Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tippecanoe, and Us, Too! A Visit to Tippecanoe Battlefield

Have I ever told you what a major Tecumseh fangirl I am?

Tecumseh. Fangirl. Me.

For a period of his life, after the government kicked him out of his homeland in Ohio, Tecumseh actually lived here in Indiana. He and his brother and sister established a sort of multi-national city up north, by the Tippecanoe river, where nations could come together as they worked toward their mutual goal, and Tecumseh's dream, of a united Native American people who would no longer get snowed under by the government, or incited, or turned against each other, or just plain victimized.

Unfortunately, the Prophet, Tecumseh's brother and the religious head of the movement, was... unreliable. Tecumseh, who really was building momentum on their cause, needed to take a recruiting trip to visit the nations who still "owned" land in the eyes of the government, to convince them to join with his cause and not fall prey to the government's same tricks. William Henry Harrison, however, who was a giant asshole, was just slobbering with desire to somehow kick the Native Americans off of the little land they held in Indiana, to run them off or perhaps incite them to break their treaty, and thereby open that land to settlement and eventual statehood. Tecumseh knew this, and so he told the Prophet not to engage Harrison; if Harrison actually engaged him, he should marshal their people and flee, but if Harrison did not actually engage him, he was to keep the peace.

Harrison knew Tecumseh had gone, and so he deliberately led his army to a spot that was right exactly next to Prophetstown. The people of Prophetstown, including kids, the elderly, the women who were taking care of both, and all their food and supplies for the winter, freaked out. Some begged the Prophet to engage Harrison and drive him away, and some begged the Prophet to listen to Tecumseh and keep the peace. Being insane, the Prophet decided to not only engage Harrison's army, but also to tell his people that he'd had a vision and that the army's bullets would not be able to harm them. He wanted the warriors to assassinate Harrison, thinking that, I don't know, if they assassinated Harrison the whole mess would just go away?

They chose to attack early in the morning, thinking that the soldiers would still be sleeping. They weren't. Their belief that bullets wouldn't harm them meant that they were unprepared to actually be shot, and when a watchman did happen to think that he noticed a movement and to shoot at it by chance, the warrior who was hit didn't take the injury stoically, but cried out in surprise, and so the battle began ignominiously.

Harrison wasn't assassinated, because he mounted the wrong horse and the warriors weren't able to pick him out of the crowd. The demoralized Native Americans were defeated after a couple of hours of fighting, and the survivors had to help the people of Prophetstown flee north with no preparation and no warning, leaving behind all of their food and supplies, which the soldiers then destroyed. The soldiers defiled the bodies of the dead, and even dug up old graves to defile those bodies, too.

Tecumseh didn't make it back to Prophetstown for another three months, and what he saw when he did return was a long-abandoned wasteland that used to be his village. His people had mostly starved that winter, and most had left his cause. Most of his new recruits also abandoned the cause when they heard of the tragedy. As a final, desperate maneuver, Tecumseh allied with the British, whom he believed would at least be more generous, and less duplicitous, in their treaty-making than the Americans had been, if he helped them win the War of 1812. But the Americans killed Tecumseh in battle, and finally defeated once and for all, the Native Americans were truly at the government's mercy and had to take whatever pittances and poor allowances that they were reluctantly given.

William Henry Harrison remained a huge asshole. He made a successful run for president on the back of this battle ("Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too," you know), and I am not sad to tell you that he gave a super-long asshole Inaugural Address, caught pneumonia, and died a month later, and John Tyler had to follow on in the rest of his term.

On the weekend after the anniversary of the battle (which took place on November 7, 1811, the kids can now tell you) and before Veterans' Day, we spent the morning at Tippecanoe Battlefield, and it was freaking AWESOME, just as super cool as I'd been hoping:

First of all, the museum was free on account of the festivities, so score!

