Of the early life of the Prophet not much is known. "According to one account he was noted in his earlier years for stupidity and intoxication; but one day, while lighting his pipe in his cabin, he fell back apparently lifeless and remained in that condition until his friends had a.s.sembled for the funeral, when he revived from his trance, quieted their alarm, and announced that he had been conducted to the spirit world." As an orator, he is said to have been even more powerful than Tec.u.mseh himself, and his great influence in after years among the various tribes would seem to bear that statement out. However, he was boastful, arrogant, at times cruel, and never enjoyed the reputation for honesty and integrity that his more distinguished brother did. In personal appearance he was not prepossessing. He had lost one eye, "which defect he concealed by wearing a dark veil or handkerchief over the disfigured organ." It has been related that he was dominated to some extent by his wife, who was regarded by the squaws at the Prophet's Town as a queen.
Whole nations are at times moved with a sort of religious fervor or frenzy which extends to all ranks and stations. During these periods strange mental phenomena are at times apparent, great social and political movements are inaugurated, and the whole complexion of affairs seems to undergo a rapid and sometimes radical change. Such a movement occurred among the Indian tribes of Ohio and those along the Wabash about the beginning of the year 1806. At this time a part of the scattered and broken remnants of the Shawnee tribe had been gathered together under the Prophet and Tec.u.mseh at Greenville, Ohio. In November of the year before the Prophet had "a.s.sembled a considerable number of Shawnees, Wyandots, Ottawas and Senecas, at Wapakoneta, on the Auglaize river, when he unfolded to them the new character with which he was clothed, and made his first public effort in that career of religious imposition, which in a few years was felt by the remote tribes of the upper lakes, and on the broad plains which stretched beyond the Mississippi." The appearance of the Prophet was not only highly dramatic but extremely well-timed. The savage mind was filled with gloomy forebodings. The ravages of "fire-water," the intermixture of the races, the trespa.s.sing of the white settlers on the Indian domain, and the rapid disappearance of many of the old hunting grounds, all betokened a sad destiny for the red man. Naturally superst.i.tious, he was prepared for the advent of some divine agency to help him in his distress. No one understood this better than the Prophet. He may have been the dupe of his own imposture, but impostors are generally formidable. He was no longer Laulewasikaw, but Tenskwatawa, "The Open Door." "He affected great sanct.i.ty; did not engage in the secular duties of war or hunting; was seldom in public; devoted most of his time to fasting, the interpretation of dreams, and offering sacrifices to spiritual powers; pretended to see into futurity and to foretell events, and announced himself to be the mouth-piece of G.o.d."
The first a.s.semblage at Wapakoneta, was later followed by a series of pilgrimages to Greenville, which shortly spread alarm among the white settlers. Hundreds of savages flocked around the new seer from the rivers and lakes of the northwest and even from beyond the Mississippi.
In May of 1807 great numbers pa.s.sed and re-pa.s.sed through Fort Wayne. In a letter of date August 20th, 1807, from William Wells, the United States Indian agent at the last named place, to Governor Harrison at Vincennes, Wells relates that the lake Indians from the vicinity of Mackinac are flocking to Greenville; that the Prophet is instilling the doctrine that in a few years the Great Spirit will destroy every white man in America, and that the inhabitants of Detroit are fortifying themselves against attack. To all these savage gatherings the Prophet preached the new propaganda. He denounced drunkenness, and said that he had gone up into the clouds and had seen the abode of the Devil; that there he saw all the drunkards and that flames of fire continually issued from their mouths, and that all who used liquor in this world would suffer eternal torment in the next; he advocated a return to pristine habits and customs, counseling the tribes "to throw away their flints and steels, and resort to their original mode of obtaining fire by percussion. He denounced the woolen stuffs as not equal to skins for clothing; he commended the use of the bow and arrow. As to inter-marriage between the races, all this was prohibited. The two races were distinct and must remain so. Neither could there be any separate or individual ownership of any of the Indian lands; these were the common heritage of all. The weak, aged and infirm were to be cherished and protected; parental authority was to be obeyed. In conclusion, he never failed to proclaim that the Great Spirit had gifted him with the divine power to 'cure all diseases and to arrest the hand of death, in sickness, or on the battlefield'."
The happening of these events soon attracted the attention of the British agents at Malden, just below Detroit, and on the Canadian side.
