Review: Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation



Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation
by Peter Cozzens

Peter Cozzens' Tecumseh and the Prophet is the dual biography of two Shawnee brothers who founded an Indigenous spiritual movement, and attempted to establish a confederacy among the Indian nations of the Old Northwest. The goal of the confederation was to protect their land rights against incursion from the newly established United States.

Between the end of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the United States began it's westward expansion by migration and settlement into the Northwest Territory. This territory was part of the western lands acquired by the young nation through the 1783 Treaty of Paris that established peace between Great Britain and her former colonies. Formalized by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, it consisted of today's states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and part of Minnesota.

Cozzens' book spans the timeframe from the late 1700s through the War of 1812 and beyond, and details the successes and failures the two brothers had in trying to hold the indigenous nations together as a counterforce to the Americans. At points during this period the two sides lived in peace with each other and found ways to coexist. At other points fighting broke out as each side tried to prevail.

Tecumseh is a fascinating figure. He was a brilliant tactician on the battlefield and held enormous powers of persuasion not only over his Shawnee fellows but other nations as well. Tenskwatawa, his brother, was initially a ne'er-do-well and drunkard, who experienced a spiritual awakening and became the Prophet, attempting to unite the Indian nations into a single religious practice, while his brother was the diplomat trying to tie the nations together for defense of their land.

But the Indians of the Old Northwest were a fractious lot. Where Tecumseh and his followers had visions of driving the Americans off their land so that they could live as they had before, others welcomed the Americans and wanted to assimilate, taking up farming techniques and practices, and a way of life no different than their white neighbors.

Things came to a head with the War of 1812, as Tecumseh allied himself with the British, who ultimately lost the war. Tecumseh himself was killed in battle in Upper Canada, leaving his brother to survive as best he could.

Overall, this is a fascinating book. Unfortunately, the first half of the book, which covers the young brothers and their rise to prominence, was a real slog for me. I do think that the author did a good job of putting a narrative framework to the story, so that it flowed well and never became confusing. Nevertheless, there is so much ground covered, and so many characters to keep straight that I found myself exhausted by it all and laid the book aside for a few days at a time between chapters. The second half of the book however, really held my interest and I read through it in just a couple of days.

I give Tecumseh and the Prophet 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐. While I did like the book, it required a bit of determination for me to get through the first half. This book would be well liked by anyone with an interest in early US history, westward expansion of the US, Indian nations and land treaties, or the Old Northwest.

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