The Borderland of Fear: Vincennes, Prophetstown, and the Invasion of the Miami Homeland

The Borderland of Fear: Vincennes, Prophetstown, and the Invasion of the Miami Homeland

The Borderland of Fear: Vincennes, Prophetstown, and the Invasion of the Miami Homeland

The Borderland of Fear: Vincennes, Prophetstown, and the Invasion of the Miami Homeland


The Ohio River Valley was a place of violence in the nineteenth century, something witnessed on multiple stages ranging from local conflicts between indigenous and Euro-American communities to the Battle of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812. To describe these events as simply the result of American expansion versus Indigenous nativism disregards the complexities of the people and their motivations. Patrick Bottiger explores the diversity between and among the communities that were the source of this violence.

As new settlers invaded their land, the Shawnee brothers Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh pushed for a unified Indigenous front. However, the multiethnic Miamis, Kickapoos, Potawatomis, and Delawares, who also lived in the region, favored local interests over a single tribal entity. The Miami-French trade and political network was extensive, and the Miamis staunchly defended their hegemony in the region from challenges by other Native groups. Additionally, William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, lobbied for the introduction of slavery in the territory. In its own turn, this move sparked heated arguments in newspapers and on the street. Harrisonians deflected criticism by blaming tensions on Indigenous groups and then claiming that antislavery settlers were Indian allies.

Bottiger demonstrates that violence, rather than being imposed on the region's inhabitants by outside forces, instead stemmed from the factionalism that was already present. The Borderland of Fear explores how these conflicts were not between nations and races but rather between cultures and factions.


Why do we need another book about Prophetstown and the Battle of Tippecanoe? Originally, I had hoped to write a book about everyday experiences of the diverse Indian peoples at Prophetstown in order to understand how the town evolved— and survived— from 1808 to 1812. I thought that examining these peoples’ relationships through time would help us understand the complicated nature of Indian nativism. But as I delved into the primary evidence, I was struck by the fact that Miami Indians and French traders— two sets of people adamantly opposed to Prophetstown— were also the key authors of much of the archival material. This piqued my interest. What fueled such animosity? It was hard to know where rumor ended and truth began.

To this end, I set out to consult as much of the source material as I possibly could— newspapers, treaty negotiations, personal letters, oral histories, and diplomatic correspondence. the more I read, the more I realized that perceptions of the town differed widely. I was not sure whom to believe. Anglo- Americans and Frenchmen could agree neither on the meaning of the town itself nor on the intentions of its residents. Indians felt the same way. How could I write about Prophetstown if the source material was so widely divergent in perspective?

In trying to understand the town, I came to appreciate the complicated history of the surrounding region. There was a history of the Miami homeland that needed to be told— and it was integral to what happened at Prophetstown. After all, the nativist movement at Prophetstown was not simply a reaction to American nationalism. It was also the product . . .

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