Battle of Tippecanoe 

Battle of Tippecanoe 

U.S. #814 from the Presidential Series.
U.S. #814 from the Presidential Series.

On November 7, 1811, future president William Henry Harrison clashed with Tecumseh’s warriors at the Battle of Tippecanoe, a precursor to the War of 1812.

Harrison (1773-1841) was familiar with life in the Northwest Territory, now part of America’s Midwest. He first traveled to the frontier west of the Mississippi while serving in the Army during the Northwest Indian War.

After resigning from the military, Harrison sought political positions in the territory. He became secretary and then congressman, bringing new settlers to the region. Harrison was then made governor of Indiana Territory when the large Northwest Territory was divided in two. In this capacity, he signed 13 treaties and negotiated the transfer of over 60 million acres from Native Americans to white settlers and lobbied to allow slavery in the territory. He hoped to attract enough settlers to form a state.

U.S. #2216i – 1986 Harrison First Day Cover.
U.S. #2216i – 1986 Harrison First Day Cover.

Many of the tribes resented the treaties and the settlement of their native land. Two Shawnee Indians, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, formed a confederacy of Native Americans to resist the terms of the agreements.

Item #47069A – Proof Card marking Harrison’s 220th birthday.
Item #47069A – Proof Card marking Harrison’s 220th birthday.

Harrison decided to attack the growing confederation while Tecumseh was traveling and recruiting more warriors. The governor led more than 1,000 men to the headquarters at Prophetstown, near the Tippecanoe River. Prophetstown was named for Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, a prophet whose followers had settled in the region. Harrison reached the area on the night of November 6. As he approached Prophetstown, he came across one of Tenskwatawa’s men waving a white flag. He gave Harrison a message from Tenskwatawa asking for a ceasefire until the next day, at which time they could peacefully discuss a resolution. Though he didn’t expect the negotiation to be fruitful, Harrison agreed and had his men camp nearby, at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers. That night, Harrison had men on guard, but didn’t set up significant defenses.

Meanwhile in Prophetstown, Winnebago warriors grew uneasy over the close presence of the American soldiers and wanted to launch a surprise attack. While Tenskwatawa would later deny that he ordered his men to attack, he claimed to have talked to the spirits and decided that the best way to avoid a battle was to send a party to kill Harrison. He promised to cast spells that would protect his warriors and confuse Harrison’s army, keeping them from fighting back.

Item #96105 – Commemorative cover marking Harrison’s 204th birthday.
Item #96105 – Commemorative cover marking Harrison’s 204th birthday.

About 4:30 on the morning of November 7, 1811, men in Harrison’s camp awoke to the sound of gunfire. (Tenskwatawa’s troops were using firearms and munitions supplied by the British.) Fierce fighting quickly broke out as the warriors launched repeated charges against the American positions. Though Tenskwatawa’s men caught the much larger militia by surprise, they ran out of ammunition. After two hours of fighting, the warriors withdrew.

The following day, Harrison sent some men to inspect Prophetstown and they found it deserted. They collected everything of value and burned the village. Afterwards, the residents of Prophetstown buried their dead and stripped Tenskwatawa of his power.

Item #97835 –Harrison Platinum Medal Cover.
Item #97835 –Harrison Platinum Medal Cover.

In Harrison’s report he claimed a great victory for the U.S. He became known as “Old Tippecanoe” and became a national hero. Many newspapers described the battle as an Indian attack and turned citizens against the Indians and the British who supplied them with weapons. The public outcry increased tensions between the U.S. and Britain, resulting in the War of 1812 a few months later.

Once the war began, Harrison was made commander of the Army of the Northwest, where he defended American settlements along Lake Erie. The victory over the British at the Battle of Lake Erie offered Harrison a chance to pursue British and Native American forces led by Tecumseh. On October 5, 1813, the forces met again at the Battle of the Thames, where Tecumseh was killed and the war on Lake Erie ended.

Item #121152 – Commemorative cover honoring Tecumseh.
Item #121152 – Commemorative cover honoring Tecumseh.

Disagreements with the Secretary of War led to Harrison’s resignation, but he remained popular with the public. In 1840 he ran for president of the United States with the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” (his running mate was John Tyler). Harrison won the election by a landslide, but died just 30 days into his presidency.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
[Total: 16 Average: 4.9]

Share this article

7 responses to "Battle of Tippecanoe "

7 thoughts on “Battle of Tippecanoe ”

  1. Good article on W. Harrison and the battle but it appears to give the impression that the war of 1812 -14 was due to British supplying of hostile Indians. Although there were many reasons for the start of the war, probably the most important was the British navy attacking US merchant ships and capturing American sailors and forcing them into the British navy.

    Reply
  2. A good and informative historical article reminding us of some of America’s past leadership and in this case: Tippecanoe and Tyler too. Tecumseh is apparently the one that the Tecumseh engines/motors are named after.

    Reply
  3. When the Prophet placed the curse on Harrison, it was said to have been placed on the president. Whether true or not, every president elected on the even number year ending in “0”, starting with Harrison (1840) died in office. The curse stopped when Reagan (1980) did not die from his assassination attempt. I found that interesting

    Reply
  4. Thanks for another reminder of how Native Americans were robbed of their lands by white leaders who saw settlement of white settlers having priority over those who had lived in those lands for long centuries of time. Your writings are always seeing things from the white point of view which is natural for those who ultimately profited by using government power to overcome those who were merely defending their land. Harrison was merely another follower in a long line of imperialistic Americans who eventually took lands such as the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam keeping those they could and eventually lost some of them but continued to influence their leaders. Not really something to be proud of. Harrison’s biggest distinction was having the shortest term as President–one month–mostly due to giving the longest inauguration speech 3+ hours in cold weather when he was in frail health and 68 years old.

    Reply
  5. Too bad the article gave the election of 1840 short shrift. Could use more about it and Harrison’s short Presidency. That was the first time that a President had died in office and there was some confusion at the time about the position of his VP, John Tyler. Would he assume the full powers of the President and serve out the remainder of Harrison’s term, or would he be an acting President until a new election could be held? Tyler created a precedent for future VPs by assuming the former was the case. Probably fortunate that he did so.

    Reply
    • There was confusion and division of opinion about what should be done upon the death of a President, because the Constitution was a little vague on the point. Tyler insisted that he was the President and not the acting president or whatever. After three years and eleven months in office, he was accepted as the President of the United States. From Washington in 1789 until Harrison in 1841 no President had died in office…that’s fifty two years! The U.S. has never gone so long without losing a President for whatever reason since that time. Imagine what might have happened so early in our Constitutional history if Washington, Adams, or Jefferson had died in office. As has been said, “The gods smile on drunken sailors and the Untied States of America.”

      Reply
  6. There were provocations on both sides, but the preponderance of evidence favors the Americans. Tenskwatawa was a self-educated egomaniac who simply could not accept his brother’s leadership and much more circumspect world view. Tecumseh also was the victim of his own self-delusions and inability to see a larger picture of who was really going to rule the continent in the end. ( It wasn’t the British or the French.)

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Love history?

Discover events in American history – plus the stamps that make them come alive.

Subscribe to get This Day in History stories straight to your inbox every day!