As the turn of the millennium rolls around, I began to think of who could be called the most famous person who was ever born in our community. No Presidents or famous scholars or athletes came to mind, but then I remembered the stories that I has heard over the years about the Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh. He had risen to command the last great united effort of all the Native American Tribes to defend their territory against the encroachment of the white settlers. His effort was obviously unsuccessful in the long run, but his story is quite interesting.
Tecumseh was born in 1768 near a spring "three arrow flights" southeast of the principal town of the Chalahgawtha sept of the Shawnee. This was just one of five towns that would take the name of the sept, all called Chillicothe. We know it as Oldtown now, but the original settlers called it Old Chillicothe. The spring appears to be located very close to Tecumseh Elementary School on Old Springfield Pike, perhaps on the grounds of the Ohio Division of Wildlife District 5 Headquarters and fish hatchery.
Tecumseh's father was Pucksinwah, chief of the Kispokotha sept. Nearly six hundred of his sept were traveling to Chillicothe for a great council of the five septs to discuss the growing tide of whites who were pouring into their lands from the East. As her time of birthing grew near, his wife Methotasa, was unable to complete even the short journey to the village.
As Pucksinwah stared at the sky on this night, he saw a huge meteor streak across from the north, leaving a trail of greenish-white flame. It lasted for fully 20 seconds and was unlike anything he had ever seen before. This was the Panther spirit that the old men sometimes spoke of, and a good sign indeed. As the women around the fire talked excitedly and pointed to the heavens, a baby's cry came from the shelter. Usually a child was not named for several days while the parents waited for a sign to indicate what the great spirit Moneto wished the child to be called, but this child must surely be named Tecumseh, The Panther Passing Across.
Each sept had its duty within the Shawnee nation, and the Kispokotha were in charge of all matters pertaining to war. Pucksinwah knew that there could never be true peace between his people and the whites. They would never stop until they had settled all of the land, even the sacred hunting grounds of Can-tuc-kee to the south. After Tecumseh's father and older brother Chiksika died in battles during his youth, he began to realize that only by uniting the many tribes would the native peoples have any chance of resisting the whites.
The Galloway family had settled near the abandoned village of Old Chillicothe in 1797, and Tecumseh became friends with James Galloway and his family during his many visits to the area of his birth. He offered his protection to the family, and Rebecca Galloway became very close to Tecumseh, teaching him to read and write. The Galloway cabin still exists at its present location on the corner of Church and King Streets in Xenia.
Of his six siblings, Tecumseh's life was most influenced by his younger brother Laulewasika, later called Tenskwatawa or "The Prophet." Laulewasika, one of three triplets, was blinded in one eye at an early age., and Tecumseh's toleration and pity for his brother turned out to be his downfall.
Tecumseh planned to unite many tribes into an organized defense against the growing number of western settlers. In 1808, Tecumseh and his brother were forced out of Ohio and moved to Indiana near the Wabash / Tippecanoe River junction, founding a village which became known as "Prophet's Town". As many as one thousand warriors were based in this capitol of the confederation at its peak.
These were Tecumseh's words: "No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers. Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Didn't the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children? The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red man to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was first, and should be now, for it was never divided."
Tecumseh traveled to the lands of over 32 Native American nations from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and carried a message of unity backed by prophesies. It is said that he left bundles of red sticks wherever he went and told the tribes to discard one stick at each full moon. When all the sticks were gone there would be a sign signaling all the tribes to come toward Detroit to regain the lands taken from them by the whites; by peaceful means if possible, but by force if necessary.
The white settlers of the territory were alarmed by Tecumseh's success. In 1811, Gen. William Henry Harrison organized an army of 1,000 men, hoping to drive the Indians from the town while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The Prophet had been ordered to avoid conflict at all cost until the full strength of the tribes was realized, but he allowed a few warriors to talk him into a small raid to steal horses. This began hostilities that ended in the Battle of Tippecanoe in November of 1811. Although only a handful of warriors were killed in the battle, the Prophet's promises of immunity from bullets and easy victory were proven false. When Tecumseh returned, his village had been abandoned and burned.
Within days, Tecumseh's prophesies began to come true. When only one stick of his original bundles remained, a bright comet appeared in the sky like the one that had heralded his birth. A month later, on Dec. 16, 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake was so powerful that even though the epicenter was near present-day Cape Girardeau, Missouri, church bells rang a thousand miles away in Philadelphia. For a day, the Mississippi River ran from south to north.
Tecumseh's Indian coalition reformed after these signs, but the confederation never recovered from the Prophet's mistake. Tecumseh and his forces joined on the side of the British in the War of 1812, and he was killed in the Battle of the Thames, near Thamesville, Ontario, on October 5, 1813 at the age of forty-five.
Tecumseh was a visionary leader. He saw the need for all the tribes to unite as one. He realized that their differences were small compared to the threat to their way of life. Tecumseh was an incredibly brave warrior, but he always opposed torture and murder of prisoners. If events had gone as he had planned, American history might have been written quite differently. © 2000 Alan D. King
Return to List of Articles