McKee was there and Matthew Elliott. The old hatred of all things American still burned in their bosoms. "England and France," says Ridpath, "were now engaged in deadly war. The British authorities struck blow after blow against the trade between France and foreign nations; and Napoleon retaliated. The plan adopted by the two powers was, as already narrated, to blockade each others' ports, either with paper proclamations or with men-of-war. By such means the commerce of the United States was greatly injured. Great Britain next set up her peculiar claim of citizenship, that whosoever is born in England remains through life the subject of England. English cruisers were authorized to search American vessels for persons suspected of being British subjects, and those who were taken were impressed as seamen in the English navy.
On the twenty-second of June, 1807, the frigate Chesapeake was hailed near Fortress Monroe by a British man-of-war called the Leopard. British officers came on board and demanded to search the vessel for deserters.
The demand was refused and the ship cleared for action. But before the guns could be charged the Leopard poured in a destructive fire, and compelled a surrender. Four men were taken from the captured ship, three of whom proved to be American citizens. Great Britain disavowed this outrage and promised reparation; but the promise was never fulfilled."
In the event of a renewal of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain, it would evidently be the mission of McKee and Elliott to brighten the bond of friendship between the Indian tribes and the king; re-establish, so far as possible, the old savage confederacy, and use it both as a barrier against any attempted invasion of Canada, and as a weapon of offense against the western states and settlements. The Shawnees were wholly in the interest of the British. The Potawatomi, Ottawas and Chippewas who resided in the neighborhood of Detroit were, as Harrison says, "the most perfidious of their race," and Wells reported to Harrison, that in case of war, the Indian tribes would be against the United States. In a letter of July eleventh, 1807, Harrison wrote to the Department of War that a respectable trader from Detroit had informed him "that McKee, the British Indian agent, was lately seen to pa.s.s up the Miami of the Lake to Greenville where the Prophet resided, and where there has been a considerable collection of Indians for many weeks." The frontiers were generally alarmed, and in September the Governor dispatched the interpreter, John Conner, with a talk to the Shawnees requiring the immediate removal of the "impostor" from the territory, and the dispersion of the warriors he had collected about him. "The British," he writes, "could not have adopted a better plan to effect their purpose of alienating from our government the affections of the Indians than employing this vile instrument. It manifests at once their inveterate rancour against us and their perfect acquaintance with the Indian character."
But to return to the Prophet. His fame, bruited far and wide, soon aroused the jealousy of many of the neighboring chiefs and medicine men.
They saw their power dwindling away and their authority diminishing.
They took steps to check the advancing tide of fanaticism, but were at once adroitly met by the introduction of an inquisition into witchcraft, which had been almost universally believed in by the tribes, but against which the Prophet now hurled the most direful anathemas. He declared that anyone who dealt in magic or "medicine juggleries" should never taste of future happiness, and must be instantly put to death. His deluded and awe-struck followers promptly began a systematic searching out and persecution of "witches," and all under his personal direction.
The finger of the seer often pointed at a prominent warrior or chieftain, or some member of their household. The Prophet's mere denunciation was proof enough. The victim went to the torture of death by fire, or some other fate equally revolting. Among the Delawares, especially, the most shocking cruelty ensued, and finally these things came to the ears of the Governor at Vincennes. He immediately sent a "speech" by special messenger to the headmen and chiefs of the Delaware tribe beseeching them to cast aside all fallacious doctrines, to denounce the Prophet and to drive him out of their midst. In the course of this "speech" he said: "Demand of him some proof at least, of his being the messenger of the Deity. If G.o.d 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 of him to cause the sun to stand still, the moon to alter its course, the rivers to cease to flow, or the dead to rise from their graves."
The language of the Governor proved to be unfortunate. On June sixteen, 1806, there was a total eclipse of the sun in northern lat.i.tudes for a period of about five minutes, at about a half an hour before midday, and this event had long been heralded by the astronomers of that time, and had come to the ears of the Prophet through intercourse with some white friends. The crafty savage was not slow to act. He told his followers that on a certain fixed day, and at a time when the sun was at the height of its power, he would place the same under his feet, and cause darkness to come over the face of the earth. On the day announced, the Prophet stood among his fearful band, awaiting the hour. The day was wholly clear and without clouds, but at the appointed time the terrified savages saw a disc of blackness gradually pa.s.s over the face of the sun; the birds became agitated and flew to cover; the skulking dogs drew near their masters; almost absolute darkness fell on all about; the stars of heaven appeared in the zenith, and in the midst of it all, the Prophet exclaimed: "Did I not testify truly? Behold! Darkness has shrouded the sun!" The account of that day, faithfully set forth by J. Fennimore Cooper, then a youth, is filled with strange relations of the unnatural appearance of all earthly things; of the sudden awe and fear that came into the minds of all; how women stood near their husbands in silence and children clung to their mothers in terror, and if these were the emotions experienced in a civilized community, made fully aware of the coming event, what must have been the impression produced on the superst.i.tious mind of the savage, wholly unenlightened in the ways of science? From that day, the power of the savage Prophet was secure until the spell of his magic was forever broken by Harrison's soldiers at Tippecanoe.
