIGHTING ON AMERICAN SOIL
IX. THE BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE
X. TECUMSEH’S LAST FIGHT BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
THE BOYHOOD OF TECUMSEH
Three Indian figures stand out in bold relief on the background of Canadian history—the figures of Pontiac, Brant, and Tecumseh. The Ottawa chief Pontiac was the friend of the French, and, when the French suffered defeat, he plotted and fought to drive the English from the Indian country. Brant, the Mohawk, took the king’s side against the Americans in the War of Independence, and finally led his defeated people to Canada that they might have homes on British soil. And Tecumseh threw in his lot with the British in the War of 1812 and gave his life in their service. But, while Pontiac fought for the French and Brant and Tecumseh for the British, it was for the lost cause of their own people that all three were really fighting; and it was for this that they spent themselves in vain.
Tecumseh, whose story we are to tell in this volume, sprang from the Shawnees, an energetic and warlike tribe of Algonquian stock. The Algonquins, whose tribal branches were scattered from Labrador to the Rockies and from Hudson Bay to North Carolina, believed that a deity presided over each of the four cardinal points of the compass. Shawan was the guardian spirit of the South; and, as the tribe to which Tecumseh belonged formerly lived south of the other tribes, its members became known as Shawanoes, or Shawnees—that is, Southerners.
Little is known of the history of the Shawnees, for they were restless bands, greater wanderers even than the generality of Indians, and their continual change of settlement baffles historical research. Upon the southern shores of Lake Erie, on the banks of the Ohio, and along the broad Mississippi, at different times they pitched their tents. The name of the river Suwanee, or ‘Swanee,’ corrupted from their own, marks their abode at one time in Georgia and Florida.
The Shawnees were originally divided into twelve clans, each clan adopting as its totem a reptile, bird, or animal that at some time had been regarded as a benign spirit. As a result of continual wars and wandering, however, the twelve clans had dwindled to four. Only the Mequachake, Chillicothe, Piqua, and Kiscopoke remained. In the first of these, which conducted all tribal rites, the chiefship was hereditary; in the other three it was the reward of merit.
To the Kiscopoke clan belonged Tecumseh’s father, Puckeshinwau (‘something that drops’). He had been elevated to the rank of chief by his brother-warriors, and at the time of Tecumseh’s birth was a powerful leader among his people. The panther was the totem of his clan. Tecumseh’s mother, named Methoataske (‘a turtle laying eggs in the sand’), is said to have been noted for wisdom among the women of her tribe, and her name shows that she belonged to the clan having the turtle as its totem. After much wandering, Puckeshinwau settled down in the Ohio country with his family and the band that accompanied him in his migrations. It was in the old Indian village of Piqua, about six miles south-west of the site of the present city of Springfield, Ohio, and within sound of the rushing waters of the Mad River, that he set up the wigwam in which, in the year 1768, Tecumseh first opened his eyes. We are told that a rich, wide plateau, gemmed with wild flowers, extended between the village and the river, and that precipitous cliffs rose on one side, while rolling hills crowned with tall trees completed the circle of the village.
Tecumseh was the fourth child of a family of seven. His elders were Cheeseekau, the eldest son, Tecumapease, the only daughter, and Sauwaseekau; the younger children were Nehasumo, Laulewasikaw, and Kumshakaw. The two last were twins; and twins were held in superstitious awe by the Indians, who feared them as possessed of occult power, and frequently put one or both to death. In this instance no such fate befell the children. Kumshakaw evinced none of the dreaded attributes, and lived to a ripe old age, but Laulewasikaw, by his practice of magic and claims of supernatural knowledge and power, as we shall see later, bore out the ancient belief.
Tecumseh in his early days was left largely to the care of his sister, Tecumapease. Thus between the two there arose a strong attachment which lasted until Tecumseh’s death. From the well-known Indian practices in relation to the bringing up of young children we can imagine how the days of his infancy were passed. When not rolling on the ground, the child would be closely confined in his curious cradle, a sack made from the skin of an animal and bound to a thin, straight board, somewhat larger than his body. Great care would be taken to keep straight the infant limbs, that their symmetry might be preserved in later life. This was the first stage in the making of an Indian stoic. Every part of the cradle was symbolical. That the child’s life might be preserved, the heart of a tree was used for the cradle board. Along the wooden bow above the child’s head, which symbolized the sky, zigzag furrows were cut to represent lightning, the power of which was designated by suspended arrows. Through holes in the upper part of the board was threaded a leather thong, or burden-strap, which Tecumapease passed about her forehead when carrying the papoose on her back, or which the mother fastened to the pommel of her saddle when making long journeys. It served also to hang the cradle to the branch of a tree, when the child swayed backwards and forwards with the motion of the bough while the wind crooned him to sleep. The cradle would sometimes be placed upright against a tree-trunk, so that Tecumseh’s eyes might follow Tecumapease as she helped to grind the corn in a hollow stone or sift it through baskets; or, again, while she mixed the meal into cakes, and carefully covered them with leaves before baking them in the ashes.
Sometimes Tecumapease would carry Tecumseh on her back to where Methoataske worked in the field with the other women of her tribe. Like them, from bearing heavy burdens and doing the drudgery of the camp, Tecumapease was strong and sturdy rather than graceful. Her hair, black and glossy as a raven’s wing, hung below her waist in a heavy braid. The short, loose sleeves of her fringed leather smock gave freedom to her strong brown arms. A belted skirt, leggings, and embroidered moccasins completed her costume. On special occasions, like other Indian women, she adorned herself with a belt and collar of coloured wampum, weaving strands of it into her hair; and sometimes a necklace of polished elk-teeth gleamed on her dusky throat. When Tecumseh had learned the use of his legs, he would romp about the camp with the other black-eyed children of his tribe. He watched his father, Puckeshinwau, make the flint arrow-head and split the wooden shaft to receive it, bind it firmly with a thong, and tip the other end of the shaft with a feather to wing it on its flight; and saw the men build the birch canoe, so light that one man could shoulder it, yet strong enough to carry a heavy load.
During Tecumseh’s childhood the Indians north of the Ohio were in a state of unrest. They had been subdued by Bouquet, [footnote: See The War Chief of the Ottawas in this Series.] but the leniency of that humane leader, in merely exacting that they should return their white prisoners and remain at peace, was looked on by the tribes as a mark of weakness; and, while no open war broke out, young warriors occasionally attacked traders and settlers. By the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in 1768, the Six Nations had ceded to the whites the land between the Ohio and the Tennessee. But this was the common hunting-ground of all the tribes, and the Indians both south and north of the Ohio resented the action of the Six Nations and opposed the entrance of white settlers into this region. They were encouraged in their opposition by the action of the British government in proclaiming the territory west of the Alleghanies Indian country and forbidding settlers to enter it. But the hardy Virginians could not be kept out, and slowly but surely ever westward the smoke of their woodland huts ascended, and the forests of what are now Kentucky and Tennessee were falling beneath the axe of the frontiersmen. Resentful of the encroachments of the Virginians on their hunting-grounds, frequent war-parties of Shawnees, Delawares, Mohicans, Cherokees, and Mingoes crossed the Ohio and crept stealthily on some unguarded settlement, to slay and scalp the inhabitants and carry off their horses and cattle. The chiefs disclaimed responsibility for these raids, but in words which made the settlers in a sense responsible for them.
It was we [they said] who so kindly received Europeans on their first arrival into our own country. We took them by the hand and bade them welcome, to sit down by our side and live with us as brothers; but how did they requite our kindness? They at first asked only for a little land on which to raise bread for their families and pasture their cattle, which we freely gave them. They saw the game in the woods which the Great Spirit had given us for our subsistence, and they wanted it too. They penetrated into the woods in quest of game, they discovered spots of land which they also wanted, and because we were loath to part with it, as we saw they already had more than they had need of, they took it from us by force and drove us to a great distance from our homes.
At this time there was not community of interest or united action among the colonies. Pennsylvania and Virginia each claimed authority in the Indian country. The Pennsylvanians viewed the country from a trading point of view; the Virginians viewed it as a field for settlement. So bitter was the feud between the two colonies that for a time civil strife was imminent. And while this family quarrel was at its height, the Indian scalping raids grew in frequency and violence; and the memory of the Pontiac War was still fresh in the minds of the frontiersmen. Many Pennsylvanians in the west became alarmed, and soon the passes of the Alleghanies were filled with fugitive settlers returning to their former homes. The Virginians of Kentucky were made of sterner stuff. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, was ambitious for his colony, and determined to make good by the sword Virginia’s claim to the region of which Fort Pitt was the centre; and, under leaders like the veteran borderers, Michael Cresap and Daniel Boone, and the youthful and audacious hunter and surveyor, George Rogers Clark, the Virginians strengthened their fortified villages and led successful raids against the tribes north of the Ohio.
For some time the Shawnees had been at peace, but in the latter part of April 1774, when two Indians suspected of horse-stealing were put to death near Wheeling, on the Ohio, they threatened war. A little later a party of Virginians fired upon a band of Indians, and killed several. Again, thirty-two white men, hitherto friends of the Indians, set out to attack a hunting-party of warriors camped on the Ohio. A friendly squaw warned them to return, as the Indians, who were carousing, had vowed vengeance for the death of their tribesmen. But the white men had determined to destroy the band; and by the promise of more rum they enticed a number of the Indians to cross the river to their camp, where they put all to death, with the exception of one child, not even sparing the kindly counsellor. Other Indians across the river, alarmed by the sound of shooting, sent two canoes to the rescue, but the whites drawn up on shore fired upon their occupants, killing twelve and wounding several more. The Indians were further incensed by the murder of Bald Eagle, a sachem of the Delawares, who was attacked and scalped while returning from a visit to a fort at the mouth of the Great Kanawha, and whose body, placed in an upright position in his canoe, was found drifting down the Ohio by his enraged followers. Even Silver Heels, a favourite Shawnee chief, barely escaped death. While guiding some white settlers along unfamiliar trails on their way to safety, he was severely wounded by the bullets of other whites waiting for him in ambush.
Such deeds as these urged on the inevitable war, for which the Indians now openly prepared. Even the mighty Mingo chief, Logan, who had ever extended the hand of friendship to the white man, now appeared with uplifted tomahawk to avenge the unprovoked murder of his friends. Some eight hundred warriors were soon assembled, thirsting to avenge these recent murders, and eager to establish their right to the disputed territory. Logan, Elenipsico, Red Eagle, and Puckeshinwau were to lead the Indians, with Cornstalk, ‘the mighty sachem of the Shawnee, and king of the northern confederacy,’ in supreme command.
So it happened that in 1774, when the eastern colonies were on the verge of revolution, the west was in the throes of an Indian war. When Lord Dunmore learned that the Shawnees had declared war, he at once proceeded to raise in Virginia an army of fifteen hundred men; and he instructed General Andrew Lewis to go to Kentucky and recruit among the borderers there an army of the same numerical strength, and march to the mouth of the Great Kanawha, where the two armies would meet. Meanwhile Dunmore advanced to Fort Pitt; but here he changed his plan, marched to the Scioto, and entrenched his force not far from the Indian town of Old Chillicothe. [Footnote: On Paint Creek, near the present city of Chillicothe, Ohio.]
The 9th of October found Lewis with his troops encamped at Point Pleasant, where the Great Kanawha pours its waters into the Ohio, when a messenger arrived with new orders directing him to cross the Ohio and join Dunmore on the Scioto for an advance against the Indian towns to the north. Next morning the camp was astir at daybreak, and the soldiers were busily preparing for their intended march, when a scout returned with news that, about a mile away, a large body of Indians lay in ambush.
These were Cornstalk’s warriors, who had arrived at the Great Kanawha the night before. Advised by active scouts of every movement of the enemy, Cornstalk’s Shawnees, Delawares, Mingoes, and Ioways had crossed the Ohio on the 9th and had lain all night ambushed in the wet woods, impatiently awaiting the dawn. Shortly after sunrise they perceived the Americans advancing to the attack in two detachments, one at some distance from the Ohio, the other along its bank. Presently Cornstalk gave the signal to attack both bodies simultaneously, and the piercing war-cry resounded through the forest as the Indians rushed upon the advancing foe. In the first furious onset the Americans were beaten back, several of them being killed and an officer fatally wounded. Cornstalk’s commanding voice rose high above the clash of arms, cheering on his followers; but the Americans, reinforced from their camp, and fighting desperately, finally drove the Indians from the field. Tecumseh’s father, Puckeshinwau, and others among the ablest warriors, had fallen in the early onrush.
Cornstalk led his defeated warriors to the valley of the Scioto. Here a council-fire was kindled and the chiefs gathered about it. Into the middle of the circle stepped Cornstalk with gloomy countenance but majestic bearing. Searching the faces of those he had led through the long day of battle, he gave voice to the question that was in the mind of all—’What is now our course?’ The only response was the crackling of the fire as its fitful light played on the dusky warriors. ‘The Long Knives are coming upon us by two routes,’ he continued. ‘Shall we fight them—Yes or No?’ The only answer was the harsh, ominous cry of a night-bird. ‘Shall we kill all our women and children and then fight until we ourselves are killed?’ The chiefs still maintained a gloomy silence. Cornstalk wheeled suddenly about; his tomahawk gleamed in the firelight and then sank quivering into the war-post which stood in the midst. ‘Since you are not inclined to fight, I will go and make peace!’ he exclaimed.
Runners bearing belts of white wampum were at once dispatched by the Indians to inform Lord Dunmore, who was now encamped not far from the Shawnee settlement, of their desire for peace. A conference was arranged, only eighteen chiefs, with unarmed escorts, being permitted to attend. Logan, although not averse to peace, had refused to be present. But as the consent of such an influential chief was necessary to any Indian treaty, Dunmore sent a special messenger to him in the person of Colonel Gibson. Gibson met Logan in the forest, and there Logan gave vent to his pent-up feelings with passionate eloquence.
I appeal to any white man to say if he ever entered Logan’s cabin hungry and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate of peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed as they passed and said, ‘Logan is the friend of white men. Colonel Cresap, [Footnote: Logan was mistaken: Cresap was not the murderer. See Roosevelt’s Winning of the West, part ii, p. 31.] the last spring and in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbour a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.
Gibson recorded the words of Logan, and they were duly presented to Dunmore. A treaty of peace was drawn up, by which the Indians agreed to give up all white prisoners and stolen horses and to surrender all claim to the land south of the Ohio.
The effect of Lord Dunmore’s war was to make peace in the hinterland, a matter of vast importance to the Americans on the eve of the Revolution. Great Britain by the Quebec Act had placed the country north of the Ohio and extending to the Mississippi under the government of Canada. But Great Britain was soon too busy with the war in the east to pay any attention to the west, and the hinterland posts remained as they were, feebly guarded and, except for Detroit, administered by French creoles. The Indians, it is true, were friendly to the British, but the crushing defeat they had received at the hands of Lewis and the humiliating terms they were forced to make with Dunmore left them impotent. They once more began their raids, but they were incapable of concerted action; and when in 1778 George Rogers Clark, with a feeble force of less than two hundred men, advanced against the British posts at Kaskaskia and Cahokia on the Mississippi and Vincennes on the Wabash, they were unable to hinder his march. These posts fell into the hands of the Americans, and the Indians, as we shall see, were doomed.
After the battle of Point Pleasant, Cheeseekau, Tecumseh’s eldest brother, led his father’s warriors back to the village of Piqua, where the disasters of the fight were recounted. Still covered with the stains of battle, Cheeseekau related to his mother and his awestruck brothers and sisters the manner of his brave father’s death. The dark shadow of mourning fell upon the survivors. Throughout the village rose the wail of the death-song, Methoataske’s voice mingling in the dirge of the widows; and so a new and tragic scene was imprinted upon the young Tecumseh’s plastic mind.
A father’s task now fell upon Cheeseekau, who took much pride in instructing his younger brother in the art of war and in hunting, and how to endure fatigue and to perform feats of agility and daring. He gave him lessons in woodcraft and forest lore, showing him how to snare the fish, to stalk the wary deer, to guide the frail canoe through treacherous rapids, and, with tightly fastened snow-shoe, to traverse the wintry waste. Tecumseh, of course, had learned to swim almost as soon as he could walk; in running it is said that he could easily out-distance his companions; while his skill with the bow excited their admiration and envy. His greatest delight, however, was to muster his playmates into rival bands for mimic warfare.
The history of Tecumseh’s nation was not recorded in cold print between the covers of a book; it lived in the memories of the elders and on the lips of orators and sachems. In impassioned language and with graphic gesture the deeds of the past were conjured up before the minds of the listeners. By the light of the camp-fire the stripling heard, with kindling eye and throbbing pulse, the tales of the heroic dead; and he early formed the ambition to become a leader of his race. Some sachem would sadly sketch the smiling scenes of health and happiness in the days before the pale-face came to wrest from the Indians their land, the gift of the Great Spirit. And as the boy listened to these stories of encroachment and oppression, a fierce impulse fired his blood and bade him check the advance of the whites and win back the land of which his people had been robbed. Thus was moulded his life’s high purpose; thus was fanned that spark of eloquence which later burst into flame and fired the hearts of his race, from Florida to the Great Lakes.
