Gateway to the Classics: Boy's Book of Indian Warriors by Edwin L. Sabin
Boy's Book of Indian Warriors by  Edwin L. Sabin

The Voice from the Open Door (1805–1811)

How it Traveled through the Land

In the battle of the Fallen Timbers, when General "Big Wind" broke the back of the Ohio nations, two young warriors fought against each other.

One was Lieutenant William Henry Harrison, aged twenty-one, of the Americans. The other was Sub-chief Tecumseh, aged twenty-six, of the Shawnees.

They were the sons of noted fathers. Benjamin Harrison, the father of Lieutenant Harrison, had been a famous patriot and a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Puck-ee-shin-wah, the father of Tecumseh, also had been a patriot he had died for his nation in the battle of Point Pleasant, in 1774, when Chief Cornstalk fought for liberty.

At the Fallen Timbers, Lieutenant Harrison was an aide to General Wayne; young Tecumseh was an aide to Blue-jacket. The two did not meet, but their trails were soon to join.

The name Tecumseh (pronounced by the Indians "Tay-coom-tha") means "One-who-springs" or "darts." It was a word of the Shawnees' Great Medicine Panther clan, or Meteor clan; therefore Tecumseh has been known as "Crouching Panther" and "Shooting Star."

He was born in 1768 at the old Shawnee village of Piqua, on Mad River about six miles southwest of present Springfield, Ohio. His mother may have been a Creek or Cherokee woman, who had come up from the South with some of the Shawnees. The Shawnees were a Southern people, once. The mother's name was Me-tho-a-tas-ke.

Tecumseh had five brothers and one sister. Two of his brothers were twins, and at least two, besides his father, fell in battle while he was still young.

He had not been old enough to go upon the war trail with his father and Head Chief Cornstalk; but his elder brother Chee-see-kau went, and fought the Long Knives at Point Pleasant. When he came back he took little Tecumseh in charge, to train him as a warrior.

When Tecumseh was nineteen, he and Chee-see-kau, with a party of other braves, went upon a long journey of adventure south to the Cherokee country of Tennessee. It is said that the mother, Me-tho-a-tas-ke, already had left, to return to the Cherokees. Likely enough the two brothers planned to visit her.

They swung far into the west, to the Mississippi, and circled to the Cherokees. Here Chee-see-kau was killed, while helping the Cherokees fight the whites.

He was glad to die in battle—"I prefer to have the birds pick my bones, rather than to be buried at home like an old squaw."

Tecumseh stayed in the South three years, fighting to avenge his brother, who had been a father to him, and whose spirit still urged him to be brave. He got home to Ohio just in time. In league with the Little Turtle Miamis, War Chief Blue-jacket's Shawnees had defeated the American general Harmar, and every warrior was needed.

Tecumseh had left as a young brave; he returned as a young chief. He was sent out with a party to spy upon the march of the gray-haired general, Saint Clair. He did good work, but he missed the big battle. But he was at the Fallen Timbers.

Here, in the excitement when the American infantry came scrambling and cheering and stabbing, through the down trees, he rammed a bullet into his rifle ahead of the powder, and had to retreat.

"Give me a gun and I will show you how to stand fast," he appealed, to the other Indians. He was given a shot-gun. The white soldiers were too strong, his younger brother Sau-wa-see-kau was killed at his side, and he must fall back again.

This hurt his heart. When the treaty with General Wayne was signed, the next year, he did not attend. Blue-jacket, his chief, afterwards sought him out and told him all about it: that the Indians had surrendered much land.

For some years the peace sun shone upon the Ohio country. Tecumseh was careful to cast no red shadow. He bore himself like an independent chief; gathered his own band of Shawnees, married a woman older than himself, lived among the Delawares, and spent much time hunting. He became known for his ringing speeches, in the councils; no Indian was more eloquent.

He was handsome, too—a. true prince: six feet tall and broad shouldered, of active and haughty mien, quick step, large flashing eyes, and thin, oval Indian face, with regular features. His face was the kind that could burn with the fire of his mind.

In 1800 the Northwest Territory of which General Saint Clair had been the first governor was divided. The name Northwest Territory was limited to about what is now the state of Ohio; all west of that, to the Mississippi River, was Indiana Territory.

Captain William Henry Harrison, who had resigned from the army, was appointed governor and Indian commissioner, of Indiana Territory. He moved to Vincennes, the capital, on the lower Wabash. Chief Tecumseh was living eastward on the White River. Their trails were pointing in. Two master minds were to meet and wrestle.

The name of one of the two twins, brothers of Tecumseh, was La-la-we-thi-ka, meaning "Rattle" or "Loud Voice." He was not handsome. He was blind in the right eye and had ugly features. He was looked upon as a mouthy, shallow-brained, drunken fellow, of little account as a warrior. His band invited Tecumseh's band to unite with them at Greenville, in western Ohio where General Saint Clair's Fort Jefferson and General Wayne's Fort Greenville had been built.

