Throughout the 19th century, American settlers pushing across the Western frontier came into contact with diverse American tribes, producing a series of conflicts. Indian leaders like Geronimo became feared and dreaded men in America, and Sitting Bull's victory over George Custer's Seventh Cavalry at Little Bighorn was one of the nation's most traumatic military endeavors.
Given this history, it's no surprise that the Shawnee continue to be closely associated with their most famous leader, Tecumseh, the most famous Native American of the early 19th century. While leading the Shawnee, he attempted to peacefully establish a Native American nation east of the Mississippi River in the wake of the American Revolution. Together with his brother Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh was in the process of forming a wide-ranging, Native American confederacy that they hoped would stem the westward flow of Anglo-American settlers. They wanted to essentially establish a "nation" of Native Americans that would be recognized and accepted by the advancing European-American settlers.
Even as he continues to keep the Shawnee's name in textbooks, Tecumseh actually overshadows the long and even ancient history of the Shawnee. With their cultural origins dating back nearly 3,000 years, the Shawnee had ties to the Ancient Moundbuilders tradition and lived in the same region for thousands of years, developing both a rich history and unique set of customs and beliefs. At the same time, the Shawnee themselves were never a truly unified group, even as their most famous leader set about making a Native American confederacy, so different bands of Shawnee have had different historical narratives as well.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2015 Charles River Editors
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