[Footnote A: Niles' Register.]
There is another incident connected with the defeat of Dudley, which justice to the character of Tecumseh requires should be recorded. Shortly after he had put a stop to the horrid massacre of the prisoners, his attention was called to a small group of Indians occupied in looking at some object in their midst. Colonel Elliott observed to him, "Yonder are four of your nation who have been taken prisoners; you may take charge of them, and dispose of them as you think proper." Tecumseh walked up to the crowd, where he found four Shawanoes, two brothers by the name of Perry, Big Jim, and the Soldier. "Friends," said he, "colonel Elliott has placed you under my charge, and I will send you back to your nation with a talk to our people." He accordingly took them on with the army as far as the river Raisin, from which point their return home would be less dangerous, and then appointed two of his followers to accompany them, with some friendly messages to the chiefs of the Shawanoe nation. They were thus discharged under their parole, not to fight against the British during the war.
Tecumseh present at the second attack on fort Meigs—his stratagem of a sham-battle to draw out general Clay—is posted in the Black swamp with two thousand warriors at the time of the attack on fort Stephenson—from thence passes by land to Malden—compels general Proctor to release an American prisoner—threatens to desert the British cause—urges an attack upon the American fleet—opposes Proctor's retreat from Malden—delivers a speech to him on that occasion.
After abandoning the siege of fort Meigs, general Proctor and Tecumseh returned to Malden, where the Canadian militia were disbanded, and the Indians, who had not already left the army, for their respective villages, were stationed at different cantonments. The Chippewas preferred going home; the Potawatamies were placed six miles up the river Rouge; the Miamis and Wyandots at Brownstown and up the Detroit river, as far as Maguaga. They were successively employed by the British commander as scouts, a party being sent regularly, once a week, to reconnoiter fort Meigs, and other points in that vicinity. They planted no corn and hunted but little, being regularly supplied with provisions from Detroit and Malden.
Early in July, the allies of the British again made their appearance in the vicinity of fort Meigs. Dickson, an influential Scotch trader among the Indians, having returned from the north-west with a large body of savages, general Proctor was urged to renew the attack on the fort, and it was accordingly done.
Late on the evening of the 20th of July, the garrison discovered the boats of the British army ascending the river. On the following morning general Clay, now in command of this post, despatched a picket guard of ten men to a point three hundred yards below the fort, where it was surprised by the Indians, and seven of the party either killed or captured. The combined army of British and Indians, were soon afterwards encamped on the north side of the river, below the old British fort Miami. For a short time, the Indians took a position in the woods, in the rear of the fort, from which they occasionally fired upon the garrison, but without doing any injury. In the night, captain William Oliver, accompanied by captain M'Cune, was sent express to general Harrison, then at Lower Sandusky, with information that fort Meigs was again invested; and, that the united force of the enemy did not fall far short of five thousand men. The general directed captain M'Cune to return to the fort, with information to the commander, that so soon as the necessary troops could be assembled, he would march to his relief. The general doubted, however, whether any serious attack was meditated against the place. He believed, and the result showed the accuracy of his judgment, that the enemy was making a feint at the Rapids, to call his attention in that direction, while Lower Sandusky or Cleveland, would be the real point of assault. On the 23d Tecumseh, with about eight hundred Indians, passed up the river, with the intention, as general Clay supposed, of attacking fort Winchester: this movement, as was subsequently ascertained, being also intended to deceive the commander of the fort. On the 25th the enemy removed to the south side of the river, and encamped behind a point of woods which partly concealed them from the view of the garrison. This, taken in connection with other circumstances, led general Clay to think that an effort would be made to carry the post by assault. Early on the morning of the 26th captain M'Cune reached the fort in safety. In the afternoon of that day, the enemy practised a well devised stratagem for the purpose of drawing general Clay and his troops from their fastness. On the Sandusky road, just before night, a heavy firing of rifles and muskets was heard: the Indian yell broke upon the ear, and the savages were seen attacking with great impetuosity a column of men, who were soon thrown into confusion; they, however, rallied, and in turn the Indians gave way. The idea flew through the fort that general Harrison was approaching with a body of reinforcements; and the troops under general Clay seized their arms, and with nearly all the officers in the garrison, demanded to be led to the support of their friends. General Clay was unable to explain the firing, but wisely concluded, from the information received in the morning by captain M'Cune, that there could be no reinforcements in the neighborhood of the fort. He had the prudent firmness to resist the earnest importunity of his officers and men, to be led to the scene of action. The enemy finding that the garrison could not be drawn out, and a heavy shower of rain beginning to fall, terminated their sham-battle. It was subsequently ascertained that this was a stratagem, devised by Tecumseh, for the purpose of decoying out a part of the force under general Clay, which was to have been attacked and cut off by the Indians; while the British troops were to carry the fort by storm. But for the opportune arrival of the express in the morning of this day, and the cool judgment of the commander, there is great reason to suppose that this admirably planned manoeuvre would have succeeded; which must have resulted in the total destruction of the garrison, the combined force of the enemy, then investing fort Meigs, being about five thousand in number, while the troops under general Clay were but a few hundred strong. The enemy remained around the fort but one day after the failure of this ingenious stratagem, and on the 28th embarked with their stores, and proceeded down the lake.
As had been anticipated by general Harrison, immediately after the siege was raised, the British troops sailed round into Sandusky bay, while a portion of the Indians marched across the land, to aid in the meditated attack upon fort Stephenson, at lower Sandusky. Tecumseh, in the mean time, with about two thousand warriors, took a position in the great swamp, between that point and fort Meigs, ready to encounter any reinforcement that might have been started to the relief of general Clay, to fall upon the camp at Seneca, or upon Upper Sandusky, according to circumstances. The gallant defence of fort Stephenson by captain Croghan, put a sudden stop to the offensive operations of the army under Proctor and Tecumseh; and very shortly afterwards transferred the scene of action to a new theatre on the Canada shore, where these commanders were, in turn, thrown upon the defensive.
Immediately after the signal defeat of general Proctor at fort Stephenson, he returned with the British troops to Malden by water, while Tecumseh and his followers passed over land round the head of lake Erie and joined him at that point. At this time, an incident occurred which illustrates the character of Tecumseh, while it shows the contumely with which he was accustomed to treat general Proctor, who did not dare to disobey him. A citizen of the United States, captain Le Croix, had fallen into the hands of Proctor, and was secreted on board one of the British vessels, until he could be sent down to Montreal. Tecumseh had a particular regard for captain Le Croix, and suspected that he had been captured. He called upon general Proctor, and in a peremptory manner demanded if he knew any thing of his friend. He even ordered the British general to tell him the truth, adding, "If I ever detect you in a falsehood, I, with my Indians, will immediately abandon you." The general was obliged to acknowledge that Le Croix was in confinement. Tecumseh, in a very imperious tone, insisted upon his immediate release. General Proctor wrote a line stating, that the "king of the woods" desired the release of captain Le Croix, and that he must be set at liberty; which was done without delay.[A]
[Footnote A: Alden Collection.]
Discouraged by the want of success, and having lost all confidence in general Proctor, Tecumseh now seriously meditated a withdrawal from the contest. He assembled the Shawanoes, Wyandots and Ottawas, who were under his command, and declared his intention to them. He told them, that at the time they took up the tomahawk and agreed to join their father, the king, they were promised plenty of white men to fight with them; "but the number is not now greater," said he, "than at the commencement of the war; and we are treated by them like the dogs of snipe hunters; we are always sent ahead to start the game: it is better that we should return to our country, and let the Americans come on and fight the British." To this proposition his followers agreed; but the Sioux and Chippewas, discovering his intention, went to him and insisted that inasmuch as he had first united with the British, and had been instrumental in bringing their tribes into the alliance, he ought not to leave them; and through their influence he was finally induced to remain.[A]
[Footnote A: Anthony Shane.]
Tecumseh was on the island of Bois Blanc, in the Detroit river, when commodore Perry made the first display of his fleet before Malden. He appeared much pleased at the appearance of these vessels, and assured the Indians by whom he was surrounded, that the British fleet would soon destroy them. The Indians hastened to the shore to witness the contest, but the harbour of Malden presented no evidence that commodore Barclay intended to meet the American commander. Tecumseh launched his canoe, and crossed over to Malden to make enquiries on the subject. He called on general Proctor, and adverting to the apparent unwillingness of commodore Barclay to attack the American fleet, he said "a few days since, you were boasting that you commanded the waters—why do you not go out and meet the Americans? See yonder, they are waiting for you, and daring you to meet them: you must and shall send out your fleet and fight them." Upon his return to the island, he stated to the Indians, with apparent chagrin, that "the big canoes of their great father were not yet ready, and that the destruction of the Americans must be delayed for a few days."[A]
[Footnote A: Ibid.]
