Battle of Tippecanoe - Background

Background

After being appointed governor of the newly formed Indiana Territory in 1800, William Henry Harrison sought to secure title to Native American lands to open more land for settlers; in particular, he hoped the Indiana Territory would attract enough settlers to qualify for statehood. Harrison negotiated numerous land cession treaties with American Indians, including the Treaty of Fort Wayne on September 30, 1809, in which Miami, Pottawatomie, Lenape, and other tribal leaders sold 3,000,000 acres (approximately 12,000 kmĀ²) to the United States.

Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, had been leading a religious movement among the northwestern tribes, calling for a return to the ancestral ways. His brother, Tecumseh, was outraged by the Treaty of Fort Wayne, and thereafter emerged as a prominent leader. Tecumseh revived an idea advocated in previous years by the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket and the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, which stated that Native American land was owned in common by all tribes, and land could not be sold without agreement by all the tribes. Not yet ready to confront the United States directly, Tecumseh's primary adversaries were initially the Native American leaders who had signed the treaty. He began by intimidating them and threatening to kill anyone who carried out the terms of the treaty. Tecumseh began to travel widely, urging warriors to abandon the accommodationist chiefs and to join the resistance at Prophetstown. Tecumseh insisted that the Fort Wayne treaty was illegitimate. In an 1810 meeting with Harrison, he demanded that Harrison nullify the treaty and warned that settlers should not attempt to settle the lands sold in the treaty. Harrison rejected his demands and insisted that the tribes could have individual relations with the United States.

In the meeting Tecumseh warned Harrison that he would seek an alliance with the British if hostilities broke out. Tensions between the United States and Britain had been high for several months as a result of British interference in U.S. commerce with France. As early as 1810, British agents had sought to secure an alliance with Native Americans to assist in the defense of Canada should hostilities break out, but the Natives had been reluctant to accept their offer, fearing they had little to benefit from such an arrangement.

In August 1811, Tecumseh again met with Harrison at Vincennes, where Tecumseh assured Harrison that the Shawnee brothers meant to remain at peace with the United States. Tecumseh then traveled to the south on a mission to recruit allies among the "Five Civilized Tribes". Most of the southern nations rejected his appeals, but a faction of the Creeks, who came to be known as the Red Sticks, answered his call to arms, leading to the Creek War, which also became a part of the War of 1812.

Harrison left the territory for business in Kentucky shortly after the meeting with Tecumseh, leaving secretary John Gibson as acting governor. Gibson, who had lived among the Miami tribe for many years, was quick to learn of Tecumseh's plans for war and immediately called out the territory's militia and sent emergency letters calling for the return of Harrison. By mid-September, most of the militia regiments had formed. By then, Harrison had returned, accompanied by a small force of army regulars, and had taken command of the militia. Harrison had already been in communication with his superiors in Washington, D.C., and he had been authorized to march against the confederacy in a show of force, hoping that they would accept peace.

Harrison gathered the scattered militia companies at Fort Knox near a settlement on Maria Creek, north of Vincennes; There he was joined by the sixty-man company called the Yellow Jackets, so named for their bright yellow coats, from Corydon, Indiana, as well as the Indiana Rangers. From there the entire force of about 1000 men set out northward towards Prophetstown. The force consisted of about 250 army regulars from the 4th US Infantry Regiment, 100 Kentucky volunteers, and near 600 Indiana militia including two companies of the Indiana Rangers. The army reached the site of modern Terre Haute, Indiana, on October 3 where they camped and built Fort Harrison while they waited for supplies to be delivered. A scouting party of Yellow Jackets was ambushed by Native Americans on October 10 causing several casualties and preventing the men from continuing to forage. Supplies quickly began to run low. By October 19, rations were cut and remained so until October 28 when fresh supplies arrived via the Wabash River from Vincennes. With the army resupplied, Harrison resumed his advance to Prophetstown on October 29.

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