It is not certain at what precise period in his career, whether in 1806 or 1807, or later, the Prophet was tempted by British gold and British overtures. President Jefferson once wrote to John Adams as follows: "I thought there was little danger in his making proselytes from the habits and comforts they had learned from the whites, to the hardships and privations of savagism, and no great harm if he did. But his followers increased until the British thought him worth corrupting, and found him corruptible." Neither is it certain at what precise period Tec.u.mseh put his brother-priest behind him and a.s.sumed the lead. That he had cunningly pretended to have great respect and reverence while the Prophet was practicing on the superst.i.tion of the tribes; that he took no steps to stop the inquisitions which were destroying the influence of the chiefs and medicine men; that he stood ready at the opportune moment to push the brother-priest into the back-ground and form a confederacy with himself as the recognized head, will not now admit of controversy.
In 1806 Tec.u.mseh was about thirty-eight years of age, a finished athlete, a renowned hunter, and of great reputation as a bold and fearless orator. Probably no red man ever born had a better knowledge of the various treaties that had been consummated between the races. "For all those qualities which elevate man far above his race; for talent, tact, skill, bravery as a warrior; for high-minded, honorable and chivalrous bearing as a man; in fine, for all those elements of greatness which place him a long way above his fellows in savage life, the name and fame of Tec.u.mseh will go down to posterity in the west, as one of the most celebrated of the aborigines of this continent." This is the estimate of Judge Law, of Vincennes.
In his youth he had been under the tutelage of his elder brother, Cheeseekau, who taught him "a love for the truth, a contempt of everything mean and sordid, and the practice of those cardinal Indian virtues, courage in battle and fort.i.tude in suffering." In one of the early Shawnee raids along the Ohio he had witnessed the burning of a white man at the stake; the scene was so horrifying to him that he made his a.s.sociates promise never to torture another person. The spoils of the hunt he divided with the aged and unfortunate. At the time of the Prophet's rise he had already matched his prowess in battle against such men as Simon Kenton and his a.s.sociates and had proven both his skill as a tactician and his courage as a fighter.
An ill.u.s.tration of Tec.u.mseh's chivalry toward his foes, is pleasingly set forth in Smith's _Historical Sketches of Old Vincennes_; "Early in the year 1811, Governor Harrison, with a view to ascertaining the cause of the dissatisfaction of the Prophet, and, if possible, pacify him, deputed one of his most sagacious and trusty advisers with a competent interpreter to hold a council with him and his chiefs, including his brother warrior chief, Tec.u.mseh. It is learned from history that these gentlemen arrived at the village one evening and were received in an apparently friendly manner by the Prophet and a.s.signed a tent for the night with an appointment for a council the next morning. It is said the Prophet's wife was considered a queen among the Indian women, as well as by her husband. Before retiring for the night the interpreter observed an unusual stir among the squaws, and motions made toward their tent, and caught menacing glances and gestures toward them, and so told the amba.s.sador, but he made light of the matter and the interpreter's suspicions that treachery was intended, and when night came on he was soon asleep in peace and quiet. But not so with the vigilant interpreter, who kept awake and had his guns near at hand. About midnight a tap was heard at the door and his name, in the Shawnee language, was called. He found Tec.u.mseh at the door. He had called to warn him of impending a.s.sa.s.sination by the queen and squaws, who had held a council and determined on their death in spite of the protests of himself and others who told them it would be base treachery to kill messengers of peace who were their visitors. He told the visitors to rise and go with him. They went silently through the village and down into a wooded ravine near the river, where a noise was made as if to call wild turkeys, sounds well recognized by all hunters in early days; an answer was returned, and soon two men appeared with the amba.s.sador's horses, which they speedily mounted and rode swiftly away, accompanied by two guides furnished by Tec.u.mseh, and were soon well on their return trip to Vincennes."