When the battle was finally fought, it was witnessed by the Indians from the shore. On the day succeeding the engagement, general Proctor said to Tecumseh, "my fleet has whipped the Americans, but the vessels being much injured, have gone into Put-in Bay to refit, and will be here in a few days." This deception, however, upon the Indians, was not of long duration. The sagacious eye of Tecumseh soon perceived indications of a retreat from Malden, and he promptly enquired into the matter. General Proctor informed him that he was only going to send their valuable property up the Thames, where it would meet a reinforcement, and be safe. Tecumseh, however, was not to be deceived by this shallow device; and remonstrated most urgently against a retreat. He finally demanded, in the name of all the Indians under his command, to be heard by the general, and, on the 18th of September, delivered to him, as the representative of their great father, the king, the following speech:
"Father, listen to your children! you have them now all before you.
"The war before this, our British father gave the hatchet to his red children, when our old chiefs were alive. They are now dead. In that war our father was thrown on his back by the Americans; and our father took them by the hand without our knowledge; and we are afraid that our father will do so again at this time.
"Summer before last, when I came forward with my red brethren and was ready to take up the hatchet in favor of our British father, we were told not to be in a hurry, that he had not yet determined to fight the Americans.
"Listen! when war was declared, our father stood up and gave us the tomahawk, and told us that he was then ready to strike the Americans; that he wanted our assistance, and that he would certainly get our lands back, which the Americans had taken from us.
"Listen! you told us at that time, to bring forward our families to this place, and we did so; and you promised to take care of them, and they should want for nothing, while the men would go and fight the enemy; that we need not trouble ourselves about the enemy's garrisons; that we knew nothing about them, and that our father would attend to that part of the business. You also told your red children that you would take good care of your garrison here, which made our hearts glad.
"Listen! when we were last at the Rapids, it is true we gave you little assistance. It is hard to fight people who live like ground-hogs.
"Father, listen! our fleet has gone out; we know they have fought; we have heard the great guns; but we know nothing of what has happened to our father with one arm.[A] Our ships have gone one way, and we are much astonished to see our father tying up every thing and preparing to run away the other, without letting his red children know what his intentions are. You always told us to remain here and take care of our lands; it made our hearts glad to hear that was your wish. Our great father, the king, is the head, and you represent him. You always told us you would never draw your foot off British ground; but now, father, we see that you are drawing back, and we are sorry to see our father doing so without seeing the enemy. We must compare our father's conduct to a fat dog, that carries his tail on its back, but when affrighted, drops it between its legs and runs off.
"Father, listen! the Americans have not yet defeated us by land; neither are we sure that they have done so by water; we, therefore, wish to remain here and fight our enemy, should they make their appearance. If they defeat us, we will then retreat with our father.
"At the battle of the Rapids, last war, the Americans certainly defeated us; and when we returned to our father's fort at that place, the gates were shut against us. We were afraid that it would now be the case; but instead of that, we now see our British father preparing to march out of his garrison.
"Father, you have got the arms and ammunition which our great father sent for his red children. If you have an idea of going away, give them to us, and you may go and welcome, for us. Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it be his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them."
[Footnote A: Commodore Barclay, who had lost an arm in some previous battle.]
General Proctor, in disregarding the advice of Tecumseh, lost his only opportunity of making an effective resistance to the American army. Had the troops under general Harrison been attacked by the British and Indians at the moment of their landing on the Canada shore, the result might have been far different from that which was shortly afterwards witnessed on the banks of the Thames. Of the authenticity of this able speech, there is no doubt. It has been the cause of some surprise that it should have been preserved by general Proctor, and translated into English, especially as it speaks of the commander of the allied army in terms the most disrespectful. We are enabled to state, on the authority of John Chambers, Esq. of Washington, Kentucky, who was one of the aids of general Harrison in the campaign of 1813, that the speech as given above, is truly translated; and was actually delivered to general Proctor under the circumstances above related. When the battle of the Thames had been fought, the British commander sought safety in flight. He was pursued by colonels Wood, Chambers, and Todd, and three or four privates. He escaped, but his baggage was captured. Colonel Chambers was present when his port-folio was opened, and among the papers, a translation of this speech was found. In remarking upon the fact subsequently, to some of the British officers, they stated to colonel Chambers that the speech was undoubtedly genuine; and that general Proctor had ordered it to be translated and exhibited to his officers, for the purpose of showing them the insolence with which he was treated by Tecumseh, and the necessity he was under of submitting to every species of indignity from him, to prevent that chief from withdrawing his forces from the contest or turning his army against the British troops.
Retreat of the combined British and Indian army to the river Thames—skirmish at Chatham with the troops under general Harrison—Tecumseh slightly wounded in the arm—battle on the Thames on the 5th of October—Tecumseh's death.
Shortly after the delivery of the speech quoted in the foregoing chapter, a considerable body of Indians abandoned general Proctor, and crossed the strait to the American shore. Tecumseh himself again manifested a disposition to take his final leave of the British service. Embittered by the perfidy of Proctor, his men suffering from want of clothes and provisions, with the prospect of a disgraceful flight before them, he was strongly inclined to withdraw with his followers; and leave the American general to chastise in a summary manner those who had so repeatedly deceived him and his Indian followers. The Sioux and Chippewas, however, again objected to this course. They could not, they said, withdraw, and there was no other leader but Tecumseh, in whom they placed confidence: they insisted that he was the person who had originally induced them to join the British, and that he ought not to desert them in the present extremity. Tecumseh, in reply to this remonstrance remarked, that the battlefield had no terrors for him; he feared not death, and if they insisted upon it, he would remain with them.
General Proctor now proposed to the Indians to remove their women and children to McGee's, opposite the river Rouge, where they would be furnished with their winter's clothing and the necessary supplies of food. To this proposition, Tecumseh yielded a reluctant assent; doubting, as he did, the truth of the statement. When they were about to start, he observed to young Jim Blue-Jacket, "we are now going to follow the British, and I feel well assured, that we shall never return." When they arrived at McGee's, Tecumseh found that there were no stores provided for them, as had been represented. Proctor made excuses; and again pledged himself to the Indians, that if they would go with him to the Thames, they would there find an abundance of every thing needful to supply their wants; besides a reinforcement of British troops, and a fort ready for their reception.[A]
[Footnote A: Anthony Shane.]
The retreat was continued towards the Thames. On the second of October, when the army had reached Dalson's farm, Proctor and Tecumseh, attended by a small guard, returned to examine the ground at a place called Chatham, where a deep, unfordable creek falls into the Thames. They were riding together in a gig, and after making the necessary examination, the ground was approved of; and general Proctor remarked, upon that spot they would either defeat general Harrison or there lay their bones. With this determination Tecumseh was highly pleased, and said, "it was a good place, and when he should look at the two streams, they would remind him of the Wabash and the Tippecanoe." Perhaps no better position could have been chosen for meeting the American army than this place presented. The allied force of British and Indians, had they made a stand upon it, would have been protected in front by a deep unfordable stream, while their right flank would have been covered by the Thames, and their left by a swamp. But general Proctor changed his mind; and leaving Tecumseh with a body of Indians to defend the passage of the stream, moved forward with the main army. Tecumseh made a prompt and judicious arrangement of his forces; but it is said that his Indians, in the skirmish which ensued, did not sustain their previous reputation as warriors. It is probable, however, that their leader did not intend to make any decided resistance to the American troops at this point, not being willing that general Proctor and his army should escape a meeting with the enemy. In this action Tecumseh was slightly wounded in the arm by a ball. General Harrison, in his official report of this affair, says:
"Below a place called Chatham, and four miles above Dalson's, is the third unfordable branch of the Thames: the bridge over its mouth had been taken up by the Indians, as well as that at M'Gregor's mills, one mile above—several hundred of the Indians remained to dispute our passage, and upon the arrival of the advanced guard, commenced a heavy fire from the opposite bank of the creek, as well as that of the river. Believing that the whole force of the enemy was there, I halted the army, formed in order of battle, and brought up our two six pounders, to cover the party that were ordered to repair the bridge. A few shot from these pieces soon drove off the Indians, and enabled us in two hours to repair the bridge and cross the troops. Colonel Johnson's mounted regiment being upon the right of the army, had seized the remains of the bridge at the mills, under a heavy fire from the Indians. Our loss upon this occasion was two killed, and three or four wounded; that of the enemy was ascertained to be considerably greater. A house near the bridge, containing a very considerable number of muskets, had been set on fire; but it was extinguished by our troops and the arms saved."
