THE FAMILY OF TECUMSEH

An Introductory Essay

 

by Noel Schutz

 

 

So much has been written about Tecumseh's family that it seems rather a waste of time to delve into the matter one more time. Yet I feel bound to make the attempt because there is so much being said that is incorrect. The various interpretations one reads combine problems in genealogy, history, linguistics, and culture that beg for explanation.

 

The Problem 

Someone must be wrong if one source says that Tecumseh's mother was a full-blooded Shawnee who matured in the Creek country, another that she was a Creek who married a Shawnee and came north with him, and yet another that she was Cherokee, or even a white captive of the Cherokee, who was captured by the Shawnee in a raid. Further, can Tecumseh's father be both Paxinosa, a well-known Shawnee chief whose wife was a Moravian convert in Pennsylvania and a Kishpoko Shawnee warrior from the Creek country? Can he be both Shawnee and Creek, or have Creek father and a white daughter of a colonial governor as parents? 

Take the following statements for example:

It has been stated that [Tecumseh's]...mother was a Creek. The better opinion, however, seems to be that he was wholly a Shawnaoe [and] the mother, of the Turtle tribe of the Shawnee nation.   

                                                                         S. Drake, Tecumseh, 1841, p. 61

 

The turtle in her [Tecumseh's mother] name has been supposed by many writers to identify her with the turtle clan of the Shawnee tribe and to suggest therefore that she was neither Creek nor Cherokee, but a full-blood Shawnee. The clear preponderance of the evidence, when it is finally assembled, is that she was a Creek.

                                                                     Tucker, Vision of Glory, 1956, p. 20

 

Methotasa...was not a Cherokee Indian.

                                                                        Eckert, Frontiersman, 1967, p. 591

 

"...in the continued research over more than a quarter-century, data has been unearthed that Methotasa [Tecumseh's mother] was, indisputably, Cherokee,..."

                                                                        Eckert, A Sorrow in Our Heart, 1993, p. 817

 

I have discounted the view that Methoataaskee was a Cherokee. The only credible authority for it is a third-hand statement alleged to have passed from Tecumseh to Henry Rowe Schoolcraft via the Vincennes merchant George Conant and writer Samuel Conant...

                                                                        Sugden, Tecumseh - A Life, 1997, p. 414, n. 5

No one wishes to discount the serious research of Benjamin Drake, the earliest serious biographer of Tecumseh, and one who had first-hand information available to him. Nor do we wish to discount the researches of Eckert and the way he has brought to life the drama of the time. And we certainly have no interest in contesting the admirable scholarly precision of Sugden who seldom says anything without a careful evaluation of the facts and their sources. Yet we will find disagreements, more or less, with these and other sources.

A Personal Note

 

 

 

Tecumseh

'(Panther) Flying Across' 

Pronunciation: Ta'kamtha

Ta'-    'vague location'                     Kam-  'across, cross'                      -tha     'fly, go'                           

Cultural context:

The name alludes to a 'shooting star' or 'meteor'. Shooting stars were believed to come from sparks off the whiskers of the sacred water panther, manetowi-m'shi-peshi, as it crossed the sky.

Spiritually powerful                     (manetowi) panther,                  literally, big (m'shi-)                     wildcat (peshi).                               

Manitoowi m'shipeshi emerges from the sea to fly across the night sky from east to west and from dusk until dawn at which time he plunges back into the sea.

This name designates its bearer as a member of the panther clan.

 

I came onto the problems perhaps from a different perspective from those quoted above who are mostly historians and biographers. And I believe this perspective can add linguistic and cultural depth to the problem by filling in dimensions from my fields of endeavor in the study of Shawnee language, sacred traditions, ethnography, and ethnohistory. I first encountered Shawnee as a class assistant of C. F. Voegelin in the early 60s when it was my task to bring a Shawnee native speaker to the Summer Institute of the Linguistic Society of America. After my early training in linguistics under Dr. Voegelin, I returned to graduate work in the early 70s to earn on my Ph.D. under the watchful eye of Dr. Voegelin.

