The Expanding Republic and the War of 1812

21d. Native American Resistance in the Trans-Appalachian West

Tenskwatawa, also known as Prophet (pictured here), worked with his brother Tecumseh to create a broad-based tribal coalition which would resist American encroachment from the east.

In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the first white settlers in America inhabited the eastern seaboard. There the whites either made treaties with the Native American groups to buy land or they forcibly took Indian land. By the Revolution's end and on into the early 19th century, Native Americans were being displaced across the Appalachians and toward what is today the Midwest. For these exiled groups, there were few places left to go.

Outright military conflict with native groups in the northwest preceded the formal declaration of war in 1812. In fact, the "western war" in many ways represented a continuation of the American Revolution with many autonomous Indian nations again choosing to ally with the British against Americans who fundamentally threatened their survival.

The American invasion from the east deeply disrupted native groups and generally caused a sharp division within Indian nations between "accommodationists," who chose to adopt some Euro-American ways versus "traditionalists," who called for native purity by rejecting contact with whites. Both sides were authentically Native American, but they each chose different routes to deal with a terrible situation.

Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, Shawnee brothers, were leading Indian traditionalists, and together they crafted a novel resurgence among native peoples in the west. Tecumseh, a political and military leader, is the better known of the two, but it was their combined skills that made them especially powerful. Tecumseh had fought at Fallen Timbers in 1794, but refused to participate in the peace negotiations that produced the Treaty of Grenville the following year. Instead, he removed to east-central Indiana where he led a band of militant young warriors.

Tecumseh recruits Creeks
Tecumseh traveled to Tukabatchi, the capital of the Creek people, to try to recruit Natives to join the Indian Confederacy, but he was met with resistance. Legend has it that he said he would return home to Ohio and stamp his foot with such force, they would feel the earth move in Tukabatchi. Several days after he left, a small earthquake did hit the Creek Capital.

His younger brother Tenskwatawa provided the essential vision to launch a much broader Indian social movement. Also known as the Prophet, Tenskwatawa combined traditional native beliefs with some aspects of Christianity to call for a pan-Indian resistance against American intruders from the east. He explained that when native peoples joined together and rejected all contact with Americans and their ways (from alcohol to private property), God would restore Indian power by "overturning the land so that all the white people will be covered and you alone shall inhabit the land."

Tecumseh gradually converted to the Prophet's vision and together they built a broad movement that revived the Western Confederacy of the 1790s and even reached out to southern tribes with stronger accommodationist factions. In 1808 they founded Prophetstown at the sacred junction of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers, from which they built a strong Indian alliance that directly challenged the U.S. government.

This growing Indian force threatened American plans to move west and seemed especially dangerous since it received economic and military support from the British in Canada. In November 1811 the U.S. destroyed Prophetstown during the Battle of Tippecanoe, under the leadership of future president William Henry Harrison. Tecumseh was away at the time recruiting southern Creeks to the confederacy.

View of Fort Niagara
This view of Fort Niagara, with Native Americans in the foreground, was drawn by James Peachy in 1783.

Tecumseh's successful military resistance continued and threatened white settlements throughout the northwest. Tecumseh had so profoundly challenged U.S. plans in the northwest that when he was finally killed at the Battle of the Thames in October 1813 it was seen as a major American victory even though it meant quite little strategically.

On the Web
The Treaty of Greenville
After General Anthony Wayne's defeat of the Ohio Indian tribes at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, leaders of the Indian nations joined with Wayne on August 3, 1795 in signing A Peace Treaty. Read the Treaty of Greenville and find an explanation on how it set up boundaries between Indian lands and lands open to white settlement. This treaty marked the first time the U.S. was able to govern all of its territories.
The History of Tecumseh and the battle at Tippecanoe Creek
Many Indian tribes lived in the Wabash Valley before the 18th century. In 1791, Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk, a trading post known to many as Tippecanoe was built in an attempt to scatter the Indians and make room for white settlers. In response, the Indians established Prophetstown, which would become the seat of an Indian confederacy.
Fallen Timbers Battlefield:
The Battle of Fallen Timbers was the culminating event that demonstrated the tenacity of the American people in their quest for western expansion and the struggle for dominance in the Old Northwest Territory. The events resulted in the dispossession of American Indian tribes and a loss of colonial territory for the British military and settlers.
Battle of The Thames
The Ohio Historical Society describes the Battle of The Thames, the last battle in the War of 1812, as a total victory for the American Army. Read about the battle, Tecumseh's death and use their links to find related timelines, lifestyles and people.
Judge Isaac Naylor's Account of the Battle of Tippecanoe
Isaac Naylor was 21 years old and served as a volunteer rifleman when the Battle of Tippecanoe took place. Later he became a judge in Indiana. Read his descriptions of rifle fire in the distance and an abandoned Prophetstown.
Shawnee History
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. -Chief Tecumseh
The Indians were driven by the infantry at the point of the bayonet, and the dragoons pursued and forced them into a marsh, where they could not be followed. -William Henry Harrison in a letter to the Secretary of War about the Battle of Tippecanoe
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