THE BAPTISM OF FIRE
The populous Indian village of Piqua on the Mad River had prospered during six years of peace. The fertile plains about it had been cultivated in the rude fashion of the Indian, and the corn now stood ripening in the August sun with promise of an abundant harvest. Amid such a scene Tecumseh and his young companions, tired of their play, threw themselves down one evening to listen to the exciting tales of the warriors who lounged smoking in the cool shade. The women busied themselves about the camp-fires cooking the game just brought in by the men. The voices of the Indian girls rose and fell in monotonous song as with nimble fingers they deftly wove the rushes into mats, while keeping a watchful eye upon the little ones who played near by. The few years of peace had given the inhabitants of Piqua a feeling of security, and they did not know that the dark cloud of war even then overshadowed them.
The agents of the British commandant at Detroit had been busy among the Indians seeking to enlist their aid against the revolutionists. And in May of this year (1780) a party of six hundred warriors from the country north of the Ohio, accompanied by a few Canadians, had raided a number of villages in Kentucky, slain many settlers, and carried off horses and prisoners. George Rogers Clark, now holding the rank of colonel in the American army, was on a visit to Kentucky. The frontiersmen rallied about him; and with a body of 970 crack riflemen he crossed the Ohio and advanced on the town of Old Chillicothe. The Indians there had been warned and the town was deserted. The Americans burnt it to the ground and continued their march to Piqua.
At this time there were in Piqua about two hundred warriors and two British agents, Simon Girty and his brother, who had fought under Dunmore against the Shawnees in 1774, and who were now known to the Kentuckians as ‘the white renegades.’ The appearance of Clark and his raiders on the outskirts of the village took the inhabitants completely by surprise. At the first note of alarm, the women, wild with terror, snatched up their infants and fled shrieking to the woods. Tecumseh and the older children followed, hastily gathering a few treasured possessions. The warriors, awakening the forest echoes with their defiant war-cries, took up their position in an old fort which commanded the river. From the opposite side the Kentucky rifle-men assailed the fort, which, in its decayed and ruinous condition, offered but poor shelter. The Indians quickly evacuated it, but not before several had been killed. While the defenders were occupied by the attack from across the river, a detachment of the enemy crept round through the wood and suddenly emerged at the rear of the village. The red men rushed to the defence of their wigwams, and kept the enemy at bay for some time; but the whites being vastly superior in number, the Indians were defeated with great loss, and the whites applied the torch to the village.
At length, when the cry of battle and the sound of firing had ceased, the women and children ventured to creep forth from their forest shelter. The enemy had gone, but had left a scene of desolation behind. The village was a heap of smoking ruins, and the corn in the fields was laid waste. Bodies of dead warriors strewed the ground, many of them lying stretched before their own wigwams, which they had defended so bravely. A scene of smiling peace had indeed been turned into one of deepest mourning. Content and happiness had fled before the ruthless destroyer, and he had gone forward to the next Indian village on his mission of destruction.
The impression made by this scene upon Tecumseh’s youthful mind was enduring. The youth gazed with awe at the dead warriors and watched with childish wonder the preparations for burial. The fallen defenders of Piqua might not have the customary funeral dress, for such things had been destroyed by the fire, but the survivors did what their resources permitted. About the mat whereon each warrior lay were placed his tomahawk, scalping-knife, and other weapons of war. By his side lay his bow and arrow, wherewith to resume the chase with phantom hunters in the Indian paradise. As darkness descended upon the village the women stole out to mourn by the new-made graves. During four nights they faithfully kept long vigil until the lurid light of the funeral fires paled against the brightening dawn. Then, after these last solemn tribal rites had been performed, the Shawnees gathered together their few remaining possessions and followed the trail, leading about thirty miles in a north-westerly direction, to the Great Miami, where they rebuilt their houses. [Footnote: See Handbook of American Indians, vol. ii, p. 260.] A modern American city, with its great mills and costly residences, preserves the Shawnee name of Piqua, and marks the site where these poor Indian fugitives set up their wigwams in the autumn of 1780.
The feud between the Indians and the whites continued with unabated fury. Cheeseekau was now as noted a warrior as his father had been, and became the leading spirit in many fierce frontier encounters. At the camp-fire Tecumseh listened eagerly as his brother told his thrilling tales. So persistent was Tecumseh’s plea to be allowed to go on the war-path that Cheeseekau promised to let him taste real fighting in an attack on a party of whites encamped a few miles south of Piqua. The youth, impatient for the fray, set out bravely with Cheeseekau and his warriors, but when the actual horrors of war, with its blood and confusion, burst upon him, he fled from the field. It may be recalled that Frederick the Great, when first under fire, did the same.
The time soon came when, according to Indian custom, Tecumseh must undergo the solemn ordeal of initiation. He must establish his personal relationship with the unseen world before taking rank as a warrior in his tribe. For this purpose he must go into the solitary woods or ascend some lonely mountain, where, by virtue of fasting, he should receive supernatural help and a revelation of the unknown. He entered alone into the green gloom of the forest. Wild things at which he had been wont to draw his bow now peered at him from the bushes and crossed his path unharmed. For many days he saw the rising sun shine through the dewy woods and watched it sink in splendour below the tree-tops. He slept the tired sleep of youth, and woke refreshed to resume his sacred quest. One day, weary with continual wandering and exhausted from persistent fasting, he threw himself down where a little stream poured its waters into a rocky basin. Lulled by the music of the waterfall, he fell asleep. Then in a dream was revealed to him the unseen world. Suddenly, out of a cluster of stars shot one, brighter than the rest, with shining train. Its brilliance startled him from sleep. About him were the familiar trees, and placid moonlight silvered the waterfall. Across his passive mind flitted half-remembered tales of strange monsters of the sky. The flaming meteor now assumed the crouching shape of a panther about to spring on its prey; now that of a dragon taking its flight across some midnight sky to seek the dark waters of a lake, where it was condemned to dwell, lest it should set the world on fire. Wooed by the slumberous music of the fall, sleep once more closed the dreamer’s heavy eyes. Scarcely had he crossed the threshold of this unknown world when the bright symbol again traced its path. So often did the strange messenger appear that he accepted it as the radiant guardian of his destiny. When he returned to his people they were filled with rejoicing that his dream had been of things above, for this augured well. Henceforth they called him ‘the shooting star,’ or, in their own soft tongue, ‘Tecumtha.’
When the elaborate religious ceremonies customary to the initiation of a warrior had been performed, Tecumseh’s power of physical endurance was put to a severe test. He presented himself for public torture before the chiefs and warriors of his tribe. Sharp skewers were thrust through the muscles of his back, and from these he was suspended by thongs to a pole. Had he flinched or evinced any sign of anguish during this painful ordeal, he would have been rejected as unworthy to take his place among his tribesmen. With stoic fortitude, however, he endured the torture, and when it was ended took a warrior’s rank among his people.
Tecumseh was not content with the narrow territory which satisfied his tribesmen. He desired to explore regions far remote from the hunting-grounds of the Shawnees. The same wandering instinct that had led his father to the Ohio country awakened within him. His fancy roamed beyond the familiar trails and peopled foreign regions with strange tribes. By his eloquence he played upon the responsive minds of his companions until they were fired with the same restless spirit. A wandering life became the theme of general interest as they smoked round the evening camp-fire. When finally fifty of the boldest expressed a desire to go on such an expedition as Tecumseh had planned, a party was organized. With due ceremony Cheeseekau was appointed leader, to decide each day’s journey and choose the camping-ground; and he bore with him a tribal talisman to ensure safety and success and to be consulted when they were uncertain as to their course.
Along the well-worn trail Cheeseekau started forth, followed in Indian file by his young adventurers, none more eager than Tecumseh. The narrow path, worn smooth by the feet of runners, followed high ground to avoid the dense brush, and led to points where the streams were shallowest and most easily fordable. Every day soon after sunrise the party was journeying through new regions which unfolded beauties ever fresh. At sunset they pitched their tents, lighted their fires, and gathered about them to discuss the day’s adventures. Thus they journeyed until they came to the waters of the Mississinewa, in what is now northern Indiana. By its bank Cheeseekau chose a favourable spot whereon to pitch the tents. Here they remained until their interest in the surrounding country was exhausted. Then they took a westward trail. Signs of Indian occupation were everywhere visible. Where the path abruptly mounted a steep ascent, a mound of pebbles would be heaped in the ravine. Each passer-by had cast his tribute on the pile as an offering to good spirits that they might lessen his fatigue in the toilsome climb. At last they reached the broad Mississippi. By its waters the adventurous band remained until the sun had made a complete course. Then they took a southerly route through the Illinois country, where the trail had been made by the countless hoofs of the bison, through whose haunts it led. Presently the prairies stretched before them, and they saw the skin-covered ‘teepees’ of the dwellers of the plains. They joined a party of Mandans and soon were free to follow with them the exciting chase of the buffalo. A hunting-party was organized and a leader was chosen with due ceremony according to tribal rites. Those engaging in this dangerous pastime were mounted. They spread out so as to form a circle round the dense herd of buffaloes. By this means an equal chance was ensured to each hunter. Turn what way they would, the confused and struggling animals were confronted by hunters with gun and bow. When the sport was at its height misfortune befell Tecumseh. When an infuriated bull escaped from the ring, Tecumseh rode after him in hot pursuit. But his horse suddenly stumbled and threw him heavily to the ground. Those nearest galloped to rescue him from the trampling hoofs of the following herd, but they found him unable to rise, for his thigh had been broken by the fall. He was borne back to camp, and there was carefully tended. Everything known to the Indian doctor’s art was done to heal him, but owing to his mishap the band were forced to prolong their stay at the hunting-place. When at last Tecumseh was fit for the trail the party moved southward. After a time they saw the smoke of distant camp-fires. Thereupon Cheeseekau halted his men and dispatched two messengers with a packet of tobacco and a belt of wampum to signify his friendly intent. The rest donned their gala garments and painted their faces in readiness to receive visitors. With the messengers came two Cherokees to conduct the Shawnees to their settlement, where the chief warriors of the tribe welcomed Cheeseekau and his braves. After the calumet had gone the rounds in token of goodwill, the Cherokee chief explained that their hatchet was raised against the white settlers, and that they were on the eve of setting out on the war-path. This was good news for the Shawnees, who promptly agreed to cast in their lot with the Cherokees.
While Tecumseh and his companions were making ready for war, Cheeseekau withdrew to fast and thus to prepare himself to consult worthily the sacred talisman of the tribe. The future was revealed to him in a trance. He saw the Cherokees and his own band, brightly painted for war, move forward to battle under the leadership of a ghostly semblance of himself. Suddenly a musket rang out and a bullet sped from the enemy’s line. His wraith was struck full in the forehead and fell to earth in the agony of death. On rejoining his comrades he related his vision and foretold that in the battle about to take place he should meet death. He said also, however, that, if the Indians fought on, victory would crown their efforts.
Cheeseekau remained undaunted by his evil vision, and when the day of battle arrived led his warriors forth as usual. Incited by the Shawnees, the Cherokees fought stubbornly, and success seemed about to be achieved. But at the hour foretold, in the thickest of the fight, the fatal bullet found its mark, and Cheeseekau fell pierced through the forehead. The second part of the prophecy was unheeded. Deaf to Tecumseh’s loud avenging cry, and heedless of his rallying shout, the superstitious Indians fled in a panic.
Tecumseh felt keenly the death of his noble brother, who had guided his youthful mind in all things, and deeply his followers mourned the loss of their dauntless leader, who had directed them safely through all their wanderings. Tecumseh was now chosen leader unanimously. For nearly two years he and his comrades remained in the south, taking an active part in many forays.
Exciting incidents were not lacking. For a time Tecumseh’s band dwelt near a cane thicket on the Tennessee, whither they had gone in quest of booty. Here they were frequently attacked. On one occasion, under cover of darkness, thirty whites stealthily surrounded the Shawnees, thinking to take them by surprise. Tecumseh was occupied in flaying the last of the day’s quarry, when his quick ear caught the sound of their approach. With a shrill war-cry he summoned his sleeping band. Without pausing to consider the numbers of the foe, he charged them fearlessly and his men followed him impetuously. The enemy were routed by the furious attack, and the Indians bore two scalps back to their camp in triumph. By such exploits Tecumseh won great renown among the southern tribes as a warrior. Unlike his followers, he cared little for plunder: his ruling passion was the love of glory.
In the end the adventurers turned their faces homeward. They travelled through West Virginia, crossed the Ohio near the mouth of the Scioto, and visited the Indian villages scattered along that river. And as the verdure of summer was changing into the tints of autumn in the year 1790, they passed familiar scenes along the Great Miami. Tecumseh, who had gone out as a follower of his brother but was now leader, brought eight survivors back to Piqua, where he was received with clamorous rejoicing.
Such apparently aimless wanderings were slowly but surely shaping Tecumseh’s life for future action. By his intercourse with the various tribes, by learning their languages and customs, he had gleaned knowledge which was later to be of the greatest use to him; and his widespread reputation as a warrior was to count with telling effect in that great plan and purpose of his life—the formation of his Indian confederacy.
A LEADER AMONG HIS PEOPLE
After the feast of welcome at Piqua the villagers gathered round the camp-fire and plied the adventurers with many questions. The wanderers recounted the exciting exploits of their band and told of Cheeseekau’s summons to the spirit-world and of his brave death on the distant battlefield. Then they in turn listened eagerly as an old chief rose and dramatically related the important events that had taken place in their absence. He told how General Harmar, with three hundred troops of the Thirteen Fires and eleven hundred Kentucky volunteers, had advanced into the Miami country and laid waste all their cornfields; how he and his followers had watched from a distant hill the soldiers at their work of destruction; and how Colonel Hardin, spying them in the distance, had suddenly turned and attacked them. With rapid gestures the chief described the pretended flight of the Indians. He told how, when out of sight of the enemy, they had divided their force and marched back some distance on either side of their trail. Assuming a crouching attitude and cunning mien, he pictured them as they crept back through the tall grass towards the place where they waited for the enemy. Then he recalled their loud, triumphant yells as they rushed upon the foe. He snatched his tomahawk from his belt to go through the movements of the Indians striking and cutting down the white men on all sides, and told how the white leader escaped with but a handful of his men. He depicted further victories of the Indians. Colonel Hardin had returned with five hundred militia and sixty regulars to take vengeance on his savage foes. The regulars remained at the village, while the militia, bent on revenge, routed the few Indians whom they found lurking about. But the Indians were not really beaten. Blue Jacket of the Shawnees and Little Turtle of the Miamis concealed their assembled warriors in another ambush. At the critical moment the Indians rushed from their ambuscade, fell upon both regulars and militia, and pitilessly drove them ever farther back.
Tecumseh had not long to wait for the time when he should again embark on active service. In the autumn of 1791 news came that Generals St Clair and Butler were advancing from the south with an army of some fourteen hundred men. Tecumseh was placed in command of a party of scouts to watch the movements of the enemy. On November 3 he discovered the American army encamped at the upper waters of the Wabash about twenty miles north of Greenville. At once he dispatched runners to tell the war chiefs Blue Jacket and Little Turtle of the enemy’s position. On the following morning the Americans awoke to find their camp surrounded by whooping savages. A frightful slaughter ensued. General Butler and many of the officers were slain, together with nearly half the troops. The remainder fled in disorder. General St Clair himself escaped on a pack-horse after having had three horses killed under him in the battle.
The next winter, when the snow lay deep in the forest, Tecumseh, while on a hunting expedition with ten warriors and a boy, made his camp near Big Rock, not far from Piqua. One morning after breakfast, as they sat about the fire smoking and discussing plans for the day, they were suddenly assailed by a storm of bullets. A party of whites, three times their number, under Robert McClelland, had attacked them. Instantly the Indian war-cry rang out on the clear, frosty air. Tecumseh called to the boy to run to shelter, and he and his companions returned the fire of their assailants. Black Turkey, one of the Indians, took to his heels and was running away at full speed, but in obedience to Tecumseh’s angry command he halted and returned to join in the battle. On came the whites with challenging shout, answered by defiant war-whoops. The assaulting party was finally beaten back; and Tecumseh, with his men, pursued them through the woods, driving them from every sheltering tree and cover.
Shortly after this, Tecumseh, with a party of chiefs and warriors, established his headquarters on a southern tributary of the Little Miami. From this point they made frequent inroads upon the property of white settlers, plundering flat-boats on the Ohio, and capturing some of the finest horses belonging to Kentuckians. It was here that Tecumseh had more than one encounter with Simon Kenton, the well-known American pioneer. Hearing of the exploits of the marauders, Kenton quickly mustered thirty-six men and set out to punish them. He came upon the Indians at night, divided his force into three detachments, and surrounded the encampment. That night Tecumseh had flung himself down by the camp-fire. The flickering light threw into fitful relief the bark tents of his sleeping companions. It did not penetrate, however, the gloom where lurked the watchful Americans. One of the Indians rose to stir the smouldering embers. A rifle cracked sharply, and the warrior fell forward into the fire. At the same moment a body of the Americans made a rush for the camp. Tecumseh leaped up and called loudly to his companions. He felled his first assailant with his war-club and dealt savage blows to all within reach. A shower of bullets rained upon the tents, but the Indians were now aroused and ready to return the fire. Presently reinforcements came from the Indians of a nearby camp who had heard the yelling and shooting; and the whites were dispersed.
