Edmunds text Tecumseh and the Quest for Leadership

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Tecumseh, born in 1768 in Ohio, was the leader of an Indian confederacy who wielded more power than any other Indian from North America before or after him. He was killed in 1813, during the battle of Thames. During his lifetime he tried to smooth out cultural diversity, opposed the seizure of land and acted against the Shawnee Indians who lived in Ohio valley, the home land of Tecumseh. The Shawnees were the first Indians in North America and had all the land at their disposal to live on.  As other Indians arrived, the Shawnees were forced into a nomadic lifestyle and kept on moving from one place to the other as a result of wars. This taught the Shawnees to fight and made them vicious fighters who even served as Mercenaries (Edmunds 3). This essay explores the life and works of Tecumseh, his love for the land and how he guarded the way of life of the Local Americans.


The United States embraces the culture of the Native American Indians and considers it as an important part.  The Native American Indians have lived for many years in America and now their number is decreasing (BOA 2, 12 min). These Indian men were hunters and warriors seen as protectors while the women had their role at homemaking – taking care of the home, children and their farms (Edmunds 3-4). The real struggle for the Native American Indians began in the 1800s when they had to fight a very tough battle in order to protect their land from the whites. As the two communities lived side by side, European and Indian lifestyles began to blend. While some united well, others clashed with difference in opinions and disastrous ends. However, during the making of peace treaties, the whites and the Indians united. When the treaties broke, unity broke and battle ensued. Even when the communities agreed on how they would hunt and farm, the way of life of each was disturbed. The Indians felt that the Europeans affected their culture both negatively and positively. In the book Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian leadership, the author explains and gives examples of how the Indians and the Europeans mingled. Various laws were passed during this time by then presidents requiring for the removal of the Indians from the land. These laws led to battles costing many lives on both sides. Eventually, the Native Indians were forced out of the place they had known to be their homeland (Nash, Jeffrey, Howe, Frederick and Davis 43).

Tecumseh is known to have taken part in various raids of frontier settlements of Tennessee and Kentucky in the 1780s. By year 1800, he had become a very prominent leader as Chief. He was clever enough to incorporate his religious brother into the political movement that was further strengthened by the sermons the brother went around preaching, resulting in the formation of the Prophetstown settlement foundation in 1808, which was later destroyed during Tippecanoe battle. Tecumseh’s father was a Shawnee warrior and met his death at the battle of Point Pleasant. Tecumseh was his second son.  It is believed that before he died he instructed his elder son to train Tecumseh to become a warrior and to prepare him to fight the whites that he said were their enemy. Heeding his Fathers advice, the older brother taught Tecumseh to fight and consequently he became a great warrior. Tecumseh was a tall, muscular and intelligent man and was considered to be a model child because of his courage and determination. He was also highly charismatic. According to Edmunds, Tecumseh mastered battle tactics and was a great orator, representing his people.

Tecumseh had a younger brother called Tenskwatawa who was physically weak and clumsy and had lost one eye when hunting as a young boy and could never become a warrior. His condition was considered very shocking in Shawnee society. To him, Tecumseh was his protector and he was always devoted to him. Later in life, Tenskwatawa said he had powerful messages delivered by the Great Spirit. According to the prophet, the vision that he was shown during his sleep by the master of life, was to lead the Indians to salvation through the religion he was to form. The message was to tell his people that the ways of the white men were evil and all they touched was corrupted.  Meanwhile, the white men continued to capture the land of the Indians and made sure that the Indians depended on their tools and that they were poisoned by whiskey. This oppression eventually led the Indian people to lose their identity (Edmunds 40-45). Tenskwatawa’s preaching advised the Indians to reject the culture of the white people and preached against dressing like the whites and drinking alcohol like them. He told them to not follow their religion and also to stop using the technology of the Whites. The Indians believed that there was no sole owner of land and as a prophet, Tenskwatawa preached against selling of land. The ancient tradition maintained that the Great Spirit gave land and its resources for everybody’s use. Additionally, the prophet sent messengers with messages that called for intertribal confederacy, which would accept Indians and their ways everywhere.  According to Edmunds, the movement was started by the prophet who then turned to his brother Tecumseh to help in its execution (Edmunds 67). This new religion had spread fast and had gathered many followers before Tecumseh joined in. This was after the treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809, making Tecumseh the main leader of the Indian movement.

