Tecumseh /tᵻˈkʌmsə, tᵻˈkʌmsi/tə-KUM-sə, tə-KUM-see (March 1768 – October 5, 1813) was a leader of the Shawnee Native Americans. He led a large tribal confederacy against the United States during Tecumseh’s War, which precipitated his alliance with Britain in the War of 1812.
Tecumseh grew up in the Ohio Country during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War, where he was constantly exposed to warfare. With Americans continuing to move west after the British ceded the Ohio Valley to the new United States in 1783, the Shawnee moved farther northwest. In 1808, they settled Prophetstown in present-day Indiana. With a vision of establishing an independent Native American nation east of the Mississippi under British protection, Tecumseh worked to recruit additional tribes to the confederacy from the southern United States.
During the War of 1812, Tecumseh’s confederacy allied with the British and helped in the capture of Fort Detroit. Prior to the raid, Chief Tecumseh delivered a powerful speech upon a rock that is preserved to this day at Fort Malden. After the U.S. Navy took control of Lake Erie in 1813, the Native Americans and British retreated. American forces caught them at the Battle of the Thames, and killed Tecumseh in October 1813. With his death, his confederation disintegrated, and the Native Americans had to move west again, yet Tecumseh became an iconic folk hero in American, Aboriginal and Canadian history.
Noted by Indian, American and English colleagues, allies and enemies as an inspiring orator, Tecumseh left these words to live by:
Live your life so that the fear of death can never enter your heart … Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and in the service of your people…
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…
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose lives are filled with the fear of death, so that when 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.
He rallied many tribes to his alliance by his attacks on white people:
Brothers – the white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled they are feeble and harmless, but invigorate them with warmth and they sting their benefactors to death.