Tecumseh and Indian Confederation

Sixteen years had intervened since the treaty of peace, concluded with the Indians at Greenville, by General Wayne in 1795. During this time friendly relations had been maintained with the various Indian tribes, who were in correspondence with the United States. This period had not closed, however, ere the ambitious designs of an active and influential chief, began to wear the appearance of open hostility.

The possession of rare mental endowments, together with physical qualifications, that were the means of extending his renown, as an intrepid brave, far beyond the boundaries of his own tribe, rendered the name of Tecumseh, a rallying word for the dusky warriors, even among the remote wilds visited by the Indian. Tecumseh entertained the ambitious project, at various times a favorite design with the Indian, of uniting all their tribes at the West and South-west, in one strenuous endeavor, to resist the further advance of the whites into their country, and of forming here a confederacy, similar to that which had existed among the Iroquois.

In these views he was greatly assisted and strengthened by the influence and efforts of his brother, Elskawata.

Elskawata, on the death of Penagashega, an aged and revered prophet, very adroitly assumed the sacred office of this Indian saint, and began to proclaim himself, as a delegated messenger of the Great Spirit to his people.

He commenced his career among the Shawnee, the people of his tribe, as early as 1805. But not content with so narrow a sphere for his endeavors, he went from tribe to tribe, and assembled as he was able, different nations, that he might make known to them the important instructions, he had been divinely authorized to communicate.

For a long time his efforts wore the appearance of a religious, and pacific character. He proclaimed the high superiority of the Indians over the whites, and of his own tribe among the Indian tribes. He declared it to be the will of the Great Spirit, that the Indians should abandon the use of intoxicating drinks, refrain from intermarrying with the whites, live at peace with each other, have their property in common, and maintain their customs, as they had been anciently established. At a later period he affirmed with much solemnity, that he had received power from the Great Spirit, to cure all diseases, confound his enemies, and stay the arm of death, in sickness, or on the field of battle.

As time advanced, the prophet passed from nation, to nation, artfully sustaining his assumptions, and proclaiming his doctrines. He gathered around him adherents from various tribes, encouraged pilgrimages to his camp, became conspicuous in all their general councils, and extended his influence to the various Indian towns, in the vicinity of the northern lakes, and on the broad plains, watered by the Mississippi and its branches. He could now, as he did, forward very effectively the ambitious views of his brother Tecumseh.

From the Prophet’s town, which was established on the banks of the Wabash, near the mouth of its tributary the Tippecanoe, as early as 1808, a correspondence was kept up with the numerous tribes at the North and West, and means were taken also to extend the combination they were forming, to the Cherokees and other nations of the South. Runners were sent as far even as the country of the Seneca, and the Iroquois in New York and Canada, were solicited to join the Great Western Confederacy.

Connected with this movement was the holding of Indian councils, at different places in the West. A very large council, was held at or near Detroit, which embraced in it deputations from the most distant tribes. A strong deputation was sent from the Seneca, with Red Jacket at its head.

At the opening of this council a question arose as to precedence in debate, which is said to have been the occasion of one of Red Jacket’s most effective and brilliant speeches, and was the means of securing for himself and fellow delegates, the high position he ever claimed, as belonging rightfully to his nation.

The right of precedence was claimed by the Wyandot, a large and powerful nation, which for a long time, had been pre-eminent among the Western tribes. To them had been committed for preservation and safe keeping, the Great Belt, the symbol of a previous union among the tribes. It had been used in gathering them to form their league, to resist the settlements of the whites north and west of the Ohio river. The concert of action among the Indians, in the wars at the West between 1790 and 1795, is to be traced to this league. To the Wyandot also had been given the original duplicate of the treaty of peace, concluded at Greenville in 1795.

Hence the claim they presented to precedence at this council; a claim which was eloquently supported by their most able chiefs.

This claim was denied by Red Jacket, who maintained that the place in question belonged rightfully to the Seneca, and sustained his position by a reference to facts and usages in the past, which displayed a minute and accurate knowledge of the history of the different Indian tribes, that surprised as well as delighted his hearers. His speech was characterized throughout by great ability, and displayed such a power of oratory, particularly of invective, as to excite the wonder of all present, who could understand his language, and comprehend the force of his allusions. His effort was entirely successful. No attempt was made at reply. The first rank after this, without further hesitation, was given to the Seneca.

It is due to the memory of Red Jacket, who has been, called double tongued and deceitful, to state that from the time he fully gave his adherence, he never swerved from his allegiance to the United States. Ever afterward he was their faithful friend and ally. The impatient affirmation of Brant, that “Red Jacket had vowed fidelity to the United States, and sealed his promise, by kissing the likeness of General Washington,” though in a measure true, as expressive of his fidelity, had never any occasion to be qualified, by a statement to the contrary.

