Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The death of Tecumseh

"He's not really dead as long as we remember him"
Tecumseh 1768-1813

-Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy, 2285

On this day in history October 5th, 1813, the 45-year-old Shawnee American Indian leader Tecumseh, born near Xenia OH in 1768, was killed at the Battle of Thames in Canada during the War of 1812.
He was fighting for his cause and his people alongside British soldiers against the Americans near present-day Chatham-Kent, Ontario. This event pretty much ended the pan-Indian Confederation he organized several years earlier and changed the course of American history in many ways.
A multitude of people over the years had bragged to be the one who killed him but the consensus based on historical recollections and evidence from this battle indicate that he was killed by a man serving under General William Henry Harrison named Richard M. Johnson, but I call him Dick. This claim to fame was used politically years after the fact with the campaign slogan "Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh*"  and Dick was elected VP under Martin Van Buren in 1837.
Another Tecumseh related event also helped Harrison win the 1841 presidency with the slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" for his win at the Battle of Tippecanoe which occurred 30 years earlier in 1811. The legend of Tecumseh was big in those days. It even helped win elections.

" one of those uncommon geniuses which spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things. If it were not for the vicinity of the United States, he would, perhaps, be the founder of an empire that would rival in glory Mexico or Peru."
-William Henry Harrison, 1811

*Today most people pronounce the same as Tecum-suh, while in the 1800's it was commonly pronounced Tecum-see. The original Shawnee name is believed to have been Tecumtha or Tekamthi.

me and a man who portrayed the man
Various stories have cropped up over the years regarding what happened to Tecumseh's body. Everything has been suggested from the body being removed from the battlefield and buried in a secret location in Ohio or Canada by the Shawnee, to him being left on the battlefield, or his body being mutilated for souvenirs by the winning soldiers (a common practice at the time). The historian Allan Eckert's account is depicted in the “Tecumseh!” outdoor play adapted from his book. In this version, the frontiersman Simon Kenton who was at the battle and had met Tecumseh previously was asked to identify the body. Simon and Tecumseh were of course on different sides but Kenton had a great deal of respect for Tecumseh and knew his body would be mutilated and scalped by the winning soldiers and felt he deserved better, so he falsely identified a different body so that the great leader he knew could be taken away by the other Indians and given a proper burial by his comrades. I like Eckert's version of events but the truth will likely never be known.
UPDATE 02/08/2016: I've recently become aware that there is evidence suggesting that Tecumseh's remains may be buried on Walpole Island in Canada.  Tecumseh was known to have had a broken thigh bone. According to an examination of the bones in the 1930s before the skeleton was reburied, the thigh bone was missing. That seems convenient. I'll let the reader decide.

"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, 1811

I've been to many Tecumseh related historical sites in Ohio but I haven’t been to the location of this battle...yet. According to Google Maps, I can be there in 6 hours 4 mins. There is, of course, an historical marker and memorial near the location the battle took place in Canada since Tecumseh is also considered a hero in Canadian as well as Native American history.

Xenia OH marker placed by the Shawnee
While no fully authenticated portrait of Tecumseh exists, the famous color portrait of Tecumseh seen at the beginning of this blog entry was created in the late1800's long after his death. It is based on a sketch from life by French trader Pierre Le Dru who also sketched his brother Tenskwatawa "The Prophet" in 1808 and believed to be the only accurate depiction of Tecumseh.

Tecumseh has garnered the respect and admiration of friends, foes, whites, Indians alike over the years. Even the famed General William Tecumseh Sherman was named for the Indian leader and he, in turn, passed that name to one of his sons. US towns, parks and streets have been named for him. The US Navy even has a bust of an Indian they call Tecumseh that is considered good luck. This all a paradox. Why did an enemy of the United States garner so much respect from the very people he fought against? Historian John Sugden summed up Tecumseh's qualities well, "courage, fortitude, ambition, generosity, humanity, eloquence, military skill, leadership . . . Above all, patriotism and a love of liberty." In short, to his contemporary adversaries, he did what they would have done in his place, he fought the fight and he did it to the best of his ability.

"Show respect to all people, but grovel to none."
- Tecumseh 

1 comment:

  1. it has come to light after Tecumseh was shot a young man name Abel Larkin come up to scalp tecumseh ,he said young man please dont scalp me ,take my watch sword and pistol instead,he gave the sword and pistol to his officer then took the watch to tecumseh wife