Searching for the causes of the War of 1812… will invariably lead to the Indiana frontier. William Henry Harrison was granted power by President Thomas Jefferson to negotiate with the Indian nations (13 treaties and over 1 million acres.) Harrison orchestrated the Treaty of Ft. Wayne in 1809, granting US settlers unlimited access to the Wabash river valley. Three of the major Indian nations signed the treaty, but the Shawnee and their leader, Tecumseh, did not. Harrison suspected trouble from the Indian upstart and moved quickly for a conference in August of 1810. Tecumseh arrived at Harrison’s frontier home, Grouseland, with over 400 warriors in full battle garb. Tensions were high as the Shawnee war chief declared the treaty of Ft. Wayne illegitimate. Tecumseh argued that all Indians spoke with one voice, therefore, all tribes had to agree with the treaty. Harrison refuted this notion, pointing out that the Great Spirit gave all Indians different languages, or ‘tongues.’ As Tecumseh continued to shout threats at Harrison, warriors and soldiers alike made ready for combat- Harrison drew his sword (legend has it, he promised to kill Tecumseh) …cooler heads prevailed, but Tecumseh was determined to reach out to the British.
Two subsequent meetings did nothing to ease…tensions between the two men. American settlement continued, the Indian alliance grew, and British intervention only further alienated the two sides. News of the Anglo/Indian alliance prompted Harrison to march an army North to disperse an alliance settlement along the Tippecanoe creek. Tecumseh was not with his followers that November in 1811. He was on a recruiting mission to the south, leaving his inexperienced brother in command. Shawnee approached Harrison’s camp on November 5 to propose a meeting; Harrison accepted, but shortly after, the warriors launched an attack. Militiamen and US regulars defended the camp for over two hours, before dragoons charged into the retreating warriors turning the battle into a rout. Harrison’s forces pursued and later burned the Indian settlement. The Tippecanoe legend was born.
William Henry Harrison became a national hero… as news of the battle spread to the East. The British intervention outraged American politicians, a clear sign of yet another violation of American sovereignty. The frontier feud was far from over. Tecumseh took his confederation North to strengthen the bond with Britain. Harrison would get another chance to kill his nemesis.