April 1998


By John Sugden
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He was a Native American warrior known as Tecumseh. Translated into English, the name means "Shooting Star." The fiery Shawnee leader's passions burned brightly during his life, as he struggled to protect his people's property rights and cultural heritage from being destroyed by white settlers. Like a comet's tail, Tecumseh's legacy continues to shine long after his passing. The life and legend of this warrior chief are the focus of John Sugden's biography Tecumseh. Tecumseh's powerful impact on Native Americans, both during his life and following his death, are thoroughly analyzed by Sugden, a noted authority on the Shawnee chief.

"Even today one can still feel that passionate belief that spurred Tecumseh on, that powerful spirit that again and again urged him to confront every obstacle and meet every danger." There have been volumes written about the warrior chief, who spent most of his life roaming the upper Midwest and Canada. Born sometime in the late 1760s, Tecumseh died in the War of 1812, while leading a failed effort to stave off aggressive American expansionism. During his life, he was often feared and vilified by whites. Upon his death, his stature as a heroic figure grew, almost to the point of exaggeration. This point leads Sugden to state that his mission is to provide readers with an accurate account of Tecumseh's life, which he does in exhaustive detail.

While some of the magic is lost as Sugden dispels the many myths, he offers insight into what influenced Tecumseh's life-long quest to unite Native Americans and preserve their civilization. A disdain for white settlers formed early in Tecumseh's childhood after settlers killed his father, seized the hunting grounds, and uprooted the Shawnees from Ohio. While these events could have turned him into a bitter, savage warrior, Sugden points out that Tecumseh grew into a strong, inspiring leader. This is further illustrated by several examples of how Tecumseh overruled fellow warriors to spare an enemy's life. Delving into Tecumseh's past allows us to further appreciate this renowned and gifted speaker and diplomat who skillfully negotiated with the U.S. government. Yet the biography also portrays Tecumseh as a human being with his own shortcomings. "Arrogance, impulsiveness, haughty pride, and a capacity for ruthlessness were all part of his makeup," writes Sugden, "but it was his virtues that were remembered, even by his enemies."

The author also explores how Tecumseh urged his people to strive for self-improvement by rejecting alcohol, witchcraft, and violence attempts that were influenced by his brother, Lalawethika, the Prophet, who told of messages he received from the Great Spirit. Unfortunately, Tecumseh's efforts to reform and unite Native Americans had to be set aside when forced to defend Shawnee land, resulting in the ill-fated alliance with the British against the United States in the War of 1812. While Tecumseh gave his life in the war, Sugden writes that the warrior chief also gave his people a lasting gift. "Tecumseh may have been unsuccessful, but he bequeathed to Indian peoples something of great importance: from his memory they have drawn pride and self-respect."

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Tecumseh: A Life

Tecumseh: A Life

By John Sugden
ISBN 9780805041385

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