A chieftain of the Shawnee tribe in what is now the Ohio region, Tecumseh worked to unite other Indian tribes of the Northwest, South, and eastern Mississippi valley to oppose white expansion into the west in the early 1800s.
Tecumseh, was born on the bank of a large spring in Greene County in 1768, at the very instant that the great meteor seared across the skies. The birth occurred while his parents, Shawnee war chief, Pucksinwah, and his wife, Methotasa, were en route from their village of Kispoko Town, on the Scioto River, to a major tribal council at the Shawnee tribal capital village of Chalahgawth (Chillicothe –now Oldtown), which was located “two arrow flights” northwest of this site.
Tecumseh spent most of his youth traveling across the Ohio territory. During those travels, he gathered an intensely loyal band of followers from different Indian peoples and nations. He also acquired a reputation among both whites and indians as being an intelligent man, yet extremely fearsome. Through many conflicts with the Americans, he developed a keen sense of strategy and an ability to do what his enemies least expected.
He spoke openly, even as a young man, against the long standing tradition of torturing prisoners. His biggest difference among all the native peoples, was questioning why they continued to fight against each other, instead of fighting against their common enemy, the white invaders of all their lands. This would become an enduring theme throughout his life.
Although Tecumseh would fight with the British and American settlers against the French, he would later realize it was the Americans that posed the greatest threat to the native peoples.
By 1800 Tecumseh realized that it was critical for Native Americans to unite against this increasing threat of the Americans. He then set out to create an alliance between all the Native Americans. For 10 years or so, Tecumseh traveled across the country trying to accomplish this alliance.
During these travels, Tecumseh was able to move throughout the country by changing his appearance to mirror those around him. When he was in the midst of Americans, he wore American clothes. Part of his tactics were to keep the peace between the indians and the whites until his confederation of Native Americans could be realized.
In 1807, Tecumseh met with Thomas Worthington at Adena to thank Worthington for his efforts to promote peace between the whites and Indians. As a sign of his feelings, Tecumseh gave Worthington a peace pipe that is now on display at the Adena Visitor Center.
Tecumseh was openly seeking supporters for his messianic vision of uniting the Indian Nations of America. He encouraged warriors and chiefs to leave their clans and follow him. In 1809 William Henry Harrison negotiated a treaty with a small delegation of Native Americans that signed away their supposed rights to 3 million acres of land to the United States. This treaty was the turning point for Tecumseh. His popularity among the American Nations skyrocketed among many of the Native American leaders. There were notable exceptions to this wide-spread support, primarily among those that had signed the Treat of Greenville. It was their belief that they could live with the Americans in peace.
Tecumseh began traveling throughout the country trying to convince all of the chiefs to unite, even those that had signed the treaty. For those that refused to join him, his supporters tried to get them removed from power. One example of this was the execution in 1810 of Chief Leatherlips, an outspoken signer of the Treaty of Greenville and who was openly living alongside the Americans.
Tecumseh's dream of uniting the Indian tribes was crippled when U.S. troops (under future president William Henry Harrison) defeated warriors led by Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa (known as The Prophet) at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.
While Tecumseh was not at Prophet's Town when his brother attacked the advancing soldiers, it was still a blow for his efforts at uniting the nations.
Not to be dissuaded from his goals, he continued his efforts and by the time the War of 1812 broke out between the United States and Britain, Tecumseh had a force of 2,000 warriors under his command. Tecumseh made a fateful deal with the English: if he supported them and they were victorious in their fight with America, the British would grant Tecumseh and his followers the land now known as Michigan.
In 1812, the war began poorly for the Americans in the western theater and Tecumseh took his successes as a good omen for his unification efforts. Word of these wins spread quickly throughout Ohio and many of the Native Americans that had been sitting on the sidelines, suddenly decided to join sides with the winner. Fear spread throughout the state when large numbers of once peaceful Native Americans began to make threats and even some attacks against American settlers. In 1813, things began to change.
During a joint venture against the Americans near what is today Toledo, British General Proctor and Tecumseh attacked the new America Fort Meigs in May. Despite repeated attempts to over-take the fort, they were unsuccessful. Rather than sit through a long drawn out siege at the fort during the hot, mosquito laden summer months, Proctor and Tecumseh decided on a different strategy.
General Harrison had set up his new headquarters at Fort Seneca. From here he could direct new troops arriving to where they could best be used. Between Fort Seneca and Fort Meigs, there was a small trail that the American troops used. Proctor sent Tecumseh and his 2,000 warriors to take up a position midway along the trail between Fort Meigs and Fort Seneca. Here they would lie in wait for what Proctor expected to be a large contingent of reinforcements that would be moving from Fort Meigs when Fort Seneca came under attack. To accomplish this, Proctor planned to move a large number of British soldiers with artillery down the Sandusky River.
Proctor's first task was to destroy the poorly defended Fort Stephenson. From there he could then move further south and threaten Fort Seneca. When this happened he suspected that Harrison would call in as many reinforcements as possible, including a large contingent of those stationed at Fort Meigs. Tecumseh would then intercept those forces. However, Proctor failed in his attempt at capturing Fort Stephenson and the threat to Fort Seneca never happened. Tecumseh was left wondering what had gone wrong.
Instead of winning a decisive victory against the Americans, the British were forced to withdraw back into Canada being pursued by General Harrison. The Americans finally succeeded in defeating the British both on land and by water in a combined naval assault by Oliver Perry on Lake Erie and the American army. When it became apparent to the British that the war was lost, they planned a hasty retreat that would leave Tecumseh and his warriors to fend for themselves. Tecumseh pleaded with the British not to leave and finally convinced them that together they could still defeat the Americans. Altogether they fielded about 2,500 soldiers and warriors. However, the approaching American forces totaled more than 4,000.
The evening before the battle, Tecumseh had a war council with his loyal followers. As he walked around the assembly, Tecumseh gave each man a personal possession. He then told them that he would be killed the following day. He also said that any man that wanted to leave, could leave then, without shame. His final order was given: when he died, the remainder of the warriors were to retreat and scatter.
The following day, true to his prediction, Tecumseh was killed while fighting at the Battle of Thames (near what is now Detroit).
After Tecumseh's death Tenskwatawa allegedly predicted that if Harrison were ever elected president he would die in office, and so would presidents elected every 20 years thereafter. This was supposed to be in retaliation for Tecumseh's death. While there is no proof The Prophet ever said such a thing, the prediction proved true for Harrison and every 20-year president through John Kennedy. Thus the "Curse of Tecumseh" became a part of popular lore that continued until President Reagan broke the curse by not dying in office.
Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman was named in honor of the Shawnee chief.
Bronze symbolic relief on display in the lower level of the Ohio Supreme Court Building in downtown Columbus.