In 1763, Pontiac led a revolt against the Americans and British. He awaited the French return to sweep away the Anglo invaders. They never came. A generation later, Native Americans hoped the British would return to reign in the Americans. Unlike the French, the British returned to fight the Americans. Native peoples sided with Britain hoping to repel the American invaders. Shawnee chief Tecumseh led a movement to unite the Native American tribes against the United States. He helped form a confederacy which sided with Britain in the War of 1812. However, the movement could not survive without him. Tecumseh’s confederacy collapsed following his death at the Battle of the Thames.
War ravaged Tecumseh’s homeland throughout the eighteenth century. After the Revolution, Tecumseh fought American settlers. The U.S. campaigned against the major tribes of Ohio, who united to form the Wabash Confederacy. By 1790, Tecumseh had fought alongside many tribes against American encroachment.
A decade later, Tecumseh moved to Greenville, Ohio to live near his brother, Lalawethika, who became Tenskwatawa. The Americans later referred to Tenskwatawa as the Prophet because he led a religious revival. The Prophet urged natives to reject Americanism and Europeanism. This meant surrendering firearms, clothing, alcohol, and holding onto their lands.
American expansion into the region raised tensions on the eve of the War of 1812. Tecumseh decided to uproot his brother and their followers to the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. They created Prophetstown and became stirring the idea of a pan-Indian movement. The Prophet’s spiritual leadership and Tecumseh’s natural abilities and intellect made the pair a threat to the Americans and any potential Indian rivals.
The pair created a large confederation of tribes united by their distrust of the United States. The Prophet promised America’s decline while Tecumseh led the quasi-nation. In 1809, William Henry Harrison assumed control of the newly constituted Indiana Territory. He negotiated the Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded 3 million acres to the United States. Tecumseh opposed the treaty and prepared for battle.
The confederacy was ready to confront the governor in 1810. Tecumseh demanded Harrison surrender the ceded territory. Harrison declined. Later that year, Tecumseh marched on Harrison’s house with 400 men and made his demand a second time. Harrison refused to be bullied. Tecumseh threatened Harrison, who pulled his sword signaling the militia to move in on the invaders. The natives backed down and Tecumseh swore he would turn to the British for assistance.
After another failed meeting with Harrison, Tecumseh approached the southern tribes for assistance. He made impassioned pleas for pan-Indian resistance. Most of the tribes rebuffed Tecumseh’s efforts. A disappointed Tecumseh returned home. In March 1811, a comet appeared leading many natives to believe the Great Spirit supported their cause. Tecumseh played on this belief and led his people to war. At the same time, the U.S. and Britain stumbled into the War of 1812. Tecumseh could form his British alliance.
Tecumseh and Harrison continued their feud until the Shawnee warrior’s death. Harrison won the Battle of Tippecanoe and burned Prophetstown to the ground following an Indian sneak attack. The Prophet lost his prestige after the defeat while Tecumseh redoubled his efforts at resistance. He took part in Detroit’s capture and established good relations with the British commander, Isaac Brock. However, he failed to impress General Henry Proctor.
Proctor assumed command over the next phase of the British operations. He clashed with Tecumseh over strategy. Proctor did not wish to fight in the winter and favored waiting until spring. Tecumseh wanted a decisive victory over the Americans immediately. Meanwhile, Harrison marched upon the British positions.
Harrison launched a decisive attack on Tecumseh on October 5, 1813. Tecumseh died during the battle and Harrison forced a general native surrender. After the battle, Richard Mentor Johnson received credit for the death, but many men claimed responsibility. Harrison’s victory destroyed Tecumseh’s confederacy. The organization proved solvent only under his leadership.
Tecumseh despised the United States and tried to unite the Native American tribes to repulse the invaders. He enjoyed some success at confederation during his lifetime. Tecumseh also entered into a political blood feud with William Henry Harrison. Harrison won the feud at the Thames and the confederacy died with Tecumseh. It was not a carbon copy of Pontiac's fall, but each resistance movement collapsed leaving no opposition to American expansion.