Lives of Tecumseh and his brother revealed in new biography

Peter Cozzens

Historian Peter Cozzens, author of “Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Shawnee Brothers Who Defied a Nation,” not only has written the first biography in more than 20 years of Tecumseh, the great Shawnee leader who was admired even by those who wanted to destroy him, but he also dispels, through solid research, the misrepresentation of Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, in a book scheduled to be released Oct. 27.

The heroic Tecumseh was a great warrior and war leader who in his portrait looks strong, valiant, and handsome. Tenskwatawa, his younger brother, as his portrait shows, had none of those physical attributes and history recalls him as a charlatan, a drunk and, let’s face it, a loser.

Tenskwatawa was an alcoholic, but gave up drinking, and despite all the travails of his later life, never indulged in drowning out his many sorrows again.

“I was surprised to discover, after reading contemporaneous accounts, that the Prophet’s influence was prodigious. He was able to build an alliance with many of the tribes of the Old Northwest,” said Cozzens, the author or editor of 16 books on the American Civil War and the wars of the American West.

When visiting Prophetstown State Park near Lafayette, Indiana and seeing the landscape where the Prophet and Tecumseh strived, beginning in 1808, to build a community centered around the strength of banding together, Native American traditions and a cultural revitalization, it’s difficult not to be overcome with sadness knowing what happened to their dream. The same is true in Cozzens well-written book.

Ultimately, Prophetstown was destroyed by American troops led by General William Henry Harrison, who would go on to become the ninth president of the United States. Tecumseh would die in battle in 1813, and the Prophet would end up impoverished and forgotten.

“Writing the book was extremely emotional,” said Cozzens, who served as a captain in the U.S. Army, where his focus was on military intelligence, before spending 30 years as a foreign service officer in the U.S. Department of State. “I had a roller coaster of emotions. The most moving part for me was writing about Tenskwatawa at the end. I felt myself in that wigwam, the cold wind blowing across the plain and knowing that this guy who had been one of the greatest prophets lived out his days like this.”

Cozzens, who stumbled across a document recounting the Prophet’s final days in what would become Kansas, visited the place where he lived, discovering a few last vestiges connecting to his past.

“It’s now a run-down neighborhood in Kansas. It was in a ravine; the original spring is still there,” he said.

The Prophet died in 1837 and for almost 200 years has been looked upon as a failure.

“He stayed sober for the rest of his life,” Cozzens said. “He was an equal partner with his brother; they had a symbiotic relationship. I think they came remarkably close to changing history.”

For your information

Peter Cozzens Virtual Event

What: Daniel Weinberg, owner of the Abraham Lincoln Bookshop, talks with Peter Cozzens about his latest book, Tecumseh, and the Prophet. The program streams live on Facebook. Live stream: 3:30 p.m. Oct 27, 2020  Connect: http://www.facebook.com/AbrahamLincolnBookShop/

This article originally appeared in Northwest Indiana Times.

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