Speech of Tenskwatawa

Image: A map of the British and French dominions in North America. Mitchell, John. (London:Jefferys and Faden, geographers to the King, [1774]) Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3300.ar004200/?r=0.405,0.119,0.47,0.279,0
Tenskwatawa is sometimes called the “Shawnee Prophet.” What message did he have for Indians?
Tecumseh’s rebellion, fed by Tenskwatawa’s visions, was the second great raising-up movement. What was behind these revitalization movements (See The Master of Life, Letter Regarding the Ghost Dance Doctrine)? What was their appeal? Did they differ in any significant ways?

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Tenskwatawa (1775–1836), a Shawnee, was the younger brother of Tecumseh. At birth he was given the name Lalawethika (Noisemaker). He was not very successful as a hunter or a warrior and as a child put out his right eye playing with a bow and arrow. As an adult he became an alcoholic. In 1805 he suffered a seizure and fell into a fire. Those around him believed he had died and had begun to prepare his body for a funeral when he suddenly revived.

While he was unconscious, Lalawethika had the first of a series of visions from the Master of Life. He changed his name to Tenskwatawa (“the Open Door”) and began to preach a revitalization of Indian life and religion. The Master of Life’s message was essentially the same as that received by Neolin. Indians had lost the Master’s favor by adopting too many of the whites’ ways. They were to forgo these, especially alcohol, and return to traditional ways. There was, however, an important innovation in the new vision: Natives were to give up everything they had gotten from whites—except guns and horses.

Thus began the second major “raising-up” movement. If Indians did as the Master of Life instructed, the earth would renew itself and game would again be plentiful. All the ancestors who had died since the coming of whites would be raised. Tecumseh used his brother’s vision to forge a political and military movement to unite all tribal nations against whites. All the resurrected ancestors would fight alongside Tecumseh’s alliance, and together they would drive whites from their lands.

—Jace Weaver

John Lambert, Travels through Lower Canada, and the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808: To Which Are Added, Biographical Notices and Anecdotes of Some of the Leading Characters in the United States (London: T. Gillet, 1810), 395–398, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Travels_Through_Lower_Canada_and_the_Uni/60BCAAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0.

Brothers, these strings of wampum come from the Great Spirit. Do not despise them, for he knows everything. They are to go all round the earth, till they are lost. They were sent to you by the First Man he created, with these words:

Children, I was asleep when the Great Spirit addressing himself to another spirit, said: “I have closed my book of accounts with man, and am going to destroy the earth; but first I will awaken, from the sleep of the dead, the first man I created; he is wise, and let us hear if he has aught1 to say.” He then awoke me, and told me what he was about to do.

“I looked round the world and saw my Red Children had greatly degenerated: that they had become scattered and miserable. When I saw this, I was grieved on their account, and asked leave of the Great Spirit, to come and see if I could reclaim them. I requested the Great Spirit to grant, in case they should listen to my voice, that the world might yet subsist, for the period of three full lives: and my request was granted.

“Now, therefore, my Children, listen to my voice, it is that of the Great Spirit! If you hearken to my counsel, and follow my instructions for four years, there will then be two days of darkness, during which I shall travel unseen through the land and cause the animals, such as they were formerly, to come forth out of the earth. The Great Spirit bids me address you in his own words, which are these:

“My Children, you are to have very little intercourse with the whites. They are not your fathers, as you call them, but your brethren. I am your Father. When you call me so, you do well. I am the Father of the English, of the French, of the Spaniards, and of the Indians; I created the first man who was the common father of all these people as well as yourselves, and it is through him, whom I have awaked from his long sleep, that I now address you. But the Americans, I did not make them. They are not my children, but the children of the Evil Spirit. They grew from the scum of the great water, when it was troubled by the Evil Spirit, and the froth was driven into the woods by a strong east wind, they are numerous, but I hate them. They are unjust, they have taken away your lands, which were not made for them.

“My children, the whites I placed on the other side of the great Lake, that they might be a separate people. To them I gave different manners, customs, animals, vegetables, etc. for their use. To them I have given cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry for themselves only. You are not to keep any of these animals, nor to eat of their meat. To you I have given the deer, the bear, and all wild animals, and the fish that swim in the rivers, and the corn that grows in the fields for your own use; and you are not to give your meat or your corn to the whites to eat.

“My children, you may salute the whites when you meet them, but must not shake hands. You must not get drunk; it is a great sin. Your old men and chiefs may drink a little pure spirits, such as come from Montreal! But you must not drink one drop of whiskey. It is the drink of the Evil Spirit. It was not made by me, but by the Americans. It is poison. It makes you sick. It burns your insides. Neither are you on any account to eat bread, it is the food of the whites. . . .”

Now, my Children, listen to what I say, and let it sink into your ears. It is the orders of the Great Spirit.

“My Children, you must not speak of this talk to the whites. It must be hidden from them. I am now on the earth, sent by the Great Spirit to instruct you. Each village must send me two or more principal chiefs to represent you, that you may be taught. The bearer of this talk will point out to you the path to my wigwam. I could not come myself to Arbre Croche,2 because the world is changed from what it was; it is broken, and leans down; and as it declines, the Chippewas3 and all beyond will fall off and die; therefore you must come and see me, and be instructed, in order to prevent it. Those villages which do not listen to this talk, and send me two deputies, will be cut off from the face of the earth.”

  1. 1. Anything.
  2. 2. A settlement in present-day northern Michigan.
  3. 3. A Native American people living mostly north of the Great Lakes.
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