Tecumseh and his party overtook they main army near the Moravian towns, situated on the north side of the Thames. Here he resolved that he would retreat no further; and the ground being favorable for forming the line of battle, he communicated his determination to general Proctor, and compelled him, as there is every reason for believing, to put an end to his retreat, and prepare for meeting the pursuing army. After the Indians were posted in the swamp, in the position occupied by them during the battle, Tecumseh remarked to the chiefs by whom he was surrounded, "brother warriors! we are now about to enter into an engagement from which I shall never come out—my body will remain on the field of battle." He then unbuckled his sword, and placing it in the hands of one of them, said, "when my son becomes a noted warrior, and able to wield a sword, give this to him." He then laid aside his British military dress, and took his place in the line, clothed only in the ordinary deer-skin hunting shirt.[A]
[Footnote A: Anthony Shane, and colonel Baubee of the British army.]
The position selected by the enemy was eminently judicious. The British troops, amounting to eight or nine hundred, were posted with their left upon the river, which was unfordable at that point; their right extended to and across a swamp, and united them with the Indians, under Tecumseh, amounting to near eighteen hundred. The British artillery was placed in the road along the margin of the river, near to the left of their line. At from two to three hundred yards from the river, a swamp extends nearly parallel to it, the intermediate ground being dry. This position of the enemy, with his flank protected on the left by the river and on the right by the swamp, filled with Indians, being such as to prevent the wings from being turned, general Harrison made arrangements to concentrate his forces against the British line. The first division, under major general Henry, was formed in three lines at one hundred yards from each other; the front line consisting of Trotter's brigade, the second of Chiles', and the reserve of King's brigade. These lines were in front of, and parallel to, the British troops. The second division, under major general Desha, composed of Allen's and Caldwell's brigades, was formed en potence, or at right angles to the first division. Governor Shelby, as senior major general of the Kentucky troops, was posted at this crotchet, formed between the first and second divisions. Colonel Simrall's regiment of light infantry was formed in reserve, obliquely to the first division, and covering the rear of the front division; and, after much reflection as to the disposition to be made of colonel Johnson's mounted troops, they were directed, as soon as the front line advanced, to take ground to the left, and forming upon that flank, to endeavor to turn the right of the Indians. A detachment of regular troops, of the 26th United States infantry, under colonel Paul, occupied the space between the road and the river, for the purpose of seizing the enemy's artillery; and, simultaneously with this movement, forty friendly Indians were to pass under the bank of the stream to the rear of the British line, and by their fire and war-cry, induce the enemy to think their own Indians were turning against them. At the same time, colonel Wood had been instructed to make preparations for using the enemy's artillery, and to rake their own line by a flank fire. By refusing the left or second division, the Indians were kept in the air, that is, in a position in which they would be useless. It will be seen, as the commander anticipated, that they waited in their position the advance of the second division, while the British left was contending with the American right. Johnson's corps consisted of nine hundred men, and the five brigades under governor Shelby amounted to near eighteen hundred, in all, not exceeding two thousand seven hundred men.
In the midst of these arrangements, and just as the order was about to be given to the front line to advance, at the head of which general Harrison had placed himself with his staff, colonel Wood approached him with intelligence, that having reconnoitered the enemy, he had ascertained the singular fact, that the British lines, instead of the usual close order, were drawn up at open order. This fact at once induced general Harrison to adopt the novel expedient of charging the British lines with Johnson's mounted regiment. "I was within a few feet of him," says the gallant colonel John O'Fallon, "when the report of colonel Wood was made, and he instantly remarked, that he would make a novel movement by ordering colonel Johnson's mounted regiment to charge the British line of regulars, which, thus drawn up, contrary to the habits and usages of that description of troops, always accustomed to the touch, could be easily penetrated and thrown into confusion, by a spirited charge of colonel Johnson's regiment." This determination was presently made known to the colonel, who was directed to draw up his regiment in close column, with its right fifty yards from the road—that it might be partially protected by the trees from the artillery—its left upon the swamp, and to charge at full speed upon the enemy.
At this juncture, general Harrison, with his aids-de-camp, attended likewise by general Cass and commodore Perry, advanced from the right of the front line of infantry, to the right of the front column of mounted troops, led by colonel James Johnson. The general, personally, gave the direction for the charge to be made. "When the right battalion of the mounted men received the first fire of the British, the horses in the front column recoiled; another fire was given by the enemy, but our column getting in motion, broke through the enemy with irresistible force. In one minute the contest was over. The British officers seeing no prospect of reducing their disordered ranks to order, and seeing the advance of the infantry, and our mounted men wheeling upon them and pouring in a destructive fire, immediately surrendered."[A]
[Footnote A: Official Despatch.]
Colonel Richard M. Johnson, by the extension of his line, was brought in contact with the Indians, upon whom he gallantly charged, but was unfortunately severely wounded by the first fire of the enemy, and was immediately taken off the field, not, however, it has been stated, until he had despatched an Indian by a pistol shot. The fire of the Indians having made some impression upon Johnson's men, and upon the left of Trotter's brigade, general Harrison despatched an order to governor Shelby to bring up Simrall's regiment to reinforce the point pressed by the Indians; and then the general passed to the left, to superintend the operations in that quarter. The governor, however, had anticipated the wishes of his commander, being in the act of leading up the regiment, when the order reached him. He and the general met near the crochet, where after a severe contest of several minutes, the battle finally ceased. The particulars of the charge made by colonel Johnson on the Indians, are thus given by an intelligent officer[A] of his corps. In a letter to the late governor Wickliffe of Kentucky, under date of Frankfort, September 7, 1840, he says:
"I was at the head or right of my company, on horseback, waiting orders, at about fifty or sixty yards from the line of the enemy. Colonel Johnson rode up and explained to me the mode of attack, and said in substance, 'captain Davidson, I am directed by general Harrison to charge and break through the Indian line, and form in the rear. My brother James will charge in like manner through the British line at the same time. The sound of the trumpet will be the signal for the charge.' In a few minutes the trumpet sounded, and the word 'charge' was given by colonel Johnson. The colonel charged within a few paces of me. We struck the Indian line obliquely, and when we approached within ten or fifteen yards of their line, the Indians poured in a heavy fire upon us, killing ten or fifteen of our men and several horses, and wounded colonel Johnson very severely. He immediately retired. Doctor Theobald, of Lexington, (I think) aided him off."
[Footnote A: Captain James Davidson, of Kentucky.—See Cincinnati Republican.]
The loss of the Americans in this battle was about twenty killed and between thirty and forty wounded. The British had eighteen killed and twenty-six wounded. The Indians left on the ground between fifty and sixty killed; and, estimating the usual proportion for the wounded, it was probably more than double that number.
The British official account of this action is not before us. In a general order under date of Montreal, November 21, 1813, the adjutant general of the English forces, bears testimony to the good conduct of the Indian warriors, who gallantly maintained the conflict under the brave chief Tecumseh. This tribute to the Indians and their leader is well merited. Had general Proctor and his troops fought with the same valor that marked the conduct of Tecumseh and his men, the results of the day would have been far more creditable to the British arms. It has already been stated that Tecumseh entered this battle with a strong conviction on his mind that he should not survive it. Further flight he deemed disgraceful, while the hope of victory in the impending action, was feeble and distant. He, however, heroically resolved to achieve the latter or die in the effort. With this determination, he took his stand among his followers, raised the war-cry and boldly met the enemy. From the commencement of the attack on the Indian line, his voice was distinctly heard by his followers, animating them to deeds worthy of the race to which they belonged. When that well known voice was heard no longer above the din of arms, the battle ceased. The British troops having already surrendered, and the gallant leader of the Indians having fallen, they gave up the contest and fled. A short distance from where Tecumseh fell, the body of his friend and brother-in-law, Wasegoboah, was found. They had often fought side by side, and now, in front of their men, bravely battling the enemy, they side by side closed their mortal career.[A]
[Footnote A: Anthony Shane.]
James, a British historian,[A] in his account of the battle of the Thames, makes the following remarks upon the character and personal appearance of Tecumseh.
"Thus fell the Indian warrior Tecumseh, in the 44th year of his age. He was of the Shawanoe tribe, five feet ten inches high, and with more than the usual stoutness, possessed all the agility and perseverance of the Indian character. His carriage was dignified, his eye penetrating, his countenance, which even in death, betrayed the indications of a lofty spirit, rather of the sterner cast. Had he not possessed a certain austerity of manners, he could never have controlled the wayward passions of those who followed him to battle. He was of a silent habit; but when his eloquence became roused into action by the reiterated encroachments of the Americans, his strong intellect could supply him with a flow of oratory that enabled him, as he governed in the field, so to prescribe in the council. Those who consider that in all territorial questions, the ablest diplomatists of the United States are sent to negociate with the Indians, will readily appreciate the loss sustained by the latter in the death of their champion. * * * * Such a man was the unlettered savage, Tecumseh, and such a man have the Indians lost forever. He has left a son, who, when his father fell, was about seventeen years old, and fought by his side. The prince regent, in 1814, out of respect to the memory of the old, sent out as a present to the young, Tecumseh, a handsome sword. Unfortunately, however, for the Indian cause and country, faint are the prospects that Tecumseh the son, will ever equal, in wisdom or prowess, Tecumseh the father."
