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8.4-8.5.2 Appeal to the Osages, 1811, Tecumseh

A speech by the Shawnee warrior and statesman Tecumseh (of Indiana Territory), who built a pan-Indian confederacy intended to stop encroachments on traditional Native American territory by the United State / white settlers.

Greenberg, Amy S. 2012. Manifest Destiny and American Territorial Expansion: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s, 57-59.

In 1794, the United States won a major military victory against the confederation of western Indians (the subject of Source 1), forcing Native Americans to cede most of the present states of Ohio and Indiana to the US government. In return, the United States agreed to make yearly payments to the affected tribes. Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior and diplomat who had fought in 1794, developed a powerful pan-Indian movement to resist further American settlement on Indian lands. Along with his brother Tenskwatawa (or The Prophet), Tecumseh preached a message of Indian revitalization. They focused on rejection of white ways such as consumption of alcohol, trade with whites, and even ownership of private property, attracting converts in tribes as far flung as the Southern United States. Tecumseh made this speech in 1811 to the Osages, a tribe in Missouri.


In this speech, in what ways does Tecumseh accuse the white man of being duplicitous (that is, double-dealing — speaking one way but acting another)?

What images in the speech stand out to you? 

Do you think this speech would have been influential to the tribes Tecumseh visited? Why or why not?


The Battle of Tippecanoe, which took place in Indiana in late 1811, effectively quashed Tecumseh’s pan-Indian movement. William Henry Harrison — governor of the Indiana Territory, and later a US president — marched a US force of 1,000 to Prophetstown, Tecumseh’s headquarters, defeating Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) and his 600 warriors. Despite the long odds for a victory, Tenskwatawa convinced his followers that spiritual protection would make them immune to the white man’s bullets. Ironically, at the time Tecumseh was away on his trip visiting Southern tribes — the context of this speech to the Osages. He later fought on the British side in the War of 1812 in Canada, dying in a battle in 1813. (The British secretly backed some Indians of the Old Northwest as a way to counter US power. After Harrison’s forces burned Prophetstown to the ground, they discovered a cache of British-made guns, proving American suspicions that Britain was aiding Native American forces on US soil.)


Students can analyze Tecumseh’s rhetoric in this speech and discern what might have made it a potent rallying cry for other tribes to join his resistance movement — or whether it was indeed effective. Key ideas here are: first, that whites were duplicitous and greedy — even if their initial demands of Indians were modest, they now sought to drive away all Native Americans who stood in the way of US expansion; and second, that Indians must be united if they had any chance of maintaining their autonomy.


Brothers,—We all belong to one family; we are all children of the Great Spirit; we walk in the same path; slake our thirst at the same spring; and now affairs of the greatest concern lead us to smoke the pipe around the same council fire!

Brothers,—We are friends; we must assist each other to bear our burdens. The blood of many of our fathers and brothers has run like water on the ground, to satisfy the avarice of the white men. We, ourselves, are threatened with a great evil; nothing will pacify them but the destruction of all the red men.

Brothers,—When the white men first set foot on our grounds, they were hungry; they had no place on which to spread their blankets, or to kindle their fires. They were feeble; they could do nothing for themselves. Our father commiserated their distress, and shared with them whatever the Great Spirit had given his red children. They gave them food when hungry, medicine when sick, spread skins for them to sleep on, and gave them grounds, that they might hunt and raise corn.

Brothers,—The white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled, they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they sting their benefactors to death…

Brothers,—The white men are not friends to the Indians: at first, they only asked for land sufficient for a wigwam; now, nothing will satisfy them but the whole of our hunting grounds, from the rising to the setting sun.

Brothers,—The white men want more than our hunting grounds; they wish to kill our warriors; they would even kill our old men, women and little ones…

Brothers—My people wish for peace; the red men all wish for peace...

Brothers,—The white men despise and cheat the Indians; they abuse and insult them; they do not think the red men sufficiently good to live. The red men have borne many and great injuries; they ought to suffer them no longer. My people will not; they are determined on vengeance; they have taken up the tomahawk; they will make it fat with blood; they will drink the blood of the white people.

Brothers,—My people are brave and numerous; but the white people are too strong for them alone. I wish you to take up the tomahawk with them. If we all unite, we will cause the rivers to stain the great waters with their blood.

Brothers,—If you do not unite with us, they will first destroy us, and then you will fall an easy prey to them. They have destroyed many nations of red men because they were not united, because they were not friends to each other…

Brothers,—The Great Spirit is angry with our enemies; he speaks in thunder, and the earth swallows up villages, and drinks up the Mississippi. [Earthquakes in 1811-12 in Missouri Territory struck some Native Americans in the area as a bad omen.] The great waters will cover their lowlands; their corn cannot grow, and the Great Spirit will sweep those who escape to the hills from the earth with his terrible breach.

Brothers,—We must be united; we must smoke the same pipe; we must fight each other's battles; and more than all, we must love the Great Spirit; he is for us; he will destroy our enemies, and make all his red children happy.