Dr. Voegelin urged me to work once again with native speakers of Shawnee to make finished translations of traditional Shawnee texts he had collected in the 1930s. I entered into this task with great enthusiasm, but soon found that my interest in the intriguing history and culture of the Shawnee was the equal of my interest in the beauty of their language. While working with Shawnee speakers in Oklahoma and Shawnee, I began to compile material for an introduction to the texts I was working on only to find in the end that a modest introduction became a 557 page dissertation in and of itself -- one which was found useful by both Sugden and Edmunds.

It was against this backdrop that along the way I began to look at the life of Tecumseh. Immediately, I saw problems of translation and ethnographic detail that could solve some of the dilemmas in evaluating source material for information on his life -- as well as for similar difficulties in the lives of other chiefs. I had first been interested in an earlier period than that in which Tecumseh lived as my researches brought me into contact with the life of Martin Chartier (1655-1718) and his son Peter, who lived between them for the three-quarters of a century before the dramatic events of the late 18th and early 19th centuries leading up to the War of 1812. Indeed, it was the arrival of Peter Chartier's Shawnee band in Ohio that probably brought the parents of Tecumseh from Creek country to initiate a new phase of Shawnee history. It was, in a way, a backdoor into the problem as I was awash with information about the Shawnee at their very earliest period of white contact, on the one hand, and with the most recent from Shawnee native speakers in the twentieth century, on the other.

I have continued through the years to gather information in many areas and from many places to evaluate the published and unpublished material in my possession, including manuscripts that have data relevant to the quandaries involved. Along the way David Edmunds contributed a scholarly work on the life of the Shawnee Prophet, and then in the past decade major works have appeared on Tecumseh and others of his time, notably John Sugden's scholarly biographies of Bluejacket and Tecumseh and Eckert's dramatized history of the life of Tecumseh. And I must not forget to mention the years of research by Don Greene for a proposed encyclopedia of famous Indians of the 17th century and his contribution to this site of the list of 17th century Shawnee notables.

It is from my perspective in working on the ethnohistory, culture and language of the Shawnee, and my personal involvement with Shawnee native speakers, that I believe will help me contribute to working some of the thorny historical and genealogical issues along with cultural and linguistic ones. In this way, it is hoped that future work can rest on a more solid foundation.

The Task

What are the sources for these conflicting viewpoints on genealogy and history and how is it possible that the data could be interpreted so differently? Added to these questions are the linguistic puzzles. What is the meaning of Tecumseh's name? And what of his father's and mother's names and that of his brother, the Shawnee Prophet? And how should we spell these names when there are many orthographic versions of each floating around? Was Tecumseh a humane and noble man while his brother the Shawnee Prophet a scheming charlatan? Who were Tecumseh's mother and father and even his grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins? The brothers did not live in a social vacuum, but had real life families. Some of the answers will forever be beyond our reach, but we can make a start by nailing down those facts which can be determined.

The purpose will not be to solve all the problems, for many will remain unanswered, but to make all the data clear so that errors of fact, logical deduction, and false inferences can be eliminated with the use of information not usually available to genealogists, historians and biographers. I hope that in the passion of the moment I will not make excessive claims or appear to discount or decry the efforts of others, but forgive me if I do. I do get deeply involved with my subject, but am always willing to entertain contrary views. I hate to admit it, but I have been wrong and I will probably be wrong again -- but I try not to be and am willing to change my mind if the facts demand it. We really do want to know the truth and not just cling to pet theories or defend extravagant claims.

With all the above in mind, I offer the following tentative topics.

          1. An Essay on Tenskwatawa - The Shawnee Prophet (Now available)
         2. What do we know about Tecumseh's parents? (In progress)
          3. The Names of Tecumseh's Immediate Family (Now partially available)