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A Leader among his People

After the feast of welcome at Piqua the villagers gathered round the camp-fire and plied the adventurers with many questions. The wanderers recounted the exciting exploits of their band and told of Cheeseekau's summons to the spirit-world and of his brave death on the distant battlefield. Then they in turn listened eagerly as an old chief rose and dramatically related the important events that had taken place in their absence. He told how General Harmar, with three hundred troops of the Thirteen Fires and eleven hundred Kentucky volunteers, had advanced into the Miami country and laid waste all their cornfields; how he and his followers had watched from a distant hill the soldiers at their work of destruction; and how Colonel Hardin, spying them in the distance, had suddenly turned and attacked them. With rapid gestures the chief described the pretended flight of the Indians. He told how, when out of sight of the enemy, they had divided their force and marched back some distance on either side of their trail. Assuming a crouching attitude and cunning mien, he pictured them as they crept back through the tall grass towards the place where they waited for the enemy. Then he recalled their loud, triumphant yells as they rushed upon the foe. He snatched his tomahawk from his belt to go through the movements of the Indians striking and cutting down the white men on all sides, and told how the white leader escaped with but a handful of his men. He depicted further victories of the Indians. Colonel Hardin had returned with five hundred militia and sixty regulars to take vengeance on his savage foes. The regulars remained at the village, while the militia, bent on revenge, routed the few Indians whom they found lurking about. But the Indians were not really beaten. Blue Jacket of the Shawnees and Little Turtle of the Miamis concealed their assembled warriors in another ambush. At the critical moment the Indians rushed from their ambuscade, fell upon both regulars and militia, and pitilessly drove them ever farther back.

Tecumseh had not long to wait for the time when he should again embark on active service. In the autumn of 1791 news came that Generals St Clair and Butler were advancing from the south with an army of some fourteen hundred men. Tecumseh was placed in command of a party of scouts to watch the movements of the enemy. On November 3 he discovered the American army encamped at the upper waters of the Wabash about twenty miles north of Greenville. At once he dispatched runners to tell the war chiefs Blue Jacket and Little Turtle of the enemy's position. On the following morning the Americans awoke to find their camp surrounded by whooping savages. A frightful slaughter ensued. General Butler and many of the officers were slain, together with nearly half the troops. The remainder fled in disorder. General St Clair himself escaped on a pack-horse after having had three horses killed under him in the battle.

The next winter, when the snow lay deep in the forest, Tecumseh, while on a hunting expedition with ten warriors and a boy, made his camp near Big Rock, not far from Piqua. One morning after breakfast, as they sat about the fire smoking and discussing plans for the day, they were suddenly assailed by a storm of bullets. A party of whites, three times their number, under Robert McClelland, had attacked them. Instantly the Indian war-cry rang out on the clear, frosty air. Tecumseh called to the boy to run to shelter, and he and his companions returned the fire of their assailants. Black Turkey, one of the Indians, took to his heels and was running away at full speed, but in obedience to Tecumseh's angry command he halted and returned to join in the battle. On came the whites with challenging shout, answered by defiant war-whoops. The assaulting party was finally beaten back; and Tecumseh, with his men, pursued them through the woods, driving them from every sheltering tree and cover.

Shortly after this, Tecumseh, with a party of chiefs and warriors, established his headquarters on a southern tributary of the Little Miami. From this point they made frequent inroads upon the property of white settlers, plundering flat-boats on the Ohio, and capturing some of the finest horses belonging to Kentuckians. It was here that Tecumseh had more than one encounter with Simon Kenton, the well-known American pioneer. Hearing of the exploits of the marauders, Kenton quickly mustered thirty-six men and set out to punish them. He came upon the Indians at night, divided his force into three detachments, and surrounded the encampment. That night Tecumseh had flung himself down by the camp-fire. The flickering light threw into fitful relief the bark tents of his sleeping companions. It did not penetrate, however, the gloom where lurked the watchful Americans. One of the Indians rose to stir the smoldering embers. A rifle cracked sharply, and the warrior fell forward into the fire. At the same moment a body of the Americans made a rush for the camp. Tecumseh leaped up and called loudly to his companions. He felled his first assailant with his war-club and dealt savage blows to all within reach. A shower of bullets rained upon the tents, but the Indians were now aroused and ready to return the fire. Presently reinforcements came from the Indians of a nearby camp who had heard the yelling and shooting; and the whites were dispersed.

Tecumseh's next skirmish with Kenton was in 1793. He was hunting in the Scioto valley with a few followers and their families. Shortly before dawn, when it was supposed that the Indians would not be on their guard, Kenton's men surrounded the camp and cautiously closed in upon it. The loud barking of a dog gave the alarm to the Indians. When the whites charged, the Indians sought shelter behind trees. Though Tecumseh was surrounded by a superior force, he maintained his presence of mind. He ordered some of his men to bring up the horses while he and others defended the camp. In the end the Indians adroitly managed to escape with their women and children. In the engagement they had sustained a loss of but one warrior.

