July 2

This Day in History

Old West

Jul 2, 1809:

Chief Tecumseh urges Indians to unite against whites

Alarmed by the growing encroachment of whites squatting on Native American lands, the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh calls on all Indians to unite and resist.

Born around 1768 near Springfield, Ohio, Tecumseh early won notice as a brave warrior. He fought in battles between the Shawnee and the white Kentuckians, who were invading the Ohio River Valley territory. After the Americans won several important battles in the mid-1790s, Tecumseh reluctantly relocated westward but remained an implacable foe of the white men and their ways.

By the early 19th century, many Shawnee and other Ohio Valley Indians were becoming increasingly dependent on trading with the Americans for guns, cloth, and metal goods. Tecumseh spoke out against such dependence and called for a return to traditional Indian ways. He was even more alarmed by the continuing encroachment of white settlers illegally settling on the already diminished government-recognized land holdings of the Shawnee and other tribes. The American government, however, was reluctant to take action against its own citizens to protect the rights of the Ohio Valley Indians.

On this day in 1809, Tecumseh began a concerted campaign to persuade the Indians of the Old Northwest and Deep South to unite and resist. Together, Tecumseh argued, the various tribes had enough strength to stop the whites from taking further land. Heartened by this message of hope, Indians from as far away as Florida and Minnesota heeded Tecumseh's call. By 1810, he had organized the Ohio Valley Confederacy, which united Indians from the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Winnebago, Menominee, Ottawa, and Wyandot nations.

For several years, Tecumseh's Indian Confederacy successfully delayed further white settlement in the region. In 1811, however, the future president William Henry Harrison led an attack on the confederacy's base on the Tippecanoe River. At the time, Tecumseh was in the South attempting to convince more tribes to join his movement. Although the battle of Tippecanoe was close, Harrison finally won out and destroyed much of Tecumseh's army.

When the War of 1812 began the following year, Tecumseh immediately marshaled what remained of his army to aid the British. Commissioned a brigadier general, he proved an effective ally and played a key role in the British capture of Detroit and other battles. When the tide of war turned in the American favor, Tecumseh's fortunes went down with those of the British. On October 5, 1813, he was killed during Battle of the Thames. His Ohio Valley Confederacy and vision of Indian unity died with him.

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