There exists no less than forty-five different accounts of Tecumseh's death.The account that, under closest scrutiny, seems to come closest to the truth is that of Capt. James Davidson, which was published as a letter to the editor in the Louisville Journal in October, 1859, and, because of accuracy his account is here as follows:
Lincoln County, Ky., Oct 22, 1859
To the editor of the Louisville Journal.
Gentlemen: I have read with much interest, the two different accounts of the death of Tecumseh, recently copied into your paper. You say you do not propose to enter deeply into this discussion. Perhaps you do not know the amount of interest a number of your subscribers take in this question. I will give you some idea of it. I have been solicited by a number of gentlemen, to give you my opinion on the subject, and to put you in possession of the facts which I know to be facts. This by way of explanation that I do not enter this areana to challenge any man's veracity - all men may be honestly mistaken, myself being as liable as others. You can judge whether my statements possess interest to a sufficient number of your subscribers to entitle them to a place in your columns or not.
In regard to Mr. Hamblin's account, I think he is totally mistaken in supposing that Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh. He must be mistaken in supposing the Indian Colonel Johnson killed to be Tecumseh. I will presently make it appear why I think so.
My account tallies somewhat with that of Capt. Ferguson. I believe him to be mistaken as to the man who killed Tecumseh, but the descrepancies between our statements are so nearly reconcilable, that the truth can be almost positively established. I commanded a company of 144 volunteers, in the Battle of the Thames, in Col. Johnson's Regiment; they are mounted riflemen. In enlisting my company, I had collected 133 men, when an old Indian fighter named Col. Whitley (miscalled Maj. Whitley in the above mentioned article), avowed his determination of going. In vain his friends attempted to deter him. He had acquired a taste for Indian fighting (having already figured in seventeen battles), and was determined to go. He accordingly enlisted, but being so old a man, the company voted him free of camp duty. This, connected with the fact that all discipline was slack among the volunteers, might erroneously lead a stranger to suppose that he was "fighting on his own hook." This man had few faults and many virtues, conspicuous among the latter was his dauntless bravery, amounting almost to recklessness.
After we forded the Thames, Whitley caught sight of four Indians on the opposite side and lingered behind, trying to get a shot at them. We went on, and when we had gotten about a mile on our road we were overtaken by Whitley, who rode up with a triumphant air, holding aloft the scalp of an Indian. He gave me the account of having killed the Indian, in a singularly venturesome manner. I reprimanded him for it, and recieved for an answer: : "Don't fear ,Captain, the ball is not run nor the powder made that is to kill me." This was a favorite saying of the old fellow. He was a complete a fatalist as either of the two Napoleons. This, I think proves that Capt. Ferguson and I refer to the same man.
Capt. F. says : "Furthermore, there were no Indians in that part of the British line which was charged by Colonel Johnson and the Kentucky Mounted Volunteers; and he was wounded in the very commencement of the charge, before the two lines had come in close contact, and was immediately borne from the field, his brother, next in command, then leading the charge, and commanding the regiment the remainder of the day.
Capt. F. is mistaken in supposing that Colonel Johnson did not charge upon the Indians. They were the only foes we had, but they were enough, as the numbered us about three to one. [ Error: this advance by Johnson, numbering about half (or near 500) of his regiment was met by approximately the same number of Indians, although Davidson was probably referring to his own company.] The mistake rises from the fact that Colonel Johnson divided his men. He and Lt. Col. Johnson (his brother) arranged it that Colonel R. M. Johnson was to charge the Indians and Lieut. Johnson the British. After Colonel J. was wounded, he was succeeded in the command (in our part of the field ) by Major Thompson of Scott County ( an uncle of Johnson's I believe).
We were posted at the extreme right, in a dense forest, with thick undergrowth. A short time after the charge commenced, and in the heat of the battle, I saw Johnson pass, supported on his horse, badly wounded. He was immediately borne from the field. It was so short a time from the commencement of the action, that it would have been a most fortunate chance if the first Indian he met was Tecumseh ( for he scarely had time to meet two) and he killed him. It is enough to make one a fatalist, and believe it was his manifest "destiny" to kill Tecumseh, and that he was "raised up" for that purpose.
