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Tecumseh: Who was legendary Shawnee warrior?

Tecumseh on The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen
A still of Tecumseh from tonight’s The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen

Meet one of America’s most revered and admired native American chieftains, Tecumseh, tonight on History’s gutting The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen.

From the American Revolution through to the frenetic California Gold Rush, the series tells the stories of Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, John Frémont, Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson and how they conquered and claimed uncharted land with determination and self-reliance.

The series, executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a deep dive into the dynamic times where Thomas Jefferson oversaw and helped accomplish the Louisiana Purchase, and explorers Lewis and Clark trekked through lands never before attempted by white men all the way to the Pacific.

Tonight, the brutal chapter in American history is dramatized as we learn about the impact of the life of Great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, the legendary Native American leader who is featured in the episode Never Surrender.

Who was Shawnee warrior Tecumseh?

Tecumseh was a Native American chief from the Ohio region of the USA. A Shawnee warrior, he was a quick study and observed how the European-American expansion was uniting state by state.  Tecumseh took a play out of the white man’s book, becoming a visionary and condenser of power by creating a sizable multi-tribal confederacy in the early 19th century.

He came of age during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War, and his experience in warfare and facility in languages led to the establishment of an independent Indian nation east of the Mississippi River that existed under British protection. Tecumseh worked hard to recruit other Native American tribes to his vision of a singular Indian nation.

What happened to Tecumseh?

Tecumseh’s ambitions were never fully realized despite his brilliant oration skills and leadership. He worked with his brother Tenskwatawa (named The Prophet), and together they founded the Indian village “Prophetstown” in Indiana located north of present-day Lafayette. Prophetstown became a huge multi-tribal community and a central point in Tecumseh’s growing political and military alliance.

Tecumseh’s allied Indians all fought the United States during Tecumseh’s War, but failure to get the U.S. government to rescind the Treaty of Fort Wayne began a series of events that ultimately led to his death in 1813. Tecumseh and his confederacy continued to fight the United States after forming an alliance with Great Britain in the War of 1812.

Unfortunately for him, U.S. naval forces took control of Lake Erie in 1813, forcing the British and their Indian allies to flee to Canada, where the Americans fought them at the Battle of the Thames. It was there on October 5, 1813, where Tecumseh was killed.

Tecumseh’s bravery, political savvy and strong charismatic presence has since cemented him as a Native American icon.

What is Tecumseh’s famous poem?

The famous and poignant poem “Live Your Life” is said to have been written by Tecumseh, although it has also been attributed to other chiefs. It reads:

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours.

Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen Episode 2 trailer

The Men Who Built America: Frontiersmen airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on History.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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