During the present council, his views were in opposition to those generally entertained and expressed, and no consideration availed with him, to break faith with the United States. He had before this notified the Indian agent of the formation of another league, and of the avowedly warlike purpose of certain Indian councils, that had been held at the West.

Early in the year 1810, at the head of a delegation of his people and accompanied by the agent, and Captain Parrish as interpreter, he visited the city of Washington, and informed our government of the hostilities that were in contemplation, and of the efforts of his people to secure peace.

The pacific councils of Red Jacket were of little avail. The warlike agitation was continued. The retreat of the Prophet on the banks of the Wabash, became not less noted for warlike exercises, than for its religious harangues. The minds of the Indians were already ripe for an outbreak, whenever a sufficient pretext should offer. The visit of Tecumseh at Vincennes in the summer of 1810, with three hundred well armed warriors, and his haughty and insulting bearing toward Governor Harrison, indicated clearly, the hostile spirit that was rife among them.

Not long after this, the report came that a thousand warriors awaited his command, in and about the Prophet’s town. So large a horde of Indians together, without the means of support, and practicing themselves in the arts of war, were viewed with suspicion. Charity must have been blind, to have supposed they were assembled merely for the purpose of devotion. Frequent plundering, midnight arson, and occasional massacres in frontier settlements, proclaimed the fact, that hostilities had already commenced, and that our people in this region needed protection.

The Indians were greatly encouraged in their warlike feeling, by the intercourse they constantly maintained with the British Indian Department. The British Fur Company also by her traders, had correspondence with the leading men of all these Western and North-western tribes, and this intercourse resulted in holding the Indians more firmly, in alliance with the English. The desire they entertained for dominion on this continent, led them to encourage the Indians, in their effort to hold in check the settlements of the United States, that were pushing their way westward. Thus countenanced and encouraged, the Indians became more determined and bold in their hostility.

These threatening indications, coming to the knowledge of our government, General Harrison was directed to go with an armed force to the Prophet’s town, and his visit resulted in the battle of Tippecanoe, fought on the seventh of November, 1811.

His officers desired him to attack the town on the day before, but wishing to avoid fighting if possible, and having been met by several chiefs, who disclaimed having hostile intentions, and offered submission and peace, he made a careful survey of the country, and selecting an advantageous position, encamped for the night.

At an early hour in the morning they were furiously assailed by the Indians, who had stealthily crept up very near without being observed. A bloody and, for a time doubtful, engagement ensued, but at length the Indians were repulsed and a decisive victory gained.

The Prophet was securely stationed on an adjoining eminence during the battle, and the American bullets having a more powerful effect upon the Indians than they had been led to anticipate, a runner was sent to him with the intelligence. He was engaged singing very piously, one of his old war songs. When told what was taking place, he said, “Go,–fight on: it will soon be as I have said;” and commenced singing again more loudly 1 .

Tecumseh was absent when the battle was fought, being engaged in forwarding his designs among the Indian tribes at the South. He was disappointed and grieved with the result, regarding the battle as premature, and tending very much to thwart the purposes he had in view.

He awaited a more favorable turn in the wheel of fortune, and thought this would come with the war anticipated between England and the United States. Difficulties, growing out of the right assumed by the former, of boarding American vessels, to discover and remove any English sailors belonging to the crew, which frequently resulted in seizing American seamen and forcing them into the British navy, had now assumed so formidable an aspect, as to call forth from our government a proclamation of war against England, issued on the 19th of June, 1812.

In anticipation of this event, as well as after it, means were employed by the agents of Britain, to secure the services of the Indians during this contest. The opportunity was gladly welcomed by the Miamis, Shawnees and other Indian tribes, who had recently been severely chastised by General Harrison. The Mohawks and other Indians in Canada were also induced to take up the hatchet, and efforts were made to influence such of the Six Nations, as resided within the state of New York, to take sides with the British in this war, but they were not successful.

The United States, instead of seeking among the Indians recruits for their army, advised the Senecas, and other tribes of the Iroquois within their borders, to remain neutral. A council was convened by the Indian agent, Mr. Erastus Granger, for the purpose of spreading the whole matter before them. It resulted in securing from them a pledge of neutrality. So well convinced were they of the wisdom of this course, they determined to send a deputation of their brethren to Canada, to dissuade them if possible, from taking any part in the war. It was sent, but did not accomplish the end desired; the Mohawks had fully resolved upon engaging in the contest.

