When reading accounts of the tragic conflict between whites and Native Americans, such as Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, one cannot help but wonder why the Indians did not see the whites as a common enemy and band together for their common safety and survival. Unfortunately for them, ancient tribal enmities seemed to erect insurmountable barriers. So it was that in one of the earliest “Indian wars,” the Mohegan and Pequot tribes helped the English colonists defeat the Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes in 1675-76. Arikara and Crow scouts helped Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer find Sitting Bull’s Arapaho, Cheyenne and Lakota village at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Chiricahua scouts helped General George Crook wage war against the Apache in 1882.
However, in this sorrowful history of the decimation of one tribe after another by the advance of white civilization, a heroic figure stands apart. One Native American leader tried to do the seemingly impossible: Tecumseh, the charismatic and influential Shawnee chief who organized a tribal confederacy to oppose the white encroachment on Indian lands. A fierce warrior, powerful orator and cunning diplomat, Tecumseh spent the first decade of the nineteenth century skillfully building his dream confederacy. Then it all fell apart in two hours. In the cold drizzle, overcast skies and pitch darkness of a pre-dawn battle, Tecumseh’s dream was shattered and his confederacy decimated at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana Territory on Nov. 7, 1811—a clash Tecumseh had warned his people to avoid, and a battle that happened without him.
In the September 2010 issue: the dark descent of an American literary icon; using 19th-century government documents to right wrongs against Native Americans; and a private collector’s zeal adds depth and diversity to an eminent historical collection.
From Mascot to Militant: The Many Campaigns of Seba Smith’s Major Jack DowningBy Aaron McLean Winter, National Tsing Hua University
Readers of the Washington, D.C. newspaper The Daily National Intelligencer witnessed a strange and disturbing transformation in 1847, when the nation’s most popular literary character freely admitted that he had become a greedy, cynical killer. Soon enough this beloved American hero, whose name was synonymous with Yankee Doodle, would threaten to stage a military coup to seize the Capitol and overthrow Congress! Continued...