Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Curse of Tecumseh

On the day after the Battle of Tippecanoe, November 8, 1811, Gov. William Henry Harrison and the men under his command burned Prophet's Town, the base from which the Indians had attacked the day before, inspired into action by their spiritual leader, Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet"). After losing the battle, the Indians had scattered, and the Prophet was discredited. Less than two years later, Harrison defeated the British and their Indian allies at the Battle of the Thames -- which resulted in the death of the Prophet's brother, Tecumseh.

Was that the end of it? Not if you put stock in a fanciful explanation for the deaths in office of the presidents who were elected in a year ending in zero from 1840 (starting with Harrison) to 1960 (John Kennedy). "Those who look to make sense of eerie coincidences have come up with an explanation to account for this string of deaths: an ancient Indian curse, supposedly administered by Tecumseh himself..." says Snopes in "The Curse of Tecumseh."

"Another version attributes the curse to Tenskwatawa... 'Harrison will die I tell you,' the Prophet reportedly said. 'And after him, every Great Chief chosen every 20 years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of my people.' "

It turns out that there's no record of either Tenskwatawa or Tecumseh ever saying such a thing. In fact, the story has all the hallmarks of a retroactive invention, once people noticed that a number of zero-year presidents had died in office. Moreover, no zero-year president has died in office in almost 50 years, which would seem to argue for "eerie coincidence."

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