Tecumseh was a powerful speaker and a respected fighter because of which his younger brother, the prophet took his help. Tecumseh felt that he was an Indian more than a Shawnee. The brothers had a common vision to have a united Indian confederacy and the merging of the minds of these two brothers is what made their vision feasible. While Tecumseh acted as a political activist his brother, the prophet, acted as a religious fanatic. Their goal was to collapse the Native American nations.

Tecumseh used his oratory skills as a great speaker to his advantage and went around the Northwest, speaking to everyone that bothered to listen, about the danger the white men posed to the land owned by the Indians. Consequently the treaty of Greenville was signed in 1795, and a boundary was established between the civilizations of the white and the Indians to protect the Indians against incursions by the settlers from the White community. The boundary confined the Indians to the North and West, while two thirds of Ohio and the Southeast was left for the white settlers. Despite such treaties, the whites were determined to drive away the Native American Indians. On the other hand, the Indians were more and more unified by Tecumseh and his brother to fight against the whites and maintain their territory.  According the Greenville Treaty, there were agreed borders and Tecumseh hoped to stop the whites from grabbing land westwards given the fact that the whites were determined to reclaim the lands that were in the East. (Edmunds 107).

According to Edmunds, all credit cannot be given to Tecumseh because his younger brother Tenskwatawa was the actual mastermind. Tenskwatawa fulfilled his role in encouraging the Indians to fight for their land and maintain their own culture, independent of that presented to them by the whites. Though he did not travel extensively, he did go to Black Hoof’s village and preached sermons that helped him generate several followers in addition to those that Tecumseh had gotten.  There followed several ceremonies designed by Tenskwatawa to cleanse the Indians who had followed the evil ways of the whites. Several Indians were tortured during these ceremonies; however, in Wyandot village, the witches found were not executed, because their chief did not allow it (Edmund 53-5).

Now it is very clear, that both the brothers wielded power in nativist movement, each through his particular strength that synergized one another. However, Tecumseh is seen more as the natural leader due to his daunting characteristics and intimidating physique. Those around Tecumseh admired and admitted his superior skills in the battlefields without much debate. His leadership was also enhanced and is often associated with his compassionate nature because of which he took up responsibility for those people around him and under his care.

On one side, Tenskwatawa did not have much compassion for his community and also was known to be a long time drunkard, considering which it is indeed funny how Tenskwatawa rose to power. He was not a people favorite like Tecumseh, his brother. In the initial phase of his life he was no more than a person who took up space and consumed food. In other words, he was a person of little importance to the society till all of a sudden, he got a vision that changed him overnight into a powerful man just because he claimed that he knew what would please the Great Spirits. He also took advantage of the fact that his brother was admired by the people and that he had deep love for him as a brother and thus used it to himself come into a position of power and acceptance. He even used the power he placed on himself to torture those people he believed did not conform to that which he believed to be right.

The two brothers knew that the whites were a tremendous threat to all the Indian tribes and this required the Indians to unite to prevent them from being annihilated. According to Tecumseh, creation of the confederation that consisted of thirty two tribes aimed at making the Americans recognize their borders and stop them from grabbing land that was to the West.  This mission was viable, but the younger brother was cruel against the people through the use of religious threats and some of the Indians were not very cooperative to realize the missions.


Even though the two brothers were successful in organizing the natives to prevent the whites from taking their land, the vision of a united Indian confederation died as soon as Tecumseh passed away in a battle between him and Army Commander of the United States and William Henry, the future president in 1883. After his death, over the years, the white settlers grabbed all the land that belonged to the Indians.

Works cited

Edmunds, David. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership (Library of American Biography Series). USA: Pearson. 2006.

Learner.org. Biography of America. 2014. Web. 14th Dec. 2014 http://www.learner.org/resources/series123.html

Nash, Gary; Jeffrey, Julie; Howe, John; Frederick, Peter and Davis, Allen. The American people: creating a nation and a society. USA: Pearson. 2010.

June 07, 2022
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