I do not wish to be thought in any way to detract from Colonel Johnson's reputation. He was undoubtedly one of the bravest men I ever saw. I did not see him the moment he was wounded, and therefore cannot say he he did not shoot Tecumseh; but I was not more than ten yards from him all the time he was on the field. I had held a conversation with him just before the charge was made, and I think it likely I would have seen or heard something of it. I think Mr. Hamblin is incorrect in saying that Johnson's horse fell on the field. The horse on which he was carried off was a white one, with a terrible looking wound in his side, with the blood streaming at every step. I have always understood that he [the horse] did not fall util he reached the river-bank, when (Johnson being taken off) he fell, and immediately died. Dr. Theobald (of the south, near Lake Providence), was one of Colonel Johnson's supporters, and can probably settle the question. [An editorial note was added here by Gen. Leslie Combs, who edited Davidson's account, to the effect that:
Soon after Johnson was carried off, the Indians charged on us and one of them shot and killed Col. Whitley who fell near my horse's feet. The Indians sprang forward to scalp him, which I endeavored to prevent by striking him with my sword, but he evaded the blows, and persisted in his attempt, until a man by the name of Massey [Lt. Massie], from Georgetown, aimed at him under my horse's belly and shot him dead.
I will now proceed to tell you who I think did kill Tecumseh. In my company was a private of the name of David King. He was a splendid specimen of backwoods man, brave as Caesar, an honest man, an unnerving marksman. Whilst we were awaiting another charge from the Indians, King loading his gun, put in his ball, forgetting the powder, and had no means of drawing the ball. He was much vexed and told me about it, saying: "Captain, what shall I do?" I told him Whitley had a fine gun, but it was hazardous to attempt to get it. He immediately crawled toward Whitley, keeping the body between him and the Indians, and succeeded in getting his gun and shot-pouch, and regaining his tree. The Indians peppered the spot with balls, but fortunately none hit him. He and some five or six of his comrades asked permission to go a little further to the right, as they wished to prevent the Indians flanking us. They outnumbered us so far, that it was with great difficulty we could keep from being surrounded. I detached them a short distance to the right, but their eagerness to get to the Indians made them move faster than the left wing; on perceiving which, I started toward them to warn them. I was afraid they might be cut off from the rest of the company. When I got about half way to them, I heard a fellow named Clarke, exclaim: "Look out, King! An Indian is aiming at you!" Whereupon, the Indian turned to fire upon Clarke, thereby exposing his left breast to King's aim, who instantly fired, and as the Indian fell, King exclaimed: "I've killed one damned yaller Indian booger!"
(I should have mentioned above that it was Whitley's custom to load his gun with two bullets, and that when King got the gun, it was cocked, but not discharged. He therefore used the charge that Whitley put in.) I got the men in the right place, and soon returned to my other men. I was soon after severely wounded three times, and saw no more of King and his comrades until after the battle.
That evening, I was lying on the field, feeling (like Charles Lamb) "ratherish unwell," when some of my men, among them King, came to hunt for me. Whilst they were getting ready to carry me off, King said to me, "Captain, I wish you would let us go by and see the Indian I killed; I wish to see if I made a good shot. If I did, two of old Whitley's balls went in at his left nipple. I took aim by it, and if the yaller devil has any knives, I want them." At first, being in great pain, I demurred, telling him I knew he could not find the Indian, and if he could, he couldn't identify him. "Oh!, yes, Captain," he replied. "My Indian is right behind that old dead tree," pointing to one about fifty yards off. It being on line of march to the camp, I consented. When we got there, we found the Indian behind the tree. They turned him over, and sure enough, his left breast was pierced by two balls, about half an inch below the left nipple. The Indian was plainly, but more comfortably dressed than the rest of the Indians, having on the finest wampum belt I ever saw...next day Mike (my brother) and Charles A Wickliffe, of Bardstown, determined to have a look at "King's Indian." They went to the spot, and found the Indian. Whilst they were looking at him, Gen Harrison and two British officers came up, and one of the latter exclaimed: "I believe that is Tecumseh!" The other also thought it was him...They agreed that this was Tecumseh...Because Tecumseh was killed where Johnson made his charge, Johnson got the credit of killing him, and as there was great rivalry between Shelby's and Johnson's corps, we were glad that the Colonel of our regiment got the credit for it. King never cared a cent for it, and I thought it made no difference who killed him. It is only at the request of friends that I make this public. King brought Whitley's gun home, and restored it to his family. Some of Whitley's descendants are living in this County. King moved to Tennessee, and died there some twelve years ago. All his comrades who were with him when he shot the Indian are dead, but there are a number of persons in this County who have heard it from their lips.
