War and Conflict

Indian Wars

What was the Battle of Tippecanoe?

The battle near present-day Lafayette, Indiana, took place on November 7, 1811, when U.S. troops under the command of General William Henry Harrison (1773–1841) defeated the Shawnee Indians while their leader, Tecumseh (1768–1813), was away.

Before the November battle, the Shawnee Indians had been steadily pushed back from their ancestral lands along the Cumberland River in Kentucky. Once they settled in the Ohio River valley, they formed a wall of resistance to further pressure. Resistance fighting began in 1763 and did not end until 30 years later (1793) when the American forces of General Anthony Wayne (1745–1796) defeated the Shawnee at Fallen Timbers in northwest Ohio. Tecumseh was 25 years old at the time of this critical defeat of his people. He became determined, despite the counsel of the tribe elders, to halt the westward movement of the Shawnee. Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa (c. 1768–1834), built a settlement on Tippecanoe Creek near the Wabash River, Indiana. Called Prophet’s Town, it became a rallying point for those Indians who resisted displacement by colonists. Soon the Shawnee who had settled at Prophet’s Town were joined by bands of Wyandot, Potawatomi, Miami, and Delaware Indians. The British became aware of Tecumseh’s defiance and soon supplied Prophet’s Town Indians with arms to use against the Americans.

In 1810 the governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), requested a meeting with Tecumseh. But both were suspicious of each other and could reach no agreement for peace. Settlers who were aware of Tecumseh’s armed resistance movement pressured President James Madison (1751–1836) to take action, which he did: Under orders from the president, Harrison set out in the fall of 1811 with a force of 1,000 men. Arriving at Tippecanoe on November 6, he met with the Indians under a flag of truce and then made camp about a mile away from Prophet’s Town. Tecumseh was visiting the Creek Indians in Alabama at the time, trying to rally their support in the white resistance movement. But his brother, Tenskwatawa, rallied the men at Prophet’s Town, and at the break of day, they attacked Harrison’s camp. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued in an icy drizzle. The Indian alliance retreated and though Harrison took heavy losses, he had managed to destroy Prophet’s Town.

The battle undermined Tecumseh’s initiative and launched the career of Harrison. In 1840, after successful military duty and service in the U.S. Congress, Harrison rode a wave of public support all the way to the White House to become the ninth president. His campaign slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” (John Tyler was his running mate). Eventually the Shawnee were pushed into Kansas. Tecumseh became an ally of the British in the War of 1812 (1812–14) and was killed in the fighting.

U.S. General William Henry Harrison leads his troops against the Shawnee Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811.

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