WORDS OF FIRE


TECUMSEH'S MESSAGE (SUMMER 1811)

All through the summer of 1811, Tecumseh journeyed among the tribes of the south to recuit warriors for a pan-Indian alliance strong enough to stop U.S. takeovers of native lands. Some responded readily, but opinions were mixed among the powerful Choctaw and Chickasaw. A large crowd gathered by the Tombigbee River in Mississippi to hear his long and impassioned message, portions of which follow. After others had spoken, Tecumseh strode slowly to the council fire:

~~~~We meet tonight in solemn council - not to debate whether we have been wronged or injured, but to decide how to avenge ourselves. Have we not courage enough to defend our country and maintain our ancient independence?

~~~~Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohawk, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppresssion of the white man, as snow before the summer sun...So it will be with you! Soon your mighty forest trees will be cut down to fence in the land. Soon their broad roads will pass over the graves of your fathers. You, too, will be driven from your native land as leaves are driven before the winter storms.

~~~~Sleep no longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws, in false security and delusive hopes! Before the white men came among us, we knew neither want nor oppression. How is it now? Are we not being stripped day by day of our ancient liberty? How long will it be before they tie us to a post and whip us, and make us work for them in their fields? Shall we wait for that moment, or shall we die fighting?

At this, some of the younger warriors leaped to their feet, shouting and flourishing their tomahawks in a frenzy of rage. Tecumseh raised his hand for quiet, then continued.

~~~~Shall we give up our homes, our country bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit, the graves of our dead, and everything that is dear and sacred to us without a struggle? I know you will cry with me: NEVER! NEVER! War or extermination is now our only choice. Which do you choose? I know your answer.

When Tecumseh finished, the throng remained silent. Several Choctaw and Chickasaw elders then rose to speak, most expressing support. Tecumseh was on the verge of triumph. Then another stood up and stepped gravely to the fire, a man renowned for his bravery and wisdom. He would be heard by this council. His name was Pushmataha:

Choctaw Chief Pushmataha
****I appear before you, my warriors and my people, not to contradict the many charges made against the Americans. The question before us is not what wrongs they have inflicted upon us, but what measures are best for us to adopt. Reflect, I ask you, before you act hastily....What you are contemplating is a war against a people whose territories are far greater than ours, and who are better provided with all the implements of war, with men, guns, horses, wealth...Let us not be deluded with the foolish hope that this war, if begun, will soon be over. It will be but the beginning of the end that terminates in the total destruction of our people.

****Listen to the voice of prudence, O my countrymen, before you act rashly. But whatever you may do, know this - I shall join our friends, the Americans, in this war.

Tecumseh felt the tide turning against him and sprang to the fire: "All who will follow me in this war throw your tomahawks into the air!" he cried out - and the air was filled with tomahawks hurled overhead. Tecumseh cast a triumphant glance at Pushmataha, who promptly called for the same display of support. Again tomahawks filled the sky.
At length, the issue was put before an aged Choctaw seer; after more delays of debate, ritual and prayer, he spoke. His words foreshadowed the fate of Tecumseh's dream:

****The Great Spirit tells me to warn you against the dark and evil designs of Tecumseh, and not to be deceived by his words; his schemes are unwise, and if entered into will bring sorrow and desolation upon you and your nations. Choctaws and Chickasaws, obey the words of the Great Spirit.

When an Indian is killed it is a great loss,

which leaves a gap in our people

and a sorrow in our heart...

Cheesuaka, Shawnee, elder brother of Tecumseh

"The Shawnee Prophet and Tecumseh"

"Tenskwatawa's Vision"[ "Tecumseh's Death"

"Tecumseh's Teaching"[ "Tecumseh...Shawnee Warrior"

"Letter from Harrison 1806"[ "Speech of 1810"

"Shawnee's Reservation"[ "Homepage"

1997 shawnee_1@yahoo.com


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