Tecumseh’s next skirmish with Kenton was in 1793. He was hunting in the Scioto valley with a few followers and their families. Shortly before dawn, when it was supposed that the Indians would not be on their guard, Kenton’s men surrounded the camp and cautiously closed in upon it. The loud barking of a dog gave the alarm to the Indians. When the whites charged, the Indians sought shelter behind trees. Though Tecumseh was surrounded by a superior force, he maintained his presence of mind. He ordered some of his men to bring up the horses while he and others defended the camp. In the end the Indians adroitly managed to escape with their women and children. In the engagement they had sustained a loss of but one warrior.
Two years passed in this desultory fighting, after the defeat of St Clair’s army, before the Americans made any organized attempt to retrieve their fortunes. But in the autumn of 1793 General Anthony Wayne marched into the Indian country with a strong and thoroughly disciplined army. He encamped for the winter at Greenville and built several forts: one, which he erected at the place of St Clair’s disaster, he hopefully named Fort Recovery. In the summer of 1794 the Indians watched three hundred pack-horses laden with flour making their way towards this fort, under the protection of an escort of ninety riflemen and fifty dragoons. The savages hovered about, but they found the force too strong to attack. Their chance came later. By the time the escort was ready to return, one thousand tribesmen had assembled. The Americans had proceeded only about four hundred yards from the fort when they found themselves surrounded. The dragoons charged the Indians, but were repulsed with heavy loss. Then they manoeuvred to regain the fort, but the Indian forces cut them off. An American officer, with twenty volunteers, now rushed from the fort to the assistance of his comrades, and the Indians gave way before a determined attack. The white men brought their wounded off the field; and although two officers had been captured by the Indians, they afterwards escaped to the fort. In the fight twenty-two white men were killed and thirty wounded. The Indians had suffered much greater loss. The warriors rallied, however, and kept up an incessant fire against the fort until a heavy fog fell and night closed in. Then with flaring torches they sought their dead. This made them an easy mark for the soldiers, who fired on them from the fort. When daylight appeared eight or ten more bodies were found lying near the walls.
In July the American army was reinforced by two thousand Kentucky volunteers under Major-General Scott, and Wayne was now ready to strike. He manoeuvred as though he intended to attack the Miami villages to the south, but, suddenly changing his course, he marched his troops northward, straight into the Indian settlements on the Au Glaize. At the mouth of this river, where it enters the Maumee, he built Fort Defiance.
The Indians had followed Wayne’s march down the Au Glaize, hovering on the flanks of his army, and they were now mustered some two thousand strong on the Maumee river. From Fort Defiance Wayne sent them a final offer of peace; but, without waiting for an answer, he marched his forces down the Maumee and encamped at the foot of the rapids, about fifteen miles from the site of the present city of Toledo.
The war chiefs of the Miami, Potawatomi, Delaware, Shawnee, Chippewa, Ottawa, and Seneca tribes held a great council to consider the proposal of peace sent them by the general of the Long Knives. Little Turtle of the Miamis advised peace. ‘We have beaten the enemy twice,’ said he. ‘We cannot expect the same good fortune always to attend us. The Americans are now led by a chief who never sleeps. The day and night are alike to him, and he has been ever marching upon our villages, notwithstanding the watchfulness of our young men. We have never been able to surprise him. Think well of it,’ he cautioned; ‘there is something that whispers to me it were well to listen to his offers of peace.’
Profound silence followed this speech. Then rose Blue Jacket, the Shawnee, who commanded the entire Indian forces. Blue Jacket strongly favoured battle; and his counsel prevailed. The chiefs decided on war. A plan of action was quickly formed. The Indian forces were to be drawn up in three detachments within supporting distance of each other behind the Fallen Timbers. This was a place some distance up the river from Wayne’s encampment, where the forest had been levelled by a hurricane, the fallen trees forming a natural barricade.
On August 20, 1794, shortly after daybreak, Wayne ordered his troops to advance. He was still uncertain whether the Indians were hostile or friendly. But before he had proceeded far his soldiers were fired upon by a body of red men secreted in the tall grass. In the battle which followed Tecumseh led the Shawnees, and, with two of his brothers, was in the advance-guard when the fighting began. The Indians fought stubbornly, but to no purpose. The American force of mounted volunteers advanced, while the infantry with fixed bayonets drove the red men from cover and compelled them to retreat. In the latter part of the action Tecumseh lost the use of his gun by having, in his excitement, rammed a bullet into it before putting in powder. Falling back until he met another body of Shawnees, he secured a fowling-piece, and then fought on bravely until again forced to give ground. In spite of his desperate efforts to rally his followers, the Indians were beaten and were fleeing in disorder through the woods. When night fell and the Indians stole back to bury or hide their dead, Tecumseh gazed on the familiar features, now fixed in death, of Sauwaseekau, his second brother to fall in battle; and another battlefield, in which Cheeseekau had in like manner beheld the silent face of his father, arose before his mind. He remembered his eldest brother’s return from the battle, with tidings that had burned into his very soul, while he was yet too young to take up arms in defence of his race.
The Indian warriors were defeated and scattered, and the Americans proceeded to lay waste their villages and cornfields in the valley of the Au Glaize. The blow to Indian power was irrevocable. On August 3 of the following year, 1795, was concluded the Treaty of Greenville, by which large tracts of Indian territory in what are now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan were surrendered to the Americans. The treaty was signed by Blue Jacket for the Shawnees, by Little Turtle for the Miamis, and by chiefs representing the Wyandots, the Delawares, the Ottawas, the Potawatomis, and other tribes. Tecumseh, however, had refused to attend Wayne’s council, and when he heard from Blue Jacket of the terms of the treaty, he disputed its validity. Indian land, he said, was common property; all the chiefs had not been consulted, and many of them would refuse to accept the loss of their lands.
Tecumseh was now pondering a great plan. Year after year he had seen his people pushed farther and farther back from their streams and hunting-grounds. When he looked into the future, he saw that the red race was doomed unless a strong and united effort was made to check this aggression. He did not at once take his followers into his confidence, but meditated long on a plan to gather the tribes into one great confederacy to oppose the encroachments of the whites and to prevent the extermination of the Indian race. Pontiac, that towering figure in Indian speech and legend, was ever in his mind. Before Tecumseh’s birth Pontiac had formed an Indian confederation against the English in America. But his was only a temporary union of the Indians, while Tecumseh planned to unite the tribes in a great and permanent empire.
To further his great plan of bringing about a confederation of the tribes, Tecumseh resolved to take advantage of the superstitions of the people. An Indian familiar with the lore of his tribe believes himself to be continually surrounded by spirits, of whose power he is in constant dread. He sees them dimly in visions and recognizes them in many signs and omens—in gliding snake, flying bird, the lightning, the wind, the rustling of leaves, the noise of the tempest, the roaring cataract, the sound of thunder. To the hunter roaming through the forest the trees take on weird shapes, and ghostly shadows lurk in dark defiles. At twilight he sees gnomelike figures dancing before him and anon swallowed up in the darkness; again he sees them, holding their elfin revels on some moonlit cliff. Thus it is that the Indian imagination peoples the gloom of the ancient forests.
It has been mentioned that Tecumseh had a younger brother named Laulewasikaw, who had been born a twin, and, in consequence, would be supposed by the Indians to possess supernatural power. One day, while Laulewasikaw was smoking in his wigwam, his pipe dropped from his hand, and he fell prone upon the ground. His body remained so long without sign of life that his friends assembled to administer the last rites for the dead. Suddenly, however, he awoke from his deathlike trance, and announced to the startled mourners that he had been transported to the spirit-world, where marvellous things had been revealed to him. After this he frequently retired to secret places to hold converse with the Great Spirit, and from his knowledge of the spirit-world he became an object of reverence and awe to his fellow-tribesmen.
It thus came about that on the death of Pengashega, an aged and influential prophet of the Shawnees, this brother of Tecumseh, Laulewasikaw, or ‘the Prophet,’ was made his successor. From his conical-shaped lodge, with its stout poles bound about by skins of animals, the Prophet gave forth his oracles. He was often consulted, and a well-worn path soon marked the way to his abode. It was believed that he could foretell the future, reveal the haunts of animals of the chase, and inform anxious inquirers about the fate of friends. He evaded impossible requests skilfully, and by moderation in his pretensions he was able to maintain the respect of his many suppliants. He jealously guarded in his lodge a bowl credited with miraculous powers, which he claimed the Great Spirit had bestowed upon him. He had also a mystic torch, the gift, as he said, of Manabozho, keeper of the sacred fire. He had also singular belt made of beans, which he assured his credulous followers had grown from his flesh and would render invulnerable all who touched it. To widen his influence the Prophet had this belt carried by Indian runners far and wide.
Laulewasikaw, who had already many names, now wished to be known as Tenskwatawa, ‘the Open Door,’ to intimate that he was to be the deliverer of his people. Unlike other Indian prophets, he preached to his followers after the manner of the white missionaries. Upon him, as upon Tecumseh, had descended the gift of oratory. But he lacked Tecumseh’s dignity. He was ugly, and had lost an eye. On account of his dissolute habits he appeared much older than his distinguished brother. In spite of his bad character his persuasive eloquence gained the attention of the Shawnees, and he flattered their pride by reminding them of their ancient belief that they were the first people created by the Master of Life and the greatest of all his children. At Wapakoneta, on the Au Glaize, he gathered about him Shawnees, Wyandots, Ottawas, and Senecas, and announced himself as a bearer of new revelations from the Master of Life. He claimed to have been taken up into the spirit-world, and that there the veil of the future had been lifted to him. He had seen the suffering of evil-doers and also the happiness that would reward those who heeded his words. Radical reform, he declared, must be made in the manners of the red people. They must eschew all habits learned from the whites. Linen or woollen clothing must be replaced by the old-time buckskin; the ‘fire-stick’ of the white man must be abandoned and the bow and arrow must be used in its stead; the flesh of sheep and bullocks must no longer be eaten, but only that of deer and buffalo; bread should no more be made of wheat, but of Indian corn. Every tool and custom of the whites must be relinquished, and the Indian must return to the ways taught by the Master of Life. The Prophet exhorted the young to help the aged and the infirm; he forbade Indian women to intermarry with the whites, since the outcome would be inevitable misery; he condemned the accursed fire-water, which had caused such contention among the Indians, and threatened with never-ending flames all those who should persist in its use. He referred in glowing terms to the boundless hunting-ground of the red men before the coming of the whites, and contrasted it with their rapidly narrowing territory. The Indians, he said, should hold all their lands in common. Having outlined these reforms, he declared that when the Indians had carried them out, they should enjoy the long and peaceful lives of their ancestors and regain their ancient happiness. To assure his hearers of the divine character of his mission, he announced that power had been given him to cure all diseases and to arrest death as a result of sickness or on the battlefield.
Encouraged by the hope of regaining their lost liberty and happiness, many flocked about the new prophet. The Kickapoos and Delawares believed in him without reserve. His stoutest opponents were some of his own people, who resented the sudden rise to power and influence of one hitherto regarded with disfavour as stupid and intemperate. Shawnee chiefs, jealous of his position, made a plot to overthrow him. But Tenskwatawa, as he was now called, turned the tables upon them, and, accusing several of his most outspoken enemies of witchcraft, caused them to be put to death, with torture.
In 1806 the governor of Indiana Territory sent an envoy to the Delawares to deliver the following message:
The dark and thorny road you are now pursuing certainly will lead you to endless woe and misery. And who is this pretended prophet, who dares to speak in the name of the Great Creator? Examine him. Is he more virtuous than you are yourselves that he should be selected to convey to you the orders of your God? Demand of him some proof at least of being the messenger of the Deity. If God has really employed him, He has doubtless authorized him to perform miracles, that he may be known and received as a prophet. If he is really a prophet, ask him to cause the sun to stand still, the moon to alter its course, the rivers to cease to flow, or the dead to rise from their graves. If he does these things, you may then believe that he has been sent from God.
In reply to this unexpected attack Tenskwatawa assured his followers that he would give them convincing proof of his being the true messenger of the Great Spirit, and he boldly predicted that on a certain day he would draw a veil of darkness over the sun. Many Indians assembled to witness the test of his supernatural power. If it succeeded, it would establish his position beyond doubt; if it failed, the faith of his followers would be sadly shaken. Scoffers pointed to the brightness of the summer sun, and openly questioned the power of the Prophet to dim its rays. Believers furtively watched the entrance of the Prophet’s lodge, which was decorated with strange symbols. From it at the time appointed the familiar form of the one-eyed wizard emerged, clad in his prophet’s robe with outspread raven’s wings. At his appearance the noonday brilliance of the sun began to wane. Sudden silence fell upon the awestruck throng, and faces took on a look of fear as the darkness deepened about them. The Prophet’s voice thrilled through the gloom. ‘Did I not prophesy truly? Behold, darkness has shrouded the sun.’ The apparent miracle convinced many unbelievers and established the influence of Tenskwatawa more strongly than ever. The Indians were completely deceived. The achievement had, of course, a very simple explanation: the Prophet had overheard some white missionaries predicting an eclipse of the sun, and had used this information very adroitly for his purpose.
In April 1807 some four hundred redskins had gathered near Greenville, ready to do the Prophet’s bidding. Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh were invited by Captain Wells, the Indian agent at Fort Wayne, to visit the fort with a few chiefs, to learn the news contained in a recent letter from the president of the Seventeen Fires. [Footnote: The United States. Four new states had been added to the original thirteen, making, in Indian terms, seventeen council fires.] Tecumseh peremptorily commanded the messenger to ‘go back to Fort Wayne and tell Captain Wells that my fire is kindled on the spot appointed by the Great Spirit above, and, if he has anything to communicate to me, he must come here; I shall expect him in six days from this time.’ At the time appointed the messenger returned, bearing a copy of a letter from the United States government, in which Tecumseh and his followers were charged with still occupying land that had passed out of their possession by the Treaty of Greenville. Tecumseh vented his feelings in vehement speech.
These lands are ours, and no one has the right to remove us, because we were the first owners; the Great Spirit above has appointed this place for us on which to light our fires, and here we will remain. As to boundaries, the Great Spirit above knows no boundaries, nor will His red people know any… If my great father, the President of the Seventeen Fires, has anything more to say to me, he must send a man of note as his messenger; I will hold no further intercourse with Captain Wells.
The American settlers saw with increasing anxiety the unending stream of Indians on their way to the Prophet. The strange garb of many of them denoted that they had journeyed from distant regions. Runners continually passed to and fro, bearing pipes and belts of wampum from tribe to tribe. Council fires were frequently kindled. It was commonly believed that this unwonted activity was due to the secret plottings of British agents from Canada. By the autumn of 1807 the Prophet had assembled near Greenville about eight hundred Indians, many of whom were equipped with new rifles.
On September 12 came two commissioners from the governor of Ohio. These were received by the Indians in a friendly manner, and a council was immediately called to hear their message. The governor, the commissioners said, desired to know why so many Indians were gathered on land no longer theirs. He wished to remind the Indians of their former relations with the Seventeen Fires, and of the importance of remaining neutral in the event of war with the British. After hearing the commissioners the council adjourned until the following day, when Blue Jacket, who was unanimously chosen to voice the sentiment of his people, spoke as follows:
Brethren, we are seated who heard you yesterday. You will get a true relation as far as we and our connections can give it, who are as follows: Shawnees, Wyandots, Potawatomis, Tawas, Chippewas, Winnepaus, Malominese, Malockese, Sacawgoes, and one more from the north of the Chippewas. Brethren, you see all these men sitting before you, who now speak to you.
About eleven days ago we [the Indians] had a council, at which the tribe of Wyandots [the elder brother of the red people] spoke and said God had kindled a fire and all sat around it. In this council we talked over the treaties with the French and the Americans. The Wyandot said the French formerly marked a line along the Alleghany mountains, southerly, to Charleston. No man was to pass it from either side. When the Americans came to settle over the line, they told the Indians to unite and drive off the French, until the war came on between the British and the Americans, when it was told them that King George, by his officers, directed them to unite and drive the Americans back.
After the treaty of peace between the English and Americans, the summer before Wayne’s army came out, the British held a council with the Indians and told them if they would turn out and unite as one man, they might surround the Americans like deer in a ring of fire and destroy them all. The Wyandot spoke further in the council. We see, said he, there is like to be war between the English and our white brethren, the Americans. Let us unite and consider the sufferings we have undergone, from interfering in the wars of the English. They have often promised to help us, and at last when we could not withstand the army that came against us, and went to the English fort for refuge, [Footnote: He is referring to what happened in 1794 at the Fallen Timbers. There was a British post on the Maumee not far from the scene of the battle. At this time, it will be remembered, Detroit and other western posts, which passed to the United States in 1796, were still held by the British.] the English told us, ‘I cannot let you in; you are painted too much, my children.’ It was then we saw the British dealt treacherously with us. We now see them going to war again. We do not know what they are going to fight for. Let us, my brethren, not interfere, was the speech of the Wyandot.
