The Prophet/Tenskwatawa
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The Prophet/Tenskwatawa

History has not been kind to Tenskwatawa, otherwise known as The Prophet. He is inevitably compared to his heroic brother Tecumseh and fails to measure up in both physical and moral stature.

Tenskwatawa’s transformation into a powerful spiritual leader came after a dream in which he claimed to have been visited by the Great Spirit. White settlers began to call him The Prophet because he said the gods had shown him the path to salvation for his people. This new religion called upon Natives to reject white culture and return to the traditional way of life. Tenskwatawa gave up alcohol and urged his followers to do the same.

At the heart of these new teachings was the belief that the land was held in common by all the tribes. The Prophet preached that no tribe had the right to give up their territory, because it belonged to all Natives. This infuriated white settlers and leaders such as William Henry Harrison.

Tenskwatawa soon attracted a considerable following, especially among the younger, more radical warriors. The Prophet and Tecumseh decided to move these followers farther away from the harassment of white settlers and closer to undisturbed food sources. They established a new village, Tippecanoe or Prophet’s Town.

In the fall of 1811, while Tecumseh was away on a six-month trip aimed at convincing the southern tribes to join the Confederacy, U.S. soldiers under William Henry Harrison decided to attack Prophet’s Town. They saw the village as a dangerous symbol of native resistance and a barrier to white settlement. The ensuing Battle of Tippecanoe was not a major military encounter. Although more American soldiers died in the skirmish than native warriors, Harrison’s troops advanced into the village and razed it to the ground, claiming a great victory.

After the battle, the Prophet was blamed for allowing the community to be destroyed. One group of warriors was so angry that they tied him up and threatened to kill him. The failure of his military leadership and magic to protect Tippecanoe was a major factor in the decline of the Prophet’s influence.

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