- 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
The following spring he invited the vanquished warriors to a peace meeting. Nearly 1,000 of them responded, representing twelve different tribes of the Northwest Territory; after two months of pressure, their chiefs reluctantly signed the Greenville Treaty, which ceded to the United States for sale to settlers almost two-thirds of Ohio, including the Shawnee sites of Old Piqua and Old Chillicothe on the Mad River; a triangular tract in southeastern Indiana; and sixteen strategically located areas in the Northwest, including the sites of Detroit, Toledo, Peoria, and Chicago. In return, the Indians divided among themselves about $20,000 in goods and received the promise of $9,500 in annuities.
Tecumseh had refused to attend the council, and after the treaty provisions became known, he split with Blue Jacket and announced that he would not accept what the chiefs had done. Nevertheless, as settlers moved into the ceded territory, he recognized the hopelessness of resistance, and withdrew westward with his followers into Indiana. His anger and opposition to the treaty furthered his reputation among both Indians and whites, and as large numbers of disgruntled warriors began to give him their loyalty and call him their chief, he became the dominant native leader in the Old Northwest.
He was twenty-seven years old now, five feet, ten inches tall, a powerful and handsome man with a proud and aggressive bearing. Though there is no definitely established contemporary portrait of him, white men who knew him described him as hard and fiery, a man who would announce with great authority, “I am Tecumseh,” and if challenged, would menacingly touch the stem of his tomahawk. At the same time, he had a complex personality in which many forces were apparently in conflict, for he could also be tender and sentimental, thoughtful and kind, or even playful and good-humored, depending on his mood.
In 1796, he married a half-breed woman named Manete, who is described merely as an “old woman.” She bore Tecumseh a son, but soon afterward he quarreled with her and they parted. Toward the end of the century, during a visit to an older sister, Tecumapease who had remained near Old Chillicothe, he met a sensitive young white girl named Rebecca Galloway, the daughter of an intelligent pioneer farmer who had once been a hunter for George Rogers Clark. She was blonde and beautiful, he was magnetic and interesting, and a strange, romantic attachment developed between them. In time, as Tecumseh continued to call on her, she taught him to speak better English and read to him from the Bible, Shakespeare, and history books.
Tecumseh broadened in dramatic fashion under Rebecca’s sympathetic tutoring. He absorbed the history of Alexander the Great and other leaders of white civilization, pondered over Biblical philosophy, and thirsted for even more knowledge that would make him better equipped to understand and deal with the Americans. His regard for the blonde, blue-eyed girl also increased, and eventually he asked her father if he might marry her. Mr. Galloway respected Tecumseh and advised him to ask Rebecca. Tecumseh did so, and the girl said that she would be willing if he would agree to give up his Indian ways and live with her as a white man. The decision was painful for Tecumseh, and he took a month to make up his mind. Finally, in sadness, he returned to Rebecca and told her that he could not abandon his people. He said good-by to her, left, and never saw her again. But the memory of her loveliness and guidance stayed with him, and he never took another wife.
The peace envisioned for the Northwest Territory by Wayne’s treaty lasted little more than a decade and was never more than a truce. As Tecumseh had foreseen, the line established at Greenville between the races could not halt conflict. Though the Indians acknowledged white possession of southern Ohio, many of them continued to live and hunt on their former lands, and they were in constant friction with frontier settlers. Moreover, as whites continued to come down the Ohio River, they began to press for the opening of new Indian lands, and in 1800, as if preparing to slice another large piece from the natives’ domain, the government established administrative machinery for a Territory of Indiana, west of Ohio.
During this period, another tragedy struck the Indians. Traders and settlers brought liquor into the region in huge quantities, and native bands in close contact with the whites could not resist it. They traded land, possessions, and their services for the alcohol, and almost overnight large segments of once-proud and dignified tribes became demoralized in drunkenness and disease. As poverty and death claimed the natives, whole bands disappeared, and the weakened survivors clung together in ragged misery.