This print shows Col. R.M. Johnson using a pistol to kill Tecumseh during the War of 1812, at the battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada. Many took credit for the death of Tecumseh.

Native History: Tecumseh Defeated at Battle of the Thames

Alysa Landry
10/5/13

This Date in Native History: On October 5, 1813, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames, just north of the U.S.-Canada border.

Born in Ohio in 1768, Tecumseh survived five invasions from neighboring tribes or U.S. forces by the time he was 14. By his early 20s, he was a proven warrior, ultimately building up a confederacy of 32 tribes and more than 10,000 people during the War of 1812.

His defeat marked the end of the Indian resistance east of the Mississippi, said Lisa Gilbert, a War of 1812 historian. Never again did American Indians rise in rebellion with such force.

“October 5 was a very important date in Native history,” she said. “As a result of Tecumseh’s defeat, Natives were never again considered separate and equal partners in international relations.”

Tecumseh is known for working with his brother, Tenskwatawa—also called The Prophet—to unite Native forces against the settlers. The brothers left Ohio in 1808 and settled in Indiana, at the juncture of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. That settlement was destined to be the headquarters of an Indian confederacy and a training ground for warriors.

The Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa. (Wikimedia Commons/Charles Bird King)

“Tecumseh had a certain grandeur,” said Charlene Houle, tourism development officer for the city of Chatham-Kent, Ontario, where the Battle of the Thames was fought 200 years ago. “He united all those people under him, thousands of people. He was one of those charismatic leaders who had a vision and worked to get it.”

Tecumseh’s plans were crushed in November 1811 when the U.S. Army, led by Gen. William Henry Harrison, defeated the Native forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. After the loss, Tecumseh allied with the British against the U.S.

The alliance was forged on a desperate promise, Houle said. Tecumseh agreed to join British forces in exchange for his homeland.

That promise was never delivered. The British were retreating into Canada when Tecumseh and his warriors joined them. The Battle of the Thames marked the collapse of one of the greatest Native forces.

“Tecumseh became a symbol of the potential for success and promises never lived up to,” Houle said. “He has this legacy of being a great leader who was betrayed.”

Although only 500 Native warriors followed him to Canada, Tecumseh fought fiercely, once again facing Gen. Harrison on the battleground. The Native troops were outnumbered six to one.

Gilbert believes Tecumseh knew he would die there. Prior to the battle, the chief reportedly said that he “could not exactly tell, but it was an evil spirit which betokens no good.”

“Tecumseh had a premonition of his own death,” she said. “He painted his face black that day.”

Tecumseh was killed in the afternoon of October 5, 1813. He was 45.

“No one knows exactly where he fell or who killed him,” Gilbert said. “There still is controversy over where he was buried.”

At least 24 people took credit for pulling the trigger that killed Tecumseh. Harrison, who served as the ninth U.S. president, built his reputation as “vanquisher of Tecumseh,” Gilbert said. Richard Mentor Johnson, the country’s ninth vice president, also claimed to have killed the Shawnee chief.

Tecumseh’s legacy has grown exponentially since his death. Once viewed as an enemy, he now is celebrated as a hero.

Gilbert attributes that legacy to Tecumseh’s personality and charisma.

“Of all the Native leaders to emerge in the struggle against the U.S., Tecumseh had the charisma to band them together,” she said. “The thing about Tecumseh is that he’s still as charismatic as he was. Even 200 years later, he’s still exerting that charisma beyond the grave.”

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sylvia cloud's picture
sylvia cloud
Submitted by sylvia cloud on
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation

john atchico's picture
john atchico
Submitted by john atchico on
Tecumseh had moved after surviving the Battle of Thames,to Oklahoma,with the desire to rise again....he died a very old man near Shawnee Oklahoma. He was buried there in a grave just south of Shawnee.As a young boy,my father showed me Tecumseh's grave.My father was born !2 February,1900.What I shared may shock some people of historical world.I know what I had seen.I am the last of my Fathers children.

Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Sylvia Cloud, Thank you for those wise words of this great one among our people ages ago. John Atchico, thank you for the interesting perspective of this great one. I would like to hear more from you about this revelation you share about this all. I have never heard this story before.
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