Northwest Ohio History
THUS FELL TECUMSEH
The great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh perished in the Battle of the Thames in 1813. Colonel Johnson claimed that he killed Tecumseh, and even turned his alleged victory into a rhyming slogan that helped him win the vice-presidency of the United States in 1836, but was he really the one responsible? "Thus Fell Tecumseh" examines the mystery of Tecumseh's death, comparing accounts from diverse sources and meticulously weeding fiction from fact.
Reconstructing Tecumseh's fateful last battle from British, Indian, American and Canadian testimonies, "Thus Fell Tecumseh" ultimately reveals who historical evidence really points to as dealing the killing blow. An excellent addition to Native American and American History shelves.“
The Native American Shelf
THUS FELL TECUMSEH
One of the few undisputed facts of Tecumseh’s life is the date of his death. The date of his birth is only known approximately and there are multiple possibilities for its location. He was born about March 1768 somewhere in the Ohio territory. It’s pretty much accepted that he met his end at the Battle of the Thames but that statement isn’t quite as precise as it might appear. While it is generally believed, as most reports indicate, that he died as a combatant in the battle, reports do exist that describe his death as an accidental shooting some distance away from the actual fighting. What no one questions is that Tecumseh was alive on the morning of October 5, 1813, and dead at the end of the day.
A little more than half of Thus Fell Tecumseh involves that day which means that nearly half of it doesn’t. Kuron spends that other half providing a well researched and well written description of the early part of the War of 1812 and the circumstances that led to it. He also manages to fit a pretty good biography of Tecumseh in there. By the time the Battle of the Thames begins, the reader has a more than decent idea of what those British, Canadian, American, and Indian forces are doing there.
Kuron also provides a good summary of the battle before starting to present the various accounts of Tecunseh’s death. There are accounts from eye witnesses with details that, if there were no other reports, would make them readily accepted as absolute truth. But there are other reports. Lots of them. Some name different individuals as the slayer and some name the same man but differ in other significant details. Even more problematic are the differing reports that one witness might give over time. Like testimony in a trial, the reports are presented unmodified. Kuron never urges the reader to accept one report or another. He does point out the discrepancies in each. If this was a real trial where the killer would be punished rather than glorified, every suspect named would almost certainly be acquitted thanks to mounds of reasonable doubt.
Of course, the killing of Tecumseh was no crime. The Shawnee chief was almost universally admired and respected by friend and foe but another of those rare undisputed facts about him is that he was a very active and effective enemy of the young United States. There was fame to be gained from his killing and the man most often named as the killer, Colonel Richard Johnson, was boosted to the Vice Presidency by that fame. Of the three most popular candidates for the honor, one (David King) shied away from any publicity and another (William Whitley) died on the battlefield. Johnson himself never quite claimed to have slain Tecumseh but supporters did make the claim for him and his political career clearly benefited.
Part of the difficulty in identifying the slayer is in identifying the slain. At least two of the bodies left on the field of battle were identified as Tecumseh plus there are claims that the body was carried away by companions and even that it was never there.
Kuron does not offer an answer to the question of who killed Tecumseh. He does supply a terrific amount of testimony, from participants in both sides of the battle as well as others, that suggests several possibilities. Interest in the War of 1812 has certainly increased during its bicentennial but has been overshadowed even in that by the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. As the final use of the British military against the United States and nearly the last, and possibly the largest, organized resistance by Native Americans to advances of the new country, the War of 1812 is extremely important in this country’s development. Thus Fell Tecumseh is a very well done look at the war, the Battle of the Thames, and the many ways in which Tecumseh might have fallen.
Denny G's Road Trips
Denny G's Road Trips
Denny G's Road Trips
Denny G's Road Trips
Northwest Ohio History
History is an odd admixture. What
we understand as historical fact is in reality a construction made of many ingredients. History is based upon objective description, subjective reminiscence, collective memory, cultural conventions, ideological imperatives, and political exigencies. And military history, in particular, can be especially opaque. In the early nineteenth century, the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously observed that military conflict was inevitably conducted within what he described as the “fog of war,” an uncertainty of awareness brought about by the chaos and confusion inherent in combat. Thus, even in the best of circumstances, military historians are often denied the sharply focused recollections that form the basis of other types of historical inquiry and must rely instead on testimony illuminated, in Clausewitz’s memorable phrase, only by “twilight.”
In Don’t Give Up the Ship! Myths of the War of 1812, Donald R. Hickey, one of America’s most respected War of 1812 historians, has noted that the War of 1812, perhaps more than any other American struggle, became encrusted with a unique and persistent layer of legend, lore, and embellishment. One moment of that conflict, the end of the October 5, 1813 Battle of the Thames when the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh was killed by American troops, has seemed to inspire more than its share of historical controversy. Specifically, historians have long debated two important aspects of that event: who killed Tecumseh; and what happened to his body?
