Northwest Territory, 1812: Tecumseh’s Plea for Resistance and Unity

Tecumseh’s Plea for Resistance and UnityChief Tecumseh

Shawnee chief Tecumseh stands in the Great Council before his Choctaw and Chickasaw brothers. He is trying to convince them to join in a unified resistance against the whites.

The whites are already nearly a match for us all united; and too strong for any one tribe alone to resist; so that unless we support one another with our collected and united forces; unless every tribe unanimously combines to give a check to the ambition and avarice of the whites, they will soon conquer us apart and disunited, and we will be driven away from our native country and scattered as autumnal leaves before the wind…

Every year our white intruders become more greedy, exacting, oppressive, and overbearing. Every year contentions spring up between them and our people and when blood is shed we have to make atonement, whether right or wrong, at the cost of the lives of our greatest chiefs, and the yielding up of large tracts of our lands. Before the pale-faces came among us, we enjoyed the happiness of unbounded freedom, and were acquainted with neither riches, wants, nor oppression. How is it now? Wants and oppression are our lot; for are we not controlled in everything, and dare we move without asking, by your leave?... Do they not even now kick and strike us as they do their black-faces? How long will it be before they will tie us to a post and whip us, and make us work for them in their cornfields as they do them? Shall we wait for that moment or shall we die fighting before submitting to such ignominy?  The annihilation of our race is at hand unless we united in one common cause against the common foe…

Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves be turned into fields? … War or extermination are our only choice. Which do you choose, brave Choctaw and Chickasaw, to assist in the just cause of liberating our race from the grasp of our faithless invaders and heartless oppressors? The white usurpation in our common country must be stopped or we, its rightful owners, be forever destroyed and wiped out as a race of people. Then listen to the voice of duty, of honor, of nature, and of your endangered country. Let us form one body, one heart, and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.


When U.S. agents approach Tecumseh, he breaks the peace pipe saying, A chance such as this will never occur again—for us Indians of North America to form ourselves into one great combination and cast our lot with the British in this war. Tecumseh believes that if the British win the tribes will keep their land, but if the “long knives” (the colonists) win it will not be many years before our last place of abode and our last hunting grounds will be taken from us and the remnants of different tribes… will be driven toward the setting sun.


-Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau, To Serve the Devil, 53-56

New Leaders

What has become known as the French and Indian War (1754-1760) ended with the French defeat in Quebec. The English expected the Shawnee, Miami, Kickapoo, Sauk, Potawatomie, Fox, Chippewa, Illinois, Ottawa, and Delaware, who had all allied with the French, to meekly accept the presence of English settlers and traders.


In 1762 an eloquent chief and brilliant military strategist rose to power among the indigenous of the Northwest (what is now Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana). He organized a confederacy of eighteen tribes that seized every British post in the Northwest Territory, except Forts Pitt and Detroit. But even at Fort Detroit they managed to hold a siege for eight months--the longest in American military history.

Chief Pontiac and his Confederacy won from the British the famous Crown Proclamation of October, 1763. The Proclamation set an official line of demarcation running the length of the crest of the Appalachian mountains, separating colonial from indigenous land. The Proclamation even demanded those colonists who had gone across the mountains to remove themselves.

Britain had its own reasons for such an agreement. The Crown wanted to stop the native rebellions but also wanted to limit the expansion of the colonies in order to keep them more dependent on the mother country.

Land speculators, including George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Benjamin Franklin, had already purchased millions of acres in what was "Indian Territory".

-Chronicles of American Indian Protest, 41-44

Tecumseh and the War of 1812

Both Britain and the United States attempted to gain the Indigenous as allies during the War of 1812.

At the beginning the war went well. Tecumseh rallied tribal unity and his military skill helped to force Fort Detroit to surrender with hardly a fight. More tribes began to join the fight on the side of the British. The Potawatomies captured Fort Dearborn, an the Miamis laid siege to Fort Wayne. Tecumseh even convinced the great Creek nation in the south to join.

A change of British command brought in men who were cowards and hated Indians. Tecumseh was finally killed in battle, protecting the fleeing British troops. Those at the battle recalled seeing him being hit several times, with blood pouring from his mouth and covering his body; yet he was still yelling like a "tiger," urging his braves on.

-Chronicles of American Indian Protest, 77-81

Middle West, 1812: Tecumseh’s Way

Tecumseh finds General Procter plying the natives with whiskey and goading them into killing unarmed prisoners. Tecumseh rushes to the scene, sword raised and says, Are there no men here? The killing stops. He criticizes General Procter, who only says that Indians cannot be controlled.

You are unfit to command, Tecumseh counters. I conquer to save, and you to murder.

-Chronicles of American Indian Protest, 79


Tecumseh, which means "shooting star," was known for his humane treatment of enemies. Even though his father and two brothers were killed by whites, Tecumseh never allowed torture or atrocities.

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