Then, almost immediately, or in the fall of 1805, "Loud Voice" arose as the Prophet.

While smoking his pipe in his cabin he fell backward in a pretended trance, and lay as if dead. But before he was buried, he recovered. He said that he had been to the spirit world. He called all the nation to meet him at Wapakoneta, the ancient principal village of the Shawnees, fifty miles northeast, and listen to a message from the Master of Life.

The message was a very good one. It was a great deal like the message of the Delaware prophet, as used by Pontiac. The Indians were to cease white-man habits. They must quit fire-water poison, must cherish the old and sick, must not marry with the white people, must cease bad medicine-making (witch-craft) and tortures; and must live happily and peacefully, sharing their lands in common.

As for him, he had been given power to cure all diseases, and to ward off death on the battle-field.

He changed his name to Ten-skwa-ta-wa—the "Open Door," but is generally styled the Prophet. His words created intense excitement. Shawnees, Delawares and other Indians came from near and far to visit him. Tecumseh was very willing. It was a great thing to have a prophet for a brother—and whether this was a put-up job between them, is to this day a mystery. But they were smart men.

The Prophet enlarged his rant. To the whites he proclaimed that he, the Open Door, Tecumseh, the Shooting Star, and the other twin brother all had come at one birth. He asserted that their father had been the son of a Shawnee chief and a princess, daughter of a great English governor in the South.

Anybody whom he accused of witch-craft was put to death. They usually were persons that he did riot like. The Delawares and Shawnees killed old chiefs who were harmless, and friends of the settlers.

Although the Open Door's teachings seemed to be for peace and prosperity among the Indians, they brought many Indians together, and aroused much alarm among the settlers of Ohio and Indiana Territory. Moreover, the gatherings at Greenville were upon ground that had been sold to the United States, under the treaty after the battle of the Fallen Timbers.

Governor Harrison sent a message to the Delawares, in the name of the Seventeen Fires—the United States.

"Who is this pretended prophet who dares to speak for the great Creator? If he is really a prophet, ask of him to cause the sun to stand still, the moon to alter its course, the rivers to cease to flow, or the dead to rise from their graves!"


"Drive him from your town, and let peace and harmony prevail amongst you. Let your poor old men and women sleep in quietness, and banish from their minds the dreadful idea of being burnt alive by their own friends and countrymen."

The Delawares listened, even the Shawnees were sickening of the witch-craft fraud—but the Prophet seized upon an opportunity.

In this 1806 an eclipse of the sun was due, and he knew, beforehand. Perhaps he was told by British agents, for the war of 1812 was looming, and there was bad feeling between the two white nations.

"The American governor has demanded of me a sign," he proclaimed. "On a certain day I will darken the sun."

And so he did.

His fame spread like a wind. Runners carried the news of him and of his power through tribe after tribe. He made long journeys, himself. In village after village, from the Seminoles of Florida to the Chippewas of the Canada border, from the Mingos of the Ohio River to the Blackfeet of the farthest upper Missouri, either he or some of his disciples appeared.

They bore with them a mystic figure, the size of the body of a man, all wrapped in white cloth and never opened. This they tended carefully. They bore with them a string of white beans, said to be made from the Prophet's flesh.

They preached that dogs were to be killed; lodge fires were never to go out; liquor was not to be drunk; wars were not to be waged, unless ordered by the Prophet. Each warrior was obliged to draw the string of beads through his fingers; by this, he "shook hands" with the Prophet, and swore to obey his teachings.

It was rumored that within four years a great "death" would cover the entire land, and that only the Indians who followed the Prophet would escape. These should enjoy the land, freed of the white men.

Tecumseh bowed before his talented brother, and had his own dreams; dreams of a vast war league against the Americans. The Prophet was in control of eight or ten thousand warriors.

The Prophet's band at Greenville increased to four hundred—Shawnees, Delawares, Wyandots, Chippewas, and others; a regular hodge-podge.

Captain William Wells, who was the Indian agent at Fort Wayne, asked them to have four chiefs come in, to listen to a message from their Great Father, the President.

On a sudden Tecumseh took the lead, as head chief.

"Go back to Fort Wayne," he ordered of the runner, a half-breed Shawnee, "and tell Captain Wells that my fire is kindled on the spot appointed by the Great Spirit above; and if he has anything to say to me, he must come here. I shall expect him in six days from this time."

Captain Wells then sent the message. The President asked the Indians to move off from this ground which was not theirs. He would help them to select other ground.

Tecumseh replied hotly, in a speech of defiance.

