The Shawnee Prophet

The Shawnee Prophet

The Shawnee Prophet

The Shawnee Prophet

Synopsis

In the early 1800s, when control of the Old Northwest had not yet been assured to the United States, the Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet, led an intertribal movement culminating at the Battle of Tippecanoe and the Battle of the Thames. Historians have portrayed Tecumseh, the war leader, as the key figure in forging the intertribal confederacy. In this full-length biography of Tenskwatawa, R. David Edmunds shows that, to the contrary, the Shawnee Prophet initiated and for much of the period dominated the movement, providing a set of religious beliefs and ceremonies that revived the tribes' fading power and cohesion.

Excerpt

Several years ago, while conducting research on the history of the Potawatomi Indians, I examined a large number of primary sources that discussed the Potawatomis' relationship with Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet in the years before the War of 1812. Like most other American historians I had read secondary accounts of Tecumseh's career and I was interested in his contacts with the Potawatomis. Tecumseh fascinated me for other reasons. Of all the Indians in American history, he has always seemed the most admirable. His white contemporaries, both British and American, described him in glowing terms, and since his death historians have echoed their praises. Tecumseh's attempts to unite the western tribes seemed both perceptive and logical. He obviously was a magnetic individual, a leader whose personal qualities attracted large numbers of followers and enabled him to forge them into a multitribal confederacy.

When I began to examine primary materials from the decade preceding the War of 1812, I expected to find ample evidence that Tecumseh both initiated and dominated the Indian movement, but I was surprised. Although the movement obviously began in 1805, documents from this period make almost no mention of Tecumseh. He does not emerge as an important leader until 1810, following the loss of Indian lands at the Treaty of Fort Wayne. In contrast, primary ma-

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