Two years passed in this desultory fighting, after the defeat of St Clair's army, before the Americans made any organized attempt to retrieve their fortunes. But in the autumn of 1793 General Anthony Wayne marched into the Indian country with a strong and thoroughly disciplined army. He encamped for the winter at Greenville and built several forts: one, which he erected at the place of St Clair's disaster, he hopefully named Fort Recovery. In the summer of 1794 the Indians watched three hundred pack-horses laden with flour making their way towards this fort, under the protection of an escort of ninety riflemen and fifty dragoons. The savages hovered about, but they found the force too strong to attack. Their chance came later. By the time the escort was ready to return, one thousand tribesmen had assembled. The Americans had proceeded only about four hundred yards from the fort when they found themselves surrounded. The dragoons charged the Indians, but were repulsed with heavy loss. Then they maneuvered to regain the fort, but the Indian forces cut them off. An American officer, with twenty volunteers, now rushed from the fort to the assistance of his comrades, and the Indians gave way before a determined attack. The white men brought their wounded off the field; and although two officers had been captured by the Indians, they afterwards escaped to the fort. In the fight twenty-two white men were killed and thirty wounded. The Indians had suffered much greater loss. The warriors rallied, however, and kept up an incessant fire against the fort until a heavy fog fell and night closed in. Then with flaring torches they sought their dead. This made them an easy mark for the soldiers, who fired on them from the fort. When daylight appeared eight or ten more bodies were found lying near the walls.

In July the American army was reinforced by two thousand Kentucky volunteers under Major-General Scott, and Wayne was now ready to strike. He maneuvered as though he intended to attack the Miami villages to the south, but, suddenly changing his course, he marched his troops northward, straight into the Indian settlements on the Au Glaize. At the mouth of this river, where it enters the Maumee, he built Fort Defiance.

The Indians had followed Wayne's march down the Au Glaize, hovering on the flanks of his army, and they were now mustered some two thousand strong on the Maumee river. From Fort Defiance Wayne sent them a final offer of peace; but, without waiting for an answer, he marched his forces down the Maumee and encamped at the foot of the rapids, about fifteen miles from the site of the present city of Toledo.

The war chiefs of the Miami, Potawatomi, Delaware, Shawnee, Chippewa, Ottawa, and Seneca tribes held a great council to consider the proposal of peace sent them by the general of the Long Knives. Little Turtle of the Miamis advised peace. 'We have beaten the enemy twice,' said he. 'We cannot expect the same good fortune always to attend us. The Americans are now led by a chief who never sleeps. The day and night are alike to him, and he has been ever marching upon our villages, notwithstanding the watchfulness of our young men. We have never been able to surprise him. Think well of it,' he cautioned; 'there is something that whispers to me it were well to listen to his offers of peace.'

Profound silence followed this speech. Then rose Blue Jacket, the Shawnee, who commanded the entire Indian forces. Blue Jacket strongly favored battle; and his counsel prevailed. The chiefs decided on war. A plan of action was quickly formed. The Indian forces were to be drawn up in three detachments within supporting distance of each other behind the Fallen Timbers. This was a place some distance up the river from Wayne's encampment, where the forest had been leveled by a hurricane, the fallen trees forming a natural barricade.

On August 20, 1794, shortly after daybreak, Wayne ordered his troops to advance. He was still uncertain whether the Indians were hostile or friendly. But before he had proceeded far his soldiers were fired upon by a body of red men secreted in the tall grass. In the battle which followed Tecumseh led the Shawnees, and, with two of his brothers, was in the advance-guard when the fighting began. The Indians fought stubbornly, but to no purpose. The American force of mounted volunteers advanced, while the infantry with fixed bayonets drove the red men from cover and compelled them to retreat. In the latter part of the action Tecumseh lost the use of his gun by having, in his excitement, rammed a bullet into it before putting in powder. Falling back until he met another body of Shawnees, he secured a fowling-piece, and then fought on bravely until again forced to give ground. In spite of his desperate efforts to rally his followers, the Indians were beaten and were fleeing in disorder through the woods. When night fell and the Indians stole back to bury or hide their dead, Tecumseh gazed on the familiar features, now fixed in death, of Sauwaseekau, his second brother to fall in battle; and another battlefield, in which Cheeseekau had in like manner beheld the silent face of his father, arose before his mind. He remembered his eldest brother's return from the battle, with tidings that had burned into his very soul, while he was yet too young to take up arms in defense of his race.

The Indian warriors were defeated and scattered, and the Americans proceeded to lay waste their villages and cornfields in the valley of the Au Glaize. The blow to Indian power was irrevocable. On August 3 of the following year, 1795, was concluded the Treaty of Greenville, by which large tracts of Indian territory in what are now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan were surrendered to the Americans. The treaty was signed by Blue Jacket for the Shawnees, by Little Turtle for the Miamis, and by chiefs representing the Wyandots, the Delawares, the Ottawas, the Potawatomis, and other tribes. Tecumseh, however, had refused to attend Wayne's council, and when he heard from Blue Jacket of the terms of the treaty, he disputed its validity. Indian land, he said, was common property; all the chiefs had not been consulted, and many of them would refuse to accept the loss of their lands.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, Tecumseh, A Chronicle of the Last Great Leader of his People, By Ethel T. Raymond, Toronto, 1915

 

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