Saturday, August 30, 2003

Tippecanoe and blogging too.

On this week's trip to Indianapolis, I didn't stop at that midway historic site, Tippecanoe. To judge by the paucity of people at the battlefield the two times I did visit, not many people get off I-65 to see it, though it's only a few miles off that highway. Maybe the problem is that it lingers only in that catchy 1840 campaign slogan for William Henry Harrison , "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." If you asked a focus group, people might recognize that slogan, but have no idea how it relates to a field in north-central Indiana.

The first time I went there, on May 9, 1998, was while Yuriko and Lilly were in Japan. "A pleasant green park," I wrote about it, "maintained by the state of Indiana. It's an irregular parcel of land enclosed by a sturdy iron fence and dotted with large old hardwoods in the flush of spring. The fence, I learned, approximates the edge of the encampment of Harrison's men just before the battle.

"Prominent in the park is William Henry Harrison's obelisk, honoring his command, since he didn't die there, and isn't buried there. It's made of aging gray stone and engraved with the names of other honored dead. A few of those dead have headstones in the park, officers only it seems. The masons [among the dead] have a monument too. Elsewhere in the park -- but not within the encampment area -- various plaques give the Indians their due."

The following is from the Tippecanoe County Historical Society Web site. I quote it at some length because it's a good description of what happened there:

"Early man and many Indian tribes roamed this part of the Wabash Valley before the thriving trading post of Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk was established in the eighteenth century. Known to many as 'Tippecanoe,' the village thrived until 1791, when it was razed in an attempt to scatter the Indians and open the land to the new white settlers.

"Seventeen years later a new Indian village was established on or near the old Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk site at the Wabash/Tippecanoe River junction. Known as 'Prophet's Town,' this village was destined to become the capitol [sic] of a great Indian confederacy.

"The town was founded in May 1808, when two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (the Prophet), left their native Ohio after being permitted to settle on these Potawatomi and Kickapoo-held lands.

"Tecumseh and the Prophet planned to unite many tribes into an organized defense against the growing number of western settlers. In addition to being a seat of diplomacy, Prophet's Town became a training center for the warriors, with a rigorous spiritual and athletic regimen. As many as one thousand warriors were based in the capitol [sic] at its peak.

"The white settlers of the Indiana territory were disturbed by the increasing activities and power of Tecumseh's followers. In the late summer of 1811, the governor of the territory, Gen. William Henry Harrison, organized a small army of 1,000 men, hoping to destroy the town while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The regiment arrived on Nov. 6, 1811, and upon meeting with representatives of the Prophet, it was mutually agreed that there would be no hostilities until a meeting could be held on the following day. Harrison's scouts then guided the troops to a suitable campsite on a wooded hill about a mile west of Prophet's Town.

"Upon arriving at the site, Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery of the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.

"Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until the confederation was strong and completely unified, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them, the Prophet led his men near the army campsite. From a high rock ledge west of the camp, he gave an order to attack just before daybreak on the following day.

"The sentinels were ready, and the first gunshot was fired when the yells of the warriors were heard. Many of the men awoke to find the Indians upon them. Although only a handful of the soldiers had had previous battle experience, the army fought off the reckless, determined Indian attack. Two hours later, thirty-seven soldiers were dead, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded. The Indian casualties were unknown, but their spirit was crushed. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him."


Post a Comment

<< Home