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November 21, 2019 in History

By History.com Editors

Tecumseh was a Shawnee warrior chief who organized a Native American confederacy in an effort to create an autonomous Indian state and stop white settlement in the Old Northwest Territory (modern-day Great Lakes region). He firmly believed all Indian tribes must settle their differences and unite to retain their lands, culture and freedom. Tecumseh led his followers against the United States in many battles and supported the British during the War of 1812. But his dream of independence ended when he was killed at the Battle of Thames, which led to the collapse of his Indian confederacy.

Early Years

Tecumseh, whose name in Shawnee means “shooting star” or “blazing comet,” was born in 1768 in the western Ohio Valley to the Shawnee war chief Puckeshinwa and his wife Methoataske. After Puckeshinwa was killed at the Battle of Point Pleasant (Lord Dunsmore’s War), Methoataske migrated to Missouri with other tribe members, leaving Tecumseh and his siblings behind to be raised by their older sister Tecumapease.

Tecumapease taught Tecumseh the tenets of Shawnee culture; his older brother Cheeseekau taught him how to be a warrior. By his teenage years, Tecumseh had come to despise Americans after witnessing the atrocities they committed against the Shawnee people and their land; however, the brutal tactics some Indians used to fight the white man also horrified him.

In the late 1780s, Tecumseh participated in a series of raids on settlers, then accompanied his brother Cheeseekau and a small band of Shawnee warriors to Tennessee to join a group of Cherokee Chickamauga. After Cheeseekau was killed, Tecumseh became leader of the Shawnee band and returned to Ohio to help Chief Bluejacket battle the U.S. Army.

Treaty of Greenville

Under Bluejacket’s direction in 1791, Tecumseh led a scouting party to help defeat General Arthur St. Clair’s army at the bloody Battle of Wabash. He then fought at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on the Maumee River, where General Anthony Wayne and his army decisively defeated the Indians, and both sides signed the Treaty of Greenville which forced the Indians to forfeit much of their land in the Old Northwest Territory.

Tecumseh refused to sign the treaty, however, because he felt the Indians didn’t own the land they’d given up. He believed the land was shared by all Indians and could not be negotiated away. Native Americans abided by the Treaty of Greenville, but white settlers and their leaders did not.


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