William Henry Harrison, governor of the thriving Indiana Territory, a young man of courage and energy, holding formerly a captain's commission, had pursued the Jeffersonian policy toward the Indians with strict fidelity, purchasing from resident tribes large reservations, and encouraging them to give up the wandering life, and to settle and become civilized upon little farms of their own. But contact with the white pioneers polluted this dusky race, whose inveteracy in primitive unsocial manners has always been a striking trait of character. The white man's whisky made them drunkards; and familiarity with the white man's weaponsthe only implements of civilization the northern tribes ever yet handled skilfullymade them dangerous neighbors. . . .
Two twin brothers of the Shawnee tribe had lately attained conspicuous power among the northwestern Indians. The most remarkable of these was Tecumseh, a man endowed with the best gifts of Indian chieftainship; eloquent in council, brave in war, skilful in combining his followers, crafty and cruel in dealing with enemies. His brother, Elkswatawa, commonly known as the Prophet, and probably a cunning impostor, pretended to miraculous gifts. These two had combined to rouse their race to resist the influences of the white man.
To restore primitive manners among the Indians was the ostensible object of their joint mission; but, probably, like the great Pontiac, Tecumseh hoped to strike a blow for Indian independence by extirpating the frontier colonists and bringing nature back to barbarism. The Prophet took up his abode, in the summer of 1808, on the banks of the Upper Wabash, near the mouth of Tippecanoe, at a spot belonging to the Miamis and Delawares, which he occupied against their consent. Hither came his red devotees, flocking in from the surrounding tribes, the Lakes, and the Upper Mississippi, moved by curiosity or religious interest.
Harrison, who was popular among the neighboring Indians, had long suspected Tecumseh and his brother. Denouncing the Prophet as an impostor, he found, in 1809, by the latter's admissions, that British agents in Canada had sought to engage the brothers in war against the United States. In September of that year Harrison concluded a treaty at Fort Wayne with the Delawares, Pottawattamies, Miamis, Kickapoos, and other Indian tribes, by which lands on the Wabash, above Terre Haute, comprizing nearly 3,000,000 acres, were ceded to the United States. Neither Tecumseh, nor the Prophet, nor the tribe in which both were born, had any claim to this tract, which our government purchased on fair terms; but they proceeded to declare the treaty void, and threatened to kill all the chiefs concerned in making it. The doctrine they set up was the inadmissible one that Indian lands belonged to all the Indian tribes in common, and that none could alienate without the consent of all.
Signs of hostile preparations and an alliance among northwestern tribes appearing the next year, Harrison held interviews with Tecumseh and the Prophet, with a view to conciliate them, if possible. They, on their part, imprest by Harrison's fearlessness and tried honor, endeavored, as they had always done, to disarm his suspicions. Tecumseh essayed, but unskilfully, the Pontiac2 art of dissimulation. At the grand conference his eyes flashed fire; and from the eloquent appeal to the governor to return the lands and cancel the new treaty for the sake of friendship, he proceeded to accuse the United States of cheating and imposing on the Indians. He cast off his blanket, and at a given signal his warriors sprang to their feet and brandished their tomahawks. Harrison's coolness at this critical moment prevented a scene of bloodshed. Apologies were tendered, and Harrison visited Tecumseh afterward in his own camp. But nothing short of cancelling our treaty in favor of his proposed confederacy would pacify the Indian chief, and the conference closed.
In the spring of 1811 the Indians on the Wabash began to roam in marauding parties over the region, stealing horses and plundering the homes of our settlers and friendly Indians. Harrison warned Tecumseh that unless these outrages ceased he might expect to be attacked. The wily warrior, protested that his intentions were friendly. . . .
Leaving Vincennes in September, Harrison proceeded cautiously up the valley of the Wabash, completed a stockade fort by October upon a high bluff, near the present site of Terre Haute, and advanced to the Prophet's town on the Tippecanoe. Tecumseh was absent, and the Prophet and his followers, taken thus by surprize, asked for a parley, which was granted. Wrought up to frenzy, however, in the course of their nocturnal rites, and confiding in the supernatural gifts of their medicine man, the savages treacherously assailed Harrison's camp the next morning at daybreak; but Harrison's troops stood their ground, and after a general battle, which lasted until sunrise, the invaders were dispersed at the point of the bayonet. Tho dearly bought, the victory was complete and decisive; for advancing the next day upon the Prophet's town, Harrison found it entirely deserted. The town was burned, with its stores, and our forces returned to Vincennes.
The immediate result of this expedition was to relieve our northwestern settlers from the menace of powerful Indian combinations on the frontiers. Most of the Prophet's followers who survived the battle dispersed to their several tribes, cursing their credulity. Tecumseh returning soon afterward from his southern journey, found his schemes frustrated by the brother, who had played warrior in his absence, and presently crossing into Canada he joined the British cause.
END OF VOL. IV
1 From Schouler's "History of the United States." By permission of Mr. Schouler, owner of the copyright, and of his publishers, Dodd, Mead & Co. Copyright 1880, 1891. This victory made Harrison famous. Probably it was this event more than any other that made him the Whig candidate for President in 1840that picturesque and victorious campaign for "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." General Harrison was the grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison.
2 Pontiac was the leader of what is known as the Pontiac conspiracy of 1763.