Wednesday, November 07, 2007

November 7, 1811:

The Battle of Tippecanoe

A battlefield near the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory gave us the most memorable US presidential election slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" Most living Americans have probably heard the slogan at some point, though perhaps not so many could associate it with William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, the victorious Whig ticket in 1840.

That election was long in the future on November 7, 1811, during the Battle of Tippecanoe, which made William Henry Harrison famous, ultimately taking him to the White House for his 30-day term. According to the Tippecanoe County Historical Society Web site: "Early man and many Indian tribes roamed this part of the Wabash Valley before the thriving trading post of Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk was established in the eighteenth century. Known to many as 'Tippecanoe,' the village thrived until 1791, when it was razed in an attempt to scatter the Indians and open the land to the new white settlers.

"Seventeen years later a new Indian village was established on or near the old Keth-tip-pe-can-nunk site at the Wabash/Tippecanoe River junction. Known as 'Prophet's Town,' this village was destined to become the capitol [sic] of a great Indian confederacy.

"The town was founded in May 1808, when two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (the Prophet), left their native Ohio after being permitted to settle on these Potawatomi and Kickapoo-held lands.

"Tecumseh and the Prophet planned to unite many tribes into an organized defense against the growing number of western settlers. In addition to being a seat of diplomacy, Prophet's Town became a training center for the warriors, with a rigorous spiritual and athletic regimen. As many as one thousand warriors were based in the capitol [sic] at its peak.

"The white settlers of the Indiana territory were disturbed by the increasing activities and power of Tecumseh's followers. In the late summer of 1811, the governor of the territory, Gen. William Henry Harrison, organized a small army of 1,000 men, hoping to destroy the town while Tecumseh was on a southern recruitment drive. The regiment arrived on Nov. 6, 1811, and upon meeting with representatives of the Prophet, it was mutually agreed that there would be no hostilities until a meeting could be held on the following day. Harrison's scouts then guided the troops to a suitable campsite on a wooded hill about a mile west of Prophet's Town.

"Upon arriving at the site, Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery of the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.

"Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until the confederation was strong and completely unified, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them, the Prophet led his men near the army campsite. From a high rock ledge west of the camp, he gave an order to attack just before daybreak on the following day.

"The sentinels were ready, and the first gunshot was fired when the yells of the warriors were heard. Many of the men awoke to find the Indians upon them. Although only a handful of the soldiers had had previous battle experience, the army fought off the reckless, determined Indian attack. Two hours later, thirty-seven soldiers were dead, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded. The Indian casualties were unknown, but their spirit was crushed. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him."

Over the years, November 7 has seen presidential elections in 1848, 1876, 1916, 1944, 1972, and 2000. The election of 1848, with Zachary Taylor riding to the White House on his military fame, was the first presidential election to be held on the same day across the country -- before that, each state set its own date. In 1876, it seemed that Samuel J. Tilden had won, but no: the prize was ultimately stolen for Rutherford B. Hayes. Nineteen-sixteen was close as well, with Woodrow Wilson squeaking to victory on the basis of a few thousand votes in California. The elections of 1944 and 1972 were not close -- big wins for FDR and Richard Nixon, neither of which would finish those terms.

No comments: