Monday, November 07, 2005


November 7, 1811: On this date the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought at the juncture of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers.


Many Americans who dreamt of westward expansionism were able to argue convincingly that the British were supplying the Indians. The mere fact that the Indians were using British-made weapons was proof enough for many. Reports in various newspapers in Kentucky and Ohio reported that the British were arming the Indians and preparing them to attack the Americans at a moments notice. A copy of a letter published in the local newspapers advertised that the Indians were actually collecting American scalps and selling them in England. Included in this letter was a section on the special way that the backs of the scalps were marked to show the circumstances in which they died.

William Henry Harrison, governor of Indiana Territory, was afraid of the confederation. Harrison himself was a believer in the concept of 'manifest destiny' and did not believe that uncivilized Indians should stand in the way of the Americans. He was also afraid of Tecumthe, who he viewed as one of the greatest leaders in North America. Furthermore, Harrison did not believe in the powers of the Prophet and challenged the Prophet to make the sun stand still and the moon to alter its course. Harrison hoped that if he could discredit the Prophet, then the threat of the confederation would somewhat be diminished. Harrison told the Prophet that if could do this, then he was obviously sent from God. Unfortunately for Harrison, an event that was known by the Americans in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana was soon to occur, an eclipse of the sun. Hundreds of scientists had been moving westward for the past several weeks setting up observation posts amongst the Indians, so it is highly likely that Tecumseh also heard about the eclipse. Tecumseh wisely told his brother to predict that a great event would occur and to gather the Indians to his town on 16 June 1806. When the Indians gathered, the Prophet, at the appointed time, appeared and raised his hands skyward and as if by command, the eclipse occurred. Harrison asked for the impossible and Tecumseh and his brother gave it to him.

Harrison had met Tecumseh several times in the years preceding 1812 and had been both impressed and intimidated by the Indian. Harrison, in his goal to increase the size of the United States through the purchase of Indian lands had recently completed the Treaty of Fort Wayne. This treaty crossed Tecumseh on the one point that he believed the strongest in, that no one tribe could sell the land that the Indians lived on. After Harrison had completed the Treaty of Fort Wayne, Tecumseh was extremely upset and said that the treaty was worthless because the tribes that signed the treaty did not own the land, but had sold it just to get money and supplies from the Americans. After a hostile meeting between Tecumseh and Harrison, the governor was extremely worried about Tecumthe's confederation. At the end of the meeting, Tecumseh mentioned that he was about to start a journey south to visit the Indians along the Gulf Coast and that when he returned, he would again visit with Harrison. Tecumseh also stated that he viewed the treaty as non-binding and that he would ensure that those responsible for signing the treaty would be held responsible for their actions.

Because of Tecumthe's influence as he traveled amongst the various tribes, and the spreading of the Prophet's visions, more and more Indians were turning to the brothers for guidance. These Indians were often the younger braves of a village along with their families. The older Indians were not so easily swayed by Tecumthe's oratory skills and often remained in their own villages, unwilling to commit themselves to Tecumthe's confederation. While Tecumseh was travelling the countryside, Harrison began preparations to break up Prophet's Town. He quickly recruited over 900 men and marched them northward. At this time, President Madison, well aware of the frontier problems, had no desire to launch America into an Indian war. However, he had given Harrison some latitude by allowing him to take any defensive measures required to keep peace in the area.

When Harrison moved his forces towards Prophet's Town, one of his pickets was fired upon. This gave Harrison what he needed, an excuse to attack the town. He moved his forces to within several hundred yards of Prophet's Town and representatives of the village came out to meet him. These representatives asked for a council to be held the next morning in order to avoid bloodshed. Harrison agreed to the suggestion and for some unknown reason, he asked the Indians where he should bivouac his troops. Even stranger was that the Indians suggested what turned out to be a very defensible position.

That evening, the Indians debated over what to do about the American force. Tecumthe, before leaving on his travels, told his brother not to fight the Americans. Tecumseh did not want to start a war with the Americans since he was still trying to peacefully unite the Indians into a confederation that the Americans would be forced to deal with peacefully. However, with Tecumseh gone, the more aggressive Winnebagoes who wanted to attack the Americans, prevailed. The Prophet had no choice but to agree with the numerous Indians who wanted to fight since he was afraid that if he backed down, many of the Indians would leave the confederation on their own. The Prophet even went so far as to make bold predictions that the Indians would be victorious and that bullets would bounce off their skin. The next morning, 7 November 1811, the Indians launched an attack on Harrison's army. While the losses in the Battle of Tippecanoe were few, the Prophet's prediction of victory did not come true. Many of the Indians lost faith in him and withdrew from the area. Harrison moved his forces into the town and destroyed it. The defeat was the beginning of the end of the confederation.

When Tecumseh returned from his travels in the spring of 1812, he was devastated at what had occurred while he was gone. The majority of his followers were gone and the confederation's growth was stunted. Tecumthe, however, did not declare war on the Americans. Instead, he attempted to visit President Madison in order to explain his plan for a confederation to him. He wanted to explain how he did not want to go to war against the United States, but simply wanted recognition of the various Indian tribes as a single entity. Tecumseh knew that the British and Americans were very close to formal war and he even stated that he would support the Americans if they agreed to recognize the unity of the Indian tribes. Tecumseh was not allowed to make his trip. No one heard Tecumthe's peaceful overtures, just the rhetoric of westerners that claimed that Tecumseh would soon sweep down on the various settlements and kill the unsuspecting civilians.


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