"These lands are ours; no one has a right to remove us, because we were the first owners. The Great Spirit above knows no boundaries, nor will his red people know any. If my father, the President of the Seventeen Fires, has anything more to say to me, he must send a big man as messenger. I will not talk with Captain Wells."

"Why does not the President of the Seventeen Fires send us the greatest man in his nations" demanded the Prophet. "I can talk to him; I can bring darkness between him and me; I can put the sun under my feet; and what white man can do this?"

This month of May, 1807, fifteen hundred Indians had visited the Prophet. They came even from the Missouri River, and from the rivers of Florida. A general uprising of the tribes was feared.

Governor Harrison worked, sending many addresses. He could not stern the tide set in motion by the Prophet and kept in motion by Tecumseh.

"My children," appealed Governor Harrison, "this business must be stopped. You have called in a number of men from the most distant people to listen to a fool, who speaks not the words of the Great Spirit, but those of the devil and of the British agents. My children, your conduct has much alaiuied the white settlers near you. They desire that you will send away those people, and if they wish to have the impostor with them they can carry him. Let him go to the Lakes; he can hear the British more distinctly."

"I am sorry that you listen to the advice of bad birds," answered the Prophet, of the one eye and the cunning heart. "I never had a word with the British, and I never sent for any Indians. They came here themselves, to hear the words of the Great Spirit."

Tecumseh also made speeches, at the councils. Once he spoke for three hours, accusing the whites of having broken many treaties. Some of his sentences the interpreter refused to translate, they were so frank and cutting. The teachings of the Prophet his brother were apparently all for peace, and against evil practices such as drinking and warring; and Governor Harrison could only wait, watchfully. But he did not like the signs in the horizon. There were too many Indians traveling back and forth.

The war of 1812 with Great Britain was drawing nearer. The Sacs and Foxes of the Mississippi country had accepted presents from the British. Governor Harrison was warned that the Prophet and Tecumseh had been asked to join.

In the summer of 1808 the Prophet moved his town to the north bank of the Tippecanoe River, on the curve where it enters the upper Wabash River in northern Indiana. He still had a following of Shawnees, Chippewas, Potawatomis, Winnebagos, and so forth.

This was Miami land, shared by the Delawares. They objected. But the Prophet's Town remained.

In 1809 the United States bought from the Miamis a large piece of territory which included this land. The Prophet's people refused to move off. The Great Spirit had told them that the Indians were to hold all property in common; therefore no tribe might sell land without the consent of all the tribes.

Tecumseh was absent, on a visit to other tribes. He asked the Wyandots and the Senecas to come to Prophet's Town on the Tippecanoe. But the Wyandots and the Senecas had no wish to offend the United States again. They remembered that the British had not opened the gates of the fort to them, when the "Big Wind" was blowing them backward—''You are painted too much, my children," they accused the British of saying—and they were wary of Tecumseh.

He asked the Shawnees of the upper country, also, to join him and the Prophet. But they declined to meddle. Old Black Hoof, a chief whose memory extended back ninety years, advised against it.

The Prophet was more clever than Tecumseh. The Wyandots were the keepers of the great belt which had bound the Ohio nations together in Little Turtle's day. The Prophet asked them if they still had it, and if they, the "elder brothers," would sit still while a few Indians sold the land of all the Indians.

They replied they were glad to know that the belt had not been forgotten. Let the Indians act as one nation. They passed the belt to the Miamis—and the Miamis were forced to obey.

Governor Harrison was told that there were eight hundred warriors at the Prophet's Town, and that Vincennes was to be attacked.

News of Tecumseh came from here, there, everywhere. He seemed to be constantly traveling, carrying the words of the Prophet his brother. Something was going on, underneath the peace blanket. Governor Harrison and others of the whites read the puzzle in this wise:

The peace blanket spread by the Prophet to cover all red nations and make them one, concealed a hatchet, as the blanket of Pontiac concealed a gun. The Indians were to be increased and strengthened by right living and good habits, until fitted to stand on their feet without aid. Then, all together, as one nation, they could strike for their country, from the Ohio River west to the Missouri.

Tecumseh was to be the Pontiac who would lead them. It was a scheme so wonderful, so patient and so shrewd, that the Western whites might well gasp before it.

The governor and Tecumseh had never met. The Prophet had been in Vincennes several times, to explain that he preached only peace—which was true. But the town at the Tippecanoe was getting to be a nuisance. Horse-thieves and murderers used it as a shelter, and the authority of the United States was defied. A messenger sent there by the governor was threatened by the Prophet with death.

