TECUMSEH AND THE QUEST FOR INDIAN LEADERSHIP by R. David Edmunds
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TECUMSEH AND THE QUEST FOR INDIAN LEADERSHIP

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The historical as against the legendary Tecumseh (1768-1813)--by the biographer of Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa, The Shawnee Prophet (1983). The corollary, unusual among Library of American Biography entries, is that the historical record is sparse: Texas Christian historian Edmunds is therefore confined, for the first third of this smallish volume, to a few facts and a few inferences--Tecumseh's Shawnee-and-Creek parentage, his warrior-brother's sponsorship, his father's and brother's death at American hands, his recognized gifts (vigor, compassion)--filled out with information on Shawnee society, white encroachment and Shawnee accommodation, and US-British conflict. Then younger drunkard brother Tenskwatawa (as he'll now call himself) has a vision, reforms, and preaches ""red deliverance"" by abandonment of white ways--including white concepts of property ownership. Tecumseh uses his influence among the converts to promote a united, military and political solution to the loss of Indian land. Thus, there emerges the historical Tecumseh, confronting William Henry Harrison: ""The Great Spirit said he gave this great island to his red children. . . to be the common property of all the tribes, [not to] be sold without the consent of all."" The rest of the story--Tenskwatawa's defeat at Tippecanoe while Tecumseh was away, Tecumseh's failed attempt to rally the southern tribes, the fickleness of his northwestern allies, his disillusion and death in the War of 1812--is recounted in terms of available evidence and gaps. The final, retrospect chapter puts the material in perspective, not only dismissing the myths (of partial white parentage, a white romance, other uncorroborated activities) but posing salient questions: why the historical disregard of Tenkskwatawa's role, the assumption that the movement was political from the outset? And in answering those questions (""there was little about Tenskwatawa to romanticize,"" his messianism was characteristically Indian), Edmunds concludes: ""Tecumseh was different. . . . His attempts at political and military unification seemed logical to both the British and Americans, for it was what they would have done in his place."" HIS personal qualities, especially his kindness toward prisoners, also accorded with the white ideal. ""In conquering the red champion, they could assure themselves that they were worthy of his kingdom."" In applying Edmunds' previous scholarship and his underlying insights to a key figure, the book exceeds its modest dimensions and transcends its series-identity.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1984
ISBN: 0321043715
Publisher: Little, Brown