Famous Native Americans: Tecumseh Part 3

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

TECUMSEH (1768-1813).

Indian leader.

On the Canadian side of the Detroit River, Tecumseh soon had an army of nearly 3,000 men, which helped support a small British garrison at Fort Malden. The British commander, Isaac Brock, was a brilliant general who established a relationship of mutual respect and affection with Tecumseh. The 2 men worked together so effectively that though outnumbered, they were able to force the surrender of the major American army forces that had been dispatched to invade Canada. Because of his success in battle, Tecumseh was made a brigadier general--certainly one of the most unconventional officers ever to serve the British Crown.

In 1813, following the death of General Brock and the American naval victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, the initiative in the war passed to the Americans. The new British commander, Henry Procter, insisted on retreating before the American advance, despite Tecumseh's objections.

Finally, Tecumseh forced Procter to make a stand on the Thames River, and because of Procter's feeble leadership, the Shawnee himself took command of the British troops in addition to his own Indian forces. On the night of October 4, Tecumseh sat by a campfire and told some of his closet Indian lieutenants, "Brother warriors, we are about to enter an engagement from which I shall not return. My body will remain on the field of battle."

During the battle the next day, Tecumseh was not only conspicuous among his Indian followers, but he raised the morale of the British officers as well. "He yelled like a tiger," according to one eyewitness, and offered an inviting target to the attacking Americans. Tecumseh was killed in the midst of the fighting, and the dream of an Indian Confederation died with him.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Americans. The honor of slaying the great Indian leader had gone to Col. Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky. This distinction was enough to elect him to the U.S. Senate several years later, and it also earned Johnson a place as Van Buren's Vice-President in 1836.

Tecumseh's Indian followers looked for his body after the fighting, but they looked in vain. It had disappeared. According to one dismaying report, he was flayed and his skin made into souvenir razor strops--by the same white men who had offered him a more "civilized" way of life.

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