No true portrait of this celebrated Indian is in existence. The following graphic description of him, however, is given by Stanley Hatch, who had a personal acquaintance with him in times of peace: "The general appearance of this remarkable man was uncommonly fine. His height was about five feet nine inches, judging him by my own height when standing close to him, and corroborated by the late Col. John Johnston, for many years Indian agent at Piqua. His face oval rather than angular; his nose handsome and straight; his mouth beautifully formed, like that of Napoleon I, as represented in his portraits; his eyes clear, transparent hazel, with a mild, pleasant expression when in repose, or in conversation; but when excited in his orations or by the enthusiasm of a conflict, or when in anger, they appeared like b.a.l.l.s of fire; his teeth beautifully white, and his complexion more of a light brown or tan than red; his whole tribe as well as their kindred the Ottawas, had light complexions; his arms and hands were finely formed; his limbs straight; he always stood very erect and walked with a brisk, elastic, vigorous step; invariably dressed in Indian tanned buckskin; a perfectly well fitting hunting frock descending to the knee, and over his under clothes of the same material; the usual cape and finish of yellow fringe about the neck; cape, edges of the front opening and bottom of the frock; a belt of the same material in which were his side arms (an elegant silver-mounted tomahawk and a knife in a strong leather case); short pantaloons connected with neatly fitting leggings and moccasins, with a mantle of the same material thrown over his left shoulder, used as a blanket in camp and as a protection in storms. Such was his dress when I last saw him, on the seventeenth of August, 1812, on the streets of Detroit; mutually exchanging tokens of recognition with former acquaintances in years of peace, and pa.s.sing on, he, to see that his Indians had all crossed to Malden, as commanded, and to counsel with his white allies in regard to the next movement of the now really commenced War of 1812. He was then in the prime of life, and presented in his appearance and n.o.ble bearing one of the finest looking men I have ever seen."
The striking circ.u.mstances of his birth, the ascendency of his brother, the Prophet, his burning hatred of the white race; his skill as a hunter and valor as a warrior; above all his wonderful eloquence and thorough knowledge of all the Indian treaties of the past, gave Tec.u.mseh an influence and authority among the tribes far beyond that of any of the braves or sachems of that day. If at the first his imagination had not dared to scale the heights of power, he later boldly threw aside all disguise, and by his powerful advocacy of a communistic ownership of all the Indian lands by the tribes in common, he aimed both a blow at the ancient authority claimed by the Indian chieftains, and at the validity of every treaty ever negotiated between the two races of men. The sum and substance of Tec.u.mseh's doctrine is thus succinctly stated by Judge Law: "That the Great Spirit had given the Indians all their lands in common to be held by them as such and not by the various tribes who had settled on portions of it--claiming it as their own. That they were squatters having no 'pre-emption right,' but holding even that on which they lived as mere 'tenants in common' with all the other tribes. That this mere possession gave them no t.i.tle to convey the land without the consent of all. That no single tribe had the right to sell, that the power to sell was not vested in their chiefs, but must be the act of the warriors in council a.s.sembled of all the tribes, as the land belonged to all--no portion of it to any single tribe."
If these tenets were to hold, it was clear that any authority claimed by the chiefs to represent their respective tribes in the sale or barter of any of the Indian domain was without foundation; that any treaty not negotiated and ratified by a common council of all the warriors of all the tribes, was null and void; that Wayne's Treaty of 1795 was nullum pactum; that the claim of the white settlers to any of the lands north of the Ohio was without force, and that they were trespa.s.sers and mere licensees from the beginning. The doctrine thus enunciated was not entirely new. Joseph Brant had claimed that the land was the common property of the tribes, but he had never declared that the sanction of all the warriors was necessary to a conveyance. But the plausible eloquence of Tec.u.mseh, coming at a time when the star of the red man was setting; when every pa.s.sing day witnessed the encroachment of the white settlers, gave a new ray of hope to the fainting tribes. The warriors, carried away by the dreams and incantations of the Prophet, and sustained by the burning words of a new leader, who promised them a restoration of their former glory, cast aside with contempt all the articles and solemn agreements of the past, and were ready to take up the tomahawk in patriotic defense of their lands and homes. Thus did Tec.u.mseh look forward to the establishment of "a great and permanent confederation--an empire of red men, of which he should be the leader and emperor."
