- Historic Sites
“These Lands Are Ours …”
Only Tecumseh came close to uniting the warring tribes, but his British allies and his less visionary people failed him
August 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 5
On the British right flank, meanwhile, Tecumseh’s Indians met Johnson’s charge with a blaze of musketry that threw the Americans back, and forced the horsemen to dismount and fight from behind trees. At the same time a division of infantry advanced on the run to support the cavalry. They spotted the Indians in the swamp that flanked the road and veered off to attack them. As the Americans pressed into the woods and through the miry underbrush, the battle mounted. Over the din, many men could hear Tecumseh’s huge voice, shouting at the Indians to turn back the Americans. “He yelled like a tiger, and urged his braves to the attack,” one of the Kentuckians later said.
Other men caught glimpses of the Shawnee leader, running among the Indians with a bandage still tied around one arm, injured in an earlier skirmish. Now American bullets hit him again and again. Blood poured from his mouth and ran down his body, but the great warrior staggered desperately among the trees, still crying to his Indians to hold. The dream of an Indian nation was slipping fast, and as twilight came, it disappeared entirely. Suddenly, the Americans realized that they no longer heard Tecumseh’s voice, or saw his reckless figure. As darkness halted the battle, the Indians slipped away through the swamp, and the Americans dug in along the road.
In the morning, Harrison’s men hunted in vain for Tecumseh’s body. Somehow, during the night, it had vanished, and though several of the Shawnee chieftain’s closest followers said later that they had taken it away in the darkness and buried it secretly, some white men wondered for years whether Tecumseh was still alive. The Americans captured no Indians during the battle, but the struggle on the Thames River scattered the warriors and ended further serious resistance in the Northwest Territory.
Tecumseh’s dream, unrecognized by his enemies, disappeared with his body. No new native leader arose to unite the tribes, and in a few years, the advancing tide of civilization completed the demoralization and decay of the proud peoples who had once called the country of the Northwest Territory their home. In time, the pitiful survivors, reduced to poverty and sickness, were forcibly dispossessed of what little land remained to them and were removed to reservations on the west side of the Mississippi River. Many of them, as Tecumseh had foreseen, were moved again and again to make way for new advances of the whites. Today, across the state of Oklahoma, the dispersed descendants of the Shawnee chief’s warriors live among other and more numerous tribes, ignored and forgotten by most Americans. To them, however, belongs the pride of knowing that one of their people was the greatest of all the American Indian leaders, a majestic figure who might have given all the Indians a nation of their own.