Published on February 8, 2011 by Carol
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Tecumseh rallied his confederacy and led his forces to join the British army attacking the northwest from Canada. Tecumseh joined British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock in the siege of Detroit, and forced its surrender in August 1812. As Brock advanced to a point just out of range of Detroit’s guns, Tecumseh had his approximately four hundred warriors parade from a nearby wood and circle around to repeat the maneuver, making it appear that his army was much larger. The fort commander, Brigadier General William Hull, surrendered in fear of a massacre should he refuse. The victory was of a great strategic value to the invaders.
This victory was reversed a little over a year later, as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory on Lake Erie, late in the summer of 1813, cut British supply lines and William Henry Harrison, who was defending at Fort Miegs, created a staging area for the recapture of Fort Detroit. The British burned all public buildings in Detroit and retreated into Upper Canada along the Thames Valley before they could be captured. Tecumseh and his men followed fighting rearguard actions to slow the American advance.
Battle of the Thames
The next British commander, Major-General Henry Procter, did not have the same working relationship with Tecumseh as his predecessor and the two disagreed over tactics. Procter favored withdrawing into Canada and avoiding battle while the Americans suffered from the winter. Tecumseh was more eager to launch a decisive action to defeat the American army and allow his men to retake their homes in the northwest.
Procter failed to appear at Chatham, Ontario, though he had promised Tecumseh that he would make a stand against the Americans there. Tecumseh moved his men to meet Proctor again and informed him that he would withdraw no farther into Canadian territory, and if the British wanted his continued help then an action had to be fought. The despairing speech Tecumseh delivered before Procter, bitterly hinting at his pusillanimity, concluded with these foreseeing words.
Father, listen!—The Americans have not yet defeated us by land—neither are we sure that they have done so by water— we therefore wish to remain here, and fight our enemy, should they make their appearance… Father!—You have got the arms and the ammunition which our great father [the King of England] sent for his red children. If you have an idea of going away, give them to us. Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it be his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them
Harrison and his army crossed into Upper Canada and on October 5, 1813, won a decisive victory over the British and Native Americans at the Battle of the Thames near Moraviantown. Tecumseh was killed, and shortly after the battle, the tribes of his confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit. As to the actual circumstances surrounding Tecumseh’s death, Americans said he had been slain by Colonel Richard Johnson during a cavalry charge. The Wyandot historian Peter D. Clarke, however, after consulting Indians that had taken part in the battle, wrote:
Among the retreating Indians was a Potawatamie brave, who, on perceiving an American officer (supposed to be Colonel Johnson) on horse, close upon him, turned to tomahawk his pursuer, but was shot down by him with his pistol. … The fallen Potawatamie brave was probably taken for Tecumseh by some of Harrison’s infantry, and mutilated soon after the battle
A half-Indian and half-white, named William Caldwell, whilst retreating, after the last encounter, overtook and passed Tecumseh, who was walking along slowly, using his rifle for a staff—when asked by Caldwell if he was wounded, he replied in English, ” I am shot “—Caldwell noticed where a rifle bullet had penetrated his breast, through his buckskin hunting coat. His body was found by his friends, where he had laid [sic] down to die, untouched, within the vicinity of the battle ground…
Several of Harrison’s army claimed to have killed Tecumseh. “I killed Tecumseh; I have some of his beard” one would say ; “I killed Tecumseh,” another would clamour; “I have a piece of his skin to make me a razor strop !” none of these bragadocias [sic] were in the last battle, in which the brave Chief received his mortal wound.
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, has Tecumseh Court, which is located outside Bancroft Hall’s front entrance, and features a bust of Tecumseh. The bust is often decorated to celebrate special days. The bust was actually originally meant to represent Tamanend, an Indian chief from the 17th century who was known as a lover of peace and friendship, but the Academy’s midshipmen preferred the more warlike Tecumseh, and the new name persisted.
The US Navy named four ships USS Tecumseh, the first one as early as 1863. The Canadian naval reserve unit HMCS Tecumseh is based in Calgary, Alberta. Tecumseh is honored in Canada as a hero and military commander who played a major role in Canada’s successful repulsion of an American invasion in the War of 1812, which, among other things, eventually led to Canada’s nationhood in 1867 with the British North America Act. Among the tributes, Tecumseh is ranked 37th in The Greatest Canadian list. An 1848 drawing of Tecumseh was based on a sketch done from life in 1808. Benson Lossing altered the original by putting Tecumseh in a British uniform, under the mistaken (but widespread) belief that Tecumseh had been a British general. This depiction is unusual in that it includes a nose ring, popular among the Shawnee at the time, but typically omitted in idealized depictions.
He is also honored by a massive portrait which hangs in the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The unveiling of the work, commissioned under the patronage of Kathryn Langley Hope and Trisha Langley, took place at the Toronto-based RCMI on October 29, 2008.
Union Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, was given the name Tecumseh because “my father…had caught a fancy for the great chief of the Shawnees.” Another Civil War general, Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana, also bore the name of the Shawnee leader. (Evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist W. Tecumseh Fitch was named after the general, not after Tecumseh.)
Tecumseh in popular culture
Tecumseh (played by a Serbian actor Gojko Mitić) appears as the primary character in the 1972 East German Red Western motion picture, Tecumseh. Ann Rinaldi’s 1997 novel The Second Bend in the River depicts a fictionalized version of a romance between Tecumseh and Rebecca Galloway. Later, Orson Scott Card’s novel Red Prophet and the twelve part comic book version of the novel, featured Tecumseh (named Ta-Kumsaw in Card’s work). The cover of one of the issues of the comic book series was a copy of a painting of Tecumseh by John Buxton, which had been commissioned by the Heritage Center of Clark County, Ohio.
In 1995, the TNT movie titled Tecumseh: The Last Warrior featured Mexican-American actor of Native American descent Jesse Borrego originally of San Antonio, Texas