Further, the Wyandot said, I speak to you, my little brother, the Shawnees at Greenville, and to you our little brothers all around. You appear to be at Greenville to serve the Supreme Ruler of the universe. Now send forth your speeches to all our brethren far around us, and let us unite to seek for that which shall be for our eternal welfare, and unite ourselves in a band of perpetual brotherhood. These, brethren, are the sentiments of all the men who sit around you: they all adhere to what the elder brother, the Wyandot, has said, and these are their sentiments. It is not that they are afraid of their white brethren, but that they desire peace and harmony, and not that their white brethren could put them to great necessity, for their former arms were bows and arrows, by which they got their living.
The Prophet then arose and launched forth into one of the lengthy harangues so familiar to his followers. Three years ago, he said, he had been called upon by powers he could not disobey to follow the course which had been revealed to him by the Great Spirit. In accordance with this divine guidance he had earnestly endeavoured ever since to teach the Indians how to live sober, industrious, and peaceful lives. He had been persecuted by chiefs of his own tribe who had refused to listen to his preaching. He had been driven from his own village. But the Great Spirit had directed him to this place, which the Americans now claimed as their own, Here he desired to remain, not for the value of the land or the natural beauty of the surroundings, but to obey the divine command, and by his exemplary life to prove to the complete satisfaction of the white people his genuine honesty of purpose. By this adroit speech the Prophet succeeded in allaying suspicion, and thus under the guise of peace and religion Tecumseh was enabled to continue his preparations for war. When the council had terminated, Tecumseh, Blue Jacket, Roundhead, and Panther accompanied the messengers to Chillicothe, then the capital of Ohio, and assured the governor of their peaceful intentions towards the Americans.
A GIFTED ORATOR
Indian oratory, like that of most savage races, is poetical and picturesque in thought and expression. It abounds in imagery and is not without touches of pathos and humour. The unlettered Indian has no rich store of written history from which to draw his illustrations. He takes them from Nature’s ever-open book—the sheltered lake, the winding stream, the storm-swept forest—and from the legendary lore of his tribe. Tecumseh was one of the most renowned of a race of orators. The stately Algonquian language displayed its greatest beauty when spoken by him. His eloquence flowed as freely as a mighty river, or again, thundering like a cataract, it swept everything along on its tempestuous tide. Tecumseh’s speech can never reach our ears; we cannot see the light flash from his hazel eye or the smile play upon his bronzed cheek. We cannot watch his graceful gestures. His personal presence we may not feel; but behind his recorded words we are still aware of living force and power. We can picture his manly form in its simple attire, as he paces up and down, dominating his hearers by his persuasive speech, convincing their reason, controlling their judgement, compelling their action. None knew the untaught and unteachable art of oratory better than Tecumseh. Throughout his life it ever played an important part, from his first outburst, which was in defence of a helpless captive, until his last appeal to the courage of a British general. Tecumseh acquitted himself gallantly upon the field of battle, where he was always conspicuous for his courage; but in the council-chamber there were also battles to be fought, in which words were weapons, and there Tecumseh was no less conspicuous and successful.
After the arrival of the commissioners and Indian chiefs at Chillicothe the governor summoned them to a great council. Tecumseh was to speak on behalf of the red men. Upon him was centred the attention of all. He spoke for three hours, during which he held his listeners spellbound. He assured them that it was far from his intention to take up the hatchet against the pale-face, but that he would sternly resist any trespass upon his people’s rights. Rapidly reviewing all the treaties between the western tribes and the whites, he boldly denied the validity of the Treaty of Greenville. At the same time, he pleaded for conciliation and peace. His speech made a great impression. The governor’s fear of an uprising at Greenville was allayed, and the militia, which had been hastily summoned, were dismissed.
Tecumseh’s oratory was called into play again in the autumn of 1807, when the Americans were thrown into a state of terror by the murder of a white man near the site of the present town of Urbana. This deed of violence, coupled with the constant increase of the Prophet’s band at Greenville, caused the wildest alarm among the settlers. Tecumseh and his brother disclaimed all knowledge of the murder, which had been committed by some wandering Indians, and they agreed to attend a council at Springfield to reassure the whites. The Indians who attended the council were asked to lay aside their arms. Tecumseh haughtily refused, thinking it unbecoming the dignity of a warrior chief. When the request was repeated, the wily Indian replied that his tomahawk was also his pipe and that he might wish to smoke. Thereupon a gaunt American advanced and offered Tecumseh his own pipe. Taking the earthen bowl with its long stern into his fingers, Tecumseh eyed it curiously; his gaze then travelled to the owner, who stood half fearful of the result of this offer. Then with an indignant gesture the chief tossed the pipe into the bushes behind him. Nothing more was said about the tomahawk.
The council was held in the shade of spreading maples. The chiefs and their warriors ranged themselves in a semicircle on the grass. The pipe of peace slowly made its round in token of goodwill. Several chiefs spoke in turn, expressing the pacific intentions of the Indians. Tecumseh referred to the recent murder, and denied that it had been the act of any of the tribes under his influence. He explained that the motive for the gathering of so many red men at Greenville was purely religious, and that all were friendly towards the whites. His wards and manner again carried conviction, and the council terminated peacefully.
The Americans, however, still continued to regard the Prophet’s settlement at Greenville as a real menace. During the same autumn came another message to all the tribes under the Prophet’s influence from the governor of the territory of Indiana, William Henry Harrison, afterwards president of the United States, and an active and successful leader of the Americans in the War of 1812. The message closed with these words:
My children, I have heard bad news. The sacred spot where the great council fire was kindled, around which the Seventeen Fires and ten tribes of their children smoked the pipe of peace—that very spot, where the Great Spirit saw His red and white children encircle themselves with the chain of friendship,—that place has been selected for dark and bloody councils. My children, this business must be stopped. You have called in a number of men from the most distant tribes, to listen to a fool, who speaks not the words of the Great Spirit, but those of the devil and of the British agents. My children, your conduct has much alarmed the white settlers near you. They desire that you will send away those people, and if they desire to have the impostor with them, they may carry him. Let him go to the lakes; he can hear the British more distinctly.
Tecumseh was absent from Greenville when this message was received, and it fell to the Prophet to make a reply. He was sorry, he said, that his father listened to the advice of bad birds. He denied that the Indians had any intercourse with the British, or that they desired anything but peace and to hear the words of the Great Spirit.
Early in the spring of 1808 Tecumseh and the Prophet, with their band of followers, left Greenville and set out in a westerly direction, across what is now the state of Indiana. Land had been granted to them by the Potawatomis and Kickapoos on the banks of the Tippecanoe, near its junction with the Wabash, and here they intended to make a new town, which should be the headquarters of their proposed confederacy. No more desirable spot could have been chosen. It was almost central in relation to the tribes they were endeavouring to bring together, and it had convenient communication with Lake Erie by means of the Wabash and Maumee rivers, and with Lake Michigan and the Illinois country by way of the Tippecanoe and other connecting waters. On one side an almost impenetrable stretch of wilderness formed a natural defence. From this position, also, Tecumseh was able to watch carefully the country from which he wished to exclude white settlers.
The Prophet’s influence soon extended Among the neighbouring tribes, and the American authorities again became alarmed, the more so as they learned that among his followers warlike sports were now being practised along with religious rites. To counteract the effect of such reports the Prophet sent a message to Governor Harrison to say that he had been misrepresented, and followed it up by a personal visit along with a number of his followers, to explain his attitude towards the Americans. The visit lasted for a fortnight and frequent conferences took place between Harrison and the Prophet. The governor also questioned many of the Indians, but could learn nothing from them derogatory to their leader. Desiring to know to what extent the Prophet’s teachings controlled his followers, he tempted them with liquor, but they remained true to their vow of total abstinence.
Before taking his leave Tenskwatawa thus addressed himself to the governor:
I told all the redskins, that the way they were in was not good, and that they ought to abandon it. That we ought to consider ourselves as one man; but we ought to live agreeably to our several customs, the red people after their mode, and the white people after theirs; particularly that they should not drink whisky; … do not take up the tomahawk should it be offered by the British, or by the Long Knives; do not meddle with anything that does not belong to you, but mind your own business and cultivate the ground, that your women and your children may have enough to live on.
I now inform you, that it is our intention to live in peace with our father and his people for ever.
This harangue ended with the customary begging for presents, after which the Prophet and his company took their departure.
Meanwhile Governor Harrison was planning to take more territory from the Indians and add it to the United States. By a treaty with some of the tribes made at Fort Wayne on September 30, 1809, he obtained a tract of about three million acres, extending nearly one hundred miles on each side of the Wabash. By this treaty the Indians found that they were deprived of much of their best hunting-ground. Their indignation rose to fighting pitch, and many who had been holding back now accepted Tecumseh’s scheme of a great confederation by means of which they might, with some hope of success, battle for their rights. The powerful Wyandots, keepers of the great wampum belt of tribal union, turned to the Prophet. Many of the lesser tribes followed their example, and refused to recognize the American claims to this newly ceded territory. For lands acquired under various treaties, the Indians were receiving from the Americans certain annuities in goods. That year, when their annual portion of salt arrived at Tippecanoe, the Indians refused to take it and drove the boatmen away. They accused the Americans of deception, demanding that the land should be given back, and that no more should be taken without the unanimous consent of all the tribes.
War between the British and the Americans now seemed inevitable, and everything pointed to an alliance between the British and the Indians of Tecumseh’s confederacy. British interests required that the confederacy should not be weakened by premature outbreaks. Gifts of clothing, food, and weapons were lavishly bestowed upon Tecumseh, who was encouraged to unite the tribes, but not to declare war until word came from Canada. ‘My son,’ said a British agent, ‘keep your eyes fixed on me; my tomahawk is now up; be you ready, but do not strike until I give the signal.’
The governor of Indiana, desiring to learn the Prophet’s strength and, if possible, to avert war, sent the following message to Tippecanoe:
There is yet but little harm done, which may be easily repaired. The chain of friendship, which united the whites with the Indians, may be renewed and be as strong as ever. A great deal of that work depends on you—the destiny of those who are under your direction depends upon the choice you may make of the two roads which are before you. The one is large, open and pleasant, and leads to peace, security, and happiness; the other, on the contrary, is narrow and crooked, and leads to misery and ruin. Do not deceive yourselves; do not believe that all the nations of Indians united are able to resist the force of the Seventeen Fires. I know your warriors are brave, but ours are not less so; and what can a few brave warriors do against the innumerable warriors of the Seventeen Fires? Our blue coats are more numerous than you can count; our hunters are like the leaves of the forest, or the grains of sand on the Wabash.
Do not think the red coats can protect you; they are not able to protect themselves. They do not think of going to war with us. If they did, you would in a few moons see our flag wave over all the forts of Canada.
To this the Prophet made no direct reply, but said that Tecumseh, as his representative, would visit the governor shortly.
True to this promise, early in August 1810, Tecumseh, with four hundred warriors grotesquely painted for the occasion, swept down the Wabash in canoes. Captain Lloyd, then at Fort Knox, writes of their passing:
The Shawanoe Indians have come; they passed this garrison, which is three miles above Vincennes, on Sunday last, in eighty canoes. They were all painted in the most terrific manner. They were stopped at the garrison by me, for a short time. I examined their canoes and found them well prepared for war, in case of an attack. They were headed by the brother of the Prophet (Tecumseh), who, perhaps, is one of the finest-looking men I ever saw—about six feet high, straight, with large, fine features, and altogether a daring, bold-looking fellow. The governor’s council with them will commence to-morrow morning.
Tecumseh and his warriors encamped at Vincennes, the capital at that time of the territory of Indiana, where many had assembled for the council, which was fixed for August 12. At the hour appointed Tecumseh, attended by forty followers, proceeded to the governor’s house. Seated in state on the portico was the governor, surrounded by judges of the Supreme Court, officers, and citizens. About forty yards from the house Tecumseh halted abruptly. An interpreter advanced with the request that the chief and his warriors should take seats on the portico. To this Tecumseh signified strong disapproval, saying that he preferred a neighbouring grove. The governor objected that there were no chairs there. ‘The earth is my mother, and on her bosom will I repose,’ was the rejoinder. The chief carried his point, and chairs for the governor and his suite were removed to the grove.
Tecumseh put forth all the powers of his eloquence. He traced the course of relations between the two races from the time when only the moccasined foot of the red man trod the wilderness. He depicted vividly the evils suffered by his race since their first contact with the whites. The ruthless destruction of his birthplace, the sufferings of his childhood, the conflicts of his early manhood—all these he passed over in rapid review. And he closed his address by contending that the Treaty of Fort Wayne was illegal, since it had not been agreed to by all the tribes, who constituted a single nation and who had joint ownership in the land. Governor Harrison in his reply disputed Tecumseh’s statement that all the Indians were as one nation, using as his main argument the fact that they spoke different tongues. He contended that if the Miamis desired to sell their land, the Shawnees had no right to interfere. On the following day he inquired whether Tecumseh intended to prevent a survey of the disputed land. The chief replied that it was the intention of the united tribes to recognize the old boundary only, and that, while he had no desire to provoke war, he would oppose further aggression. If the Americans gave up this land, he would serve them faithfully; if not, he would cast in his lot with the British. The governor promised to notify the president of Tecumseh’s views, without holding out much prospect of a decision to surrender the land to its former owners.
‘Well,’ returned Tecumseh, ‘as the great chief is to decide the matter, I hope the Great Spirit will put enough sense into his head to induce him to direct you to give up this land. It is true he is so far off he will not be injured by the war; he may sit still in his town and drink his wine, while you and I shall have to fight it out.’
In the following spring (1811), when the Americans were distributing the annuity of salt to the Kickapoos and Shawnees, the Prophet’s Indians at Tippecanoe, on being offered their share of five barrels, forcibly seized the whole boat-load. This angered the Americans, who were further incensed by the murder on the Missouri of four white men by two Indians of the Potawatomi tribe. Tecumseh, who was absent at the time either on a hunting expedition or for the purpose of strengthening his confederation, was summoned to Vincennes shortly after his return. He arrived on July 27, attended by a party of three hundred warriors. The governor referred to the recent seizure of the salt by the Prophet’s warriors and demanded an explanation. Tecumseh replied that it was indeed difficult to please the governor, since he seemed equally annoyed if the salt were taken or rejected. When asked to deliver up the Indians guilty of the murder, he replied that he had no jurisdiction over them, since they were not of his town. The white people, he said, were needlessly alarmed at his active measures in uniting the northern tribes; for he was but following the example which the Seventeen Fires had set him when they joined the Fires in one confederacy, and he boldly declared that he would endeavour also to unite the various tribes of the south with those of the north. The land question he hoped would be left in abeyance until his return in the spring.
THE BATTLE OF TIPPECANOE
Tecumseh was soon on his southern journey, with twenty warriors to aid in the work which was now apparently nearing completion. Inspired by patriotic zeal, he passed from tribe to tribe, incessantly active. Through dismal swamps and across wide plains he made his way, and in his light canoe shot many a dangerous rapid. He laboured diligently among the Indians to make them sensible of their wrongs and induce them to sink their petty tribal jealousies in a grand and noble patriotism. He braved the dangers and difficulties of winter travel over the crusted snow and through the white forests. From sunrise to sunset he journeyed, passing from camp-fire to camp-fire, binding together the scattered tribes by the fire and force of his eloquence.
In Tecumseh’s absence the Prophet reigned at Tippecanoe, performing his mysterious rites, seeing visions, and dreaming dreams. Indians from the most remote tribes were drawn by tales of his miraculous deeds to this chosen seat of the Great Spirit, the centre from which radiated the Prophet’s influence. The ever-increasing number of red men there assembling was evidence also of the success of Tecumseh’s mission. The Americans had heard with uneasiness his bold avowal before starting on his southern journey, and their alarm was increased by the reports from Harrison’s spies, posted near the Prophet’s town.
On August 7, 1811, the United States government demanded the surrender of all Indians who were in any way connected with the murder of American citizens, and threatened to exterminate those tribes which raised the hatchet. In response the Prophet promised to comply with the president’s demands, and reiterated his earnest desire to avert war. But, in spite of such pacific protesting, the Indians continued their acts of hostility. Some horses were stolen, and the thieves were tracked to Tippecanoe. The owners hastened thither to reclaim their property, and on nearing the town were fired upon by Indians. Similar incidents were common.
Harrison was well aware of the important and extensive nature of the work in which Tecumseh was engaged, and viewing with alarm the rapid growth of the confederation on the western frontier, he resolved on action. The destruction of Tippecanoe would be of the utmost strategic importance, but, if such a drastic measure were determined upon, it would have to be accomplished before Tecumseh’s return. On the other hand, the president’s commands had been to maintain peace. The governor reconciled the two opposing courses of action by the thought that a large army advancing upon the Indians might intimidate them into submission. Failing that, the alternative war became inevitable.
