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Ask Rufus: Tecumseh's journey

 

An 1850 engraving of Tecumseh, the celebrated Shawnee chief who traveled to the Mississippi Territory in 1811.

 

Rufus Ward

 

Three years ago marked the beginning of a series of the bicentennials of the events leading directly to the founding of Columbus. November of 1813 was a month in which those events linked directly with one of greater national significance. That story is told in the nation's newspapers of the day. 

 

On Nov. 1, 1813, the Independent Chronicle of Boston reported that in response to the Creek Indian attacks along the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers, Tennessee troops sent to defend the settlements had arrived in Huntsville, Mississippi Territory (now Alabama). Then on Nov. 9, The War, a New York newspaper, told of U.S. troops in Mobile taking to the field against the Creek Indians, It also provided news that the Choctaw Indians had offered their services to the United States in opposition to the Creeks. 

 

On Nov. 19, Boston's New England Palladium newspaper published a speech by the famous Shawnee leader Tecumseh. It also reported that U.S. Army Captain Kennedy had led troops to the site of the Fort Mims massacre in the Mississippi Territory where they found and buried 247 victims. The death of Tecumseh was announced by the Yankee, a Boston paper, on Nov. 26. It is with Tecumseh that local history merges into a story of national significance. 

 

In the spring or summer of 1811, the famous Shawnee chief traveled through the Indian nations of present day Alabama and Mississippi in an attempt to convince the Chickasaws, Choctaws and Creeks to reject the quickly-spreading Euro-American influences and settlements. 

 

Most accounts portray Tecumseh's mission as an attempt to form a grand Indian alliance from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico to drive all intruders out of Indian territory. There are some accounts, though, that present Tecumseh's goal as more of an attempt to convince the Indian nations to return to their traditional ways but his message was misunderstood. There were even some indications that Tecumseh was part of a British plan to foment trouble on the American frontier as a war between Great Britain and the United States became almost certain. 

 

It was probably in the late spring of 1811 that the great Shawnee chief entered the Mississippi Territory. He met first with the Chickasaws. He sought the help of the influential Chickasaw George Colbert. Colbert, however, rejected Tecumseh's overture and responded that the Chickasaws were at peace with the whites and wished to remain so. 

 

Tecumseh then traveled south crossing Tibbee Creek just southwest of present day West Point. The first night he was in the Choctaw Nation, he and the 20 Shawnee warriors who accompanied him, camped in a grove of trees on a hill in southwest corner of present day Lowndes County. The next day he arrived at the home of Mushulatubbee, the chief of the Northern District of the Choctaw Nation (present day Mushulaville). 

 

Tecumseh's proposal was not well received and after a few days there he left. For several weeks he ventured deeper into the Choctaw Nation holding councils with little, if any, success. Though he was said to have proposed driving the whites out of the Indian territories by force, he was also reported to have denounced the practice of the killing of women and children. 

 

The last and largest council took place when Tecumseh returned to Mushulatubbee's, reportedly to his other house which was about five miles north of present day Brooksville on the crest of a hill upon which stood a huge red oak tree. At the council, Tecumseh spoke first followed the next day by Choctaw Southern District Chief Pushmataha. In an impassioned response Pushmataha spoke of the Choctaw's long friendship with the white people and stated that any Choctaw who joined with Tecumseh, if not killed in battle, would be put to death if he returned home. The council ended with Tecumseh being ordered to leave the Choctaw Nation and David Folsom was directed to escort him to the Tombigbee River. 

 

In the Creek Nation, Tecumseh had a much more favorable reception which helped lead to division and civil war among the Creek people and laid the foundation for the Creek Indian War that would erupt two years later.  

 

Whatever the actual intent of Tecumseh, he became a figure of almost mythical statue in American history. Evidence of that view is even found with Grant Lincecum who named his son Tecumseh. Grant was the brother of War of 1812/Creek Indian War veteran Gideon Lincecum who had settled in 1818 at the site of the present day Stennis/Columbus Lock and Dam. An 1850 U.S. history book describes Tecumseh as "the celebrated chief," the "mastermind of the Indians throughout the Northwest Territories" and "the most able, if not the most successful, military chief of all the northern tribes." 

 

He was killed in October, 1813, fighting along side the British against United States troops at the Battle of Thames in Canada. It was said in 1850 that in his last battle he displayed "a degree of courage and sagacity beyond that of the British commander, whose ally he was." 

 

How interesting it is that the same 1813 newspaper reporting a speech of Tecumseh's shortly before his death also carried the account of the burial of the victims of the Fort Mims massacre. A massacre, which to a great degree, was a result of Tecumseh's influence on the Creek Indians during his 1811 visit to the Mississippi Territory.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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