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The Death of Tecumseh: Victoria Daily Colonist, August 2, 1901, page 6

The Death of Tecumseh

An Interesting Contribution to a Chapter of Canadian History.

[By T. S. Arnold.]

In writing a history of the death of Tecumseh, I am aware that I undertake no ordinary task, for there are as many contradictory accounts of the manner and circumstances of his death as there have been writers upon the subject, and although his death occurred in a neighborhood which was fairly well settled at the time, the actual occurrences of that day are, to many students of Canadian history, still shrouded in mystery. My facilities for gathering together the facts in connection with the death of Tecumseh and the battle of the Thames have been exceptional, in that my grandfather, Captain Christopher Arnold, born in 1774, had lived since boyhood on his farm about six miles from the scene of the battle, and, besides having been intimately acquainted with Tecumseh in the previous campaign in the vicinity of the Maumee, had been in consultation with him at his house the afternoon and night before the battle, and was on the battle-ground shortly after his death. I remember well a number of times, when out hunting with my father, that he would, wile sitting down to rest, repeat to me the many oft-told incidents that he had gathered in reference to that memorable man, Tecumseh, and the manner of his death. All these things are as fresh in my memory as if told me but yesterday.

Tecumseh was born near where Springfield, Ohio, now stands, and was the fourth son of a family of seven, his parents being of the Shawanee tribe, having a tribal distinction of the totum of the turtle. He was an athletic Indian, abnormally strong in both body and mind, and is thought to have be born in or about the year 1768. Tecumseh spent most of his life at war. His first battle was fought when he was only 17 years of age, with some Kentuckians on Mud River, Ohio. From this date to the beginning of the war of 1812 he was continually at war in some part of the country, until his fame became as wide as the continent on which he lived. He always displayed great skill and bravery in the battle, and suffered stoically and without a murmur. When the war of 1812 broke out, Tecumseh, who had by this time gathered about him about 1,000 Indians, threw in his lot with the British, and succeeded in rendering great assistance in several battles. He was with Gen. Brock at the surrender of Hull, and was presented by the General with a sash as an evidence of his bravery. So far what I have written is a matter well known in history, as are the accounts of the movements of Gen. Proctor and Tecumseh. After the repulse of the forces of General Proctor at Fort Stephenson, the British sailed across, while Tecumseh with his followers marched around the lake, joining forces at Malden. From this time to the death of Tecumseh, Proctor seems to have lost heart, refusing to face the Americans, even when urged by the brave Tecumseh to do so. One position after another was abandoned, much to the disgust of the Indian chief, until a stand was made in a spot known as Tecumseh Park, Chatham; but when the Americans approached, Proctor retreated, leaving a rear guard of Indians to check the Kentuckians. As a dash was made for the bridge which spanned McGregor's Creek, the Indians fired, killing three Americans, and it is said several Indians were killed, one of whom, a chief high in Tecumseh's favor, was finally buried near where the dwelling of D. R. Van Allen now stands. The rear guard of Indians were forced to retire up the river, and in passing burned McGregor's grist mill. Tecumseh rode swiftly to the farm of his old acquaintance, Capt. Christopher Arnold, on the river front in Howard, twelve miles from Chatham. It was at the residence of Mr. Arnold that the plan of the morrow's battle was arranged.

Several years ago a writer in the Chatham Banner, over the nom de plume of H. L. H., says: "Twenty years later, at a point where McGregor's Creek slips quietly into the Thames, there existed a small cluster of rude log houses, surrounded by the usual stockade. This was Chatham of a century ago. It was here, on the spot where now stands Tecumseh Park,, that one of the most remarkable men that America ever produced, the noble Tecumseh, received the wound which led to his death."

Claude Puer, in speaking of the death of Tecumseh, says: "Now resistance was no longer thought of, and the dreadful cries of fugitive and pursuer, every man for himself, 'quarter to none,' mingled in the heavy autumn woods. Urging to greater speed the panic-stricken remnants of Proctor's once victorious army, all about the flying chieftain and his pale-faced friend, and through the dark seared forest aisles, old warriors and youths flew blindly forward; none escaped the dreadful spell of panic. Of a sudden the spiteful ping of a rifle bullet rattled through the bare, leafless trees, and Tecumseh, clapping his hand to his already scarred breast, fell heavily forward and exclaimed: "I am dying; leave me and save yourself.'" This somewhat eloquent statement lacks the important element of truth. It is no nearer truth than the assertion of Eugene Smalley, who says that Tecumseh met his death at the battle of Tippecanoe, some time before the war of 1812; and permit me to add here that the wounding of the chief at Chatham is purely imaginary, and written, I imagine, at a time when the writer desired to see the monument built in Tecumseh Park, the spot where the wounding is said to have occurred.

