Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Tecumseh the Prophet

I just finished reading The Frontiersmen by Allan Eckert, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t realize how little I knew about this period of American history, until I read this book. Eckert’s book is not historical fiction, it’s an actual history covering the settlement of the areas around Kentucky and Ohio. It centers mostly on Simon Kenton, Blue Jacket, and Tecumseh and spans the years 1755-1836, though most of the narrative ends in 1813 with the conclusion of the War of 1812.

One of the things that stood out to me as I read this book is the amount of prophecy attributed to Tecumseh. After the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, the Indians signed a treaty with the Americans. Tecumseh, however, was not happy with the treaty. For over a decade afterward, he worked on recruiting Indians to his cause — not just the local tribes, but tribes from all over the country. He wanted to assemble a force so large that it would be able to drive the Americans all the way back to the East Coast. This effort eventually culminated in the War of 1812. And if it hadn’t been for a setback at the hand of Tenskwatawa (Tecumseh’s brother), it’s very possible that Tecumseh’s design against the Americans would have worked.

In order to convince the other Indians that they should join in his cause, Tecumseh often resorted to prophecies. It is said that he prophesied the Solar Eclipse of 1806, which convinced a number of tribes to join him. It’s also said that he prophesied the comet of 1811, and that he even prophesied his own death. But the greatest prophecy attributed to him was his prophecy of the New Madrid earthquakes that occurred in December of 1811 through February of 1812. In several of his speeches in 1811, Tecumseh said that the earth would shake, and this would be the sign for the Indians to come together in Detroit so they could drive the Americans from their lands. When Tecumseh spoke to a gathering of Indians in the village of Tuckabatchee (in what is now Alabama), their chief, Big Warrior, was not convinced to join Tecumseh’s cause. Angry, Tecumseh said the following:

Your blood is white! You have taken my talk and the sticks and the wampum and the hatchet, but you do not mean to fight. I know the reason. You do not believe the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall know. I leave Tuckabatchee directly and shall go… to Detroit. When I arrive there, I will stamp on the ground with my foot and shake down every house in Tuckabatchee!
— Eckert, page 528

A few months later, that’s exactly what happened. When the New Madrid earthquakes hit, every house in Tuckabatchee fell. This event helped sway many of the chiefs who had opposed Tecumseh to this point. If you’d like to read more about Tecumseh and these events, I’d also recommend this short pdf by David Fletcher. It includes some other valuable sources.

So if you’re a Christian, I’d like to ask what you think about this information. Did Tecumseh really prophesy these events? I know that some liberal Christians might be comfortable with the idea that God could have used him as a prophet even though he wasn’t a Christian. Of course, I know many other Christians who would disagree with that. But if they choose to dismiss these stories about Tecumseh and just file them away as coincidence, that still leaves some questions.

It’s easy to see the similarities between these stories about Tecumseh and the stories about Jesus. Tecumseh’s followers gave us the first hand accounts of these prophecies, and the fact that many Indians from various tribes united behind him is added evidence in his favor. Otherwise, why would they have followed him? Of course, none of these prophecies were written down at the time they were spoken, because few Indians were literate. Jesus’ followers believed he did many amazing things as well, and many people eventually followed him. But again, none of those events were recorded until decades later.

In other words, we have as much reason to believe Tecumseh was an actual prophet as we do to think Jesus was really the son of God. If you believe one of these claims, but not the other, why?

30 thoughts on “Tecumseh the Prophet”

  1. I was struck by Tecumpseh’s prophetic ability as well when I read The Frontiersmen years ago.The relationship between he and Kenton was one that I think exemplified gracious respect of an “enemy.” I actually named my oldest son Kenton. Eckert’s book is a great read, especially if you know the country in which it takes place. I always thought the story would make a fabulous movie, although casting Kenton would be nearly impossible.

    Tecumpseh was a prophet-he just didn’t carry around all of those uncomfortable constrictive western Christian labels.


  2. Thanks for the comment! I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of Simon Kenton before reading this book. What an amazing individual! Just reading about what he went through when he was a prisoner was incredible. But yes, I completely agree with you on how he and Tecumseh regarded one another. It’s interesting that both men showed such respect toward their enemies in a time when brutality seemed to be the norm.

    And yes, a movie would be great. Maybe Chris Hemsworth could play Kenton? He’s the only one that comes to mind right now…


  3. I don’t know-Thor *might* be able to survive the gauntlet, but he’s also gonna need some actual acting skills…Kenton’s deep.


  4. Because Tecumpseh wasn’t crucified for us, buried, and rose again!

    I jest, but I figured such a reply would be inevitable and wanted to beat whoever to it. I actually had never heard any of this about Tecumpseh, so it’s quite interesting. I’m almost sad he didn’t have his way, but then I probably thank his failure to my existence.

