The Battle of Tippecanoe

 Illustration, Prophet's Rock and Rattle-Snake Cave.
Prophet's Rock and Rattle-Snake Cave.


In the battle of Tippecanoe some of the American soldiers displayed great bravery and fearlessness. For example, a young man, the flint of whose gun was out of order, despite the earnest protest of his companions went to fire, and by a light created, repaired it. In this work he was made, by the light, a target for the Indian bullets. Many shots were fired at him, but he repaired his flint and returned to his post unharmed. The Indians, also, displayed exceptional bravery. Their fanaticism and superstition were worked to the highest pitch by The Prophet. In this battle the Indians abandoned their usual methods of firing, from behind trees and other protections, and rushed into the open field of the American camp. A Winnebago chief approached a fire, at a place where the American lines had been pushed back, to repair his flint. A number of shots were fired at him, one of which accomplished its deadly mission. The chief fell forward in the fire. A regular soldier of the United States army from New England went out to take his scalp, but, as the soldier was inexperienced in the business, it required considerable time for the completion of the job, and when he returned to the American lines from his barbarous errand he not only brought the scalp of the chief as a trophy, but also carried a mortal wound, inflicted by an Indian rifle. The body of the chief was rescued by the Indians and carried into their town, where the American troops found it when they entered.

During this fiercely fought and bloody conflict General Harrison displayed great bravery and courage, moving about over the battlefield on horseback. He made able disposition of his forces, strengthening those parts of the lines where the Indian attack was severest. Though entreated by his officers to refrain from exposing his person, he persisted in taking an active and open part in the engagement, doing much by word and example toward encouraging his men to remain firm under the galling fire in the darkness of the morning.

A major, whose person and uniform resembled those of the general, was found by some of the men lying with face down in front of the lines, having been fatally shot. And as Harrison had shortly before been seen in that quarter of the field, the word soon spread along the line that the general had fallen. But Harrison presently appeared in that section of the field and allayed their fears, being received with loud huzzas. The person of the general was a special target for the Indian bullets. They conspired to assassinate him early in the battle.

General Harrison had two horses. The one he usually rode was a white one. It was kept saddled and bridled during the night before the battle. The stake to which it was tied was pulled up and the animal hitched by a servant to the wheel of a wagon. When the attack was made this servant was so frightened that he could not remember where he had placed the horse. Major Taylor loaned General Harrison his horse. Early in the battle one of the general's aids, who rode a white horse, was shot, it is believed, by Indians who mistook him for Harrison. During the fight Harrison's hat rim was pierced and his hair grazed by a rifle ball. The Indians chewed the bullets they used in battle, that wounds created might be more lacerating. This partially accounts for the large mortality among the wounded. On the day of the battle the American army had no meat except boiled horse flesh. This day was spent in caring for the wounded, burying the dead and fortifying the camp.

Upon the night previous to the engagement three Indians were found in the American camp. Whether they were there as spies, or, as is more probable, for the purpose of assassinating the general, is not known. They were seized and sent back to The Prophet with a demand of him for a negro, named Ben, who had deserted the American army under very suspicious circumstances. The negro had been employed as a bullock driver in the American army. When the force approached The Prophet's Town, he stated to his negro companions that he was not afraid to enter the Indian town. This they questioned, whereupon Ben started to prove his assertion. He was met by two Indians and conducted into camp. Some time after dark, Captain Wilson seized Ben while he was lurking near General Harrison's tent. The negro pleaded innocence of desertion; he claimed that he was forcibly taken into the Indian town, and had been released upon the return of the three Indians. He entered the American camp unchallenged by the sentinels. But the manner of the negro and the circumstances attending his capture by Captain Wilson, and the fact that no one had seen him in the camp prior to his capture, made it very probable that he was acting in the interest of the Indians. It was believed that he was reconnoitering in view to point out General Harrison's tent, that he might be assassinated. The fellow was tried on the same day of the battle by a drum-head court-martial. A sentence of death was pronounced upon him. General Harrison, though he believed him to be guilty, was so much moved by pity that he could not find it in his heart to enforce the verdict. He referred the matter to his officers, who after deliberation, agreed to release Ben from the death sentence. This result was brought about by the influence of Captain Snelling. The reasons for this lenity, explained by General Harrison in a letter to General Scott of Kentucky, do honor to his heart:

"The fact was that I began to pity him, and I could not screw myself up to the point of giving the fatal order. If he had been out of my sight, he would have been executed. But when he was first taken, General Wells and Colonel Owen, who were old Indian fighters, as we had no irons to put on him, had secured him after the Indian fashion. This is done by throwing a person on his back, splitting a log and cutting notches in ti to receive the ankles, then replacing the several parts, and compressing them together with forks driven over the log into the ground. The arms are extended and tied to the stakes secured in the same manner. The situation of a person thus placed is about as uneasy as can possibly be conceived. The poor wretch thus confined lay before my fire, his face receiving the rain that occasionally fell, and his eyes constantly turned upon me, as if imploring mercy. I could not withstand the appeal, and I determined to give him another chance for his life. I had all the commissioned officers assembled, and told them that his fate depended upon them. Some were for executing him, and I believe that a majority would have been against him, but for the interference of the gallant Snelling. " Brave comrades,' said he, let us save him. The wretch deserves to die; but as our commander, whose life was more particularly his object, is willing to spare him, let us also forgive him. I hope, at least, that every officer of the Fourth Regiment will be on the side of mercy.' Snelling prevailed; and Ben was brought to this place, where he was discharged."

On the morning of the 8th, General Wells, in command of a company of dragoons and mounted rifleman, reconnoitered The Prophet's Town. They found it deserted except by one chief, who remained because of a broken leg. The Americans dressed his injury and allowed him to return to his people. They told him that if the Indians would desert The Prophet, their past conduct would be forgiven. Large quantities of corn and some hogs and domestic fowls were found, which were of great use to the army in its impoverished condition. After using such of these as were required, the remainder of a large number of brass kettles were destroyed, along with the town itself.

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Nancy Trice,