W. K. Merrifield gives a lengthy account of the death of Tecumseh as told by Joseph Johnston, a man who lived from childhood with the Indians. His story was as follows: "He with other British white traders, had been with the Shawanees and Tecumseh for a long time, and when war with the United States commenced they joined with the Indians on the retreat of the British from Michigan to Canada. The Indians were afraid their beloved chief might be killed by treachery, and they knew the inveterate hatred other the Yankees for Tecumseh would hesitate at nothing to accomplish his destruction. To protect him, Joe Johnston, two other white traders and three Indian sub-chiefs formed themselves into a bodyguard, and fought around Tecumseh. Some time after the rout of Proctor, Tecumseh was shot through the thigh, and disabled from standing. The bodyguard bound up the wound and set him against a tree some distance in the rear of the fighting line, where he could still cheer his warriors and direct the battle. In a fierce charge made by the Yankees, the Indians were pressed back to where Tecumseh was seated. A mounted officer, seeing him apparently helpless, dashed towards him, pistol in hand, but before he had time to fire Tecumseh threw his tomahawk, hitting him on the side of the face, splitting his head and tumbling him from his horse. The Yankee charge was repulsed, but from fear of another such danger to Tecumseh, his bodyguard carried him further to the rear and seated him beside an elm tree, while his war shots rang through the forest, encouraging his warriors in their desperate defence against the tremendous odds in Harrison's army. All at once these cries ceased. Joe Johnston and the rest of his bodyguard ran to where they had left him, knowing something serious had happened. They found Tecumseh stretched in death." Mr. Merrifield then tells of the carrying away of the body, its burial, and the solemn oath taken never to reveal the spot.

My father always stated that Joe Johnston was not a trader, neither was he a warrior, and was not with the Indians at Chatham; nor was he with Tecumseh the night before the battle; in short, was not at the battle of the Thames; nor was he ever associated with Tecumseh in any of his undertakings; that he possessed none of the characteristics of a warrior; in fact, was unfitted in every way for any martial achievement. I am quite certain the version of the chief's death given by Mr. Merrifield, if told by Johnston, was simply a creation of his untutored imagination. My father, who knew Johnston well, asked him if he knew where Tecumseh was buried; he answered: "Mr. Arnold, I was too long with the Indians not to know where the chief is buried." Why do you not let us know so we can erect a monument? Johnston replied: "If i told you where he lies the Yankees would come over and steal his bones, and work his shin bones up into button moulds." Some years later Johnston and my father went to the scene of the battle. Johnston pointed out the spot between two beech trees on which there were markings, which Johnston claimed signified that the Shawanee chief was buried there. Some years after my father tried to find the spot, but failed entirely to locate it, as the land had been cleared and the landmarks all moved. I lately came into possession of a deed made by Joseph Johnston, bearing date 1810. He had purchased the land from Abner Bole some years previously. This proves positively that Johnston lived in Kent Country several years before the breaking out of the war of 1812 and from the first to the last possibly never came into contact nor ever had anything to do with Tecumseh or his so-called bodyguard.

The confidence I place in the story told by my father, I think, is fully warranted by the circumstances surrounding it. Tecumseh and several of his chiefs passed the night of Oct. 3, 1813, at the house of Captain Arnold. They had two objects in view, first, to prevent the Indians from burning Arnold's mill, as they had done McGregor's mill at Chatham; second, to consult with Captain Arnold as to the plan and place of the battle that Tecumseh was determined to fight before reaching the Indians settlement in Moraviantown.

