Saturday, January 31, 2009
Tecumseh and Chiksika: Shawnee Warrior Brothers against the White Man
Portrait Bust of Tecumseh, 1896 ECD
by Hamilton Plantagenet MacCarthy (a white man)
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 619883
Tecumseh, also Tecumtha or Tekamthi (March 1768 – October 5, 1813, ECD), was a famous Shawnee leader. He spent much of his life attempting to rally various native American tribes in a mutual defense of their lands, which eventually led to his death in the War of 1812.* Tecumseh is the younger brother of Chiksika. Chiksika, also Cheeseekau (c.1760 – 1 October 1792, ECD), was a war chief of the Kispoko division of the Shawnee Nation.
*White men's accounts of American Indians tend to focus on their battles with white men, often noting when the white man succeeded in killing them. We also tend to name time, history, and its wars from a point of view that centralises and aggrandises the era of Christian white male domination (ECD) and destruction of the Earth and all of its inhabitants.
What follows is mostly from this website. Its sexism may reflect the honky anthropologists', ethnographers', and historians' obsession with patrilineage among all people, eagerly disposing of the history of women in and out of battle against white men.
On the cool evening of March 9, 1768 a great meteor cut a path across the night sky. The Shawnee people called this phenomenon The Panther. This event preceded an event that occurred at a small pool near the principle Shawnee village of Chalahgawtha. A boy was born to Pucksinwah, the chief of the Kispoko sept. It was a custom for a child to remain nameless for ten days until a sign is given to the father but Pucksinwah knew at that moment what his name would be. There by the pool’s edge, he named his child Tecumseh, Panther Across the Sky, and it was in this moment he knew his boy was destined for greatness.
Tecumseh was the younger brother of both Chiksika and Tecumapese who took great care in making sure Tecumseh grew up according to their tribe’s sacred ways. For hours Pucksinwah [the boys' father] would walk through the hills with the boy and teach to him the ways of the land and of their nation’s heritage. He was an avid learner and quickly became well versed in tribal lore and how to live comfortably in their wilderness home. In all manners of boyhood games young Tecumseh excelled and was looked to as a leader, even by those who were older than himself.
At a very young age however Tecumseh met with a tragedy greater than many boys his age were faced with. At the battle of Point Pleasant, his beloved father fell. In his final breath he made Chiksika promise to continue Tecumseh’s teaching and train him to be a great man, and also that he would never let his great nation bow to the encroaching whites.
Chiksika did not take his newly delegated duties lightly and he did all in his power to see that Tecumseh would grow to a man worthy of being the son of Pucksinwah. Like his father, Chiksika took long walks with Tecumseh teaching him how to hunt and how to fight and as before he took on quickly and began to excel at all his elder brother was teaching to him. While his brother was taking one such walk, he relayed to Tecumseh what his father had told him about the whites, a lesson that Tecumseh took to heart and always remembered when making decisions.
“When a white man kills an Indian in a fair fight it is called honorable, but when an Indian kills a white man in a fair fight it is called murder. When a white army battles Indians and wins it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre and bigger armies are raised. If the Indian flees before the advance of such armies, when he tries to return he finds that white men are living where he lived. If he tried to fight off such armies, he is killed and the land is taken anyway. When an Indian is killed it is a great loss which leaves a gap in our people and a sorrow in our heart; when a white is killed, three or four others step up to take his place and there is no end to it. The white man seeks to conquer nature, to bend it to his will and use it wastefully until it is all gone and then he simply moves on, leaving the waste behind him and looking for new places to take. The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land. There can never be a true and equitable peace between the Indian and the white.”
-- Chiksika (as recorded by Allan Eckert)
As Tecumseh grew older he was finally allowed to take part in a raid against the white men. As the Indians led the attack on George Rogers Clark’s army, he fled the battle but vowed to himself and to the spirit of his father that never again would he run. He continued to fight in many battles and always he emerged victorious. In council’s Tecumseh’s words would continue to inspire his brothers to never let the white men take their land. In one such speech he spoke the words that were kindled by his brother and his father saying:
“Let us form one body, one heart, and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.”
Tecumseh led many raids and attacks upon the white villages and always he emerged with success until he met the force of Anthony Wayne. The Indian forces gave way at the Battle of Fallen Timbers which forced many Indians to sign the Greenville Treaty. This gave up a great deal of land to the ever growing number of whites but Tecumseh himself refused to sign the document. Following this battle against “Mad” Anthony Wayne, Tecumseh realized that no Indian nation could single-handedly stop and defeat the looming and increasing threat of the whites and that for the Indian to win, he must first unite. He scoured the land looking for those who would follow his vision with and stand up and in doing so he created an Indian confederation consisting of Delawares, Ottawas, Kickapoos, Ojibwas, Wyandots, and of course Shawnees.