On October 5 Harrison set out from Vincennes with over one thousand men. This army encamped for a brief period on the Wabash, where the city of Terre Haute now stands, and erected a fort which, in honour of the leader, was named Fort Harrison. Leaving about one hundred men as a guard, Harrison, with the remaining nine hundred, set out for Tippecanoe on October 29. Two well-worn trails made by the Prophet’s disciples led along the Wabash, one on either side of the river. Harrison chose that along the eastern side, then forded the river and struck the other trail. He safely crossed the dangerous pass at Pine Creek, where fatal havoc had been wrought upon the troops of General Harmar. Worn out by their tedious and difficult march, the soldiers encamped on the evening of November 5 within ten miles of the Prophet’s headquarters. Next morning they were early on the march; and, after having gone about five miles, they sighted a party of reconnoitring Indians, with whom they endeavoured to communicate, but the red men ignored their advances and assumed an unfriendly attitude. Within a mile and a half of the town several of the officers impatiently urged an immediate attack; but as the president’s commands were to keep peace as long as possible, Harrison decided to send an officer with a small guard to arrange for a conference. This overture, however, did not succeed; the Indians were hostile, and even made an attempt to capture the officer and his men. And Harrison then ordered his army to advance upon the town.
Suddenly three Indians appeared, making their way directly towards the army. The Prophet’s chief counsellor, with two interpreters, had come to demand the reason of this warlike advance. Peace, they declared, was their one desire. With much gesticulation they explained that messages to that effect had been sent by certain chiefs, who must have taken the other trail and so missed the general of the Seventeen Fires. The governor agreed to suspend hostilities in order that terms of peace might be arranged in council on the following day, and then set his men in motion towards Tippecanoe. This unlooked-for action startled the Indians, who immediately assumed the defensive. The governor, however, assured them that he had no hostile intentions, and asked whether there was a near-by stream by the side of which his troops might encamp. He was directed to a creek about a mile distant which ran through the prairie to the north of the town. Thither the Americans at once proceeded, and finding it a most desirable camping-ground, the soldiers were soon busily engaged in pitching their tents and gathering brushwood to make fires, for the November air was chill. Although no attack was anticipated, Harrison arranged his camp as if expecting battle, and posted around it a thin line of sentries.
Darkness fell upon the two encampments. The weary soldiers were sleeping on their arms; the Prophet and his counsellors sat about their council fire, eager and alert, earnestly discussing the situation. Tecumseh’s parting injunction had been to maintain peace at all hazards until his return. But the Prophet saw himself surrounded by intrepid warriors who would dare anything at his command, and his ambition was sorely tempted. In point of numbers his force was equal to that of the Americans, and the latter, moreover, were without the protection of fortifications. Visions of certain victory passed before his mind. He was still smarting from Harrison’s stinging message to the tribes five years before, and not too well pleased with Tecumseh’s rising fame, which threatened to eclipse his own. Moved by these thoughts, the Prophet yielded to the counsel of his boldest warriors and decided upon battle.
Hurried preparations were then made to take the enemy by surprise. There was no moon and the sky was clouded. Nature herself apparently was aiding the Prophet’s plans. All being ready, he concocted some charmed fluid, over which he muttered curious incantations. He assured his credulous followers that half the enemy were mad and the remainder dead; and he solemnly promised them that bullets would glance harmlessly from their own bodies. The superstitious Indians, thus excited to an intense pitch of religious fanaticism, were prepared to dare anything.
Shortly before daylight on November 7 the whole Indian force crept stealthily through the grass towards the fires of Harrison’s camp. The hush that precedes the dawn was broken only by the soft patter of rain. A watchful sentinel discerned in the dawning light the spectre-like form of the foremost savage. He fired at once, and the shot roused the sleeping camp. It told the Indians that they were discovered, and with wild war-whoops they rushed against the American position. The line of sentries was quickly broken through; but the soldiers sprang to arms; camp-fires were trodden out; and Indians and whites fought furiously in the darkness. Perched on a safe eminence, the Prophet looked down upon the fight, chanting his war-song further to excite the savages, and rattling deers’ hoofs as signals for advance or retreat. Under the influence of their fierce fanaticism the Indians abandoned their usual practice of fighting from behind cover, and braved the enemy in open conflict. In spite of Tenskwatawa’s prophecies, the American bullets wrought deadly havoc among the warriors, who, seeing that they had been deceived, began to waver. Finally, the Indians gave way before a terrific charge and fled to the woods, while the soldiers applied the torch to their village.
On the head of the Prophet fell the blame for this disastrous reverse. ‘You are a liar,’ said a Winnebago chief to his former spiritual adviser, ‘for you told us that the white people were all dead or crazy, when they were in their right mind and fought like the devil.’ The Prophet vainly endeavoured to give reasons for the failure of his prophecy; it was, he declared, all due to some error in compounding his concoction; but the wizard’s rod was broken, his mysterious influence shattered. His radiant visions of power had vanished in the smoke of battle, and he slipped back into the oblivion from which he had so suddenly sprung.
Meanwhile Tecumseh was pursuing his mission with determination and vigour. After travelling many weary miles, he turned again homeward, pleased with his success, his thoughts soaring hopefully as he neared the little town which owed its existence to him. But he arrived there to find his headquarters demolished, his followers disbanded, his brother humiliated. Hardest of all to bear was the knowledge that his own brother, on whose co-operation he had so firmly relied, had caused this great disaster to his people. The Prophet’s miserable excuses so enraged him that he seized him by the hair and shook him violently. Tecumseh mused upon his years of patient and careful organization, and thought sorrowfully of his town, so laboriously fortified, and peopled at the cost of so many dangers risked and privations endured. It was a blow almost too great to be borne. Should he accept it as a total defeat and abandon his purpose? No! The courageous chief, as he stood amid the charred remains of Tippecanoe, resolved to persevere in his struggle for the freedom of his race.
Tecumseh now informed the governor of his return and expressed his willingness to visit the president of the United States. Permission was granted him to go to Washington, but it was stipulated that he must do so unattended. This offended Tecumseh’s pride and dignity. He was the most powerful American Indian living, with five thousand warriors at his command; holding in one hand an alliance with Great Britain, and in the other an alliance with the Indians of the south-west. Such was the position he had reached, and he intended to maintain it. Was so great a chief, ruler over a confederacy similar to that of the white man, to visit the chief of the Seventeen Fires without a retinue! No! He haughtily refused to go to Washington under such conditions.
In the early spring of 1812 two settlers were put to death near Fort Dearborn, several others near Fort Madison, and a whole family was murdered near Vincennes. These acts of violence threw the settlers into a panic. A general Indian rising was feared; but at this critical moment Tecumseh attended a grand council at Mississinewa, on the Wabash, between Tippecanoe and Fort Wayne, and succeeded in calming the excited fears of the Americans. He was not yet prepared for open war. On this occasion, in the course of his address, he said:
Governor Harrison made war on my people in my absence; it was the will of the Great Spirit that he should do so. We hope it will please the Great Spirit that the white people may let us live in peace; we will not disturb them, neither have we done it, except when they came to our village with the intention of destroying us. We are happy to state to your brothers present, that the unfortunate transaction that took place between the white people and a few of our men at our village has been settled between us and Governor Harrison; and I will further state, had I been at home, there would have been no blood shed at the time.
In speaking of the recent murders, Tecumseh said he greatly regretted that the ill-will of the Americans should be exercised upon his followers, when the Potawatomis, over whom he had no power, alone were guilty.
To a message from the British agent Tecumseh replied:
You tell us to retreat or turn to one side should the Long Knives come against us. Had I been at home in the late unfortunate affair [the attack on Tippecanoe] I should have done so, but those I left at home were (I cannot call them men) a poor set of people, and their scuffle with the Long Knives I compare to a struggle between little children, who only scratch each other’s faces. The Kickapoos and Winnebagoes have since been at Post Vincennes and settled the matter amicably.
If Tecumseh regarded the Tippecanoe battle lightly, the Americans considered it a serious event. It was magnified into an important victory, and cited to rouse feelings of enmity against Great Britain, whose agents were held to be responsible for the conduct of the Indians. Occurring at a crisis of affairs, it was made a strong argument for a declaration of war against England.
When June came Tecumseh demanded ammunition from the Indian agent at Fort Wayne. The agent presented many reasons why the chief should now become friendly to the Seventeen Fires. Tecumseh listened with indifference. He then bitterly expressed his resentment at Governor Harrison’s advance in his absence, and maintained his right to the lands the Americans had invaded, but he still declared that he had no intention of taking up arms against the United States. The agent refused the ammunition. ‘My British father will not deny me; to him will I go,’ retorted Tecumseh.
UNDER THE BRITISH FLAG
We now leave the Wabash for the Detroit, and the interior of Indiana for the frontiers of Canada. Early in June 1812 Tecumseh, with a small band of chosen warriors, left his wigwam and set out through the forest for the British post at Amherstburg on the Canadian side of the Detroit river, solemnly vowing not to bury the tomahawk until the Long Knives were humbled. At Amherstburg he sought out Colonel Matthew Elliott, the Canadian superintendent of Indian Affairs, and formally pledged his allegiance to the king of Great Britain. In front of Fort Malden at Amherstburg, near the mouth of the Detroit river, lay Bois Blanc Island, upon which several blockhouses had been erected. This island was fixed upon as the headquarters of the Indians, and here Tecumseh and his warriors encamped.
The fidelity of the great chief was put to the test even before active hostilities began. A band of neutral Indians, encamped at Brownstown, on the American side, opposite Amherstburg, invited him to a council they were about to hold. His decision was quickly made. He had cast in his lot with the British and would not falter in his allegiance. ‘No,’ he replied to the runner that awaited his answer; ‘I will suffer my bones to bleach upon this shore before I engage in any council of neutrality.’ He soon gave proof of his sincerity by leading his intrepid little band in one of the initial engagements of the war, an engagement, as we shall learn, of the greatest importance in this early stage of the conflict.
Tecumseh had taken his stand for the coming war: the flag of Britain should be his flag, and her soldiers his comrades-in-arms. To him, indeed, it was that Britain owed her Indian allies in the War of 1812. Canadians and Indians stood side by side in face of a common peril and were inspired by a common purpose. To Canada defeat meant absorption in the United States and the loss of national life; to the red men it meant expulsion from their homes and hunting-grounds and the ultimate extinction of their race.
Long before the formal declaration of was by the United States (June 18, 1812) the inevitable conflict had been foreseen. The Democrats, then in power in the United States, were determined to have it. To many Americans it appeared as a necessary sequel to the Revolution, a second War of Independence; to others it seemed a short and easy means of adding to the United States that northern territory, the inhabitants of which had refused the opportunity to join the Thirteen Colonies in the War of the Revolution. But the causes of this unhappy war are too complex and manifold to be discussed here. [Footnote: See The War with the United States in this Series.]
Canada’s position at the opening of hostilities was far from reassuring. The population of all British North America was only half a million of whites at most, as compared with about eight million in the United States. Great Britain was engaged elsewhere in a life-and-death struggle and could spare but few troops to support the Canadian militia. Indeed, there were not fifteen hundred British soldiers along the whole Canadian frontier; while, even before the declaration of war, to Detroit alone had been dispatched more than two thousand American troops. The Americans had, therefore, reasonable grounds for confidence in the ultimate result, notwithstanding a somewhat depleted treasury and the opposition of a considerable party in the northern, especially the New England, States. Canadians, however, loyally answered the call to arms, and proved the truth of the words that ‘a country defended by free men enthusiastically devoted to the cause of their king and constitution can never be conquered.’ Canada, too, had a tower of strength in Isaac Brock, a distinguished British soldier, who had seen active service in the West Indies and in Holland, and had been with Nelson at Copenhagen.
On July 11, 1812, General William Hull, commander of the American army of the north-west, invaded Canada and occupied Sandwich, a small town almost directly opposite Detroit. On the following day he issued a proclamation with the intent of detaching Canadians from their allegiance. In this proclamation he protested against the employment of Indians as combatants, although the persistent endeavours of the Americans to win the Indians over to their cause must have been known to him. The words of the proclamation are as follows:
If the barbarous and savage policy of Great Britain be pursued, and the savages let loose to murder our citizens, and butcher our women and children, this war will be a war of extermination. The first stroke of the tomahawk, the first attempt with the scalping-knife, will be the signal for one indiscriminate scene of desolation! No white man found fighting by the side of an Indian will be taken prisoner; instant destruction will be his lot.
To this Brock replied:
This inconsistent and unjustifiable threat of refusing quarter, for such a cause as being found in arms with a brother sufferer in defence of invaded rights, must be exercised with the certain assurance of retaliation, not only in the limited operation of war in this part of the King’s Dominions, but in every quarter of the globe. For the national character of Britain is not less distinguished for humanity than strict retributive justice, which will consider the execution of this inhuman threat as deliberate murder, for which every subject of the offending power must make expiation.
Tecumseh, with the aid of the British agents, had assembled six hundred warriors on Bois Blanc Island, and his scouts were soon out watching the movements of the enemy in the surrounding country. The only way of communication open to the Americans who were advancing towards Detroit was along the west side of the Detroit river by a road which passed through Brownstown from the river Raisin. This road was kept under the strictest surveillance by the Indians. On August 5 the scouts reported that Major Van Horne, with two hundred cavalry of Hull’s army, was on his way from Detroit to meet Captain Brush, who was near the Raisin with a company of Ohio volunteers, bringing official dispatches and provisions for Hull at Sandwich. On receiving this news Tecumseh mustered seventy of his boldest warriors at Brownstown and started through the woods towards Detroit to meet Van Horne. About three miles out he secreted his men on each side of the road and awaited the enemy. Apparently Van Horne, little dreaming that a trap would be set for him, had not sent out scouts; and as he marched down the road the quiet forest gave no indication of the foe lurking on his flanks, until Tecumseh and his band, suddenly springing from their ambuscade and sounding the war-whoop, leaped upon his horsemen. The terrified Americans thought the woods alive with Indians. Officers tried in vain to rally their men, who turned and sought safety in flight, while Tecumseh and his warriors followed in pursuit. A Parthian shot from one of the Americans killed a young chief; this was Tecumseh’s only loss. The enemy lost about a hundred in killed, wounded, and missing; and, what was of the greatest importance, a packet, containing official dispatches from Hull to the secretary of War and other papers, was captured. This was Tecumseh’s first engagement in the British cause.
The Indian leader knew that the majority of Indians would incline towards the side which was first victorious. When, therefore, the encouraging news was now received that the American fort on Mackinaw Island had been captured, Tecumseh sent runners in all directions to tell the Indians of his recent victory and of the fall of Fort Mackinaw. He announced that British success was assured, and adroitly added that, if they desired to share the plunder, they must immediately join the conquerors. One of these light-footed messengers reached the famous chief of the Potawatomis, Shaubena, as he was about to start on a hunting expedition. The runner distributed presents of bright-coloured beads and other ornaments among the women of the tribe, and to Shaubena he delivered a belt of wampum with Tecumseh’s message. The hunting expedition was abandoned, Shaubena with his warriors set out at once for Amherstburg, and became Tecumseh’s trusty aide, fighting henceforth by his side until the hour of the great Shawnee’s death.
Meanwhile General Hull had come to the conclusion that he could not maintain his position on the soil of Canada. On the night of August 7 he withdrew his troops from Sandwich and crossed the river to Detroit. It was of the utmost importance, however, that he should make a juncture with Captain Brush and reopen his communications with the country beyond Lake Erie. To effect this object he sent out a force of six hundred men under Colonel James Miller, with cavalry and artillery. At this time Tecumseh was at Brownstown with about two hundred warriors, and Major Muir of the British Army, in command of about one hundred and sixty regulars and militia, was also stationed there. On the morning of August 9 some Indians emerged from the forest and reported that the American troops under Miller were about eight miles distant, and, on account of the difficulty of transporting the guns over the heavy roads, were making but slow progress. It was evident that they could not reach Brownstown before night, and Major Muir, after a hasty consultation with Tecumseh, decided to meet the enemy at Maguaga, a small Indian village between Brownstown and Detroit. The Indians in their scant habiliments of war, their dark bodies grotesquely painted in varied colours, strode silently by the side of the British soldiers. The allies rapidly pushed their way along the muddy road, past the scene of the recent attack, where carcasses of men and horses still lay by the roadside. A halt was called within a quarter of a mile of Maguaga, at a place favourable for an ambuscade, and preparations were made for battle. The British took up a position behind a slightly rising bit of ground. Tecumseh disposed his men in a meadow, about six hundred yards in extent, which bordered the road along which the Americans were advancing. The wild grass grew rank and high and afforded sufficient concealment. The Indians threw themselves down to await the enemy, and their example was followed by the British. Tecumseh and his men, peering from their covert, soon distinguished the main body of the enemy marching in two lines, slowly and steadily. As they came within range a single shot rang out—the signal for battle. The Indians fired one deadly volley, and, with the blood-curdling cry that the Americans had learned to dread, burst wildly from their hiding-place. The enemy replied with a crackling fire and, as Tecumseh and his men sprang bravely forward, followed it up with a bayonet charge.
