The Shawnee Prophet

Although they had earlier fought against the British and the French, after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 the Indian nations in the Old Northwest (the area to the east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio River) tended to side with the British against the newly defined Americans. Perhaps the greatest native leader to have arisen since Europeans first arrived in North America was Tecumseh of the Shawnee. Born near Springfield, Ohio, in 1768, Tecumseh eventually died in 1813 at Battle of the Thames, near Detroit, fighting alongside the British with his Indian warriors.

Tecumseh was one of eight children. One of his brothers, ten years younger than he, was named Lauliwasikau, which meant "Loud Mouth." Apparently he was a noisy baby, and one of triplets at that. Unlike Tecumseh who was a renowned warrior and thinker—he read the Bible and also books on world history— Lauliwasikau was a dissolute character. As a child he had been blinded in one eye in a hunting accident, and he fell steadily into alcohol over-consumption as he grew older. In 1805 he drank himself into such a stupor that his family thought he was dead and began preparing a funeral pyre. To considerable surprise Lauliwasikau suddenly awoke, saying that the Great Spirit had shown him wonderful visions. He then foreswore liquor and all other appurtenances of the white man and declared that he was an instrument for the Indian people to lead their way forward. Tecumseh had long realized that for the American Indians to survive against the encroachment of the whites from the east it would be necessary for all the tribes to band together in a common purpose. His efforts in this regard had been stymied by inter-tribe

FIGURE 8-2. Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, used foreknowledge of the eclipse of 1806 to stir up unrest among the American Indians of Ohio and Indiana.

rivalry. Now, though, Tecumseh saw in his brother the instrument to unite the Indians to resist the otherwise inevitable, gradual seizure of their lands.

Lauliwasikau's name was changed to become Tenskwatawa, meaning "He Who Opens the Door." He is more often recalled, though, as The Shawnee Prophet (Figure 8-2). He was a shaman, a charismatic religious leader whose influence quickly spread through Ohio and Indiana. He claimed he could cure all types of disease and provide divine protection in battle for his adherents, a popular notion that the people were ready to believe.

Tenskwatawa himself was influenced by the Millennial Church, which had originated in eighteenth-century England, but owing to persecution had migrated across the Atlantic in 1774 to seek a more tolerant horizon. The members are usually known as the Shakers, due to a ritual dance they perform involving a shaking motion of the body. Thus the Prophet was directly affected by an English connection, and he sought to build up anti-American feelings to the benefit of the morale of his own people. He was very clear in differentiating between the different peoples of Eu ropean origin. In 1807 he said: "I am the Father of the English, of the French, of the Spaniards and of the Indians. . . . But the Americans I did not make. They are not my children but the children of the Evil Spirit. . . . They are very numerous but I hate them. They are unjust—they have taken away your lands which were not made for them."

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