[Footnote A: Military Occurrences of the Late War.]
Mr. James (p. 295,) asserts, that Tecumseh was not only scalped, but that his body was actually flayed, and the skin converted into razor-straps by the Kentuckians. We fear there is too much truth in this statement. It is confirmed by the testimony of several American officers and privates, who were in the battle of the Thames. It is painful to make an admission of this kind, but truth forbids the suppression of a fact, when fairly established, however revolting to the feelings of humanity, or degrading to a people. That there was any general participation of our troops in this inhuman and revolting deed, is not for a moment to be supposed. That it was the act of a few vulgar and brutish individuals, is, we think, just as certain, as that the great mass of the army were shocked at its perpetration. It is to be regretted that the names of the persons who committed this outrage have not been preserved, that their conduct on this occasion might have been held up to universal condemnation.
Critical examination of the question "who killed Tecumseh?"—colonel R. M. Johnson's claim considered.
Tecumseh was a determined and subtle enemy of the United States, and during the palmy days of his bold career, wielded an influence over the north-western Indians which belonged to no other chief. His death was consequently an important circumstance in relation to the peace and safety of the frontiers. But whether he fell by a pistol shot from a field officer, or a rifle ball from a private soldier, however interesting as a matter of personal history, is certainly not one of national importance. Nevertheless, the question by whose hands he fell, has engaged public attention to some considerable extent ever since the memorable battle of the Thames. Its discussion has not been confined to the immediate friends of the several aspirants for the honor of having slain this distinguished warrior; it has enlivened the political canvass, and the halls of legislation; occupied the columns of journals and magazines, and filled no inconsiderable space on the pages of American and British histories. Under such circumstances, and as directly connected with the present biography, a fair presentation of all the testimony bearing on the case will now be attempted. It may at least gratify the public curiosity, if it do not definitively settle the long pending question in relation to the actual slayer of Tecumseh.
M'Affee, in his History of the Late War, says, Tecumseh "was found among the dead, at the point where colonel Johnson had charged upon the enemy, in person, and it is generally believed, that this celebrated chief fell by the hand of the colonel. It is certain that the latter killed the Indian with his pistol, who shot him through his hand, at the very spot where Tecumseh lay; but another dead body lay at the same place, and Mr. King, a soldier in captain Davidson's company, had the honor of killing one of them."
Brown, in his history of the same war, says, that "colonel Johnson, after receiving four wounds, perceived the daring Tecumseh commanding and attempting to rally his savage force; when he instantly put his horse towards him, and was shot by Tecumseh in the hand, as he approached him. Tecumseh advanced with a drawn weapon, a sword or tomahawk, at which instant the colonel, having reserved his fire, shot his ferocious antagonist dead at his feet; and that too, at the moment he was almost fainting with the loss of blood and the anguish of five wounds."
The statement of Shawbeneh, a Potawatamie chief, lately published in the "Chicago Democrat," goes to prove that Tecumseh was wounded in the neck; and telling his warriors that he must die, rushed forward to kill colonel Johnson. Shawbeneh saw him fall, having been shot by the colonel, just as his arm had reached the necessary height to strike the fatal blow. Shawbeneh says that colonel Johnson was riding a large white horse, with occasionally a jet black spot. He further states that Tecumseh's body was not mutilated by the American troops.
The testimony of another Potawatamie chief, Chamblee, as furnished us by captain Robert Anderson, of the U.S. army, is to this effect:
He saw Tecumseh engaged in a personal rencontre with a soldier armed with a musket; that the latter made a thrust at the chief, who caught the bayonet under his arm, where he held it, and was in the act of striking his opponent with his tomahawk, when a horseman rode up, and shot Tecumseh dead with a pistol. The horseman had a red feather, (plume) in his hat, and was mounted on a spotted or red-roan horse; he further says, that he saw the body of Tecumseh a day or two after the battle, and that it was not mutilated.
In a work entitled "History of the Indian Tribes of North America," there is the following note:
"A Potawatamie chief was thus questioned: Were you at the battle of the Thames? Yes. Did you know Tecumseh? Yes. Were you near him in the fight? Yes. Did you see him fall? Yes. Who shot him? Don't know. Did you see the man that shot him? Yes. What sort of looking man was he? Short, thick man. What color was the horse he rode? Most white. How do you know this man shot Tecumseh? I saw the man ride up—saw his horse get tangled in some bushes—when the horse was most still, I saw Tecumseh level his rifle at the man and shoot—the man shook on his horse—soon the horse got out of the bushes, and the man spurred him up—horse came slow—Tecumseh right before him—man's left hand hung down—just as he got near, Tecumseh lifted his tomahawk and was going to throw it, when the man shot him with a short gun (pistol)—Tecumseh fell dead and we all ran."
Mr. Garrett Wall, of Kentucky, who participated in the battle of the Thames, says:
" —— The men by this time had collected in groups; and it was remarked that colonel R. M. Johnson was dead, but I contradicted the report; also, that the great Indian commander, Tecumseh, was slain; I asked by what authority? I was told that Anthony Shane, who had known him from a small boy, said so, and had seen him among the slain. In a short time I saw Shane with a small group of men, walking towards a dead Indian; as he approached the body, I asked him if he knew that Indian. He said it was, in his opinion, Tecumseh; but he could tell better if the blood was taken from his face. I examined the Indian. He was shot in the left side of the breast with several balls or buck shot, all entering near and above the left nipple. There was also a wound in his head, too small for a rifle ball to make."
Atwater, in his History of Ohio, remarks, that two Winnebago chiefs, Four-Legs and Carymaunee, told him, that Tecumseh, at the commencement of the battle of the Thames, lay with his warriors in a thicket of underbrush on the left of the American army, and that they were, at no period of the battle, out of their covert—that no officer was seen between them and the American troops—that Tecumseh fell the very first fire of the Kentucky dragoons, pierced by thirty bullets, and was carried four or five miles into the thick woods and there buried by the warriors, who told the story of his fate.
In 1838, a writer in the Baltimore American published Black Hawk's account of the fall of Tecumseh. It is as follows:
" —— Shortly after this, the Indian spies came in and gave word of the near approach of the Americans. Tecumseh immediately posted his men in the edge of a swamp, which flanked the British line, placing himself at their head. I was a little to his right with a small party of Sauks. It was not long before the Americans made their appearance; they did not perceive us at first, hid as we were by the undergrowth, but we soon let them know where we were, by pouring in one or two vollies as they were forming into line to oppose the British. They faltered a little; but very soon we perceived a large body of horse (colonel Johnson's regiment of mounted Kentuckians) preparing to charge upon us in the swamp. They came bravely on; yet we never stirred until they were so close that we could see the flints in their guns, when Tecumseh, springing to his feet, gave the Shawanoe war-cry, and discharged his rifle. This was the signal for us to commence the battle, but it did not last long; the Americans answered the shout, returning our fire, and at the first discharge of their guns, I saw Tecumseh stagger forwards over a fallen tree, near which he was standing, letting his rifle drop at his feet. As soon as the Indians discovered that he was killed, a sudden fear came over them, and thinking the Great Spirit was angry, they fought no longer, and were quickly put to flight. That night we returned to bury our dead; and search for the body of Tecumseh. He was found lying where he had first fallen; a bullet had struck him above the hip, and his skull had been broken by the butt end of the gun of some soldier, who had found him, perhaps, when life was not yet quite gone. With the exception of these wounds, his body was untouched: lying near him was a large fine looking Potawatamie, who had been killed, decked off in his plumes and war-paint, whom the Americans no doubt had taken for Tecumseh for he was scalped and every particle of skin flayed from his body. Tecumseh himself had no ornaments about, his person, save a British medal. During the night, we buried our dead, and brought off the body of Tecumseh, although we were in sight of the fires of the American camp."
James, a British historian,[A] after describing the battle of the Thames, remarks:
"It seems extraordinary that general Harrison should have omitted to mention in his letter, the death of a chief, whose fall contributed so largely to break down the Indian spirit, and to give peace and security to the whole north-western frontier of the United States. Tecumseh, although he had received a musket ball in the left arm, was still seeking the hottest of the fire, when he encountered colonel Richard M. Johnson, member of congress from Kentucky. Just as the chief, having discharged his rifle, was rushing forward with his tomahawk, he received a ball in the head from the colonel's pistol. Thus fell the Indian warrior, Tecumseh, in the forty-fourth year of his age. * * * * The body of Tecumseh was recognized, not only by the British officers, who were prisoners, but by commodore Perry, and several American officers."
[Footnote A; "Military Occurrences of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States, by William James, 2 vols. London, 1818."]