It was difficult however, for the Seneca to enforce their decision upon their young braves, who were made restless by the sound of war, and were eager to engage in it; yet their sympathies were with the United States. The stirring music, martial array, noise and pomp of war, wrought so effectually on their minds, they would fain have persuaded their nation to declare war on their own account. The circulation among them of a rumor that the British had taken possession of Grand Island, a part of their own domain, led them to convene a council, which Mr. Granger was invited to attend, and after stating the case to him, Red Jacket declared the purpose of the Seneca in the following language:–

“BROTHER: You have told us, that we have nothing to do with the war, that has taken place between you and the British. But we find that the war has come to our doors. Our property is taken possession of, by the British and their Indian friends. It is necessary for us now to take up the business, defend our property, and drive the enemy from it. If we sit still upon our seats, and take no means of redress, the British according to the customs of you white people, will hold it by conquest. And should you conquer the Canadas, you will claim it on the same principle, as though you had conquered it from the British. We therefore request permission to go with our warriors, and drive off those bad people, and take possession of our lands.”

Their request was granted, and the chiefs regarding themselves as an independent nation, issued a formal declaration of war, against the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, and summoned their warriors to protect their rights and liberties, with the Americans.

Four hundred warriors, armed and painted, and ready for the field, answered to this call, led by the brave though now aged Farmer’s Brother, who was said by Colonel Worth, to have been “the noblest Indian in form and mould, in carriage and in soul, of that generation of his race 2 .”

The principal scene of war at this time was on our north-western frontier. Its commencement had been disastrous. The capture of Mackinaw, Chicago, and Detroit, attended by the surrender of General Hull, commander of the American forces at the latter place, spread a feeling of insecurity and dismay all along our western frontier settlements. For an immense extent they were without protection. But new troops were raised and brought on to the field, under the wise conduct of General Harrison, and the signal naval victory of Commodore Perry on Lake Erie, September 10, 1813, and the equally decisive battle on the river Thames, in the October following, very materially improved the prospect of the American arms. After this battle, the Western Indians were disposed to entertain propositions of peace.

Thus far they had proved to be efficient allies of the British, increasing their force by an addition of nearly eighteen hundred, commanded by the renowned Tecumseh, who had been called the “Indian Bonaparte.” His pre-eminence among them was now widely acknowledged, and he swayed by his influence a greater number of warriors, than any Indian of his time. Before engaging in the Battle of the Thames, he seemed to have a presentiment of his death. He said to the chiefs about him, “brother warriors, we are about to enter into an engagement from which I shall never come out,–my body will remain on the field of battle 3 .”

His prediction was verified; as marking the field of strife where the Americans were victorious, the ashes of this celebrated warrior here repose, near the borders of a willow marsh, the willow and the wild rose weaving a chaplet over his grave.

The Indians who had volunteered their services in the American army, were first employed in the gallant defense made at Black Rock, during the month of July, of this same year, 1813.

A surprise party from the British head-quarters at Lundy’s Lane, was sent against the American stores, collected at Black Rock and at Buffalo, and were not at this time strongly guarded. They were successful in their first attempt, but were in turn unexpectedly met by the adroit management of General Porter, under whose supervision the forces in this vicinity had been placed, who rallied volunteers at Buffalo, turned back the retreating garrison, and by a well planned attack, succeeded in driving the enemy from the post they had taken a short time before.

The Indians were soon after in another engagement, in the vicinity of Fort George, and from an official report made at the time, it appears that this formed a part of Red Jacket’s military experience. A company of volunteers and Indians commanded by Major Chapin, to which was added a force of about two hundred regulars under Major Cummings, amounting in all to about five hundred, the whole being under the direction of General Porter, proceeded to attack the British and Indian encampment, and were entirely successful.

In an official statement of this affair given by General Boyd, then commanding the post at St. George, he says: “Those who participated in this contest, particularly the Indians, conducted with great bravery and activity. General Porter volunteered in the affair, and Major Chapin evinced his accustomed zeal and courage. The principal chiefs who led the warriors this day were Farmer’s Brother, Red Jacket, Little Billy, Pollard, Black Smoke, Johnson, Silver Heels, Captain Half Town, Major Henry O’Bail, and Captain Cold, who was wounded. In a council held with them yesterday, they covenanted not to scalp or murder; and I am happy to say, that they treated the prisoners with humanity, and committed no wanton cruelties on the dead.”Citations:

  1. The Prophet had assured them that the Americans would not be successful. That their bullets would not hurt the Indians, who would have light while their enemies would be in darkness.–Life and Times of Wm. H. Harrison.[]
  2. Col. Worth as given by Col. Stone.[]
  3. Life of Tecumseh, by Benjamin Drake.[]

Hubbard, John Niles. n Account of Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, or Red Jacket, and His People, 1750-1830. Self Published. 1885.

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