The message was sent to warn the brothers that the Seventeen Fires were surely able to defeat all the Indians united, and that if there were complaints, these should be taken directly to the President. Tecumseh replied:

"The Great Spirit gave this great island to his red children. He placed the whites on the other side of the big water. They were not contented with their own, but came to take ours from us. They have driven us from the sea to the lakes; we can go no farther. They say one land belongs to the Miamis, another to the Delawares, and so on; but the Great Spirit intended it as the property of us all. Our father tells us we have no right upon the Wabash. The Great Spirit ordered us to come here, and here we will stay."

However, Tecumseh said that he remembered the governor as a very young man riding with General Wayne, and he would go to Vincennes and talk with him. He probably would bring thirty of his men.

"The governor may expect to see many more than that," added the Prophet.

Tecumseh brought not thirty, but four hundred warriors, painted and armed. Attended by a small guard, the governor stood to receive him on the broad columned porch of the official mansion. Tecumseh, with forty braves, approached, and halted. He did not like the porch; he asked that the council be held in a grove near by.

"Your father says that he cannot supply seats enough there," answered the interpreter.

"My father?" retorted Tecumseh, his head high. "The sun is my father, the earth is my mother, and on her bosom will I repose!"

In the grove he made a ringing, fiery speech. He accused the United States of trying to divide the Indians, so as to keep them weak. He blamed the "village" or "peace" chiefs for yielding, and said that now the war chiefs were to rule the tribes. He warned the governor that if the lands along the Wabash were not given back to the Indians, the chiefs who had signed the sale would be killed, and then the governor would be guilty of the killing. He threatened trouble for the whites if they did not cease purchasing Indian land.

"It is all nonsense to say that the Indians are all one nation," reproved Governor Harrison, who was as fearless as Tecumseh. "If the Great Spirit had intended that to be so, he would not have put six different tongues into their heads. The Miamis owned these lands in the beginning, while the Shawnees were in Georgia. You Shawnees have no right to come from a distant country, and tell the Miamis what shall be done with their property."

Tecumseh sprang up and angrily interrupted. "That is a lie! You and the Seventeen Fires are cheating the Indians out of their lands."

The warriors leaped up, as if to attack. The few whites prepared for defense.

"You are a man of bad heart," thundered the governor, to Tecumseh. "I will talk with you no more. You may go in safety, protected by the council-fire, but I want you to leave this place at once."

Other councils were held. Tecumseh stood as firm as a rock, for what he considered to be the rights of the Indians. He was very frank. He said that if it were not for the dispute about the land, he would continue to be the friend of the Seventeen Fires. He would rather fight with them than against them. He had no love for the British—who clapped their hands and sicked the Indians on as if they were dogs. As for making the Indians one nation, had not the Seventeen Fires set an example when they united? It was true, he said, that now all the Northern tribes were one. Soon he was to set out, and ask the Southern tribes to sit upon the same blanket with the Northern tribes.

The governor knew. From Governor William Clark of Missouri he had received a letter telling him that friendship belts and war belts were passing among the nations west of the Missouri River, calling them to an attack on Vincennes. The Sacs of the upper Mississippi had sent to Canada for ammunition.

From Chicago had come word that the Potawatomis and other tribes near Fort Dearborn were preparing.

Governor Harrison had suggested that the two brothers travel to Washington and talk with the President about lands. He himself had no power to promise that treaties should not be made with separate nations. He also said, to Tecumseh:

"If there is war between us, I ask you to stop your Indians from abusing captives, and from attacking women and children."

Tecumseh promised, but he went out upon his trip. Before he left, he asked that nothing should be done regarding the land, before he came back; a large number of Indians were on the way to settle there, and they would need it as a hunting-ground! If they killed the cattle and hogs of the white people, he would fix up everything with the President, on his return.


An Indian Brave

So in August of 1811 he left, taking twenty warriors. With the fire-brand of tongue and the burning mystery of his presence he kindled the nations of the South. He spoke in the name of the Great Prophet. He urged them all to join as one people and dam back the white wave that was seeking to swallow them.

He told them that the Prophet had stationed a "lamp" in the sky, to watch them for him—and sure enough, a comet flamed in the horizon. To a Creek chief in Alabama he said:

"You do not mean to fight. I know the reason. You do not believe that the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall know. I go from here to Detroit; when I arrive there I will stamp on the ground with my foot and shake down all your houses."

In December occurred an earthquake which destroyed New Madrid town on the Mississippi in southern Missouri, and was felt widely. The ground under the Creek nation trembled. The Creeks covered their heads and cried aloud:

"Tecumseh has got to Detroit!"

That was so. In December Tecumseh really had got to Detroit. But he had stamped his foot before time, and he had not made the earth to tremble. He had stamped in wrath not at the Creeks, but at his own people.

When he had left for the North he was ready to strike, at any moment, with five thousand warriors of North, South and West. When he arrived home, he found that his plans were shattered like a bubble; he had no Prophet, and the former Prophet had no town!

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