The bright uniforms of the British now revealed their position, and the action became general. Unknown to the regulars, a body of Indians had been posted at the extremity of a neighbouring wood, and; being subjected to a hot fire and unable to endure the hail of bullets, they endeavoured to gain the British rear. Appearing in this unexpected quarter they were mistaken for the foe, and as they emerged from the wood were fired upon by their comrades-in-arms. The red men in turn mistook the British for Americans and promptly returned the fire, and for some time disorder and confusion reigned. The loud remonstrances of the officers were lost in the din and confusion of battle. Hard pressed in front and, as he imagined, attacked in the rear, Major Muir ordered a retreat; he then reformed his men on the crest of a hill to await the appearance of the enemy. This position commanded a small bridge over which the American artillery would have to pass. Here, about a quarter of a mile distant from their former position, the British waited for a quarter of an hour, after which, as the enemy did not reappear, Muir again ordered a retreat. His communication with Tecumseh had been broken, and, hearing sounds of firing from the woods to his left, he inferred that the Americans were driving the Indians in that direction with the object of reaching the road to cut him off from his boats. He gained the shore of the river, however, without interference from the enemy, found his boats intact, and pulled swiftly towards Amherstburg.
Tecumseh and his warriors had borne the brunt of the battle and displayed magnificent courage. After the firing of Muir’s men had ceased, they still fought stubbornly, in spite of the vast numerical superiority of the enemy, and retreated slowly through the woods in a westerly direction. Then, turning about, they succeeded in regaining their canoes, and followed in the wake of the British. The Americans were unaware of the extent of their success, and fearing a renewed attack, they abandoned their march and retreated to Detroit. And it was not until several days after this lively encounter that they again attempted to reopen communications with their army to the south.
Four uneventful days followed. The night of the 13th was calm and cloudless. About Fort Malden sentries paced their ceaseless round. Camp-fires glowed about the wigwams and blockhouses of Bois Blanc. Tecumseh lay in the open, surrounded by his sleeping warriors. Although it was past midnight, his sleepless eyes scanned the heavens. The moon cast a shimmering path upon the water, in whose depths myriads of stars were reflected. Even as Tecumseh gazed a bright star sped like a golden arrow across the sky. He marked its flight until it fell afar and seemed to cleave the dark depths of the river. What did this fiery messenger portend? Again a youth, he threaded his way through the gloom of the forest, seeking the guiding spirit of his manhood, until a bright star fell across his path. Then, in vivid memory, came the tortures of initiation. A man, he journeyed in strange lands beneath a scorching sun, or felt the biting winter blasts. Again his heart beat high with hope, only to be cast down by the crushing defeat of his plans. But still, upborne by almost superhuman strength, urged by some strange, impelling power, he must battle for his race. The restless river, as it fretted the sides of the little island placed so protectingly against the Canadian shore, sang of battle, whose outcome none might guess. Suddenly he was aroused from his waking dream by shouts of joy and the booming of cannon from the decks of the General Hunter, which lay at anchor in the river. It was a salute in honour of the arrival of General Brock. A vigorous cheer announced his appearance at Fort Malden. The Indians joined in the welcome and fired off their muskets. A boat made its way towards the island, and the warriors crowded about it as Colonel Elliott stepped ashore. He gave them official information of Brock’s arrival, and warned the Indians to save their scanty ammunition. Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, Tecumseh with his attendant chiefs accompanied Elliott back to the fort to meet the commander in whose hands he had placed the fate of his people. Arrived at Amherstburg, Elliott replied to the sentry’s challenge, and they entered the fort. On reaching the room in which Brock sat, they found him deeply engrossed in the contents of the captured mail packets, which were strewn on the table before him, for these told him that General Hull had lost the confidence of his garrison at Detroit, and that dissensions had destroyed all unity of purpose among the officers. The candlelight streamed on his red-brown hair and shone on the gold-fringed epaulets of his scarlet uniform. Elliott at once presented Tecumseh to Brock. The latter raised his eyes to behold ‘the king of the woods,’ whose very presence seemed to exhale the freedom of the forest.
One of the best pen-portraits extant of Tecumseh is by Captain Glegg, who thus describes him upon this occasion of his presentation to Brock:
Tecumseh was very prepossessing, his figure light and finely proportioned, his age I imagined to be about five-and-thirty, his height five feet nine or ten inches, his complexion light copper, his countenance oval, with bright hazel eyes beaming cheerfulness, energy and decision. Three small crowns or coronets were suspended from the lower cartilage of his aquiline nose, and a large silver medallion of George the Third, which I believe his ancestor had received from Lord Dorchester when governor-general of Canada, was attached to a mixed coloured wampum string which hung round his neck. His dress consisted of a plain, neat uniform, a tanned deer-skin jacket with long trousers of the same material, the seams of both being covered with neatly cut fringe, and he had on his feet leather moccasins much ornamented with work made from the dyed quills of the porcupine.
Tecumseh regarded Brock calmly, noting with admiration the athletic form as it towered to its full height. Thus stood the two commanding figures, both born to lead, alike bold in purpose and ready in resource. With the same intuitive perception each trusted the other. They were akin—both of the ‘brotherhood that binds the brave of all the earth.’ The brown hand of Tecumseh met the strong white hand of Brock in a warm clasp, the seal of a firm friendship. Brock thanked Tecumseh for his salute of welcome, and like Colonel Elliott mentioned the shortage of ammunition. With warm words of praise he referred to the work of the warriors in the recent engagements, commending Tecumseh’s leadership and courage in the highest terms. The chief listened with characteristic calm. Brock continued: ‘I have fought against the enemies of our great father, the king beyond the great lake, and they have never seen my back. I am come here to fight his enemies on this side the great lake, and now desire with my soldiers to take lessons from you and your warriors, that I may learn how to make war in these great forests.’ After a pause Tecumseh, turning round to his attendant chiefs, stretched out his hand and exclaimed, ‘Ho-o-o-e; this is a man!’
Brock was particularly pleased with the contents of the mail taken at Brownstown. In striking contrast to Hull’s high-sounding proclamation, it revealed that general’s real attitude of dejection. Communication from the rear had been cut off; he feared starvation and despaired of being able to withstand attack. The contents of these dispatches prompted Brock to invade American territory without delay. Rapidly he unfolded a daring plan against Fort Detroit, but his officers shook their heads and strongly dissented. Not so Tecumseh, who, as Brock sketched his scheme, had listened with gleaming eye, and who now enthusiastically supported it. The commander inquired as to the character of the country through which they must pass to reach Detroit. For answer the chief unrolled a piece of elm bark, which he held flat with four stones; and, drawing his scalping-knife from its sheath, he traced with its point the roads, ravines, groves, and streams. Brock intently followed the blade of Tecumseh, beneath whose hand a fine military map rapidly took shape. Was ever before Indian scalping-knife put to so good a use! This unexpected skill surprised and delighted Brock. When the map was completed, clear in outline, intelligent in detail, any misgivings he may have had vanished. In the face of all opposition and dissent Brock resolved to attempt the capture of Detroit. Thanking Tecumseh for his invaluable aid and promising to address his followers at noon the next day, the commander retired for a few hours of much-needed rest. Accompanied by his chiefs, the Indian leader made his way back over the water to the little island. It was now almost morning, and as he scanned the brightening sky he wondered within himself whether it heralded a hopeful dawn for his unhappy people.
At noon of that day one thousand Indians of various tribes assembled beneath the trees about Fort Malden. After the customary opening ceremonies Brock addressed them, telling them he had come across the great salt lake (the Atlantic ocean), at the request of their great father, to help them, and that with their assistance he would drive the Americans from Fort Detroit. His words were greeted with noisy approval. Tecumseh then replied that he was pleased that ‘their father beyond the great salt lake had at last consented to let his warriors come to the assistance of his red children, who had never ceased to remain steadfast in their friendship and were now all ready to shed their last drop of blood in their great father’s service.’
Seeing Tecumseh surrounded by his warriors, who, fiery and indomitable, but unstable as water, were united by his leadership alone, Brock realized the powerful personality of his new and valuable ally. Here is an extract from one of Brock’s letters written soon afterwards:
Among the Indians whom I found at Amherstburg and who arrived from different parts of the country there were some extraordinary characters. He who most attracted my attention was a Shawnee chief—brother of the Prophet, who for the last two years has carried on, contrary to our remonstrance, an active war with the United States. A more sagacious or a more gallant warrior does not, I believe, exist. He was the admiration of every one who addressed him.
Preparations were rapidly made for a movement against Detroit, and on the morning of the next day, August 15, the British and Indians marched towards Sandwich. Brock sent Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonell and Captain Glegg to General Hull, under a flag of truce; demanding the surrender of Detroit. Adroitly embodied in his dispatch were the following words: ‘You must be aware that the numerous bodies of Indians who have attached themselves to my troops will be beyond my control the moment the contest commences.’ Hull replied that he was prepared to meet any force at Brock’s command; whereupon the British batteries at Sandwich opened fire, which continued until evening. Under cover of darkness Colonel Elliott and Tecumseh led six hundred Indian warriors to the shore of the river on the night of the 15th, where they silently launched their canoes and gained the American side, prepared to protect the crossing of the main army in the morning.
In the quiet early dawn 320 British regulars and 400 Canadian militia were in readiness to embark; and, as sunrise coloured the sky, a motley fleet pushed off from the Canadian shore. The war vessel Queen Charlotte and the batteries at Sandwich opened fire, while the wooded shores re-echoed to the savage yells of 600 painted braves. Brock stood erect in the foremost boat, which steered towards Springwells, about four miles below Detroit, where Tecumseh awaited his landing. Scarcely had Brock stepped ashore when a scout rushed up with the news that a large body of American troops, who had left the fort two days before for another attempt to reach the army at the Raisin, were approaching from the rear, and were now but a few miles distant. The attack must, therefore, be made at once. The forces were rapidly formed in two columns, an advance was sounded, and the allies pressed forward towards Fort Detroit.
That formidable stronghold bristled with cannon, which could be trained on any part of the advancing army. Yet steadily forward marched the British, while the Indians shouted their wild war-cry, which doubtless struck terror to the heart of Hull. The gunners in Detroit stood at their posts with lighted fuses, but the British and Indians dauntlessly advanced till they could see the black, yawning mouths of the guns, whose thunder each moment they thought to hear.
At some distance from the fort Brock and Tecumseh ascended an elevated bit of ground to reconnoitre. Scarcely had they done so when a messenger was seen speeding from the fort with a white flag. Colonel Macdonell and Captain Glegg were sent to meet him. The news they brought back was that Hull was prepared to surrender. The fire from the batteries at Sandwich and from the Queen Charlotte, with the bold advance of the British and the Indian war-cry, had done their work. The commanders rode forward and took possession of the fort. Hull’s twenty-five hundred men became prisoners of war, and all the armaments and stores, along with the territory of Michigan, passed into the hands of the British. The Stars and Stripes were lowered, and the Union Jack streamed out upon the breeze.
Tecumseh was elated and amazed at this bloodless victory over the Long Knives. Shortly after the surrender of Detroit, he is reported to have said to Brock:
I have heard much of your fame and am happy again to shake by the hand a brave brother warrior. The Americans endeavoured to give us a mean opinion of British generals, but we have been witnesses of your valour. In crossing the river to attack the enemy, we observed you from a distance standing the whole time in an erect position, and when the boats reached the shore you were among the first who jumped on land. Your bold and sudden movements alarmed the enemy and compelled them to surrender to less than half their own force.
Brock, realizing the value of Tecumseh’s services, honoured him publicly. Removing his silken sash, he fastened it about the chief’s shoulders, presenting him at the same time with a pair of pistols. Stoic though Tecumseh was, he could not conceal his pride and gratification at Brock’s gift. Next day, however, he appeared without the sash; and when the British general sent to inquire the reason, he explained that he had given it to Roundhead of the Wyandots, an older and more valiant chief than himself.
In his general order from Detroit, August 17, Brock wrote:
The conduct of the Indians, joined to that of the gallant and brave chiefs of their respective tribes, has since the commencement of the war been marked with acts of true heroism, and in nothing can they testify more strongly their love to the king, their great father, than by following the dictates of honour and humanity by which they have been hitherto actuated. Two fortifications have already been captured from the enemy without a drop of blood being shed by the hands of Indians. The instant the enemy submitted, his life became sacred.
That such was the case at Detroit was almost entirely due to the dominating influence of Tecumseh over his followers.
FIGHTING ON AMERICAN SOIL
After Brock had accomplished his work at Detroit, he hastily returned to the seat of government at York to make preparations for guarding the Niagara frontier; and here we must take our leave of the great soldier, for another writer in these Chronicles is to tell of his subsequent movements, and of his glorious death on Queenston Heights. Colonel Procter was left in command of the western forts, to which Tecumseh was attached. Owing to an unfortunate armistice arranged between the belligerent nations, the energetic Indian chief could do nothing more than exert his powers in persuading many undecided warriors to become Britain’s allies. In this business he moved through the Indian country between Lake Michigan and the Wabash, daily increasing his forces.
In the meantime General Harrison, of whom we learned something in a preceding chapter, was given command of the north-western army of the United States. He was invested with wide authority, and instructed, first of all, to provide for the defence of the western frontiers and then to ‘retake Detroit, with a view to the conquest of Canada.’ The first part of these instructions he proceeded to carry out by raiding Indian villages and burning their cornfields. Next he arranged his autumn campaign, which had in view the recapture of Detroit and, if possible, the capture of Fort Malden and the invasion of Canada. His troops occupied Fort Defiance, on the Maumee, as a base of supplies, and Sandusky, on the south shore of Lake Erie, as an observation post. Before much could be done, however, the autumn waned, and Harrison, with seventeen hundred men, encamped for the winter on the right bank of the Maumee, at the foot of the rapids, near the place where Wayne had fought the battle of the Fallen Timbers sixteen years before.
In January 1813 Major Reynolds, of the British forces on the Detroit, marched into Frenchtown with fifty soldiers and two hundred Indians. Frenchtown stood on the site of the present city of Monroe (Mich.) on the river Raisin, about midway between Detroit and Harrison’s camp on the Maumee. On the 18th scouts reported the approach of an American force of some five hundred and fifty regulars and Kentucky volunteers. Reynolds made a judicious disposition of his men to meet this superior force, but the enemy fell suddenly upon him, driving him back about a mile. When the British had gained the shelter of a wood their three-pounder did effective work, causing the enemy considerable loss, and a continuous fire from militia and Indians held the Americans in check for a time. But the contest was hopeless, and Reynolds retreated to Brownstown, about eighteen miles distant, having lost one militiaman and three Indians, and having killed twelve Americans and wounded fifty-five. The American captain made no attempt to pursue the British, but established himself at Frenchtown, and two days later General Winchester marched in with a large body of American troops.
During the night of the 18th word of Reynolds’s repulse was brought to Procter, who, with unaccustomed alacrity, hastened from Amherstburg with all his available force, leaving but a few men to guard the fort. Early on the morning of the 20th he led five hundred militia and regulars and eight hundred Indians across the frozen waters of the Detroit river. The troops were soon winding their way along the road on the western shore. At nightfall they encamped in the open about five miles from the enemy, and lighted huge fires to protect themselves from the bitter winter cold. Before daybreak of the 21st they were again on the march and sighted the American camp while all was darkness and silence. No outpost guarded the slumbering encampment, and the British approached unchallenged. They had brought three three-pounders with them, and these were swiftly but silently placed in commanding positions. The line for attack was being formed when the musket-shot of a sentinel rang out through the crisp air, and was immediately followed by the roar from a three-pounder, which startled the sleeping camp into activity. Thus the British lost some of the advantage of a surprise attack. Instead of making a rapid advance and bayonet charge, or an attack upon the surrounding parapet, from which the enemy wrought such havoc later, Procter ordered the three-pounders to be brought into action, and while this was being done, the Americans had seized their arms and prepared for a stubborn defence.
Procter attacked with the regulars in the centre and the militia and Indians on the flanks. The American centre fought from behind defences, and their fire caused great havoc in the ranks of the regulars, where the fire was hottest and the loss most severe. After the fight had continued for upwards of an hour, the Indians decided the issue. Outflanking the enemy on each side, they gained the rear, and fiercely assailed and drove in the enemy’s right, which gave way and fled in terror to the farther side of the river Raisin, seeking shelter in the woods. The Indians followed across the ice in swift pursuit, eager for slaughter. The blood-stained snow and the bodies of those overtaken marked the direction of their flight for almost two miles. Only a few prisoners were captured, but among them were Colonel Lewis, General Winchester, and his son, a lad of sixteen years of age. So complete had been the surprise of the American camp that when Winchester was led into the British lines he was clothed only in his night-shirt.
The American left and centre, however, still held out stubbornly, fighting desperately through fear of falling into the hands of the Indians and sharing a fate similar to that of their comrades. On learning that the conflict was still in progress, Winchester pencilled an order to the commanding officer to surrender, in order to prevent further loss of life. The command was immediately obeyed, and the action ceased. A number of the Americans made good their escape to Harrison’s camp on the Maumee, where Fort Meigs was erected immediately afterwards. ‘The zeal and courage of the Indian department were never more conspicuous than on this occasion,’ wrote Procter, ‘and the Indian warriors fought with great bravery.’ Tecumseh himself was not present at the battle of Frenchtown, as he was busy seeking recruits among the Indian allies of the British. The leader of the Indians on that occasion was Roundhead of the Wyandots.