It was arranged that Tecumseh should watch for the Yankees under a large tree on the road half a mile from the mill, while Captain Arnold was to watch for their coming on the mill dam. If Arnold saw them first he was to throw up a shovel of earth. When Arnold first saw them he looked for Tecumseh, who had been standing beside his white horse, with his elbows on its withers, but the chief was on his horse, and the animal was running at full speed. The Americans gave chase, but the fleet-footed pony was too speedy for his pudsuers. Tecumseh kept to the road until he reached the Hubble farm. He threw a white bag which contained some flour Captain Arnold had given him in Hubble's yard. He then road to the river bank some distance farther up the stream to a spot where a squaw awaited his coming. He at once got into the canoe, his white pony swimming by the side, and was quickly passed to the opposite bank, thus throwing his pursuers for a time off the trail. Finally the Kentuckians followed him to the scene of the battle, two miles east of Thamesville. The ground was admirably adapted for the defence. The British occupied the left wing, protected by the River Thames, while the Indians extended to the right at an angle of 45 degrees behind a bog swamp extending nearly to the bank of the river. There were about 900 Indians and 600 British. Harrison made no delay, but immediately rushed to the attack. Proctor's lines were soon broken. Proctor ordered a retreat to the everlasting disgust of many of his followers. it is said many of the militia, in their rage and disgust at Proctor's want of courage, broke their guns, refusing to obey the order of retreat. When the attack was made the British commander lost his self-possession, as he had already lost his courage. He precipitately left the field in a headlong flight for the British camp at Burlington, arriving there with about 240 of his followers.

Tecumseh, with his braves, fought desperately, and maintained their ground until the chief fell mortally wounded. At once the cry resounded through the woods, and the Indians vanished, taking the wounded, possibly then dead, chief with them. The manner of his death was as follows. An American had penetrated to near the tree behind which Tecumseh stood, the chief wounded him and he fell. Tecumseh, with uplifted tomahawk, sprang to finish his fallen enemy, but had not reached the spot before a bullet from the pistol of his intended victim pierced a vital spot in his body, and he fell to rise no more.

Watson, in his history of the United States, page 713, says: "As Harrison rapidly pursued, the British commander determined to meet him, and accordingly posted his army on the right bank of the river Thames, near Moraviantown. Here he was overtaken on October 5 by Harrison. The enemy were thrown into confusion, and they could not be rallied. The Indians stood firm, and a desperate contest ensued between them and the mounted Kentuckians, commanded by Col. Johnston. Tecumseh cheered his warriors until he was shot dead by an unknown hand."

This is the true story of the death of the great Tecumseh. As soon as the Yankees returned after the battle, Capt. Arnold, with a few friends, visited the field and buried the dead and assisted the wounded. Andrew Fleming, then a boy of 13, with his father visited the scene of the conflict. Some Kentuckians were skinning an Indian, saying they were going to take Tecumseh's skin to make razor strops. When told that the skinned Indian was not Tecumseh, they remarked: "I guess when we get back to Kentucky they will not know his skin from Tecumseh's." When the Americans returned to Arnold's mill, many of them had strips of this skin, scraping it with their long hunting knives. One of them had a lower jaw he was scraping, saying it belonged to Tecumseh. My grandfather, Capt. Arnold, afterwards discovered that it belonged to a squaw whom the Yankees had wantonly shot across the river, four miles from the scene of the battle. A remarkable incident occurred at this time, which I think worthy of notice. Mr. Arnold, apprehending that the Yankees might burn his mill, took one of the mill stones out to the woods and hid it; he then pointed out to them that the mill could not grind, hence it was useless. In this way he no doubt saved his mill from destruction.

When it is remembered that Captain Arnold knew Tecumseh well, having been with him at the struggles at the Maumee, that Tecumseh was at Captain Arnold's place and consulting with him during the whole night previous to the battle, and ate his last meal at the table of his white brother, and that as soon as the Americans had retired, visited the battle ground, and to the end of his days delighted to repeat the various incidents connected therewith to my father—when all this is taken into consideration, it will not be wondered at that I place entire confidence in the story of the death of Tecumseh as repeated to me so often by my father in times that are gone.

This narrative possesses one merit that is not to be found in many of the accounts written of this event in Canadian history, inasmuch as it is firmly believed to be true by the man who writes it.

[Public Domain mark] Copyright/Licence: This work was published in 1922 or earlier. It has therefore entered the public domain in the United States.