When Tecumseh’s plans to form an Indian nation reached the ears of the whites in the East William Henry Harrison was sent to see that this confederacy would become splintered. His first actions were to form treaties with many of the tribes that had just pledged their allegiance to Tecumseh thus removing them from his service. To make his moves permanent ones Harrison moved onto making land treaties with tribes such as the Delaware, Potawatomi, Miami, Kickapoo, and Wea tribes taking the land that Tecumseh had set apart in his mind’s eye for the founding of his new Indian nation.
These plans founded by Harrison only increased the zeal Tecumseh had for his mission. He then went to confront one the greatest confederacies formed in the Ohio, the Iroquois, in order to gain there support. Through his intricate weaving of words and emotion Tecumseh gained their support and like all of the other tribes that he had spoken with, he told them that when the great sign occurred they were to band together against Ft. Detroit.
“This great sign that Tecumseh spoke of wherever he went always remained the same, and his telling of it never failed to awe his audiences. When the period of waiting was over, he told them, when tribal unification had been completed, when all was in readiness, then would this sign be given: in the midst of the night the earth beneath would tremble and roar for a long period. Jugs would break, though there be no one near to touch them. Great trees would fall, though the air be windless. Streams would change their courses to run backwards, and lakes would be swallowed up into the earth and other lakes suddenly appear. The bones of every man would tremble with the trembling of the ground, and they would not mistake it. No! There was not anything to compare with it in their lives, nor in the lives of their fathers or the fathers before them since time began; when this sign came, they were to drop their mattocks and flash scrapers, leave their fields and their hunting camps and their villages, and join together and move to assemble across the lake river from the fort of Detroit. And on that day they would no longer be Mohawks or Senecas, Oneidas or Onondagas, or any other tribe. They would be Indians! One people united forever where the good of one would henceforth become the good of all!”
(The Frontiersmen by Allan Eckert…p.444)
When he left to go recruit his brothers across the mountains, he left his younger brother Tenkswatawa or The Prophet, in charge of his village. His younger brother however was not of strong moral fiber; the power he was entrusted with soon corrupted him. He told the people of the village that the Great Spirit had been visiting him with great signs of how to conquer the impending threat of the whites. He told them that they must cast away the gifts and items of the white culture including their guns and resort only to the ways of their forefathers. So, without questioning The Prophet, for fear of going against the Great Spirit, they did so without question. Following this he proclaimed he had another vision in which they led an attack on the army of William Henry Harrison and defeated them in one great battle. The battle which he foresaw was the Battle of Tippecanoe but the outcome of it was not as it had been revealed to Tenkswatawa. The following morning the Prophet led an attack upon their army with the remaining Shawnee force and all the tribes that Tecumseh had sent to this land. The spirits of the Indian warriors were short-lived as they were cut down by the superior technology of the white men’s army.
When Tecumseh returned to his homeland in the Ohio territory, he found a crippled nation on the brink of death pushed farther back than he had ever seen. The once fertile lands they once owned were being occupied and ravaged by the white man’s flame. He was sitting at a small glowing bed of coals when the news had reached him that they had the Prophet bound and awaiting the words of Tecumseh to decide his fate. Shortly after these words were directed the great sign of Tecumseh had come to pass.
“Such was the great earthquake that struck at New Madrid and was felt to greater or lesser degree for almost a thousand miles in all directions; such was the earthquake that had occurred where no one could possibly have anticipated or predicted that one would our except, perhaps, said a multitude throughout the land, a Shawnee whose name was Tecumseh”
(A Sorrow In Our Hear by Allan Eckert…p.674-675)
It was there he chose not to kill his brother for this treachery, but impend upon him a punishment to which death would have been chosen. He was exiled from the tribe for as long as he was to live. Those that were once loyal to Tecumseh thought this disaster belonged to him and their allegiance was soon broken with him. That day when his brothers died so did his dream and his vision to rid the whites from their father’s land. Tecumseh allied themselves with the British during the War of 1812 and he prayed that the British would win and destroy the white force that he had spent his life trying to keep at bay. The British gave Tecumseh a position of honor and he helped to lead their forces into battle. It was in one such battle history knows as the Battle of Thames that Tecumseh died by an American round. His followers carried his body to an unmarked grave that to this day has never been uncovered. Tecumseh was a man whose men loved him and through his example they were driven to their best. He loved the land that was his country and for this land he was willing to die before he would let his oath to protect it be broken.
A Sorrow In Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh, by Allan Eckert (a white author)
Tecumseh: A Life, by John Sugden (a white author)
Panther in the Sky, by James Alexander Thom (a white author)
The Frontiersmen, by Allan Eckert (still a white author)