Frank Kuron, an independent scholar from Toledo, Ohio, has attempted to answer the first of these questions in “Thus Fell Tecumseh”: The 1813 Struggle for the Northwest Territory and the Mystery Surrounding Who Killed Tecumseh, Revealed Through the Personal Accounts of the Participants. Interestingly, Kuron’s efforts follow closely the 2005 publication of Tecumseh’s Bones, the Canadian independent scholar Guy St. Denis’s attempt to answer the second.
Kuron begins his investigation with the assertion that “I love history” (ix). And indeed, the author’s enthusiasm for his topic permeates every page of the study. Kuron explains that when he first began to learn of the region’s history, he found out that “even the great Shawnee Indian chief, Tecumseh, traversed this area frequently during his life.” But, when Kuron read of Tecumseh’s death, the accounts were “full of contradictory claims of how, and by whose hand, he fell. My curiosity was instantly piqued, and I just had to learn more about this controversy (x).
Kuron bases this work upon a close examination of over one-hundred primary accounts created by individuals claiming to have had first-hand knowledge of Tecumseh’s death or its immediate aftermath. Further, Kuron does a good job of placing the events described by these accounts into the broader perspective of the War of 1812 in the Northwest. Early chapters provide an overview of Tecumseh’s life while subsequent ones place the last years of his life squarely within the military campaigns surrounding Detroit and the Western Basin of Lake Erie during the conflict.
Ultimately, the evidence leads Kuron to four candidates whom, in his opinion, he believes are the most likely to have killed the Shawnee leader. Kuron’s primary suspects are: Richard M. Johnson, who led the Kentucky charge into the Indian ranks, who certainly killed an Indian later identified by some as Tecumseh, who was severely wounded in the engagement, and who in 1837 used the claim that he had killed Tecumseh to successfully bolster his political reputation as a candidate for the vice presidency; William Whitley, who was killed on the field near where Johnson was wounded and the Indian killed by Johnson found, and whom was later identified by some as firing the fatal shot; David King, who, according to some reports, killed an Indian (not the same as the one shot by Johnson) who was later also identified as Tecumseh; and Major David Thompson, who, according to family tradition and one second-hand account reported to Lyman Draper many years after the engagement, possibly shot the Indian claimed to have been killed by David King.
Few of Kuron’s findings will be a surprise to professional historians. In fact, Robert McAfee, a Kentuckian who participated in the battle and who wrote one of the war’s first histories suggested Johnson, Whitley, and King as the most likely perpetrators in 1816. In recent years, John Sugden came to much the same conclusions in his book-length study of the Shawnee warrior’s death, Tecumseh’s Last Stand, written in 1985, and then reiterated those findings in his definitive biography Tecumseh: A Life (1997). Even more recently, Donald Hickey writing in Don’t Give Up the Ship! (2006) likewise embraces generally the same conclusions.
But this book is clearly not written for professional historians. Instead, Thus Fell Tecumseh will appeal directly to armchair historians, regional military history buffs, local historians, and all those with an abiding interest in the history of Maumee Valley. Kuron seems absolutely at home working within the rarified environment of scattered primary source material; his analysis is methodical and his findings acute; he writes well and with conviction; and ultimately, he successfully guides his readers as together they unravel a terrific mystery characterized by dead-ends, red-herrings, and false leads and shaped for nearly two-hundred years by a remarkable set of personalities, conflicting motives, and political ambitions. This is local history at its best.
Sketches of Intriguing People was a remarkably interesting book for a history buff like myself. I was particularly fond of the Ohio Valley-based stories, though I'm a bit biased as I grew up in Ohio. That said, each story was unique. While the characters and actions may seem outlandish at times, it is clear all the stories are true. The author put so much research into this book and it shows. There was a plethora of remarkable information and photographs. The stories are followed by anecdotes, sketch notes, and an index that helps show this and provides a great starting point for those who want to look into these people more. Those interested in the people who pioneered westward expansion should definitely pick up this book. It provides numerous eye-opening accounts that made me want to know more.
First-time author Kuron, an independent historian, tackles the mystery surrounding the death of Shawnee chief Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames in 1813. But what mystery? Kentuckian Richard Johnson claimed that he had killed the great chief, a declaration that helped him further his political career and, ultimately, gain the vice presidency in Martin Van Buren's first term. Kuron examines the differing accounts of what really happened by using the primary and secondary testimonies of over 150 people found in British, Indian, American, and Canadian sources. Using these statements, he reconstructs the battle in which Tecumseh died, but he also interweaves the story of the lives of the participants, their adversities, and the political milieu that created the conflict. The reader is challenged to decide the truth, but through Kuron's excellent analytical skills, historical evidence points to one man.