--_The capital of the Shawnee Confederacy in the heart of the Miami country._
Before entering upon the final details of the struggle between Harrison and Tec.u.mseh, it may not be uninteresting to recur to a point of time just before the Treaty of Fort Wayne, when the two Indian leaders removed from the neighborhood of the white settlements at Greenville, Ohio, and established the Prophet's Town on the Wabash river in the month of June, 1808. This was to be the spot from whence should emanate all those brilliant schemes of the brothers to merge the broken tribes into a confederacy; to oppose the further advance of the white settlers, and with the aid of the British power in Canada, to drive them back beyond the waters of the Ohio. It was, as General Richard P. DeHart has aptly remarked, "the seat of Indian diplomacy and strategy for many years."
In leading their followers to this new field, the brothers were guided by certain lines of policy which were both remarkable in their conception, and signal for their farsightedness. The rendezvous at Greenville had been marked by intense enthusiasm, hundreds of red men flocking thither to imbibe the new faith and to commune with the Prophet; so many in fact, that Governor Harrison had ordered them to be supplied from the public stores at Fort Wayne in order to avert trouble.
But it was evident to the new leaders that all this congregating did not turn aside starvation; that warriors could not be held together who were hungry and who lacked corn; that the proximity of white traders was conducive to drunkenness; that if back of outward appearances any warlike exercises were to be indulged, or the emissaries and arms of the British were to be received, that these things would require secrecy and seclusion until the plot was ripe; that some strategic position must be secured on one of the great waterways of the interior, within quick striking distance of the settlements and easily accessible to the British posts.
Such a spot was the site of the old French and Indian trading post on the right bank of the Wabash and about ten miles above the present city of Lafayette. To the west about one and one-quarter miles is the marble shaft of the Battleground, and going from thence east across the fields and open woodlands you come to the fringe of woods that still lines the river. You have walked over the old Indian corn fields and are now standing on the exact location of the old Prophets's Town. The scene is one of great beauty even at this day, when the forest has been despoiled and nature ravished of her choicest charms. Here, the river extends in an almost unbroken line for three or four miles, bordered by sycamores and maples, and with a wealth of clinging vines, crab-apple blossoms and blooming flowers on either bank. The old trading post of Pet.i.t Piconne was located on a series of high cliffs, crowned with huge forest trees, and commanding the river through vistas of foliage. The face of these cliffs is frequently broken by sharp ravines, that extend on back among the hills with many devious windings. At the foot of the steep slopes, extends a long, narrow tableland of forest bordering directly upon the river; this is interspersed with springs of fresh water that burst from the hillsides. On the cliffs stood the camps and cabins of the warriors and their followers; below, and on the tableland and next to the water, the horses were tethered, and canoes were drawn up out of the river.
Thither the Prophet and his brother now turned their eyes. The whole upper valley, including the basins of the Tippecanoe and the Wildcat, was the rightful possession of the Miamis and the Weas, but the brothers now secured a pretended right or license from the Kickapoos and the Potawatomi to establish a camp. The Miamis of the north, and the Delawares of the south, were alike alarmed. The Delawares in particular had been the friends of the white people and adherents of the Governor.
They divined, and divined truly, that the Prophet's plans ultimately involved mischief. To avoid a possible war they sent a deputation of chiefs to the Prophet, who refused to see them, but deputed Tec.u.mseh to answer their remonstrances. On this mission he was entirely successful.
By threats and persuasion he turned them back, although they had received strict instructions from their tribe to oppose a new settlement. On a visit shortly afterwards by John Conner, interpreter for the Delawares, on a search for stolen horses, he found the Prophet safely ensconced in his chosen position, with a following of thirty or forty Shawnees, and about ninety others, consisting of Potawatomi, Chippewas, Ottawas and Winnebagoes.
The location selected was certainly ideal. "By a short portage the Indians could go by canoe to Lake Erie or Lake Michigan, or by the Wabash reach all the vast system of watercourses to the north and west.
It was only twenty-four hours' journey by canoe, at a favorable stage of water, down stream to Vincennes, the capital of the white man's territory;" the British post at Malden was only a few days distant. As to the Indian tribes, the Prophet's Town was almost centrally located in the Miami confederacy; to the north as far as the post of Chicago and Lake Michigan extended the realm of the Potawatomi; on the Vermilion below, and to the west of the main stream, lay the villages of the Kickapoos, whose hardy warriors, second only to the Wyandots, had accepted the new faith; the Sacs and Foxes, the Winnebagoes, Ottawas, Chippewas and Wyandots, were all within easy reach, and secret emba.s.sies and negotiations might be carried on without much fear of detection.