I have to employ an amanuensis, and it may be that some mistake has crept into this account; but I have heard it carefully read, and I believe it to be a true statement of what I know concerning the matter.
Respectfully, James Davidson
Among some of the many other accounts of the manner of Tecumseh's death are these:
--Black Hawk later said in his autobiography that Tecumseh was shot and killed by a ball that entered his body near the hip and that his body was not mutilated; that his skull was crushed by a rifle butt; that he wore a British medal; that during the night the Indians brought off the body of Tecumseh in sight of the American camp.
--Capt. George Sanderson said in his account: "That it was Tecumseh's body that was skinned I have no doubt. I knew him....He was a man of huge frame, powerfully built, and was about six feet two inches in height. I saw his body on the Thames battlefield before it was cold. I saw the Kentucky troops in the very act of cutting the skin from the body of the chief."
--Samuel G. Drake states that Tecumseh was wounded in the arm and killed by a shot in the head.
--Col. Stewart said in his account that he cut the belt off that Tecumseh was wearing; which was stained with the blood of Tecumseh.
--D. K. Foster, nephew of Chaubenee, says in his account: "My uncle....was with Tecumseh on the day he was killed. [Tecumseh] was stooping, scalping a soldier. When he was in that position another soldier came on horseback with his musket and fired at him at the same time. He could almost touch him on his back. He then run his bayonet through him, so the great warrior was slain on the spot. The soldier who killed him was killed on the same spot. The brave warrior was hid under a brush heap....they [Indians] took his body and carried it away for burial....Chaubenee said they had skinned the wrong one instead of Tecumseh."
--Alfred Brunson, who was in the battle, said the body of Tecumseh: "was left to rot above ground with the other Indians."
--John P. Brown says Tecumseh was shot in the heart with one rifle ball and three buckshot.
--Pvt. Daniel Kenshald in his account says in the battle he secured Tecumseh's tomahawk, which he took home as a trophy; said Tecumseh swung at him with the tomahawk and missed his aim and hit him [Kenshald] on the arm and before he could strike agian he was shot and fell against Kenshald, who took the ax from his hand.
--Pvt. James Knaggs, who fought in the battle, said in his account: "I saw Tecumseh....lying on his face dead and about fifteen or twenty feet from Johnson. He was shot through the body, I think through the heart. The ball went through his back. His tomahawk, with a brass pipe on the head of it, was clutched in his right hand; his arm was extended as if striking, and the edge of the tomahawk was stuck in the ground. He was dressed in red-speckled leggins and a fringed hunting shirt."
--Col. James Coleman, in his account, stated that Tecumseh was killed near Col. Whitley by two bullets in the left breast and that his body was not mutilated.
--Garrett Wall claims that Tecumseh was shot with the rifle balls in both the head and left breast.
--Lt. Stephen Clever's account states that Johnson did not kill Tecumseh, who was killed some 300 yards distant from him; that Tecumseh was identified by a small trinket he wore, and that his body was skinned and mangled.
--Clark's 'Potawatomi' states that Tecumseh was shot "above or in the eyes" and his Indian states that Tecumseh's thigh was mutilated by men who wanted strips of skin to make razor straps.
--Lt. Abraham Shane said in his account: "Tecumseh was not a large man, for I helped to bury him and I ought to know....We came to a small Indian dead. He lay upon his back. A pistol shot had disfigured his face....One Indian turned the body over on the face, tore away the calico shirt from the shoulders and raised a long plaintive howl as he pointed to a deep scar under the right shoulder of the corpse. This, he said, was Tecumseh. We carried the body to Gen Harrison, who was well acquainted with Tecumseh. Harrison said it was Tecumseh and ordered it to be buried decently. I took my men and we buried the body in the clump of trees where he fell."
--Col. Richard M. Johnson showed Lyman Draper the pistols he had used in the battle and remarked, "with them I shot the chief who confronted and wounded me in the engagement." Draper persisted in asking whether or not it was Tecumseh and Johnson defensively replied: "They say I killed him! How could I tell? I was in too much of a hurry when he was advancing upon me to ask him his name or inquire after the health of his family. I fired as quick as convenient and he fell."
