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Famous Native Americans: Tecumseh Part 1

About the famous Native American Tecumseh, his biography and place in United States history.

TECUMSEH (1768-1813).

Indian leader.

Tecumseh, one of the greatest leaders of the Indian struggle against the encroachments of white civilization, was born in a Shawnee village in the Ohio wilderness. When Tecumseh was still a boy, his father, a Shawnee war chief, was brutally murdered by white frontiersmen who had crossed onto Indian land in violation of a recent treaty. After this tragedy, Tecumseh resolved to become a warrior like his father and to be "a fire spreading over the hill and valley, consuming the race of dark souls."

At the age of 15, Tecumseh joined a band of Shawnees who were determined to stop the white invasion of their lands by intercepting settlers' flatboats as they came down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania. In time, Tecumseh became the leader of his own band of marauding warriors. For a while, these Indian raids were so effective that river traffic virtually ceased.

In 1796, at the age of 28, Tecumseh met a beautiful blond girl named Rebecca Galloway, the daughter of a pioneer farmer. A close relationship was formed between the Indian leader and this frontier family, and Rebecca taught Tecumseh to speak English fluently and read to him from the Bible, Shakespeare, and history books. Tecumseh was fascinated; he wanted to learn even more about white civilization and in time asked the girl's father if he could marry her. Mr. Galloway respected Tecumseh and left the decision up to his daughter. Rebecca said she would marry Tecumseh if he would give up his Indian traditions and live with her as a white man. Tecumseh pondered the decision for a month, and finally he told Rebecca that he could never abandon his people. With that, he bade good-bye to his white friends, and thereafter Tecumseh never took a wife, either Indian or white.

In 1805, Tecumseh allied himself with his younger brother Tenskwautawa, who had become known as "the Shawnee Prophet." For years the Prophet had lived like many other Indians on the frontier. He was a depraved and idle drunkard. Then, during a frightening and mysterious epidemic among the Shawnees, Tecumseh's brother was overcome with a sense of his own wickedness and fell into a trance in which he met the Indian Master of Life. He soon began to preach to his Indian brothers about the evils of alcohol, and as he continued to commune with the Master of Life his message evolved into a fully developed religious creed. This creed called for a return to ancient traditions, a rejection of all aspects of the "depraved" white civilization, and an end to intertribal warfare so that a united resistance would challenge the advancing Americans.

This emotional appeal spread quickly across the old Northwest Territory, and Tecumseh and Tenskwautawa built a village in which there was a large wooden meeting house to accommodate the converts who joined them from every tribe. In an attempt to destroy the Prophet's influence, Gen. William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, wrote to a group of Indians that Tenskwautawa was not a real prophet unless he could "cause the sun to stand still or the rivers cease to flow." This challenge backfired, because Tenskwautawa soon learned of an impending eclipse of the sun and assembled a huge crowd of natives to watch his God-given magic on that day. After the Prophet darkened the sun, he then successfully called upon the Master of Life to bring back the sunlight.

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