The brothers now resolved to pursue the following course--to wean their followers entirely away from the use of whiskey, which was fast destroying their military efficiency; to teach them, if possible, the ways of labor, so that they might raise corn and other products of the earth, and thus supply their magazines against a time of war; to dupe the Governor into the belief that their mission was one of peace, and undertaken solely for the moral uplift and betterment of the tribes--in the meantime, by the constant practice of religious ceremonies and rites, to work on the superst.i.tion of the warriors; win them, if need be, from the chieftains who might counsel peace, and by a series of warlike sports and exercises, hold together the young bucks and train them for the inevitable conflict between the races.
What strange mysticism did the Prophet practice to make the Indians of the Wabash "abandon whiskey, discard textile clothing, return to skins, throw away their witch-bags, kill their dogs, and abandon the white man's ways, even to giving up flint and steel for making fires?" That he had gained fame and ascendency among the neighboring tribes since the episode of the eclipse in 1806, is testified to by the fact that when Richard McNemar, the Shaker, visited him in 1807, at Greenville, Ohio, he found a temple of worship one hundred fifty feet in length, surrounded by wigwams and cottages, and the Indians then told McNemar that they all believed implicitly in the Prophet and that he could "dream to G.o.d." The Prophet had at that time also gone so far as to inst.i.tute the confessional, and all sinful disclosures were made to himself and four accompanying chiefs. The question was asked: "Do they confess all the bad things they ever did?" Answer: "All from seven years old. And cry and tremble when they come to confess." A sort of nature or sun worship had already been introduced. McNemar thus describes a salutation to the lord of the day: "Next morning, as soon as it was day, one of their speakers mounted a log, near the southeast corner of the village, and began the morning service with a loud voice, in thanksgiving to the Great Spirit. He continued his address for near an hour. The people were all in their tents, some at the distance of fifteen or twenty rods; yet they could all distinctly hear, and gave a solemn and loud a.s.sent, which sounded from tent to tent, at every pause.
While we stood in his view, at the end of the meeting house, on rising ground, from which we had a prospect of the surrounding wigwams, and the vast open plain or prairie, to the south and east, and which looked over the big fort, toward the north, for the distance of two miles, we felt as if we were among the tribes of Israel, on their march to Canaan."
By weird incantations, symbolic ceremonies, and practice of the black art, the Prophet had gone far. He was now regarded as invulnerable, and his person sacred. But that which gave point to his oracles, and authority to his imposture, was his Shawnee hatred of the pale face. To incite their growing jealousy and malice, he told his dupes, that the white man had poisoned all their land, and prevented it from producing such things as they found necessary to their subsistence. The growing scarcity of game, the disappearance of the deer and buffalo before the white settlements, were indisputable proofs of his a.s.sertions. Says Harrison: "The game which was formerly so abundant, is now so scarce as barely to afford subsistence to the most active hunters. The greater part of each tribe are half the year in a state of starvation, and astonishing as it may seem, these remote savages have felt their full share of the misfortunes which the troubles in Europe have brought upon the greater part of the world. The exclusion of the English from the continent of Europe, where they were accustomed to dispose of the greater part of the peltries imported from Canada, has reduced the price of those articles almost to nothing; the Indians can scarcely procure for them the necessary ammunition, and they are often induced to forego the purchase of this necessary article to gratify their pa.s.sion for whiskey." All these evils were attributed by the Prophet to the extension of the American settlements. To drive back these invaders who polluted the soil and desecrated the graves of their fathers--what more was needed to incite the savage warriors to a crusade of blood and extermination? About this time it was noticed that the Potawatomi of the prairies, who were under the influence of the Prophet, were frequently holding religious exercises, but that these exercises were always concluded with "warlike sports, shooting with bows, throwing the tomahawk, and wielding the war-club."
In the meantime, the relation of these religious ceremonies at the Prophet's Town and their seemingly good effect upon the red man, completely disarmed the Governor for the time being. He now entertained the idea that the great Indian leader might be "made a useful instrument in effecting a radical and salutary change in the manners and habits of the Indians." To stop the use of ardent spirits and to encourage the cultivation of corn, were two important steps, as the Governor thought.
