NICHOLAS ROOSEVELT'S 1811 STEAMBOAT NEW ORLEANS
TECUMSEH AND THE EARTHQUAKE
As white settlers moved west, they displaced or killed the Indian populations that stood in their way. This, of course, was resisted by the Indians. In the early 1800s, two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatwa (a.k.a. The Prophet) arose as centers of resistance. In May 1808, they established an Indian village known as Prophet's Town, a few miles north of Lafayette, Indiana, on the site of an earlier village known as Teth-tip-pe-can-nunk or Tippecanoe. Prophet's Town was to be the capitol of an Indian confederation. The town became, among other things, a training center for warriors.
In a letter to the War Department dated 6 June 1811, Governor William Henry Harrison of Indiana acknowledged that the Indians had been badly mistreated by white settlers. He said:
I wish I could say the Indians were treated with justice and propriety on all occasions by our citizens; but it is far otherwise. They are often abused and maltreated; and it is very rare that they obtain any satisfaction for the most unprovoked wrongs.
Harrison then went on to detail instances in which Indians were murdered by white settlers, whom white juries simply refused to convict of the murders.
Tecumseh was attempting to form a vast alliance of Indians from tribes all over the eastern United States to repel the white settlers who were invading the west. The white authorities knew this but could not prevent his efforts. After a council between Tecumseh and Governor Harrison near the end of July 1811, Harrison wrote to the War Department, saying:
My letter of yesterday will inform you of the arrival and departure of Tecumseh from this place, and of the route which he has taken. There can be no doubt his object is to excite the southern Indians to war against us. ... Tecumseh assigned the next spring as the period of his return. I am informed, however, that he will be back in three months. ...
The implicit obedience and respect which the followers of Tecumseh pay to him, is really astonishing, and more than any other circumstances bespeaks him 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. No difficulties deter him. For four years he has been in constant motion. You see him today on the Wasbash, and in a short time hear of him on the shores of Lake Erie or Michigan, or on the banks of the Mississippi, and wherever he goes he makes an impression favorable to his purposes. He is now upon the last round of putting a finishing stroke to his work. ... The Prophet is impudent and audacious, but is deficient in judgement, talents and firmness.
Before leaving, Tecumseh had cautioned the Prophet that he should not attack the white settlers until he returned with a completely arranged Indian confederacy. He then set out for the south to complete his arrangements. After traveling to Florida where he convinced the Seminoles to join him and the British in a war on the United States, he left to continue his work. In Thomas McKenney's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1838), the author notes:
On his return from Florida, he went among the Creeks in Alabama, urging them to unite with the Seminoles. Arriving at Tuckhabatchee, a Creek town on the Tallapoosa river [about twenty five miles E.N.E. of Montgomery], he made his way to the lodge of the chief called the Big Warrior. He explained his object, delivered his war-talk, presented a bundle of sticks, gave a piece of wampum and a hatchet -- all which the Big Warrior took. When Tecumseh, reading the intentions and spirit of the Big Warrior, looked him in the eye, and pointing his finger towards his face, said: "Your blood is white. You have taken my talk, and the sticks, and the wampum, and the hatchet, but you do not mean to fight. I know the reason. You do not believe the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall know. I leave Tuckhabatchee directly, and shall go straight to Detroit. When I arrive there, I will stamp on the ground with my foot, and shake down every house in Tuckhabatchee." So saying, he turned and left the Big Warrior in utter amazement at both his manner and his threat, and pursued his journey. The Indians were struck no less with his conduct than was the Big Warrior, and began to dread the arrival of the day when the threatened calamity would befall them. They met often and talked over this matter, and counted the days carefully, to know the time when Tecumseh would reach Detroit. The morning they had fixed upon, as the period of his arrival, at last came. A mighty rumbling was heard -- the Indians all ran out of their houses -- the earth began to shake; when at last, sure enough, every house in Tuckhabatchee was shaken down! The exclamation was in every mouth, "Tecumseh has got to Detroit!" The effect was electrical. The message he had delivered to the Big Warrior was believed, and many of the Indians took their rifles and prepared for war.
The reader will not be surprised to learn that an earthquake had produced all this; but he will be, doubtless, that it should happen on the very day on which Tecumseh arrived at Detroit; and in exact fulfillment of his threat. It was the famous earthquake of New Madrid, on the Mississippi. We received the following from the lips of the Indians when we were at Tuckhabatchee in 1827, and near the residence of the Big Warrior. The anecdote may therefore be relied on. Tecumseh's object doubtless was, on seeing that he had failed by the usual appeal to the passions and hopes and war spirit of the Indians, to alarm their fears, little dreaming, himself, that on the day named his threat would be executed with such punctuality and terrible fidelity. [emphasis added]
But before Tecumseh arrived at Detroit to stamp his foot on 16 December 1811, the Prophet had ignored the cautionary advice of Tecumseh not to attach until the confederation was complete. A meeting had been scheduled between Governor Harrison and representatives of the Prophet near Tippecanoe. On 6 November 1811, Harrison and his men encamped on a hill about a mile away from Tippecanoe, after agreeing with the Prophet that there would be no hostilities until a meeting to be held the following day. However, the Prophet told his warriors that the white man's bullets could not harm them, then led them to attack at dawn on 7 November 1811. Harrison expected treachery, and his men were on full alert as the Indians began what they thought would be a sneak attack. Although many died on both sides, the Indians were demoralized by their lack of promised success, and they withdrew from Prophet's Town.
By the time Tecumseh was back in the area, it was too late to do anything to reconstitute his dreams. He allied himself with the British in the War of 1812, and was killed in the Battle of the Thames on 5 October 1813. The Prophet died in Kansas in 1834.
William Henry Harrison traded on his success at Tippecanoe, and was elected President in 1840 on the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too."
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