Johnson claimed to have Tecumseh's tomahawk. In 1842, while he was vice president, Johnson remarked that he had indeed killed Tecumseh.
--Sauganash, interviewed, stated that he was with Tecumseh when the fatal shot came; that the bullet came from behind and had been shot by one of the retreating British; that Tecumseh walked a distance, sat down on a log then fell over dead.
--Tecumseh K. Holmes said he viewed bodies, but none were that of Tecumseh, whom he knew well; he was of the opinion the body had been taken by his friends, along with others who had fallen, and buried.
--Ordnance Sgt. William Gaines wrote in his account:
"that Tecumseh had on no ornaments but a British Medal and three silver half Moons....he was shot about the hip....part of his hip was taken away....Col. Johnson's pistol ball broke his skull....Tecumseh was buried by our troops."
In a subsequent account, however, Gaines said Tecumseh was killed 100 yards from Col. Johnson and that all his trophies were taken by the men.
--Ottawa Chief Noonday, interviewed by interpreter Leonard Slater, said he was directly on Tecumseh's right when he fell and that Col. Johnson killed him with a shot in the breast and that he and Chief Saginaw seized him at once and bore him from their field; that he, Noonday, had taken Tecumseh's tomahawk and hat.
--Peter Navarre stated in his account that Tecumseh:
" was standing behind a large tree that had been blown down, and was killed by a ball that passed diagonally through his chest. After death he was shot several times, but otherwise his body was not mutilated in the least, being buried in his regimentals, as the old chief desired, by myself and a companion, at the command of Gen. Harrison. All statements that he was scalped or skinned are absolutely false."
--Chiefs Carrymaunee and Four Legs, in a joint statement, claimed that:
"Tecumseh fell in the first fire, pierced by thirty bullets, and we carried him four or five miles into the thick woods and buried him."
--J. Scott Harrison, son of the general, wrote:
"I do not know that my father saw the bodies of either of these Indians [Tecumseh and Stiahta] after death. I am inclined to think that he did not, as he would otherwise have most probably alluded to his recognition of his old enemy, Tecumseh, who you are aware he knew very well."
--Dr. Samuel Theobald states that interpreter Anthony Shane, former sdopted Shawnee and companion of Tecumseh, was unable to identify the body pointed out to him as Tecumseh's as being that of his adopted Shawnee brother; Theobald was convinced that the body of Tecumseh was carried off by fellow Indians; unmutilated.
--Andrew Clark, a white man who was adopted by the Shawnee and one of Tecumseh's aides, himself was shot i the battle and found propped against a tree and dying; in his final words he told questioners that he had seen Tecumseh killed and that Tecumseh's body had been borne off someplace by his companions.
--Col. Robert Anderson says in his account:
"that Tecumseh was engaged in a personal encounter with a soldier armed with a musket - he caught the bayonet of
the soldier under his arm and was about to strike with his tomahawk when a horseman rode up
and shot Tecumseh dead with a pistol"
and that he saw Tecumseh's body a day or two after the battle and it was not mutilated.
--Maj. Whitaker said the Indian whose thighs were skinned for razor straps "looked like Tecumseh, only shorter and smaller in every way...."
--Gen. William Henry Harrison, who, along with Commodore Perry, viewed a body that had been mutilated, admitted that:
"I first thought it was Tecumseh, but the body was too small -- it must have been a nephew of his,
who much resembled him, though smaller in size."
Harrison, however, though he wrote an extensive report to Secretary of War John Armstrong on October 9, made no mention whatever of Tecumseh's death, nor did he mention it in his letter of October 11 to Return J. Meigs.
--Chaubenee, who for many years refused to even discuss the subject, finally in an interview some twenty years later "seemed to recall" that Tecumseh was mortally wounded in the neck by Col. Johnson and that his thigh was not mutilated; that the night following the battle he, Chaubenee, accompanied by a party of warriors, went to the fatal field and found Tecumseh's remains where he fell. A bullet had pierced his heart, and his skull was broken, probably by the butt of a gun, otherwise the body was untouched, and they took him away and buried him.
