- 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
His words fired his listeners, and twice he dramatically broke in two the peace pipes which an American envoy handed him. Then, gathering a large party of Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, and Potawatomis, he marched off to Fort Malden and announced his allegiance to the British. Other bands, remembering his visits and ardent appeals of the past, soon began to join him. Wyandots, Chippewas, and Sioux came from Canada, Michigan, and Minnesota, while an old acquaintance, Black Hawk, who would himself one day lead a war against the whites, moved across the northern wilderness from Illinois and Wisconsin and arrived with a war party of Sauk, Foxes, and Winnebagos. Elsewhere, Indian runners and British agents carried word that Tecumseh had finally declared war on the Americans, and the response of many tribes showed that the Shawnee’s travels had not been entirely in vain. Though they fought without Tecumseh’s guiding direction, and not as the united Indian people he had envisioned, bands rose against the Americans on every front, driving settlers, traders, and armed forces into retreat in the Northwest, the upper Mississippi, and the Deep South. Before the war ended, the Americans had stopped them, but the costly months of their hostility were scarred by massacres, the disruption of commerce, and the desolation of settlements from the outskirts of St. Louis to the Creek country of Alabama and Georgia.
On the Canadian side of the Detroit River, Tecumseh soon had a native army of between 1,000 and 3,000 men. The American General Hull established his headquarters at the town of Detroit, and on July 12 launched an invasion of Canada. Crossing the river with 3,000 men, he prepared to attack the 300-man British garrison at Fort Malden. Hull was an elderly hero of the Revolution who had become weak and timid with age. His advance guard won a preliminary skirmish with a small mixed body of Indians and British, but soon afterward, Tecumseh and 150 warriors ambushed another of his scouting parties, then slipped behind Hull and cut off one of his supply columns coming north from Ohio.
Hull panicked, and when he further learned that Chippewa allies of Tecumseh had assisted in the British capture of Michilimackinac in northern Michigan and were probably canoeing south to attack Detroit, he hastily abandoned his invasion of Canada and recrossed the river to the American shore. His officers and men were appalled by his cowardice, but the threat of Indian strength now hung heavy over them all. On August 8, an earlier relief column having been cut to ribbons, Hull sent a new force of 600 men to try to rescue the cut-off supply expedition, under Captain Henry Brush, now pinned down behind the River Raisin. By this time some British troops had also crossed the river, and at Monguaga, a few miles south of Detroit, they joined Tecumseh’s Indians and helped to intercept the new American relief column. A furious battle ensued, during which Tecumseh fought with conspicuous bravery and received a wound in the leg, but the British and Indians were eventually forced to abandon the field and withdraw to the Canadian side of the river. Still, the mauled American troops dared move no farther south, and Brush’s supply convoy remained in hiding south of the River Raisin.
On August 13, Major General Isaac Brock arrived at Malden with 300 British reinforcements from the east. Brock, the Lieutenant Governor of Canada, was an able and resolute military leader, a huge man well over six feet tall, with a powerful physique and a gentle and considerate nature. He had heard great praise of Tecumseh and had already formed a high opinion of the Indian chief. On the night he reached Malden he read Hull’s dispatches, which Tecumseh had captured, and realized from them the extent of the American commander’s fears and weaknesses. When Tecumseh came in to be introduced to him, Brock asked the Shawnee leader for his opinion of what they ought to do next. Tecumseh pleased him by urging an immediate attack on Detroit. Only one British officer supported the Indian’s view, but at four o’clock in the morning, Brock decided to follow Tecumseh’s advice, and sent a message across the river, calling on Hull to surrender. The American refused, and as British guns opened fire on Detroit, Tecumseh’s Indians embarked for the American shore.
At the same time, Brock allowed one of his couriers to be captured by the Americans. The courier shattered Hull’s nerves by reporting that 5,000 Indians were arriving from the upper Lakes to join Tecumseh. Hull had still been occupied in trying to rescue Brush’s convoy and had just dispatched a third force of 350 men to bring it in. Tecumseh’s men landed between Detroit and the new expedition, and once more the American relief column was brought to a halt when its leaders realized what had happened. As the men wheeled about to march against the Indians in their rear, Tecumseh ranged his warriors around the fort and tried a ruse. Marching them in single file, he moved them three times out of the woods and across a clearing in full view of the fort’s defenders, so that it looked like the expected Chippewa reinforcements had arrived from the north. The stratagem had its desired effect: without a struggle, Hull raised a white flag and surrendered Detroit.