This writer adds, that Tecumseh was scalped and his body flayed by the Kentuckians.
In Butler's History of Kentucky, there is a letter from the reverend Obediah B. Brown, of Washington city, then a clerk in the general post-office, under date of 18th September, 1834, in which the writer says, in substance:
That colonel Johnson, while leading the advance upon the left wing of the Indians, saw an Indian commander, who appeared to be a rallying point for his savage companions, and whose costume indicated the superiority of his rank; that colonel Johnson, sitting upon his horse, covered with wounds and very feint with the loss of blood, and having a pistol in his right hand loaded with a ball and three buck-shot, thought that the fate of the battle depended upon killing this formidable chief, and he accordingly rode round a fallen tree for this purpose; that the chief, perceiving his approach, levelled his rifle and shot the colonel in the left hand; that the colonel continued to advance upon him, and at the moment when the Indian was raising his tomahawk, shot him dead with his pistol; that this deed spread consternation among the savages, and with hideous yells, they began from that point their retreat; that as soon as the battle ended, the Indian killed by colonel Johnson was recognized as Tecumseh; and before the colonel had so far recovered from the effects of his wounds as to be able to speak, word ran through the army that he had killed Tecumseh; and finally, that a medal was taken from the body which was known to have been presented to this chief by the British government. Mr. Brown further states, that a conversation which he had with Anthony Shane, some years since, strengthened his belief that Tecumseh fell by the hand of colonel Johnson; that Shane told him he went, after the battle, to the spot where it was reported the colonel had killed an Indian, and there he saw the dead body of Tecumseh, and that he must have been killed by a horseman, as a ball and three buck-shot had entered the breast and passed downwards; that he could not be mistaken as to the body of Tecumseh, as he had a remarkable scar upon his thigh, which, upon examination, was found as he had described it.
By recurring to the foregoing statements, it will be seen that eight Indians have borne testimony in relation to the death of Tecumseh. Of these, four assert that he was killed by the first fire from the American line; and four that he fell by the hands of a horseman, some time after the commencement of the action. One of these witnesses states that Tecumseh was shot in the neck; another, that he was hit above or in the eyes; two others that he was killed by a ball in the hip; and again two others, that he was pierced by thirty bullets on the first fire of our troops. Three of these witnesses testify that the body of the fallen chief was mutilated by taking the skin from off the thigh, and three that it was not. One of them saw the body the day after the action, lying on the battle ground; a second bears witness that it was buried on the spot the night of the battle; and a third, that it was carried four or five miles into the woods, and there interred. A further examination of the testimony will show that these eight witnesses concur but in one single point,—that Tecumseh was killed in the battle of the Thames. As to the nature of his wounds, the mutilation of his body, the time when, the spot where, and by whose hands, he fell, these various statements are wholly irreconcilable with each other, and leave the main question involved in additional doubt and obscurity.
As the claim of colonel Johnson to the honor of having killed Tecumseh, has been recently and earnestly urged upon the public consideration, we propose, even at the risk of some repetition, to examine in detail the testimony which bears upon this point.
It will be recollected that the Potawatamie chief, whose narrative is quoted from the "History of the Indian Tribes of North America," testifies that Tecumseh met his death by a wound above or in the eyes; and, that upon his fall the Indians ran. If these statements be true, Tecumseh could not have been killed by colonel Johnson, as will be satisfactorily established in the course of this examination.
Shawbeneh, another Potawatamie chief, states that Tecumseh was mortally wounded in the neck, before he rushed upon the individual who killed him. All the other witnesses, except one, say that Tecumseh remained stationary, and that the horseman who fired the fatal shot, advanced upon him.
Chamblee, the third Potawatamie who testifies in the case, states that Tecumseh was engaged in a personal conflict with a soldier armed with a musket, when a horseman, on a spotted horse, rode up and shot him dead with a pistol. This account is not sustained by any other witness.
Captain M'Affee, who belonged to the mounted regiment, and who has written a history of the late war, says, it is generally believed that Tecumseh fell by the hand of colonel Johnson; but the historian candidly admits that there was another dead Indian at the spot where Tecumseh lay, and that Mr. King, of captain Davidson's company, killed one of them. It May be questioned whether there is or ever has been any general belief,—whatever vague reports may have been circulated,—that colonel Johnson killed this chief; but even if such were the case, it does not by any means establish the allegation.
Brown, another historian of the late war, says, in general terms, that Tecumseh advanced upon the colonel with a sword or tomahawk, and that the colonel shot him dead. Tecumseh wore no sword in that action, nor did he advance upon colonel Johnson. Mr. Brown cites no authorities for his loose and general statements.
Garrett Wall testifies that he went to the spot where he was told colonel Johnson had fought, and there questioned Anthony Shane about the dead Indian before them. Shane remarked that he could tell better whether it was Tecumseh, if the blood was washed from the face. It does not appear that this was done, nor that Shane became satisfied as to the identity of the dead Indian. Mr. Wall infers that Tecumseh fell by a shot from colonel Johnson, because it was so reported, and because they both led their warriors to the charge, and the desire of victory brought them together. Mr. Wall cites no evidence to prove that the body over which Shane was doubting, fell by the colonel—a link in the chain of testimony, altogether important in making out his case.
The Rev. Obediah B. Brown, however, at Washington, is by far the most precise in his statements, of all the witnesses. But it is proper, before entering upon the examination of his testimony, to state that he was not at the battle of the Thames; and that his letter, in regard to Tecumseh's death, was written in 1834, more than twenty years after the action was fought, and upon the eve of a political campaign, in which his friend, colonel Johnson, was an aspirant for a high and honorable office. Mr. Brown, it is further proper to add, derived his information from "several persons," but he has inadvertently omitted the names of all but one.
He commences by saying, that colonel Johnson saw an Indian known to be a chief by his costume. Now it has been already shown that Tecumseh entered the action dressed in the plain deer-skin garb of his tribe, having nothing about him which would indicate his rank. The colonel thought, continues Mr. B., that the fate of the day depended upon the fall of this chief. The question might be asked whether the thoughts of colonel Johnson, at this particular juncture, became known to the witness by a logical process of ratiocination, or by a direct personal communication from his distinguished friend? He states further, that the colonel rode up within a few feet of the chief, received his fire, and then shot him dead with his pistol. This act, says the witness, caused the savages to retreat in consternation: now, the fact is well established, that the Indians, at this very point, fought bravely for twenty or twenty-five minutes after colonel Johnson was compelled, by his wounds, to leave the scene of action: it is further stated by Mr. B. that before the colonel was so far recovered from his wounds, as to be able to speak, it ran through the army that he had killed Tecumseh. Mr. Wall, who was in the action, says, that after colonel Johnson had retired from the contest, and was lifted from his horse, he said to those around him, "my brave men, the battle continues, leave me, and do not return until you bring me an account of the victory." Thus it would seem that the colonel, within a few minutes after receiving his last wound, was giving orders to his men, and in the mean time, according to Mr. B., "word ran through the army that he had killed Tecumseh." This is more remarkable, when it is recollected, that the only person, except the commanding general, who could identify the fallen chief, was Anthony Shane, and he was in a different part of the field, (on the bank of the Thames) and did not visit this part of the line until the action was entirely over! The witness further states, that no other chief of high rank was killed in this part of the line, but Tecumseh. Anthony Shane says that Tecumseh's brother-in-law, and principal chief, Wasegoboah, was killed ten or fifteen steps from where Tecumseh fell. Black Hawk also testifies, that near Tecumseh, there was lying a large, fine looking Potawatamie, decked off in his plumes and war-paint, whom the Americans mistook for Tecumseh. Mr. B. says that a medal was taken from the body of the Indian killed by colonel Johnson, which was known to have been presented by the British government to Tecumseh. Where is the authority for this? When Shane was examining the body, and so much in doubt whether it was Tecumseh as to require the blood to be washed from the face, before he could decide with certainty, where was this medal, which of itself would have settled the question of identity? It is singular, that neither Shane nor Wall speaks of a medal. Mr. B. says that Tecumseh was killed by a ball and three buckshot, fired by a horseman, and as colonel Johnson was the only person in that part of the battle who fought on horseback, his pistols being loaded with a ball and three buckshot, settles the question, that the colonel killed Tecumseh. Again, the question may be asked, how Mr. B. knows the fact as to the manner in which these pistols were loaded? And if they were so loaded, who can say whether the chief was killed by this shot, the wound in the eyes, that in the neck, or the one in the hip? But again; colonel Johnson was not the only person who fought on horseback in this part of the battle. He led a "forlorn hope" of twenty men, all mounted; while on his left was Davidson's company of one hundred and forty men, also on horseback. Mr. Wall, who was one of the "forlorn hope," says, "the fighting became very severe, each party mingling with the other." Finally, Mr. B. closes his testimony with the remark, that it was well known and acknowledged, by the British and Indians, at the time, that Tecumseh received his death from the hand of colonel Johnson, as appears by James' History of the Late War. It is stated by the historian here cited, that colonel Johnson shot Tecumseh in the head—that the body was recognized not only by the British officers who were prisoners, but by commodore Perry and several other American officers: Mr. James also expresses his surprise that general Harrison should have omitted, in his official letter to the War Department, to mention the death of this chief. Now, we have the authority of several American officers, of high rank, for stating, that these British officers were not, on the evening of the day on which the action was fought, in that part of the line where Tecumseh fell; and that early on the ensuing morning, they were taken to a house two miles below the battle ground, and from thence to Detroit, without returning to the scene of their defeat, Mr. James is, therefore, incorrect on this point, as he certainly is, in saying that commodore Perry and other American officers recognized the body of Tecumseh. The commodore had never seen this chief prior to the afternoon of the battle in which he fell. General Harrison, it is believed, was the only American officer in the engagement, who had a personal knowledge of Tecumseh. The day after the battle, the general, attended by several of his officers, visited the battle ground. The body of the Indian, supposed to be that of Tecumseh, was pointed out to him, but owing to its swollen condition, he was unable to say whether it was Tecumseh, or a Potawatamie chief, who usually visited Vincennes in company with him: he felt confident it was one of the two, but further than this could not pronounce with certainty. Mr. James and Anthony Shane are Mr. Brown's chief witnesses. The first states that Tecumseh was shot with a musket ball in the arm, and finally killed by a ball in the head from colonel Johnson's pistol: the second testifies that he fell by a ball and three buckshot which entered his left breast, and that he was wounded in no other part: the former says that Tecumseh's body was literally flayed—the latter, that only a small piece of skin was cut from one of his thighs.[A] It remains for Mr. Brown to reconcile these glaring discrepancies in the testimony of his own witnesses. If this dissection of Mr. Brown's elaborated letter, presents him more in the light of the partizan advocate than that of the faithful historian, we are not responsible for it; and if he has failed to establish the fact that colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh, he must probably look for the reason of that failure in the weakness of his claims, rather than in any lack of zeal in advocating the colonel's cause.