These are all the Indiana counties named after officers participating in this battle.
There were plenty of veterans there for me to do the "thank you for your service" thing and stand around and gossip with (I am excellent with the elderly, and there is always something to gossip about. This one dude and I speculated wildly about the Lauren Spierer case, and then it turned out that he used to be a police chief so he regaled me with loads of super-scary SVU cases that had occurred during his time and loads of super-scary details of those cases. Probably not the best thing to talk about in a museum gift shop...). There was an excellent lecture about the battle, four-fifths of the audience of which were members of my family (we totally owned that lecture, by the way. The docent holds up a picture and asks, "Who is this man?" "The Prophet!!!" both of my children shout. The docent asks, "Does anyone have any questions?" I shoot my hand up and ask a million nerdy ones). AND there were re-enactors from World War II--

"Oh, my gosh! Are you Ernie Pyle?!?" I squealed. He replied, "No, but he's a friend of mine."
--the Revolutionary War (I made him tell me about the standardization of rifles. It was wonderful), and the Civil War:

Yes, I did bring up battlefield first aid AGAIN, but this time nobody fainted. I also demanded a detailed explanation of how the rifles worked and got a lead bullet to pass around.
The best part, though, was that of course there was the battlefield to explore: 

This monument stands at the site of Harrison's tent.
Harrison. Blech.

Many of these trees date from a hundred years prior to the battle.


These fences mark the border of the battlefield.

You can see Prophetstown State Park from here. THAT'S how close Harrison was.

The children are demonstrating Tecumseh's bundle of twigs metaphor.
Syd does NOT like not being able to do something, so she about gave herself an aneurysm trying to break this bundle. Nevertheless, Tecumseh prevailed!
 Since Tecumseh didn't actually participate in the battle, I was actually even more excited, if that is possible, to visit Prophetstown State Park. I wanted to curl up in a fetal position and get emotional on the ground where Tecumseh had once walked, don't you know?

Unfortunately, Prophetstown State Park SUCKED.

The good news is that the gate fee was waived for the weekend. The bad news is that the park was basically vacant. No rangers. No docents. No real signage to point to where the village of Prophetstown had once stood (We saw a sign that read "Native American Village," but it pointed to a highway that you couldn't access by car from inside the park. Apparently you either have to cross that highway on foot or enter the parking lot of the living history farm, which has a separate entrance fee). Also, the VISITOR CENTER was closed. CLOSED!!! The sign said that apparently it's closed on weekends? When, you know, people are mostly going to visit? Especially the weekend nearest the anniversary of the battle?


We basically drove around, confused, and then in desperation I had Matt take our picture by this flagpole near the visitor center, just in case it was an important spot:
See how well-bundled I am? It's freezing outside. Literally. The children's warm outerwear is all in the car, because they refused to wear it, preferring to look as if I don't dress them properly for the cold.
It wasn't.

So technically, I guess I probably stood and walked *somewhere* where Tecumseh stood and walked. I mean, he probably hiked that area where the battleground was. He probably stood right there on that spot where that flagpole would someday be, even if it wasn't actually in his village. Just keep telling me that, so I won't cry.

This part of history is so interesting to me because it's seemingly such a small thing, this one small battle, and yet it changed the entire face of the country. If the Prophet had obeyed Tecumseh, would Tecumseh have succeeded in uniting the Native American nations? Would they then have had the influence to make and enforce fair treaties with the American government?

Would Indiana be a state, or would it be a nation?


Tina said...

Why can't text books make history that interesting?

I love the idea of learning about history, but it's all so depressing with all the people our country has abused. I think I spent a good portion of my first college history class either crying or being ashamed of my country.

julie said...

I should have mentioned that Story of the World v. 3 has Western Expansion and Tecumseh's mission and the War of 1812. If anyone can make history interesting, it's Susan Wise Bauer and Jim Weiss!!!

Matt has a theory that in a conflict, the biggest asshole generally wins, and that's why history is pretty much a chronicle of one big asshole after another.

Tina said...

It's pretty sad, but the biggest assholes do seem to make history way more often than the stand-up, all-around good guy.

I have been enjoying the SOTW. We just need to get back into it.


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