Review: The Shawnee Prophet by R. David Edmunds

The Shawnee Prophet by R. David Edmunds

I live on a plateau above the Scioto River floodplain between Chillicothe and Waverly, Ohio. The first year I tilled my garden I found a native american quartz spear point. Over the years I have found several stone arrowheads. The Shawnee tribe local to this area, the Chalahgawtha, traveled up and down the Scioto River and set up their town where game and agriculture flourished. I can imagine the tribe feasting on the ancestors of the crayfish that in live in my back yard. Perhaps Tecumseh camped in the field I now own.

I have been fascinated with native american culture since I was a small boy. When we moved to Pike County, Ohio, I became enamored with the Shawnee people and with Tecumseh in particular. In all my readings I was aware that Tecumseh had a brother, Tenskwatawa (The Open Door, also known as The Prophet), and that this brother was instrumental in spoiling Tecumseh’s plan to unite the western Indian nations. The Prophet is usually treated as a secondary player by most modern histories. Nearly everything I have read concerning the Shawnee people during this time period ended with Tecumseh’s death at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812.

There are books about other Shawnee and neighboring tribal leaders, figures such as Blue Jacket and Little Turtle, but very little about the Chalahgawtha Shawnees that is not dominated by Tecumseh. I don’t remember when I got this book, but the idea that an author would focus on anyone other than Tecumseh during this time period intrigued me.

It didn’t disappoint.

I really like learning new things. Even though I have been a lifelong lay-historian, Edmunds provided me with tidbits of information that I did not know. I think that because most of the written history of this time period is dominated by larger than life people, Tecumseh, Anthony Wayne, William Henry Harrison and Simon Kenton, that larger than life stories abound. It is very appearent to me that because Edmunds performed original research to find as much as possible about The Prophet, that what unfolds in this book is an account of this volatile time period with a telling that is closer to real life, not legend. His religious teachings were embraced not only by the Shawnee, but by the Kickapoo, Sacs, Fox, Winnebago, Ottawa and many other neighboring tribes. It is this religious movement that allowed Tecumseh’s political unification plans to gain a toe hold in the fiercely independent native american culture.

Tecumseh’s death is covered in a single paragraph. And instead of the Battle of the Thames being the denouement of the book, as is the case in most other accounts of the Shawnee, it was just an event that lead to the real ending of the Shawnee people as a power and protector of the midwest; their removal to the Shawnee reservation in Kansas.

I recommend this book for anyone with even a passing interest in Tecumseh or the Shawnee people. It is a must read for anyone wanting to discover more about Tenskwatawa. There is very little about his early life when he was known as Lalawethika (Noisemaker) or of his later life when, in isolation, all he had the power to do was to make noise. The tale in between is of a man that was instrumental in Shawnee leadership during their most desperate hour. He is a man of many faults and failings and yet still possessed a strength that was able to unite his people. Edmunds does justice to him and pulls him out from under the shadow of his famous older brother.

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2 Responses

  1. I have to get my hands on this one!

  2. If you can’t track a copy down, I can loan you mine.

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