[Footnote A: See James Military Occurrences, and Anthony Shane's Narrative.]
Our analysis of the testimony which has at different times been brought before the public, tending to establish the supposition that Tecumseh fell by the hands of colonel Johnson, is now closed; and we think it will be admitted, in reviewing the case, that the claims of the colonel have not been satisfactorily established, either by direct or circumstantial evidence. But we have further testimony to offer on this point.
It is proved by a number of witnesses, and among them several who are relied upon to establish the fact, that colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh, that upon the fall of this chief, the action ceased and the Indians fled.
Even the reverend Mr. Brown admits such to have been the case. Now, we propose to show that colonel Johnson was wounded and retired from the scene of action at its commencement; and that the contest lasted for twenty or thirty minutes afterwards. As to the first point, captain Davidson, who was by the side of colonel Johnson, says, "We struck the Indian line obliquely, and when we approached within ten or fifteen yards of their line, the Indians poured in a heavy fire upon us, killing ten or fifteen of our men and several horses, and wounding colonel Johnson very severely. He immediately retired."[A] Colonel Ambrose Dudley says, "As I passed to the left, near the crochet, after the firing had ceased on the right, I met colonel R.M. Johnson passing diagonally from the swamp towards the line of infantry, and spoke with him. He said he was badly wounded, his gray mare bleeding profusely in several places. The battle continued with the Indians on the left. The infantry, with some of colonel R. M. Johnson's troops mixed up promiscuously with them, continued the battle for half an hour after colonel Johnson was disabled and had ceased to command his men."[B] Doctor S. Theobald, of Lexington, Kentucky, one of the surgeons to the mounted regiment, says, "colonel Johnson was wounded in the onset of the battle. I had the honor to compose one of his 'forlorn hope,' and followed him in the charge. It is impossible, under such circumstances, to estimate time with precision; but I know the period was a very brief one from the firing of the first guns, which indeed was tremendously heavy, till colonel Johnson approached me covered with wounds, but still mounted. I think he said to me, I am severely wounded, which way shall I go? That I replied, follow me, which he did: and I conducted him directly across the swamp, on the margin of which we had charged, and to the point where doctor Mitchell, surgeon-general of Shelby's corps, was stationed. Some one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards in the rear, colonel Johnson was taken from his horse. He appeared faint and much exhausted. I asked him if he would have water, to which he answered, yes. I cast about immediately for some, but there was none at hand, nor any thing that I could see to bring it in, better than a common funnel, which I saw lying on the ground, and which I seized and ran to the river, (Thames) a distance probably of one hundred yards or more; and closing the extremity of the funnel with my finger, made use of it as a cup, from which I gave him drink. In a few minutes after this, Garret Wall, who also composed one of the 'forlorn hope,' and was thrown from his horse in the charge, came and solicited me to return with him to the ground on which we had charged, to aid him in recovering his lost saddle-bags. I assented. We crossed the narrow swamp, to which I have before alluded, and had not progressed far, before we came to the body of one of our men who had been killed, and who I recognized as Mansfield, of captain Stucker's company: a little further, that of Scott, of Coleman's company; and progressing some forty or fifty steps (it may have been more,) in advance of that, we found our venerable and brave old comrade, colonel Whitley, who was also of the 'forlorn hope.' Near him, in a moment, I well remember to have noticed, with a feeling and exclamation of exultation, the body of an Indian; and some twenty or thirty steps in advance of this, another Indian, which last was afterwards designated as the body of Tecumseh. I distinctly recollect, that as we returned to make this search, the firing was still kept up some distance off on our left"[C]
[Footnote A: Cincinnati Republican, 30th September, 1840]
[Footnote B: See Cincinnati Republican, 30th September, 1840. ]
[Footnote C: Dr. Theobald's letter, dated 27th November, 1840, in possession of the author of this work.]
Testimony on these points might be multiplied, but could add nothing to the force of that which is here cited. The letter of Dr. Theobald is conclusive as to the time when colonel Johnson was wounded, and the period during which the action continued after he retired from the battle ground. It seems the colonel was disabled at the beginning of the action with the Indians, and immediately rode from the field; that the action lasted for near half an hour; that Tecumseh fell at or near the close of it; and that he could not, therefore, have fallen by the hand of colonel Johnson. Whether the leader of the "forlorn hope" can claim the credit of having actually killed an Indian chief on this memorable day, is not the immediate question before us: that he acted with dauntless bravery, in promptly charging the Indian line, during the brief period which he remained unwounded, is universally admitted; but that he is entitled to the honor, (if such it may be called,) of having personally slain the gifted "king of the woods," will not be so readily conceded.
James, the British historian, from whose "Military Occurrences" we have already quoted, having charged general Harrison with designedly omitting, in his official report, all reference to the death of Tecumseh, leaves the inference to be drawn by the reader, that the omission was prompted by a feeling of envy towards colonel Johnson, who had done the deed. It is due to the cause of truth, not less than to the reputation of the American commander, that this charge should be impartially examined. It is true, that the official account of the battle of the Thames does not mention the death of Tecumseh, and the propriety of this omission will be sufficiently obvious from the following narrative.
General Harrison and Anthony Shane, so far as it is known, were the only persons in the American army who were personally acquainted with Tecumseh. It is possible that some of the friendly Indians, commanded by Shane, may have known him; but it does not appear that any of them undertook to identify the body after the battle was over. Shane was under the impression, on the evening of the action, that he had found the body of Tecumseh among the slain; but, as Mr. Wall testifies, expressed himself with caution. General Harrison himself was not, on the following day, enabled to identify with certainty the body of this chief, as appears from the testimony of a member of the general's military family, which we here quote, as having a direct bearing on the question under consideration:
"I am authorised," says colonel Charles S. Todd,[A] "by several officers of general Harrison's staff, who were in the battle of the Thames, to state most unequivocally their belief, that the general neither knew nor could have known the fact of the death of Tecumseh, at the date of his letter to the war department. It was the uncertainty which prevailed, as to the fact of Tecumseh's being killed, that prevented any notice of it in his report. On the next day after the battle, general Harrison, in company with commodore Perry and other officers, examined the body of an Indian supposed to be Tecumseh; but from its swollen and mutilated condition, he was unable to decide whether it was that chief or a Potawatamie who usually visited him at Vincennes, in company with Tecumseh; and I repeat most unhesitatingly, that neither commodore Perry nor any officer in the American army, excepting general Harrison, had ever seen Tecumseh previously to the battle; and even though he had recognized the body which he examined to be that of the celebrated chief, it was manifestly impossible that he could have known whether he was killed by Johnson's corps, or by that part of the infantry which participated in the action. No official or other satisfactory report of his death, was made to him by those engaged on that part of the battle ground where he fell. It was not until after the return of the army to Detroit, and after the date of general Harrison's despatches,[B] that it was ascertained from the enemy, that Tecumseh was certainly killed; and even then the opinion of the army was divided as to the person by whose hands he fell. Some claimed the credit of it for colonel Whitley, some for colonel Johnson; but others, constituting a majority, including governor Shelby, entertained the opinion that he fell by a shot from David King, a private in captain Davidson's company, from Lincoln county, Kentucky. In this state of the case, even had the fact of Tecumseh's death been fully ascertained, at the date of general Harrison's letter, it would have been manifestly unjust, not to say impracticable, for the commander-in-chief to have expressed an opinion as to the particular individual to whose personal prowess his death was to be attributed."[C]
[Footnote A: One of the aids of general Harrison, and inspector-general of the United States army, during the late war.]
