TECUMSEH by John Sugden


A Life
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This biography demythologizes the legendary Shawnee chief while still according him mythic stature. In popular culture, Tecumseh is a tragic symbol of the American Indian: a brilliant and charismatic leader who tried against impossible odds in the early 1800s to unite dozens of tribes against the steady march of American settlement into their historic lands. British Historian Sugden (Sir Francis Drake, 1991, etc.) has spent 30 years searching for the real Tecumseh, but, for all that, in the end he delivers a portrait remarkably similar to popular perceptions. Sugden’s Tecumseh was a remarkable man who rose to eminence at the precise historical moment when a thousand years of Native American life east of the Mississippi were coming to an end. Tecumseh did nothing to change what happened to the Indians. Indians who rallied to his defiant cause and those who decided instead to do whatever the Americans asked shared precisely the same fate: loss of lands and culture and eventual forced removal. But even by the time of Tecumseh’s death in 1813 in battle against future US president William Henry Harrison, his enemies were describing Tecumseh as the noble embodiment of the best of the American Indian and as the tragic embodiment of the Indians’ fate. Cowed by Tecumseh’s already mythic stature, an American general chose not to take him and his British allies on in the early days of the War of 1812, when an American victory might have led to the fall of Canada. To make Tecumseh’s story read even more like a Hollywood script, his brother was the Prophet, leader of a religious reform movement among the Shawnee that was another desperate, and ultimately futile, expression of Indian resistance. Sugden has written that rare biography that documents and justifies its worshipfulness. Tecumseh was not well served by history, but history is well served by him. (32 pages photos, maps, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-4138-9
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998


by Lon Brett Coon