Tecumseh's War

Tecumseh's War
Part of the American Indian Wars and the War of 1812
Battle of Tippecanoe
DateAugust 1810 – October 5, 1813

Decisive United States victory

  • Dissolution of Tecumseh's Confederacy
Tecumseh's Confederacy
Supported by:
 British Empire
 United States
Commanders and leaders
James Madison
William Henry Harrison

Tecumseh's War or Tecumseh's Rebellion was a conflict between the United States and an American Indian confederacy led by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the Indiana Territory. Although the war is often considered to have climaxed with William Henry Harrison's victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, Tecumseh's War essentially continued into the War of 1812, and is frequently considered a part of that larger struggle. The war lasted for two more years, until the fall of 1813, when Tecumseh, as well as his second-in-command, Roundhead, died fighting Harrison's Army of the Northwest at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada, near present-day Chatham, Ontario, and his confederacy disintegrated. Tecumseh's War is viewed by some academic historians as being the final conflict of a longer term military struggle for control of the Great Lakes region of North America, encompassing a number of wars over several generations, referred to as the Sixty Years' War.


Indian Wars
East of the Mississippi
Shawnee Chief Black Hoof (Catecahassa) was a staunch opponent of Tecumseh's confederation and an ally of the United States in the War of 1812.

The two principal adversaries in the conflict, Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison, had both been junior participants in the Battle of Fallen Timbers at the close of the Northwest Indian War in 1794. Tecumseh was not among the signers of the Treaty of Greenville that had ended the war and ceded much of present-day Ohio, long inhabited by the Shawnees and other Native Americans, to the United States. However, many Indian leaders in the region accepted the Greenville terms, and for the next ten years, pantribal resistance to American hegemony faded.

After the Treaty of Greenville, most of the Ohio Shawnees settled at the Shawnee village of Wapakoneta on the Auglaize River, where they were led by Black Hoof, a senior chief who had signed the treaty. Little Turtle, a war chief of the Miamis, who had also participated in the earlier war and signed the Greenville Treaty, lived in his village on the Eel River. Both Black Hoof and Little Turtle urged cultural adaptation and accommodation with the United States.

The tribes of the region participated in several treaties, including the Treaty of Grouseland and the Treaty of Vincennes that gave and recognized American possession of most of southern Indiana. The treaties resulted in an easing of tensions by allowing settlers into Indiana and appeasing the Indians with reimbursement for the lands the settlers were inhabiting by squatting.

Religious revival

Tenskwatawa, by Charles Bird King

In May 1805, Lenape Chief Buckongahelas, one of the most important native leaders in the region, died of either smallpox or influenza. The surrounding tribes believed his death was caused by a form of witchcraft, and a witch-hunt ensued, leading to the death of several suspected Lenape witches. The witch-hunts inspired a nativist religious revival led by Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet"), who emerged in 1805 as a leader among the witch hunters. He quickly posed a threat to the influence of the accommodationist chiefs, to whom Buckongahelas had belonged.

As part of his religious teachings, Tenskwatawa urged Indians to reject European American ways, such as drinking liquor, European-style clothing, and firearms. He also called for the tribes to refrain from ceding any more lands to the United States. Numerous Indians, who were inclined to cooperate with the United States, were accused of witchcraft, and some were executed by followers of Tenskwatawa. Black Hoof was accused in the witch-hunt, but was not harmed. From his village near Greenville, Tenskwatawa compromised Black Hoof's friendly relationship with the United States, leading to rising tensions with settlers in the region. Black Hoof and other tribal leaders began to put pressure on Tenskwatawa and his followers to leave the area to prevent the situation from escalating.[1]

By 1808, tensions with whites and the Wapakoneta Shawnees compelled Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh to retreat further northwest and establish the village of Prophetstown near the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers, land claimed by the Miami. Little Turtle told the Shawnee that they were unwelcome there, but the warnings were ignored.[2] Tenskwatawa's religious teachings became more widely known as they became more militant, and he attracted Native American followers from many different nations, including Shawnee, Iroquois, Chickamauga, Meskwaki, Miami, Mingo, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Delaware (Lenape), Mascouten, Potawatomi, Sauk, Tutelo and Wyandot.

In 1808, Tecumseh began to be seen as a leader by his community. In 1808, the British in Canada approached him to form an alliance, but he refused. The Americans first took notice of him in 1810. Tecumseh eventually emerged as the leader of the confederation, but it was built upon a foundation established by the religious appeal of his younger brother.[2]

Prophetstown came to be the largest Native American community in the Great Lakes region and served as an important cultural and religious center. It was an intertribal, religious stronghold along the Wabash River in Indiana for 3000 Native Americans; it was known as Prophetstown to whites. Led by Tenskwatawa initially, and later jointly with Tecumseh, thousands of Algonquin-speaking Indians gathered at Tippecanoe to gain spiritual strength.[3]

Indiana Territory

Tecumseh's War.png

Meanwhile, in 1800, William Henry Harrison had become the governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory, with the capital at Vincennes. Harrison sought to secure title to Indian lands to allow for American expansion; in particular, he hoped that the Indiana Territory would attract enough white settlers so as to qualify for statehood. Harrison negotiated numerous land cession treaties with American Indians.

In 1809, Harrison began to push for the need of another treaty to open more land for settlement. The Miami, Wea, and Kickapoo were "vehemently" opposed to selling any more land around the Wabash River.[4] To influence those groups to sell the land, Harrison decided, against the wishes of President James Madison, to first conclude a treaty with the tribes willing to sell and use them to help influence those who held out. In September 1809, he invited the Potawatomi, Lenape, Eel Rivers, and the Miami to a meeting in Fort Wayne. In the negotiations, Harrison promised large subsidies and payments to the tribes if they would cede the lands for which he was asking.[5]

Only the Miami opposed the treaty; they presented their copy of the Treaty of Greenville and read the section that guaranteed their possession of the lands around the Wabash River. They then explained the history of the region and how they had invited other tribes to settle in their territory as friends. The Miami were concerned that the Wea leaders were not present, although they were the primary inhabitants of the land being sold. The Miami also wanted any new land sales to be paid for by the acre, and not by the tract. Harrison agreed to make the treaty's acceptance contingent on approval by the Wea and other tribes in the territory being purchased, but he refused to purchase land by the acre. He countered that it was better for the tribes to sell the land in tracts so as to prevent the Americans from only purchasing their best lands by the acre and leaving them only poor land on which to live.[5]

After two weeks of negotiating, the Potawatomi leaders convinced the Miami to accept the treaty as reciprocity to the Potawatomi who had earlier accepted treaties less advantageous to them at the request of the Miami. Finally, the Treaty of Fort Wayne was signed on September 30, 1809, selling the United States over 3,000,000 acres (about 12,000 km²), chiefly along the Wabash River north of Vincennes.[5] During the winter, Harrison was able to obtain the acceptance of the Wea by offering them a large subsidy. The Kickapoo were closely allied with the Shawnee at Prophetstown and Harrison feared they would be difficult to sway. He offered the Wea an increased subsidy if the Kickapoo would also accept the treaty, causing the Wea to pressure the Kickapoo leaders to accept. By the spring of 1810, Harrison had completed negotiations and the treaty was finalized.[6]

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