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“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 American commander’s ignominious action shocked the United States. His capitulation even included Brush’s beleaguered column, but those men, learning what had happened, turned around in fright and raced safely back to the Ohio settlements. The fall of Detroit spread new panic across the frontier, but in the fallen city, the helpless members of the garrison soon found themselves turning from contempt for Hull to appreciation for Tecumseh. Though he had fought as an Indian, stripped to leggings and breechclout, the Shawnee chief dressed proudly in white men’s clothes for his entrance into Detroit, and his friendly and dignified conduct gradually won the admiration of the prisoners, many of whom had fearfully expected to be massacred.
The dramatic victory, meanwhile, had given the Shawnee leader new hope that he might, after all, achieve his dream of an Indian nation. Additional tribes were entering the war and were striking at other American strongholds. Potawatomis had captured Fort Dearborn, and aided even by a band of Miamis, who had long opposed Tecumseh’s appeal for unity, were laying siege to Fort Wayne. If victories continued the Americans might well be forced to recognize an Indian country. In the fall of 1812, Tecumseh made another tour to the South, principally to see the Creeks, who had promised to support his cause. Soon after he returned north, part of the Creek Confederation commenced a war across the South that cost the Americans thousands of lives and millions of dollars.
By April of 1813, Tecumseh was once again back at Malden. On his way home, he had picked up 600 recruits from among the Illinois tribes, and now had 3,000 natives under his command, one of the largest Indian armies ever assembled. During the Shawnee’s absence, however, General Brock had been killed in action on the Niagara border, and Colonel Henry Procter, a petulant, small-minded officer, had taken command at Malden. He was a fat, haughty man who was disdainful of Indians, and Tecumseh let him know quickly that he considered him a poor substitute for the bold, imaginative Brock.
In January, Procter and a force of Indians had gained a notable victory at the River Raisin over an army of 850 Kentuckians, killing or capturing the entire American force. Procter had assured the Americans that he would not allow the Indians to harm the prisoners, but when some of the natives got drunk, he looked the other way and did nothing to halt their butchery of all wounded and defenseless captives. When Tecumseh learned about it, he criticized the British commander for weakness in not having controlled the natives. If the Indians were ever to gain recognition of their own state, he told both the British and tribal leaders, they must gain the respect of white men for their humanity and civilized conduct.
The grisly massacre had also aroused the American West to a spirit of no-quarter revenge, and by the time Tecumseh returned from the South, his old adversary, General William Henry Harrison, was marching toward Detroit with a new army to avenge the savagery at the River Raisin. On the Maumee River, near the site of Wayne’s victory of Fallen Timbers, Harrison paused to build a new post called Fort Meigs; suddenly on April 25, 1813, he found himself besieged by an army of British and Indians, which had come south from Malden under Procter and Tecumseh. A brigade of 1,100 Kentuckians was on its way through the wilderness to reinforce Harrison’s army, and a little more than a week after the siege had begun, the new force made its appearance on the river. In an effort to break through the British lines and get into the fort, the Kentuckians divided their forces and moved down both banks of the river; but before they could reach the fort, some 800 troops were surrounded and almost annihilated by Tecumseh’s Indians. Almost 500 Americans were killed, and 150 captured.
While Tecumseh remained at the siege lines, some of the English and Indians marched the prisoners downriver to Procter’s headquarters at the British Fort Miami. Once more when the Indians began to murder the captives, Procter did nothing to restrain them. This time, however, a native carried word of what was happening to Tecumseh, and in a wild rage the Shawnee leader galloped to the British camp and hurled himself into the scene of massacre. The Indians had already killed more than twenty captives, and were tomahawking and scalping others when Tecumseh arrived. He knocked down one Indian with his sword, grabbed another by the throat, and lunged at the rest. As the natives drew back, he shouted at them, “Are there no men here?” The carnage stopped abruptly, and the Shawnee chief hastened to see Procter. When he demanded to know why the natives had again been allowed to kill prisoners, Procter answered lamely, “Your Indians cannot be controlled. They cannot be commanded.” His reply filled the Shawnee with contempt. “You are unfit to command,” he sneered at the British leader. “Go and put on petticoats.” Then he added bitterly, “I conquer to save, and you to murder.”