[Footnote B: Early on the 7th, general Harrison left the army under the command of governor Shelby, and returned to Detroit. His report of the battle, was dated on the 9th. The army did not reach Sandwich, opposite Detroit, until the 10th.]
[Footnote C: See Louisville Journal.]
In taking leave of this branch of our subject, it may be remarked, that the strong terms of approbation in which general Harrison, in his official account of the battle of the Thames, speaks of the bravery and bearing of colonel Johnson in the conflict, should have shielded him from the suspicion that any unkind feeling towards that officer was allowed to sway his judgment in the preparation of his report.
We now proceed to give some testimony in favor of other individuals, whose friends have claimed for them the credit of having slain Tecumseh. It has been already stated, that before our army left the field of battle, it was reported and believed by many of the troops, that colonel Whitley, of Johnson's corps of mounted men, had killed the Indian commander in the action of the Thames. The only testimony, in confirmation of this report, which has fallen under our observation, is contained in the two following communications. The first is a letter from Mr. Abraham Scribner, now of Greenville, Ohio, under date of September 8th, 1840. The writer says—"I had never seen Tecumseh, until the body was shown to me on the battle ground on the river Thames: by whose hand he fell must always be a matter of uncertainty. My own opinion was, the day after the battle, and is yet, that Tecumseh fell by a ball from the rifle of colonel Whitley, an old Indian fighter: two balls passed through colonel Whitley's head, at the moment that Tecumseh fell; he (colonel Whitley,) was seen to take aim at the Indian said to be Tecumseh, and his rifle was found empty."
The second is from colonel Ambrose Dudley, of Cincinnati, under date of 24th February, 1841, and is in the following words:
"The morning after the battle of the Thames, in company with several other persons, I walked over the ground, to see the bodies of those who had been slain in the engagement. After passing from the river a considerable distance, and the latter part of the way along what was termed a swamp, viewing the slain of the British army, we came to a place where some half a dozen persons were standing, and three dead Indians were lying close together. One of the spectators remarked, that he had witnessed that part of the engagement which led to the death of these three Indians and two of our troops, whose bodies had been removed the evening before for burial. He proceeded to point out the position of the slain as they lay upon the ground, with that of our men. He said old colonel Whitley rode up to the body of a tree, which lay before him, and behind which lay an Indian: he (the Indian,) attempted to fire, but from some cause did not succeed, and then Whitley instantly shot him. This Indian was recognized by one of the persons present as Tecumseh: the next Indian was pointed out as having killed Whitley; then the position of another of our troops who killed that Indian, and the Indian who killed him, with the position of the man who shot the third Indian—making three Indians and two Americans who had fallen on a very small space of ground. From the manner of the narrator, and the facts related at the time, I did not doubt the truth of his statement, nor have I ever had any reason to doubt it since. The Indian pointed out as Tecumseh, was wearing a bandage over a wound in the arm, and as it was known that Tecumseh had been slightly wounded in the arm the day before, while defending the passage of a creek, my conviction was strengthened by this circumstance, that the body before us was that of Tecumseh."
The reader will decide for himself how far this testimony sustains the plea that has been raised for colonel Whitley. It is certainly clear and to the point, and presents a plausible case in support of his claim.
Mr. David King is the other individual to whom reference has been made as entitled to the credit of having killed the great Shawanoe chief. He was a private in captain James Davidson's company of mounted men, belonging to Johnson's corps. The statement given below in support of King's claim, was written by the editor of the Frankfort (Ky.) Commentator, and published in that journal in 1831. It is given on the authority of captain Davidson and his brother, two highly respectable citizens of Kentucky, both of whom belonged to colonel Johnson's mounted regiment, and were in the battle of the Thames. We have omitted the first part of this statement as irrelevant to the point in issue.
"While these things were acting in this part of the field, and towards the close of the action, which did not last long—for though much was done, it was done quickly—when the enemy was somewhat thinned and considerably scattered, and our men were scattered amongst them, Clark, one of the men mentioned above, suddenly called out to his comrade, David King, to 'take care of the Indian that was near to him.' The warrior turned upon Clark; at the same instant, King fired at him with Whitley's gun, and lodged the two balls which he knew it was loaded with, in the chieftain's breast—for when Whitley fell, King threw away his own gun, and took the better one and the powder horn of the old Indian fighter. The Indian droped upon King's fire:—'Whoop—by G——' exclaimed King, 'he was every inch a soldier. I have killed one d——d yellow bugger,' and passed on. Giles saw this occurrence as well as Clark, and so did Von Treece—they were all together. From the commencement of the fight, the voice of an Indian commander had been distinctly heard and observed by our soldiers. About this time it ceased, and was heard no more: Tecumseh was dead. Presently a cry of 'how! how!' was raised among the Indians; upon which they turned and fled, pursued by our soldiers.
"Upon the return of the volunteers from the pursuit, King proposed to Sam Davidson, his friend and relative, and to other comrades, to go round with him by the spot where he had killed the Indian, because he wanted to get his fine leggins. They had noticed a particular tree and a log, near to which the Indian fell. They found the tree without difficulty, but the body was not discovered quite so readily; but King insisted that it must be somewhere thereabouts. Sam Davidson first discovered it. It was lying behind a tree, face downward. 'Here he is,' said Davidson, 'but I see no wound upon him.' 'Roll him over,' said King, 'and if it is my Indian, you will find two bullet holes in his left breast.' It was done; and there were the two bullet holes, an inch apart, just below the left pap—the same, no doubt, where King's balls had entered. The Indian, from his dress, was evidently a chief. His fanciful leggins, (King's main object in hunting out the body,) his party-colored worsted sash, his pistols, his two dirks, all his dress and equipments, were the undisputed spoils of King. He kept one of the dirks, the sash, and moccasins for himself; the rest he distributed as presents among his messmates.
"Now, it was this very Indian, which was afterwards identified by those who had known him, as TECUMSEH—this and no other."
This testimony, coming as it does from a highly respectable quarter, would seem to be conclusive in favor of the claim of King. It contains, however, statements which, if true, greatly weaken its force; and, indeed, in our opinion, dissipate at once the idea that the Indian killed by King was Tecumseh. The narrative states that "the Indian, from his dress, was evidently a chief. His fanciful leggins, his party-colored worsted sash, his pistols, his two dirks, all his dress and equipments, were the undisputed spoils of King." Now, if there be any one fact connected with the fall of Tecumseh which is fully and fairly established upon unimpeachable authority, it is, that he entered the battle of the Thames, dressed in the ordinary deerskin garb of his tribe. There was nothing in his clothes, arms or ornaments, indicating him to have been a chief. On this point the testimony of Anthony Shane is explicit; and his statement is confirmed by colonel Baubee of the British army, who was familiarly acquainted with Tecumseh. This officer, the morning after the action, stated to one of the aids of general Harrison, that he saw Tecumseh just before the battle commenced, and that he was clothed in his usual plain deer-skin dress, and in that garb took his position in the Indian line, where he heroically met his fate. The testimony in favor of Mr. King's claim, while it proves very satisfactorily that he killed an Indian, is equally conclusive, we think, in establishing the fact that that Indian was not the renowned Tecumseh.
With the statement of one other person, upon this vexed question, we shall take our final leave of it. Major William Oliver, of Cincinnati, in a communication to the author, under date of 23d December, 1840, says:—
"In 1819, I lodged with Anthony Shane, at what was then called 'the Second Crossing of the St. Mary's.' I had known Shane intimately for a long time, indeed, from my first settlement at fort Wayne, in 1806. In speaking of the battle of the Thames, and the fall of Tecumseh, he said, the most authentic information he had obtained upon this point, was from two brothers of his wife, who were in the battle, and near the person of Tecumseh when he fell. They stated, in positive terms, that Tecumseh was shot by a private of the Kentucky troops; and Shane seemed so well satisfied with the truth of their statement, that he informed me it was entitled to belief."