Events which succeeded but added to Harrison's deception. In June, 1808, messengers appeared at Vincennes, and one of them stated that he had listened to the Prophet for upwards of three years, and had never heard anything but good advice. "He tells us we must pray to the Great Spirit who made the world and everything in it for our use. He tells us that no man could make the plants, the trees, and the animals, but they must be made by the Great Spirit, to whom we ought to pray, and obey in all things. He tells us not to lie, to steal, or to drink whiskey; and not to go to war, but to live in peace with all mankind. He tells us also to work and to make corn."
In August of the same year, the crafty Prophet himself appeared and remained at Vincennes for more than two weeks. The Governor was surprised at the great address and ease with which he handled his followers, and had the pleasure of listening to a speech, in which the Prophet professed the most pacific intentions, constantly haranguing his retinue upon the evils of war and liquor, and holding out to them the advantages of temperance and peace. It seems that the Governor even made a few personal experiments to determine whether the Indians were in earnest about their pretensions, but could induce none of them to touch fire-water. The interview closed to the entire satisfaction of the Governor, the Prophet promising to keep him fully informed as to anything that might be inimical to the settlements, and receiving in return many presents from the Governor in the way of implements of husbandry, arms, powder and other things which the Indians claimed that they were in sore need of. On the first of September, 1808, in a communication to Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War, the Governor wrote as follows: "The celebrated Shawnee Prophet has just left me after a visit of more than two weeks. He is rather possessed of considerable talents, and the art and address with which he manages the Indians is really astonishing. I was not able to ascertain whether he is as I at first supposed, a tool of the British or not. His denial of being under any such influence was strong and apparently candid. He says that his sole purpose is to reclaim the Indians from the bad habits they have contracted, and to cause them to live in peace and friendship with all mankind, and declares that he is particularly instructed to that effect by the Great Spirit. He frequently harangued his followers in my presence, and the evils attendant upon war and the use of ardent spirits was his constant theme. I cannot say how successful he may be in persuading them to lay aside their pa.s.sion for war, but the experiment made to determine whether their refusal to drink whiskey proceeded from principle, or was only empty profession, established the former beyond all doubt. Upon the whole, Sir, I am inclined to think the influence which the Prophet has acquired will prove rather advantageous than otherwise to the United States."
How vain this trust! Scarcely had the Prophet returned to his town, before he was entertaining an emissary and spy of the British government, who urged war on the United States. In the following spring of 1809, the Chippewas, Ottawas and Potawatomi were being urged by the Prophet to take up arms against the inhabitants of Vincennes, and to destroy the settlers along the Ohio, as far up as Cincinnati. Reports of these proceedings were confirmed by Michael Brouillette, an Indian trader, and by Touissant Dubois, a confidential agent of the Governor.
Harrison probably averted an Indian attack, by promptly organizing two additional companies of militia and throwing them into the vicinity of Fort Knox, to guard the approaches to the capital by land and water. The Indians, however, seeing this prompt action, deserted the Prophet and returned to their homes. The Governor was not fooled a second time. The Prophet again visited him in the summer of 1809, and made the same old pretensions of peace. But the Governor forced him to admit that he had entertained the British the fall before, and that he had been invited, as he said, to join a league of the Sacs and Foxes against the whites in the early spring, and he could make no satisfactory explanation as to why he had not imparted these facts to the government, when he had been solemnly enjoined so to do. From this time on, the Prophet was regarded with a just suspicion, and Harrison diligently regarded every movement of the new faith.
--_His personal courage and activities save the frontier capital._
The spring of 1810 opened with peril to Vincennes. The eternal vigilance of Harrison alone saved the day. The fall before had witnessed the making of the Treaty of Fort Wayne and the acquisition of the New Purchase; this had strengthened the claims of the Prophet and Tec.u.mseh for a closer union of the tribes, and had given added force to their argument in favor of a communistic ownership of all the land. What right had the old village chiefs to dispose of the common domain without the consent of the warriors who had fought to maintain it? The Great Spirit gave the soil in common to all the tribes; what single tribe could alienate any particular portion of it?
Reliable word came to the Governor in April that the Prophet had a.s.sembled one thousand souls at the Prophet's Town, with probably three hundred fifty or four hundred men among them, consisting princ.i.p.ally of Kickapoos and Winnebagoes, "but with a considerable number of Potawatomis and Shawnees and a few Chippewas and Ottawas;" that the French traders along the Wabash had been warned by the Prophet's followers to separate themselves from the Americans at Vincennes for trouble was brewing; that the Indians at Tippecanoe had refused to buy ammunition of the traders, saying that they had a plenty, and could get plenty more without paying for it; that Matthew Elliott, the British agent at Malden, was busy with plot and intrigue against the United States. But Harrison was surrounded by some of the best scouts and confidential agents that a frontier official ever commanded--among them Touissant Dubois, Joseph Barron and Michael Brouillette. He kept awake and on the alert.