--Pvt. John S. Herndon said in his account:
"I was in the heat of battle when the second charge was made on us by the Indians, Edward Elloy, J. Harrod Holman and myself were close together near the spot where Col. Whitley was laying dead, ( say 30 or 40 steps ) and an Indian advanced on Whitley and was scalping him, when Holman leveled his gun and fired and killed the Indian who was scalping Whitley, and Holston ran and obtained two pistols of the Indian, which he kept until his death, and the British soldiers whom we had taken prisoners told us that was Tecumseh whom Holman killed....it is but justice to the history of our country to say that J. Harrod Holman was the man who killed Tecumseh."
--Captain Parks, a Shawnee warrior, said Tecumseh was his old and greatly loved friend whom he was with in the battle, in which:
"Tecumseh singled out a mounted officer, shot at and made a mad dash at him, and himself recieved a pistol shot at the hands of the officer, and Tecumseh, badly hurt, was carried off by his Indian friends and died that night."
--Simon Kenton said he recognized the body of Tecumseh immediately after the fight, but that he deliberately failed to identify it because he knew it would be mutilated by souvenir hunters; that he purposely misidentified the body of another chief, nearby, as that of Tecumseh and that this body was severely mutilated, and that when he went to look at the body of Tecumseh again the next day, it was gone; and that another one being pointed out as Tecumseh, was not and even though badly mutilated, he could tell because the mutilated Indian did not have a fine set of teeth, which Tecumseh did have; that when he viewed the desecration that had been perpetrated on the body of the chief thought to be Tecumseh, he had commented to a companion that "There have been cowards here."
--Capt. Thomas P. Leather's account said that when the dead body of Tecumseh was found:
"it was pierced with about a dozen bullet wounds, several of which would certainly have proved
fatal; Leathers had the powder horn he claimed to have been Tecumseh's." --Gen. Henry Proctor at first discounted reports of Tecumseh's death and then, when convinced of the truth of them, did not inform his superiors of that fact for three weeks.
--Lewis Cass was the first American to officially report to Washington the death of Tecumseh and identification of his body, but this did not occur until October 28, 23 days after the battle.
--Isaac Hamblin stated in his account that:
"Johnson's horse fell under him, he himself also being deeply wounded; in the fall he lost his sword, his large pistols were empty, and he was entangled with his horse on the ground. Tecumseh had fired his rifle at him, and when he saw him fall, he through down his guns and bounded forward like a tiger, sure of his prey. Johnson only had a side pistol ready for use. He aimed at the chief, over the head of his horse, and shot near the centre of his forehead. When the ball struck, it seemed to me that the Indian jumped with his head a full fifteen feet into the air; as soon as he struck the ground a little frenchman ran his bayonet into him, and pinned him fast to the ground."
--Nayhawaynah, better known as Pachetha, son of Tecumseh, interviewed a year later by Lewis Cass, related that he was near his father's side in the battle, but that his uncle, The Prophet, was in the Creek country; he said he had no doubt Col. Johnson killed his father.
--William Conner, the trader and Indian agent, stated in his account that he wes sent by Harrison to identify a body believed to be Tecumseh's; that he identified it as Tecumseh, whom he knew well; that close to the body lay an American officer and a lad and that the officer had been killed by a large bullet, the lad by a smaller one, and the chief by a very small one, which would just fit the light rifle carried by the officer's aide, as he was suppose to be. The Chief, Conner thought, shot the officer, the boy shot the chief and was instantly shot in turn by one of Tecumseh's braves.
--Capt. James Davidson's account, by far the most accurate in personal observation, says Tecumseh was killed by two lead balls in the left breast and through the heart, that he wore no ornamentation or sign of rank, but he also adds the hearsay that the body was mutilated.
The following is an authentic Shawnee statement made by the late Head Committeeman and Custodian of the Tribal Records of the Absentee Shawnees, whose Indian name was written Ganwawpeaseka, but who was known to the whites as Thomas Wildcat Alford, great-grandson of Tecumseh:
Shawnee tradition states :
'No white man knows, or ever will know, where we took the body of our beloved Tecumseh and buried him. Tecumseh will come again!'
Pucksinwah, (Shawnee Chief, 1774)
"Letter from Harrison 1806"
"Speech of 1810"[ "Words of Fire"
"The Shawnee Prophet and Tecumseh"[ "Tenskwatawa's Vision"
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