Learning that Harrison had reorganized his army and brought up artillery and stores to strengthen his position at Fort Meigs, Procter decided to attack the American general in force. Harrison, as we have seen, had about 1700 men and expected an equal reinforcement under General Green Clay. Procter, now a brigadier-general, embarked at Amherstburg with 1,000 white troops and all available artillery. Tecumseh, who had returned to headquarters, led his Indians overland. The result of his mission among the tribes now manifested itself. As he advanced, his force was greatly augmented, many warriors joining him at the mouth of the Maumee, until at last he commanded not fewer than 1,200 men. The British forces reached the vicinity of Fort Meigs on April 28, and went into camp opposite the fort; but heavy rains delayed operations until the 1st of May. Procter erected a battery a short distance above his camp; another battery was soon added: but the fire from both proving ineffective, a third was established across the river just below Fort Meigs.
The expected American reinforcements reached the head of the rapids, and on the night of May 4 a messenger from Harrison made his way through the British lines to Clay, instructing him to land eight hundred men on the left bank of the Maumee to carry the British batteries there, and spike the guns, afterwards crossing to the fort. The remainder of the troops were to land on the right side of the river and make their way through the Indians to the fort. According to orders, Colonel Dudley landed with the specified force, rushed the batteries, which were manned only by a few gunners, and spiked the guns. The main body of British were at the camp a mile and a half distant. But, contrary to orders, Dudley did not return immediately to his boats and cross to the fort; instead, he left the greater part of his men at the batteries under Major Shelby and set off with the rest in pursuit of some Indians.
The routed artillerymen, reaching the British camp, made known the loss of guns, and Tecumseh led his warriors to retake them through a downpour of rain. Dudley and the smaller body that accompanied him were drawn into an ambuscade and annihilated, Dudley himself falling beneath the tomahawk; while the larger force left in possession of the captured batteries was assailed by Major Muir, with fewer than two hundred men, and put to rout. The Americans fled for refuge to the woods, only to be confronted there by the Indians. Thus caught between two fires, they were utterly destroyed.
Clay’s force of 450 men had landed on the opposite side of the river, where they were attacked by the Indians. But they were soon reinforced by a detachment sent from the fort to meet them, whereupon they turned upon the British position, captured one gun, and took prisoner forty of the 41st regiment. The remainder of the British at this point, strengthened by a small detachment of militia and Indians, advanced and retook the battery, and the Americans were driven back into the fort.
A white flag now fluttered from the walls of Fort Meigs. Harrison proposed an exchange of prisoners, in the hope that during the delay caused by these proceedings he would be able to get much-needed baggage, stores, and ammunition into the fort. But the boats containing his supplies were captured by the Indians, who took childish pleasure in their rich plunder. When the prisoners had been exchanged Harrison again opened fire, and the contest continued until the 9th with little result.
Unaccustomed to this prolonged warfare and weary of fighting, the greater part of the Indians now returned to their villages to celebrate their recent victory; but Tecumseh, although his force, so laboriously brought together, had dwindled to fewer than twenty warriors, remained with the British. The militia also grew restless and discontented and desired to return to their homes, to attend to the spring seeding of their fields. Under these conditions Procter was obliged to abandon the siege of Fort Meigs and withdraw his forces.
During this affair an event occurred which illustrates the marvellous power of Tecumseh’s personality. While some of the American prisoners were being conducted to the boats, they were savagely attacked by a band of strange Indians. These warriors, who had taken no part in the engagement, greatly outnumbered the guard. Forty of the prisoners had already been put to death before a messenger set off at full speed to Tecumseh with news of this horrible outrage. The Indian leader rode rapidly towards the scene of the massacre, which was then at its height. Throwing himself from his horse, he grasped the two nearest savages and hurled them violently to the ground. Brandishing his tomahawk, he rushed among the Indians, and in a voice of thunder forbade them to touch another prisoner. The massacre ceased instantly, and, awed by Tecumseh’s presence and threatening manner, the savages disappeared into the woods.
Towards the latter part of July Tecumseh persuaded Procter to make another attempt to take Fort Meigs. After much deliberation the British general finally started up the Maumee with a force of four hundred white soldiers and about three hundred Indians. He took with him also several six-pounders. The troops disembarked on the right bank not far from the fort. Tecumseh, fertile in strategy, had devised a plan by which he hoped to lure the garrison from the fort. His scouts had apprised him that Harrison with a large force was at Sandusky, about sixty miles distant. The chief proposed that the Indians should gain the road which led from Sandusky to Fort Meigs and that a sham battle should be enacted there to deceive the garrison, who would naturally suppose that some of Harrison’s force, coming to the fort, were being attacked. They would hasten to the assistance of their comrades, and the British would fall upon them in the rear, while a strong force assailed the fort. The plan met with Procter’s approval, and the Indians proceeded to carry it out. Heavy firing was soon heard, and it became so animated that even some of Procter’s men believed that a real engagement was in progress. But the garrison made no response, and the mock battle, which lasted about an hour, was finally terminated by a heavy downpour of rain.
Tecumseh’s plan for the capture of Fort Meigs had miscarried, but he still hoped for victory. He induced Procter to make an attack upon Fort Stephenson (now Fremont in the state of Ohio), about ten miles from the mouth of the Sandusky river. On July 28 the British troops embarked with artillery and stores and entered Sandusky Bay. Most of the Indians marched through the woods between the Sandusky and the Maumee. On August 1 Procter, having ascended the river, demanded the surrender of Fort Stephenson from Major Croghan, the officer in command. The garrison consisted of only one hundred and sixty men, and they had but one gun; yet Croghan refused to surrender. Procter then landed his men and opened fire on the north-west angle of the fort; but his guns were light, and the cannonade, which continued for thirty hours, had but little effect.
Fort Stephenson was built on the edge of a deep ravine filled with brushwood. Before the main building was a ditch, the sides of which were crowned with palisades. About four o’clock in the afternoon Procter ordered an assault. He divided his men into two parties, one to attack the fort from the north-west, the other to assail the southern side. Armed with axes, which, however, were so blunt as to be almost useless, the men of the first party broke through the outer palisades and gained the ditch. Here they found further advance impossible, as they had no scaling-ladders. In this position they were raked by a deadly fire of musketry from the fort. The men at the southern side were not so severely pressed; but after two hours’ hard fighting the British were forced to withdraw, having suffered a loss of about one hundred killed and wounded. Under cover of darkness Procter and his men regained their boats and returned to Amherstburg. Greatly disheartened at these repeated failures, Tecumseh and his warriors marched overland to the head of Lake Erie and again went into camp on Bois Blanc Island.
THE BATTLE OF LAKE ERIE
The hope of the British now centred in their fleet, which commanded Lake Erie. It was known that Harrison was anxious to regain Detroit and invade Canada, but he could do nothing until the control of the lake had been won. Towards this object the Americans now bent their energies, sparing no expense in their effort to equip a lake fleet superior to that of the British. Several new ships were building in the port of Presqu’isle (now Erie), Pennsylvania, under the direction of Captain Oliver Perry, the young officer in command on Lake Erie. At length nine American vessels were fitted out—Lawrence, twenty guns; Niagara, twenty guns; Caledonia, three guns; Ariel, four guns; Scorpion, two guns; Somers, two guns; Trippe, one gun; Porcupine, one gun; Tigress, one gun. These boats were commanded by able officers and were manned chiefly by experienced seamen taken from the crews of frigates which were blockaded in the seaports.
Opposed to this fleet Canada had on Lake Erie a squadron consisting of six vessels—Queen Charlotte, seventeen guns; Lady Prevost, thirteen guns; Hunter, ten guns; Little Belt, three guns; Chippewa, one gun; Detroit, still on the stocks at Amherstburg, nineteen guns. Captain Robert Barclay, one of Nelson’s heroes at Trafalgar, was in command. Like the great admiral under whom he served, he had lost an arm in naval conflict, which gained for him the Indian title of ‘our father with the one arm.’
The American ships had been in readiness since the early part of July, but were blockaded in Presqu’isle. There were but seven feet of water on the bar at the entrance to the harbour, which made it impossible for the larger ships to sail out with their heavy armament on board and in face of a fire from the British ships. Barclay, assured of his mastery of the situation, frequently visited places along the coast in search of provisions. The enemy, who maintained constant and careful watch, took advantage of his absence on one of these occasions and skilfully slipped their vessels over the bar. Barclay, on returning, saw with dismay that the American fleet had escaped from Presqu’isle, and, realizing that the control of the lake had passed from his hands, he directed his course towards Amherstburg to hasten the completion of the Detroit.
Starvation threatened the garrison at Amherstburg. Indians swarmed about the fort, their numbers seeming to increase as the food supply diminished. Barclay writes, ‘There was not a day’s flour in the store and the squadron was on half allowance of many things,’ and ‘it was necessary to fight the enemy to enable us to get supplies of every description.’ Immediate battle was inevitable, and on the efforts of the navy hung a momentous issue. Should it fail, supplies from Niagara would be cut off and Harrison’s forces, which were stationed in readiness for this opportunity, would march in and crush Procter’s command.
From Bois Blanc Island Tecumseh and his warriors followed with interest the manoeuvres of the American ships. They watched with wonder the spreading sails, which in the morning sun looked like a flock of huge white sea-gulls. Naval warfare was new to many of the Indians, and they gazed in silent awe as the ships sailed towards Amherstburg. Tecumseh, who closely followed their movements, assured the Indians crowded about him on the beach that these vessels with their proud white sails would soon be destroyed by ‘their father with the one arm.’ But there were no signs of immediate battle, and Tecumseh grew impatient. Launching his canoe, he paddled over to Amherstburg to discover the reason of delay. ‘A few days since you were boasting that you commanded the waters; why do you not go out and meet the Americans?’ he demanded of Procter. ‘See, yonder they are waiting for you and daring you to meet them.’ Procter assured Tecumseh that the delay would not be long; the British were waiting for the completion of the Detroit. The chief returned to the island to inform his warriors that the big canoes of their great fathers were not yet ready and that the destruction of the American fleet must be delayed a few days.
Barclay remained in Amherstburg to hasten the completion of the Detroit, his largest vessel. But, at length, as further delay was dangerous, she had to be launched as she was, in a rough and imperfect condition. In default of other guns, she was armed with long battering pieces taken from the ramparts of the fort. Every calibre of gun was used, and so incomplete was her equipment that her cannon had to be discharged by flashing pistols at the touch-holes.
Long and vainly had Barclay waited for the arrival of the promised seamen from Lake Ontario, with whom he hoped to man his ships. His insistent appeal and final remonstrance were treated with indifference. There were but fifty experienced seamen in the British ships, the remainder of the crews consisting of two hundred and forty soldiers and eighty Canadian volunteer sailors, who had no proper training in seamanship and gunnery. While Barclay was obliged to enter the contest with his fleet thus wretchedly equipped, Perry had a force of over five hundred men, hardy frontiersmen and experienced soldiers, and a sufficiency of trained seamen to work his squadron in any weather or circumstance. On the night of September 9 the British commander ran up his flag, weighed anchor, and set sail, hoping to encounter early next morning the American fleet, which lay thirty or more miles distant at Put-in-Bay.
The grey curtain of morning mist rolled up from Lake Erie, where the British fleet stood out in battle array. A light breeze rippled the surface of the lake and filled the swelling sails. Barclay took advantage of the favourable wind and bore towards the American vessels, which were lying among a cluster of islands. He put forth every effort to reach them before they could sail clear of the islands to form their line. But the wind was so light that they had got away from their cramped quarters before Barclay could come near them.
The enemy’s fleet now bore towards the British, Perry leading in his flagship the Lawrence. From his mast-head flew a flag with the motto, ‘Don’t give up the ship’—the dying words of Captain James Lawrence of the Chesapeake, after whom the vessel was named. The British fleet, compactly formed and under easy sail, awaited the enemy’s approach. Captain Barclay in his flagship Detroit headed towards the south-west. The Chippewa, Hunter, Queen Charlotte, Lady Prevost, and Little Belt, in close column, followed in his wake. The breeze, still light, veered to the north-east, giving the Americans the weather gauge.
About noon the action began. The roar of the Detroit’s twenty-four pounder, reverberating over the lake, told the anxious watchers on land that the battle had begun. The first shot fell short, but the second struck the decks of the Lawrence, dealing death and destruction. Perry’s Scorpion now opened fire with her long thirty-two, and the Lawrence with her long twelves and her carronades. As soon as the two flagships were engaged, the battle was taken up by the Scorpion, Ariel, and Caledonia opposed to the Chippewa, Queen Charlotte, and Hunter.
For over two hours Barclay engaged Perry, until brace and bowline of the Lawrence had been shot away. The American flagship’s hull was rent by shot and shell and every gun on her fighting side dismounted. The condition of the Detroit was equally perilous. Masts and rigging were cut to pieces and her decks torn and splintered from the heavy fire of the Lawrence. Captain Barclay’s remaining arm had been disabled in the early part of the action, and, weak from his wounds, he had been carried below. But the valiant crew, inspired by the courage and determination of their officers, stubbornly continued the fight.
Perry’s ship being reduced to a wreck, that gallant young commander, still undaunted, determined to abandon her. Hauling down his flag, he bade four stout seamen row him to the Niagara. The little boat sped swiftly on her way; all about her the water was churned to foam by shot and shell. Those on the flagship anxiously watched the dangerous passage, and broke into cheers as their commander reached the Niagara’s deck in safety and ran up his flag on that ship. The Lawrence now struck to the Detroit, but the latter’s small boats had been so damaged by the enemy’s fire that they were not seaworthy, The British, therefore, were unable to take possession of their prize before the action recommenced.
A fresh breeze sprang up, and the fortunes of the fight changed. The Americans still had the advantage of the wind, for Perry was able to choose both position and distance, while Barclay’s ships became unmanageable for lack of proper seamen. The American fleet was now drawn up in line. The Niagara bore up to pierce the British line. Passing between the Lady Prevost, Little Belt, and Chippewa on the port side and the Detroit, Queen Charlotte, and Hunter upon the starboard, she fired heavy broadsides both ways. The Detroit, anticipating the manoeuvre, attempted to wear, but in so doing ran foul of the Queen Charlotte. In this helpless condition the two British ships remained for some time. Perry, promptly availing himself of this accident, bore down upon the distressed vessels, pouring in broadside after broadside with deadly effect. The Detroit had already received rough treatment in combat with the Lawrence; and the smaller vessels now also made her a target, the Somers, Porcupine, Tigress, and Caledonia, which had closed up in the rear, keeping up a deadly fire astern.
Never in any naval action was the loss greater in proportion to the number of men engaged. The encounter had been so severe that every officer on the Detroit was either killed or wounded. Barclay’s thigh was badly shattered and he had also been severely wounded in the shoulder. So deadly had been the fire from the American guns that three-fourths of his men were disabled. Without officers to direct or men to fight, resistance was no longer possible. All that perseverance and courage could do had been done. The brave Barclay was compelled to yield at last to a superior force and to double the weight of metal. The two ships so helplessly entangled were the first to strike their colours, and their example was followed by the Hunter and Lady Prevost. The Little Belt and the Chippewa endeavoured to escape, and led the Trippe and Scorpion a lively chase before they were eventually captured.
Cooper in his naval history remarks:
Stress was laid at the time on the fact that a portion of the British crews were Provincials, but the history of this continent is filled with instances which went to increase the renown of the mother country without obtaining any credit for it. The hardy frontier men of the American lakes are as able to endure fatigue, as ready to engage and as constant in battle as the seamen of any marine in the world. They merely require good leaders, and this the English appear to have possessed in Captain Barclay and his assistants.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon when the flag of the Detroit was lowered, and Captain Barclay with his officers, amidst the dead and dying who cumbered her decks, gave up their swords to Perry on the Niagara. The American commander could not but feel the greatest admiration for his courageous opponent. Courteous as he was brave, Perry begged the British officers to retain their swords.
For three hours the cannon had thundered over Lake Erie on that fateful day, but, after the opening encounter, the manoeuvres of the ships were lost to those on shore in the heavy clouds of smoke that hung over the water. When these had cleared away, a scene was revealed that contrasted sadly with that disclosed by the lifting of the morning mist. Crippled and dismantled, the brave ships, whose sails had swelled so proudly in the morning breeze, now made their way towards Put-in-Bay.
The Indians, marvelling at the roar of the guns, watched intently the heavy smoke of battle drifting over the lake. When the thunder had ceased and the sky was clear they eagerly inquired as to the result of the fight; and Tecumseh demanded the reason for the vessels sailing in the direction of the American shore. Procter, fearing that the news of defeat might cause the chief and his warriors to desert, craftily explained that his vessels had beaten the Americans, but had gone to refit and would return in a few days. But Tecumseh’s keen eyes soon detected signs on land which aroused his suspicions, for hasty preparations were being made for retreat. He was indignant at what seemed to him the cowardice of Procter, and demanded to be heard in the name of all his warriors. At a council of war held on September 18 the great orator delivered his last powerful speech. With flashing eye and rapid gesture he thundered forth to Procter:
Father, listen to your children! You have them now all before you.