Tec.u.mseh now a.s.sumed a more active leadership. The day had arrived for the statesman and warrior to sound the alarm, form an active league and confederacy of all the tribes, and with tomahawk in hand, resist any further advancement on the part of the whites. As Harrison afterwards remarked, he appeared today on the Wabash, a short time later on the sh.o.r.es of Lake Erie or Lake Michigan, and then upon the Mississippi.
Everywhere he was masterful, eloquent, convincing, and "made an impression favorable to his purpose." At one time during the early summer it is known that he was at Detroit, and he was probably in close communication with his British allies, although he professed to hate them.
About May, 1810, a council of all the tribes of the Wabash and those to the north was called at the river St. Joseph of Lake Michigan. The whole situation was fraught with danger, for Harrison had reason to believe that many of the tribes had already received the tomahawk and were meditating a combined attack on the settlements. Subsequent events proved that his fears were well founded. He immediately dispatched John Conner to the Delawares and "pointed out to them the unavoidable destruction which awaited all the tribes which should dare to take up the hatchet against their fathers, and the great danger that the friendly tribes would incur, if war should be kindled, from the difficulty of discriminating friend from foe."
A messenger was dispatched in haste after the deputies of the tribes deputed to the council, with full instructions dictated by the Governor, to urge these facts upon the a.s.sembled tribes. In addition, the Governor in response to the demand of a company of officers, merchants, and others at Vincennes, at once called two companies of militia into active service, established alarm posts upon the frontier, and used all available means at hand to put himself in readiness for war.
Fortunately, the Delawares remained faithful. If Winamac is to be believed, the Prophet in person urged upon the council an immediate surprise of Detroit, Fort Wayne, the post at Chicago, St. Louis and Vincennes, and a junction with the tribes of the Mississippi, but the "forcible representations" of the Delaware deputies, who were looked upon as "grandfathers," prevented the adoption of his plans. It seems that the younger men and some of the war lords of the smaller bands were ready to go to war, but the sachems and older village chieftains who had partic.i.p.ated in the treaty of the year before held aloof. The Chippewas, Ottawas and Potawatomi refused to take up arms, the council broke up without any concerted action, and Winamac and the Potawatomi were sent to the Governor to make report of the proceedings. When Winamac arrived at Vincennes in the latter part of June, he reported that as he pa.s.sed through the Prophet's Town an attempt was made to a.s.sa.s.sinate him--so enraged was the Prophet at his failure on the St. Joseph. Winamac further told the Governor that about the time of the council the Prophet had proposed to the younger warriors that the princ.i.p.al chiefs of all the tribes should be murdered; that they were the ones who had brought about a sale of the Indian lands, and that their, the warriors' hands, would never be untied until they were rid of them. The brothers were baffled in another mission. Tec.u.mseh urged the Shawnees at Wapakoneta, Ohio, to join the league. A letter of John Johnston, Indian agent at Fort Wayne, informed the Governor that, the Shawnees refused even to enter into council with him.
The ugly temper into which the Indians had now worked themselves is well ill.u.s.trated by the episode of the salt. Shortly prior to the fifteenth of June, a boat came up the Wabash to the Prophet's Town laden with salt for the use of the tribes, according to the terms of a former treaty.
The men in charge of the boat reported that the Prophet, and some Kickapoos with him at the time, refused to receive it, and he was directed to leave the salt on the bank of the river until Tec.u.mseh should return; Tec.u.mseh being reported as at Detroit. On his return trip home the master of the boat was directed to re-load the salt; that the Indians would have nothing to do with it. "Whilst the hands were rolling in the barrels, the brother of the Prophet seized the master and several others by the hair, and shaking them violently, asked them if they were Americans. They, however, were all young Frenchmen. They also insulted Mr. Brouillette, and called him an American dog, and a young Potawatomi chief directed his men to plunder his house, which was immediately done, depriving him of all his provisions, tobacco, etc." Michael Brouillette was the French trader heretofore referred to, and was the personal agent and scout of General Harrison. He kept on hand a few Articles of trade to disguise his real character.
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»