Verdict: This work serves as an excellent introduction to the life and bravery of Tecumseh and to the blow that his death dealt to the settlement struggles of the Northwest Territory. A highly readable book suitable for any student of history.
Western Kentucky University Library,
Bowling Green, KY
SKETCHES OF INTRIGUING PEOPLE
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 significantly expanded settlement into the newly established Northwest Territory. Kuron’s engaging project is here to share the neglected stories of some of those settlers and illustrate the agency of ordinary people in a pivotal time and place in our nation’s history. Some of the individuals we meet contributed to the great events of their day, but all he contends, are of interest in their own right.
While most of the “intriguing people” are men of European descent (There’s a brief nod to the experience of women and American Indians), their adventurous lives indeed hold our attention. Relying heavily on printed primary sources such as family histories and newspapers, Kuron’s short, informal narratives are varied and laced with humor, with whimsical chapter titles and a distinctly lighthearted tone for a book so replete with battles and massacres.
Through the travails of a young commissar, we witness the urgent need for salt in frontier forts. Instead of the familiar Battle of Lake Erie, we watch the ingenious, determined men who built and transported the American ships that fought in it. One chapter examines the spiritual beliefs of Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa sympathetically, while another surveys the extraordinary life of William Oliver, doctor, sutler, courier for General Harrison, soldier, land speculator and legislator. The different experiences of two American farmers in Upper (southern) Canada, whose peaceful prosperity ended with the conflicting demands for their loyalty created by the War of 1812, are particularly thought-provoking. A portrait of Jane Trimble, drawn mostly from a biography by her grandson, describes such a paragon of faith and fortitude that we chuckle at one of her long-suffering children’s comments: “Mother, you talk to us too much about religion.”
We see pioneers take a number of different life paths to reach the Northwest Territory. James and Jane Trimble, for example, originally migrated to Kentucky from Virginia, but later in life came to see slavery as wrong. They freed their slaves and moved to Ohio. Three young men from New Jersey involved in the founding of Cincinnati came there from western Pennsylvania, already accustomed to fighting American Indians.
Kuron’s admiration for his subjects is somewhat uncritical but, on the whole, persuasive. Impressively brave, resourceful and hardy, with an astonishing range of innate and acquired skills, many later succeeded as entrepreneurs. Their zest for life, undimmed by hardship and narrow escapes, is also appealing. Less so is their sense of entitlement to the lands they settled and their expectation of defending them with violence. But those who enjoy combining entertainment with learning about Ohio’s early history will find much to appreciate here.
THUS FELL TECUMSEH
“Rumpsey-dumpsey, Rumpsey-dumpsey, Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh!” But did he really? This question of how Tecumseh died and by whose hand piqued the curiosity of author Frank Kuron as he grew up in the heart of the old “Northwest Territory,” an area now including Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana that was fiercely contested during the War of 1812. The Shawnee chief Tecumseh was instrumental in many of the events before and during this conflict and the mystery over who killed Tecumseh has been debated since it occurred in 1813.
In this well researched and referenced book, Kuron leads the reader through American expansion, border disputes with British Canada, and conflicts with Native Americans. He outlines battles and specific incidents that inflamed passions, such as the Kentuckian outrage following the slaughter of their kinsmen after they had surrendered at the Battle of the Raisin River in Michigan. The tactical moves of the British and American armies over the spring and summer of 1813 are outlined in detail. American Commodore Perry’s victory at the Battle of Lake Erie, and how that opened the way to American pursuit of the British and Native forces, culminated at the battle of the Thames where Tecumseh fell.
But who killed Tecumseh and why should the reader care? Kuron examines all the possible answers, from Colonel Johnson, who took credit for the act as a stepping stone to the vice-presidency, to frontiersman William Whitley, who also died at the Thames, to David King, a lowly Kentucky private. Kuron uses contemporary accounts from over 160 people who commented on the event including the noted frontiersman Simon Kenton.
The author explores the debate over whether or not the body was correctly identified or if it was mutilated. Native and American accounts are contradictory. As Kuron succinctly states, “How one body can be viewed by so many men, with each one observing something different from the other, would make a premier case-study of human behavior.” This timely work is an excellent read as we remember the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and reinforces the notion that history is, indeed, “very chancey.”
Journal of Early America
Ohio History Connection