The Battle of Tippecanoe



The year 1805 is memorable in annals of Indian warfare as the one in which that notorious impostor, The Prophet, and his brother Tecumseh, began the formation of their famous confederacy. These brothers were of the Shawnee tribe, which came from Georgia and located in Ohio. The Prophet was born about the year 1771, near Piqua, Ohio, and in early life was known by the name of Laulawasikaw, or Loud Voice. In history he is known by various names or forms of the same name, such as Olliwachica, Tenskwatawa and Pensquatawa. In childhood The Prophet is reported as having displayed no evidence of superior mental endowment. It was not until 1805, after the death of the aged prophet of the Shawnees (Penegashega, or The Change of Feathers) that he laid claim to supernatural power. His doctrines were first expounded in November of that year to an assembly of Indians on the Auglaize river, Ohio. The meeting was composed of representatives of the Senecas, Wyandottes, Ottawas and Shawnees.

In the religion taught by The Prophet were found many virtues, gained for the most part by contact with white travelers and adulterated with Indian superstition. He insisted upon temperance, preaching total abstinence from intoxicants. He taught reverence for old age and sympathy for the weak and infirm. He condemned the intermarriage of different races and believed that the Indians should adhere to their own customs of living, especially in dress. The weak and superstitious character of a great majority of Indian minds made it possible for The Prophet to exert a great influence in his own and many kindred tribes by means of his religious pretensions. He claimed his will to be supreme, and whoever controverted [sic] it endangered themselves. Many lives were thus sacrificed. The power of the brothers in their own tribe was opposed by the venerable chief, Black Hoof, who throughout his life had frequently observed the folly of Indians going to war with white men. This chief had been present at Braddock's defeat, 1755, in the old French and Indian War, and had learned many lessons in his long life of eventful experience. He died in 1813, having reached the remarkable age of 110 years.

Throughout the year 1806 The Prophet continued his residence at Greenville, Ohio, and in 1807, with Tecumseh, gathered several hundred of his followers there, engaging in the practice of superstitious rites. This large body of Indians had the effect to alarm the white settlers of that neighborhood; and as the Indians were occupying lands ceded by them to the United States government in 1795, the governor of Ohio sent commissioners to inquire their reasons for so doing and request them to quit the place. To these agents the Indians replied that they were there in obedience to the command of the Great Spirit.

Toward the close of the year 1807, The Prophet extended his religion to the Chippewa Indians of the upper peninsula of Michigan, a tribe made famous by Longfellow in his poem entitled "Hiawatha." The formalities of his doctrine were observed with zeal for a time by these Indians, but were subsequently abandoned.

Proselytes from many tribes continued to visit The Prophet at Greenville, Ohio, and his teachings were received with much favor. To overthrow the false claims attained over his followers, Gen. William Henry Harrison sent the following letter to these Indians, urging them to test the power of the great pretender and thus escape the imposture and circumvention of his leadership:

"My children: My heart is filled with grief and my eyes are dissolved in tears at the news which has reached me. You have been celebrated for your wisdom above all the tribes of the red people who inhabit this great island. Your fame as warriors has extended to the remotest nations, and the wisdom of your chiefs has gained you the appellation of grandfathers from all the neighboring tribes. From what cause, then, does it proceed that you have departed from the wise council of your fathers, and covered yourselves with guilt? My children, tread back the steps you have taken, and endeavor to regain the straight road you have abandoned. The dark, crooked and thorny one which you are now pursuing will certainly lead to endless woe and misery. But who is this pretended prophet who dares to speak in the name of the great Creator? Examine him. Is he more wise and virtuous than you are yourselves, that he should be selected to convey to you the orders of your God? Demand of him some proof at least of his being the messenger of the Deity. If God has really employed him, He has doubtless authorized him to perform miracles that he may be known and received as a prophet. If he is really a prophet, ask him to cause the sun to stand still, or the moon to alter its courses,

The Prophet
The Prophet

the river to cease to flow or the dead to rise from their graves. If he does these things you may believe that he is sent from God. He tells you that the Great Spirit commands you to punish with death those who deal in magic, and that he is authorized to point them out. Wretched delusion! Is, then, the Master of Life compelled to employ mortal man to punish those who offend Him? Has He not the thunder and the power of nature at his command? And could not He sweep away from the earth the whole nation at one motion of His arm? My children, do not believe that the great and good Creator has directed you to destroy your own flesh, and do not doubt that if you pursue this abominable wickedness, His vengeance will overtake you and crush you.

"The above is addressed to you in the name of the Seventeen Fires. I now speak to you from myself, as a friend who wishes you nothing more sincerely than to see you prosperous and happy. Clear your eyes, I beseech you, from the mist which surrounds them. No longer be imposed upon by the arts of an impostor. Drive him from your town and let peace and harmony prevail amongst you. Let your poor old men and women sleep in quietness, and banish from their minds the dreadful idea of being burnt alive by their own friends and countrymen. I charge you to stop your bloody career, and if you value the friendship of your great father, the president, if you wish to preserve the good opinion of the Seventeen Fires, let me hear by the return of the bearer that you are determined to follow my advice."

By "Seventeen Fires," the Indians meant the seventeen States (or council fires, in the Indian method of speaking) which composed the Union at that time.

President Jefferson afterward wrote to President Adams the following concerning The Prophet:

"The Wabash Prophet is more rogue than fool, if to be a rogue is not the greatest of all follies. He arose to notice while I was in the administration, and became, of course, a proper subject for me. The inquiry was made with diligence. His declared object was the reformation of red brethren, and their return to their pristine manners of living. He pretended to be in constant communication with the Good Spirit; that he was instructed by Him to make known to the Indians that they were created distinct from the whites, of different natures, for different purposes, and placed under different circumstances adapted to their nature and destinies; that they must return from all the ways of the whites to the habits and opinions of their forefathers; that they must not eat the flesh of hogs, of bullocks, of sheep, etc., the deer and the buffalo having been created for their food; they must not make bread of wheat, but of Indian corn; they must not wear linen nor woolen, but must dress like their fathers, in the skins and furs of animals; they must not drink, and I do not know whether he extended his inhibition to the use of the gun and gunpowder, in favor of the bow and arrow. I concluded from all this that he was a visionary, enveloped in their antiquities, and vainly endeavoring to lead back his brethren to the fancied beatitudes of their golden age. I thought there was little danger of his making many proselytes from the habits and comforts they had learned from the whites, to the hardships and privations of savageism [sic], and no great harm if he did. But his followers increased until the British thought him worth corrupting and found him corruptible. I suppose his views were then changed; but his proceedings in consequence of them were after I left the administration, and are, therefore, unknown to me; nor have I been informed what were the particular acts on his part which produced an actual commencement of hostilities on ours. I have no doubt, however, that the subsequent proceedings are but a chapter apart, like that of Henry and Lord Liverpool in the book of the Kings of England."

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Nancy Trice,