The war before this, our British father gave the hatchet to his red children, when our old chiefs were alive. They are now dead. In that war our father was thrown on his back by the Americans; and our father took them by the hand without our knowledge; and we are afraid our father will do so again at this time.
Summer before last, when I came forward with my red brethren and was ready to take up the hatchet in favour of our British father, we were then told not to be in a hurry—that he had not yet determined to fight the Americans.
Listen! When war was declared our father stood up and gave us
the tomahawk, and told us that he was then ready to strike the
Americans; that he wanted our assistance, and that he certainly
would get us back our lands, which the Americans had taken from us.
Listen! You told us at that time to bring forward our families to this place, and we did so, and you promised to take care of them and that they should want for nothing, while the men would go and fight the enemy; that we need not trouble ourselves about the enemy’s garrisons; that we knew nothing about them and that our father would attend to that part of the business. You also told your red children that you would take good care of your garrison here, which made our hearts glad.
Listen! When you were last at the Rapids, it is true we gave you little assistance. It is hard to fight people who live like ground hogs.
Father, listen! Our fleet has gone out; we know they have fought; we have heard the great guns; but we know nothing of what has happened to ‘our father with the one arm.’ Our ships have gone one way, and we are much astonished to see our father tying up everything and preparing to run away the other, without letting his red children know what his intentions are. You always told us to remain here and take care of your lands; it made our hearts glad to hear that was your wish. Our great father, the king, is the head, and you represent him. You always told us you would never draw your foot off British ground; but now, father, we see that you are drawing back, and we are sorry to see our father doing so, without seeing the enemy. We must compare our father’s conduct to a fat dog that carries its tail on its back, but when affrighted drops it between its legs and runs off.
Father, listen! The Americans have not yet defeated us by land, neither are we sure they have done so by water; we, therefore, wish to remain here and fight our enemy should they make their appearance. If they defeat us, we will then retreat with our father.
At the battle of the Rapids, last war, the Americans certainly defeated us; and when we returned to our father’s fort at that place, the gates were shut against us. We were afraid it would again be the case, but instead of closing the gates we now see our British father preparing to march out of his garrison.
Father, you have the arms and ammunition which our great father sent for his red children. If you intend to retreat, give them to us, and you may go, and welcome, for us. Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it be His will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.
This challenging, straightforward, and heroic speech failed to move Procter. He stubbornly refused to make a stand at Amherstburg, which, indeed, would have been fatal. Tecumseh, however, accused him of cowardice, contrasting his conduct with that of the courageous Barclay, and expressed his own fixed determination to remain and meet the enemy.
TECUMSEH’S LAST FIGHT
Tecumseh felt that the great purpose of his life was about to fail. He had been champion not only of the rights of the Indians, but of their very existence as a nation. Dear to his heart was the freedom of his people, and to achieve this had been his sole ambition. All the powers with which he had been endowed—his superb physical strength, his keen intellect, his powerful oratory—had been used to this one end. But now the cause for which he had fought so heroically in the face of frequent disaster seemed about to be overthrown by Procter’s weakness and irresolution. Tecumseh was born to command, and his proud spirit, naturally intolerant of control, chafed at following the dictates of a leader who had deceived him. The Indians had lost faith in Procter. There were daily desertions, and Tecumseh bitterly meditated following the example of other chiefs. But his courageous spirit revolted at the thought of retreat: to fly before the enemy without striking a blow seemed to him the action not of warriors but of cowards.
Procter pointed out that the fort, which had been dismantled to equip the Detroit, was open to attack from the river; that the hospital was filled with sick soldiers; and that starvation stared the British in the face. But the argument which weighed most with Tecumseh was that they would be able to find along the river Thames a place much better suited for battle. And at last the Indian leader reconciled his mind to the thought of retreat.
The troops were soon busily engaged in loading the baggage. Part was stowed in boats to be sent inland by way of the Detroit river, Lake St Clair, and the Thames; the remainder was placed in heavy wagons to be taken overland. The women and children, among whom were the general’s wife and his sick daughter, were sent on ahead, the squaws trudging along bearing their papooses on their backs. The troops set fire to the shipyards, fortifications, and public buildings on September 24, and marched out leaving Amherstburg a mass of flames. Tecumseh seemed sad and oppressed; and as he gazed at the rolling clouds of smoke he said to Blue Jacket: ‘We are now going to follow the British, and I feel well assured we shall never return.’
Procter halted at Sandwich, where he was joined by the garrison of Detroit, now also abandoned by the British, its fortifications and public buildings having been destroyed. On the morning of the 27th the column moved out of Sandwich. The lumbering wagons, encumbered with much heavy and unnecessary baggage, made slow progress. Procter’s energy had vanished, and he displayed none of the forethought that a commander should have in the performance of his duty. He took no precaution to guard the supply-boats; his men were indifferently fed, and no care was taken for their safety. Even the bridges, which should have been cut down to hamper the progress of the enemy in pursuit, were left standing.
Three days after Procter’s flight from Amherstburg Harrison landed below the town from Perry’s vessels an army about five thousand strong. Finding Fort Malden a smoking ruin, and no enemy there, he pressed on to Sandwich, with his bands playing Yankee Doodle, and encamped. Two days later he was joined by Colonel Johnson with fifteen hundred cavalry, and on the same day (September 29) a flotilla under Perry sailed up the river and stood off Detroit. After taking possession of Detroit, Harrison resolved to hasten in pursuit of the British. On October 2 he left Sandwich with four thousand men, sending his baggage by water under the protection of three gunboats which Perry had provided. Thus unencumbered, his troops marched rapidly. On the morning of the 3rd they overtook and captured a small cavalry picket of the British; and keeping in motion throughout the day, they encamped that night not far below the place known as Dolsen’s, on the south side of the Thames river, about six miles below Chatham.
The main body of the British had left Dolsen’s just a day in advance of the enemy, having travelled only forty-five miles in five days. All along the route Tecumseh had persistently urged that a stand should be made. Procter had promised that this should be done, first at one place, then at another; but each time he had made some excuse. At length, when they came to the site of the present city of Chatham, where McGregor’s Creek falls into the Thames, Tecumseh pointed out to Procter the natural advantages of the ground and appealed to him to prepare for battle. The general approved of making a stand at this point, and declared that the British would either defeat Harrison here or leave their bones on the field of conflict. After the leaders had completed their survey of the proposed battle-ground, Tecumseh gazed musingly at the swiftly flowing waters. ‘When I look at those two streams,’ he said, ‘they remind me of the Wabash and the Tippecanoe.’ A gentler light shone in the warrior’s eyes; his thoughts were far away among the scenes of his Indian village—the village that he had hoped to make the centre of a great confederacy of red men.
Meanwhile the main body of the British troops were at Dolsen’s, where they had arrived on the 1st of October. Leaving his troops at their camp, and Tecumseh and his Indians at Chatham, Procter set out with a guard to escort his wife and daughter to Moraviantown, a village of the Delaware Indians, twenty odd miles farther up the river. He was still absent on October 3, when scouts returned with news of the capture of the cavalry picket. Procter had left no orders; and Warburton, the officer in command, was at a loss what action to take. After consulting with Tecumseh, who had come down from Chatham, he ordered a retreat for two miles up the river; there the troops formed up, fully expecting attack. But as the enemy failed to appear, they proceeded to Chatham. Tecumseh desired the troops to halt and encamp with his Indians on the opposite side of the river. Warburton, however, desired to continue the retreat. But Tecumseh would not yield, and Warburton ordered his men across the stream, where the entire force camped for the night. Next morning, before the troops had breakfasted, scouts rushed into the camp bringing word of the rapid advance of the enemy. Immediately Warburton ordered his men to march, not allowing them time even to take food. About six miles up from Chatham Procter joined the army and took command. The retreat continued until nightfall, when the troops encamped about five miles below Moraviantown, on the north bank of the Thames, where the village of Thamesville now stands.
But Tecumseh and his band had not accompanied the retreating party; and when Harrison reached McGregor’s Creek at Chatham, he found his progress checked. The bridge there had been destroyed, and Tecumseh with his warriors disputed the passage. Harrison, thinking he was opposed by the whole British force, marshalled his army and brought up his artillery. After a slight skirmish, in which Tecumseh was wounded in the arm, the Indians were forced to fall back. A second bridge was similarly contested, with a like result. Then Tecumseh and his Indians retreated and joined Procter’s forces near Moraviantown, while the Americans pushed eagerly forward. Drifting down-stream were seen several British boats, which had been deserted by their occupants and set on fire.
The morning of the 5th found Harrison near Arnold’s Mills, where he overtook and captured two gunboats and some bateaux laden with supplies and ammunition. A few of the occupants escaped and fled overland towards the British camp. Harrison’s men then crossed the Thames, some of them in boats and canoes and others on horseback. By noon the entire American army had reached the opposite shore, where, farther up, the British were bivouacked, only a short march distant.
On the morning of the same day, while the soldiers were waiting for their rations to be meted out, the fugitives from Arnold’s Mills arrived at Procter’s camp and informed him of the capture of the gunboats and of Harrison’s near approach. Tecumseh was sitting on a moss-covered log, smoking and discussing the situation with Shaubena and a few of his chief warriors, when a messenger summoned the Indian leader to the general’s headquarters. He returned after a short absence, with clouded brow and thoughtful mien, and silently resumed his pipe. One of the chiefs finally asked, ‘Father, what are we to do? shall we fight the Americans?’ ‘Yes, my son,’ slowly replied Tecumseh. ‘We will be in their smoke before sunset.’
The dark shadow of his fate stole across Tecumseh’s consciousness. He had the same strange presentiment of death as his brother Cheeseekau, but he entered upon his last battle just as fearlessly. ‘Brother warriors,’ he said to those about him, ‘we are now about to enter into an engagement from which I shall never come out. My body will remain upon the field of battle.’ His followers gazed at their leader in superstitious awe, as if they were listening to a prediction that must inevitably be fulfilled. He removed his sword, and presented it to the Potawatomi chief Shaubena, saying, ‘When my son becomes a noted warrior, give him this.’
Again the troops, tired and hungry, were ordered to march without being permitted to eat their morning meal. They now numbered less than four hundred, without counting the Indians. Many were sick; all were worn out with marching and much disheartened. Retreat has a depressing effect upon the best of soldiers, but in this instance the troops, in addition, had lost faith in their leader and entertained only slight hope of victory. The boats that carried their ammunition had been taken—all they had left was what their pouches contained. Five of their cannon were at a ford behind Moraviantown, and the one remaining gun—a six-pounder—was useless for lack of ammunition.
The British took up their position about two miles below the village of Moraviantown, across the travelled road which lay along the Thames some two hundred yards from its banks. Their left flank was protected by the river and their right by a cedar swamp. By about one o’clock the troops were drawn up in order of battle between the swamp and the river. A double line was formed extending across the road into the heart of a beech wood, the second line about two hundred yards to the rear of the first. The six-pounder mounted guard on the road, threatening, but useless. Procter, on a fleet charger and surrounded by his staff, had taken up his position far back on the road, as if prepared for flight.
Tecumseh had sagaciously disposed his thousand warriors behind the swamp on the right of the British lines; and, when all was in readiness, the Indian leader visited Procter and, expressing his approval of the arrangement of the forces, passed down the British line. All eyes followed admiringly the familiar figure in its tanned buckskin. In his belt was his silver-mounted tomahawk, and his knife in its leathern case. About his head a handkerchief was rolled like a turban, and surmounted by a white feather. He addressed each officer in Shawnee, accompanying his speech with expressive gestures. Whatever doubts were in his mind, he maintained the dignity of a warrior to the end, and endeavoured to instil courage into the hearts of those about him. ‘Father, have a big heart,’ were his last words to Procter. He then joined his warriors and awaited the attack.
Clear and distinct sounded the American bugles through the autumn wood, and in a few moments the enemy came into view. As soon as Harrison caught sight of the British formation he halted his troops, and spurred his horse forward to consult with Colonel Johnson, one of his cavalry leaders. It was quickly decided to break through the British line with cavalry. Only one cavalry battalion, however, could manoeuvre between the river and the swamp; but Johnson was to lead another in person across the swamp against the Indians. The order to charge was given, and the American horsemen swept towards the British position. A loud musketry volley rang out along the first scarlet line, and the cavalry advance was checked for the moment. Horses reared and plunged, and many of the riders were thrown from their saddles. The British delivered a second volley before the Americans recovered from their confusion. But then, through the white, whirling smoke, sounded the thunder of trampling hoofs. With resistless force the American horsemen dashed against the opposing ranks and fired their pistols with telling effect. The first line of the British scattered in headlong flight, seeking shelter behind the reserves. The second line stood firm and delivered a steady fire; but the men of the first line were thrown into such disorder by the sudden attack that they could not be rallied. The Americans followed up their first charge and pressed hard upon the exhausted British, for whom there was now no alternative but to surrender. Those not killed were taken prisoners, with the exception of about fifty who effected their escape through the woods. Procter and his staff had taken flight at the first sight of the enemy.
Behind the swamp, where the Indians were posted, the battle went no more favourably. Tecumseh and his warriors had lain silent in their covert until Johnson’s cavalry had advanced well within range. Then the leader’s loud war-cry rang out as the signal for battle. The enemy shouted a derisive challenge, and the Indians replied with a well-directed volley. So destructive was the fire of the Indians that the front line of the Americans was annihilated. The horses were struggling in the swamp, and Johnson, himself wounded, ordered some of the horsemen to dismount, hoping to draw their foe out of cover, while he and a few of the boldest soldiers led the attack. Tecumseh’s keen eye singled out the American leader. He rushed through his warriors to strike him down. Johnson levelled his pistol. Like lightning Tecumseh’s tomahawk gleamed above his head. But before it could whirl on its deadly flight, there was a flash and a report. Johnson, weakened by the wound he had already received, but still clutching the smoking weapon, reeled from his saddle. Tecumseh’s tomahawk dropped harmless to the earth, and the noblest of red patriots, the greatest and truest of Indian allies, fell shot through the breast. The Indians lost heart and fled into the depths of the forest, leaving many of their bravest warriors dead on the field.
Sunset faded into darkness. The body of Tecumseh lay on the battlefield in the light of the American camp-fires. Like spectres his faithful followers stole swiftly through the wood and bore it away. On the dead face still lingered the impress of the proud spirit which had animated it in life. But silent was the war-cry that had urged his followers to battle; stilled was the silver eloquence that had won them to his purpose.
Tecumseh was no more; but his memory was cherished by the race for whose freedom he had so valiantly fought. In the light of the camp-fire his courageous deeds were long extolled by warriors and handed down by the sachems of his people. Many an ambitious brave felt his heart leap as he listened—like Tecumseh when as a boy he drank in the stories of the heroic deeds of his ancestors.
The white men respected Tecumseh as the Indians revered Brock. But how different the obsequies of the two heroes! For Brock flags floated at half-mast. He was borne to the grave to the sound of martial music, followed by a sorrowing multitude. His valour was the theme of orators. A stately monument perpetuates his memory and attracts pilgrims to his burial-place. The red hero fell fighting for the same flag-fighting on, though deserted by a British general in the hour of direst need. But no flag drooped her crimson folds for him. A few followers buried him stealthily by the light of a flickering torch. No funeral oration was uttered as he was lowered to his last resting-place. Night silently spread her pall; softly the autumn leaves covered the spot, and the wind chanted a mournful requiem over his lonely grave. No towering column directs the traveller to Tecumseh’s burial-place; not even an Indian totem-post marks the spot. The red man’s secret is jealously guarded and to no white man has it ever been revealed.
The principal books dealing with Tecumseh are Drake’s
Life of Tecumseh, Eggleston’s Tecumseh and the Shawnee
Prophet, and The Story of Tecumseh, by Norman S. Gurd.
The last mentioned is a vividly written, interesting book.
The following general books on the Indians contain short sketches of, or reference to, the subject of this story: Thatcher’s Indian Biography; Drake’s Indians of North America; Hodge’s Handbook of American Indians; White’s Handbook of Indians of Canada (based on Hodge); Roosevelt’s Winning of the West; Trumbull’s Indian Wars; Brownell’s The Indian Races of North and South America; and Tupper’s Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock.
All works dealing with the War of 1812 contain matter essential to the student of the career of Tecumseh. Chief among these are: David Thompson’s War of 1812; Richardson’s War of 1812 (the edition edited by A. C. Casselman (1902) contains many valuable notes); Coffin’s 1812: The War end its Moral; a Canadian Chronicle; Auchinleck’s History of the War; Hannay’s War of 1812; Lucas’s Canadian War of 1812; Roosevelt’s Naval War of 1812; and Adams’s History of the United States during the Administration of Jefferson and Madison.
The life and character of Tecumseh have formed the subject of three somewhat ambitious poems: Richardson’s Tecumseh; Jones’s Tecumseh, a tragedy in five acts; and Mair’s Tecumseh, a drama.