To John Johnston, of Piqua, late Indian agent, and others, Shane, at this early period, expressed the opinion that Tecumseh did not fall by the hands of the commander of the mounted regiment. The reader of this volume will recollect, that long subsequent to the period when these opinions were expressed, and upon the eve of a political campaign, in which colonel R.M. Johnson was a candidate for a high and honorable office, Anthony Shane is represented by the reverend O.B. Brown, as having stated to him his belief, that Tecumseh did meet his death by a shot from the colonel. Shane, who, we believe, is now deceased, sustained, through life, a character for integrity. Whether, in his latter years, his memory had failed him, by which he was led to express these contradictory opinions, or whether Mr. Brown misunderstood the import of his language, when talking upon this matter, we shall not undertake to decide. The reader who feels an interest in the point at issue will settle the question for himself, whether, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, the early or late declarations of Shane were the genuine expression of his belief on this subject.
Mr. Jefferson's opinion of the Prophet—brief sketch of his character—anecdotes of Tecumseh—a review of the great principles of his plan of union among the tribes—general summary of his life and character.
Mr. Jefferson, in a letter to John Adams,[A] says: "The Wabash Prophet is more rogue than fool, if to be a rogue is not the greatest of all follies. He rose to notice while I was in the administration, and became, of course, a proper subject for me. The inquiry was made with diligence. His declared object was the reformation of his red brethren, and their return to their pristine manner of living. He pretended to be in constant communication with the Great Spirit; that he was instructed by Him to make known to the Indians that they were created by Him distinct from the whites, of different natures, for different purposes, and placed under different circumstances, adapted to their nature and destinies; that they must return from all the ways of the whites to the habits and opinions of their forefathers; they must not eat the flesh of hogs, of bullocks, of sheep, &c., the deer and buffalo having been created for their food; they must not make bread of wheat, but of Indian corn; they must not wear linen nor woollen, but dress like their fathers, in the skins and furs of animals; they must not drink ardent spirits; and I do not remember whether he extended his inhibitions to the gun and gunpowder, in favor of the bow and arrow. I concluded, from all this, that he was a visionary, enveloped in their antiquities, and vainly endeavoring to lead back his brethren to the fancied beatitudes of their golden age. I thought there was little danger of his making many proselytes from the habits and comforts they had learned from the whites, to the hardships and privations of savagism, and no great harm if he did. We let him go on, therefore, unmolested. But his followers increased until the British thought him worth corrupting, and found him corruptible. I suppose his views were then changed; but his proceedings in consequence of them, were after I left the administration, and are, therefore, unknown to me; nor have I ever been informed what were the particular acts on his part, which produced an actual commencement of hostilities on ours. I have no doubt, however, that his subsequent proceedings are but a chapter apart, like that of Henry and Lord Liverpool, in the book of the Kings of England."
[Footnote A: Jefferson's Correspondence, vol. 10. p. 171.]
Mr. Jefferson's account of the Prophet's "budget of reform," is correct as far as it goes: it embraced, however, many other matters, looking to the amelioration of savage life. Whatever may have been his original object, in the promulgation of his new code of ethics, there is enough, we think, in the character and conduct of this individual to warrant the opinion, that he was really desirous of doing good to his race; and, that with many foibles, and some positive vices, he was not destitute of benevolent and generous feelings. That in assuming the character of a prophet, he had, in connection with his brother, ulterior objects in view, is not to be doubted. It so happened, that the adoption of his doctrines was calculated to promote harmony among the tribes; and this was the very foundation of the grand confederacy, to which he and Tecumseh were zealously devoting the energies of their minds.
After the premature and, to the Indians, disastrous battle of Tippecanoe, the Prophet began to fall into obscurity. The result of that action materially diminished the wide spread influence which he had attained over his countrymen. The incantations, by means of which he had played upon their imaginations, and swayed their conduct, lost their potency. The inspired messenger of the Great Spirit, as he openly proclaimed himself, had boldly promised his followers an easy victory over their enemies. A battle was fought—the Indians were defeated—and the gory form of many a gallant, but credulous "brave," attested that the renowned Prophet had lost, amid the carnage of that nocturnal conflict, his office and his power.
At the time when this battle was fought, Tecumseh was on a mission to the southern Indians, with the view of extending his warlike confederacy. He had left instructions with the Prophet, to avoid any hostile collision with the whites; and from the deference which the latter usually paid to the wishes of the former, it is not probable that the battle would have occurred, had not extraneous influence been brought to bear upon the leader. The reason assigned by the Prophet to his brother, for this attack upon the army under general Harrison, is not known; but some of the Indians who were in this engagement, subsequently stated that the Winnebagoes forced on the battle contrary to the wishes of the Prophet. This is not improbable; yet, admitting it to be true, if he had taken a bold and decided stand against the measure, it might, in all probability, have been prevented. The influence of the Prophet, however, even at this time, was manifestly on the wane, and some of his followers were beginning to leave his camp. He doubtless felt that it was necessary to do something to sustain himself: a signal victory over the whites would accomplish this end; and hence he consented the more readily, to the wishes of the Winnebagoes, that an attack should be made, in the hope that it would prove successful.
Within a few months after this battle, war was declared against England by the United States. Tecumseh and the Prophet, discouraged in regard to their union of the tribes, decided on joining the British standard. The love of fighting, however, was not a remarkable trait of the Prophet's character. He won no military laurels during the continuance of that war; and although in the vicinity of the Moravian town on the 5th of October, 1813, he did not choose to participate in the action at the Thames. After the return of peace, he resided in the neighborhood of Malden for some time, and finally returned to Ohio: from whence, with a band of Shawanoes, he removed west of the Mississippi, where he resided until the period of his death, which occurred in the year 1834. It is stated, in a foreign periodical,[A] that the British government allowed him a pension from the year 1813, to the close of his life.
[Footnote A: The United Service Journal—London.]
In forming an estimate of the Prophet's character, it seems unjust to hold him responsible for all the numerous aggressions which were committed by his followers upon the property and persons of the whites. His first proselytes were from the most worthless and vicious portion of the tribes from which they were drawn. "The young men especially, who gathered about him, like the young men who brought on the war of King Philip, were wrought up until the master spirit himself, lost his control over them; and to make the matter worse, most of them were of such a character in the first instance, that horse stealing and house breaking were as easy to them as breathing. Like the refugees of Romulus, they were outcasts, vagabonds and criminals; in a great degree brought together by the novelty of the preacher's reputation, by curiosity to hear his doctrines, by the fascination of extreme credulity, by restlessness, by resentment against the whites, and by poverty and unpopularity at home."[A] To preserve an influence over such a body of men, to use them successfully as propagandists of his new doctrines, and, at the same time, prevent their aggressions upon the whites, who were oftentimes themselves the aggressors, required no small degree of talent; and called into activity the utmost powers of the Prophet's mind. In addition to these adverse circumstances, he had to encounter the opposition of all the influential chiefs in the surrounding tribes; and a still more formidable adversary in the poverty and extreme want of provisions, which, on several occasions, threatened the total disruption of his party, and undoubtedly led to many of the thefts and murders on the frontiers, of which loud and frequent complaints were made by the agents of the United States. In a word, difficulties of various kinds were constantly recurring, which required the most ceaseless vigilance and the shrewdest sagacity on the part of the two brothers to obviate or overcome. The Prophet had a clear head, if not an honest heart; courteous and insinuating in his address, with a quick wit and a fluent tongue, he seldom came out of any conference without rising in the estimation of those who composed it. He was no warrior, and from the fact of his never having engaged in a battle, the presumption has been raised that he was wanting in physical courage. With that of cowardice, the charge of cruelty has been associated, from the cold-blooded and deliberate manner in which he put to death several of those who were suspected of having exercised an influence adverse to his plans, or calculated to lessen the value of the inspired character which he had assumed. Finally, it may be said of him, that he was a vain, loquacious and cunning man, of indolent habits and doubtful principles. Plausible but deceitful, prone to deal in the marvellous, quick of apprehension, affluent in pretexts, winning and eloquent, if not powerful in debate, the Prophet was peculiarly fitted to play the impostor, and to excite into strong action, the credulous fanaticism of the stern race to which he belonged. Few men, in any age of the world, have risen more rapidly into extended notoriety; wielded, for the time being, a more extraordinary degree of moral influence, or sunk more suddenly into obscurity, than the Prophet.
[Footnote A: North American Review.]
TECUMSEH was near six feet in stature, with a compact, muscular frame, capable of great physical endurance. His head was of a moderate size, with a forehead full and high; his nose slightly aquiline, teeth large and regular, eyes black, penetrating and overhung with heavy arched brows, which increased the uniformly grave and severe expression of his countenance. He is represented by those who knew him, to have been a remarkably fine looking man, always plain but neat in his dress, and of a commanding personal presence. His portrait, it is believed, was never painted, owing probably to his strong prejudices against the whites.