    A question I find interesting is not what this means for Christianity (though that is obviously pertinent), but what it means for naturalism. Things like this are fairly common throughout history. So, of course, are lunatics and delusions, but at what point should a rationalist say “All right, this is at least worth a darn serious looking into”? Within the current paradigm, it seems to be a quick skip and a hop to the naturalism line regardless. I must wonder if we are wrong in this though.


  5. I think that’s a great point. Honestly, I’m not sure one way or the other. I definitely think there could be something more than just this physical life. I’m still flummoxed by the age-old question “why is there something rather than nothing?” I’ve never experienced the supernatural personally, but I’m open to the possibility that there’s something to it.

    Thanks for the great comment!


  6. @rodalena:
    Good point. Maybe Hemsworth will get there one day. I must say, I thought he did a pretty good job in Snow White and the Huntsman. Really enjoyed that movie.


  7. “So if you’re a Christian, I’d like to ask what you think about this information. Did Tecumseh really prophesy these events?”

    Nate I have long thought that in these cases (miracles and prophecies) we need to consider all the possibilities, which include at least these:

    1. The events never occurred, or have been reported inaccurately.
    2. There was a natural coincidence or lucky guess.
    3. Natural, but as yet unknown or unexplored, powers or forces were responsible (e.g. parapsychology).
    4. God was responsible.
    5. Evil or occult supernatural forces, perhaps masquerading as good, were responsible.

    I would be open to any of these possibilities for Tecumseh, but would keep an open mind until I had more definitive evidence (perhaps not available in this case).

    The important thing to note is that this case doesn’t present any problems for a christian, contrary to what is perhaps your expectation.

    “In other words, we have as much reason to believe Tecumseh was an actual prophet as we do to think Jesus was really the son of God.”

    Nate, Nate, you know better than this. As much reason???? Did Tecumseh heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, walk on water, calm a storm and multiply bread and fish? Did he claim to forgive sins and be the Messiah? Did his followers credibly claim him to have been raised from the dead? Or born of a virgin? Did he claim to be bringing in the long-promised kingdom of God? Did his followers record his words and deeds in biographies that generally support each other, even when exhaustively analysed by secular historians?

    Really Nate, if you think this is true, you really should do a little more study of the Gospels. Your deconversion is standing on very shaky ground right now! : )

    Best wishes.


  8. unkleE, as always, thanks for the comment!

    If you’ll remember, I didn’t ask if Tecumseh was the Jewish Messiah, just if he was a prophet. And a prophet doesn’t need to heal the sick, claim to be the son of God, be born of a virgin, etc. All he has to do is offer accurate prophecies. And really, those particular differences don’t really matter any way. The only accounts we have of Jesus doing those things come from the gospels, which were written anonymously. The secular sources we have about Jesus only showed that there were people at the time who believed those things about him. They don’t really show whether or not he actually did any of them.

    That mirrors our information on Tecumseh quite well. We know his followers believed he accurately prophesied those events, and we have their testimonies recorded by the historians (whom we actually know) that interviewed them. The claims about Jesus were more outrageous, but that doesn’t increase the likelihood of their being true. So yes, I’d say we have pretty much the same quality of evidence in both cases. Research Tecumseh a bit and see what you think.

    Regardless, I know exactly why I stopped believing in Christianity. I’m sorry if you feel that my foundation is on shaky ground — I suppose I could say that I think your faith in Christianity is on equally shaky ground… but what would that accomplish? I respect you as an individual, and criticizing the basis for your faith would likely only insult you. I have no wish to do that. I’m sure you didn’t intend to insult me either, so I’ll try not to take it that way. 🙂



  9. G’day Nate,

    “If you’ll remember, I didn’t ask if Tecumseh was the Jewish Messiah, just if he was a prophet.”

    Well, initially, that is what you asked, and I answered that with a definite: “Maybe, maybe not!” : )

    But then you went on to say: “we have as much reason to believe Tecumseh was an actual prophet as we do to think Jesus was really the son of God. If you believe one of these claims, but not the other, why?” And it is here that our “issues” began.

    I was not intending to be insulting, and I thank you for your grace in feeling I might, but choosing to not take it that way. I was trying to be challenging in a light-hearted way, and I’m sorry if it seemed more that that. Let’s look at it a little more.

    Your blog is called “Finding Truth”, and your post raises an interesting question, which you posed to christians in a quite challenging way. I don’t object to the challenge, but when you follow it up with the statement (“we have as much reason to believe …”), I want to challenge you on it in return.

    It is common to find people making quite unjustified statements about evidence – e.g. “there is as much evidence for God (or the historical Jesus) as for the Flying Spaghetti Monster” – and when I hear these statements, I wonder what world these people live in and what they call “evidence”.

    Your statement about the relative evidence and merits of Tecumseh and Jesus was not as extreme as those, but still (IMO) poorly based on evidence. But rather than make a heavy-handed criticism of this as an element in “finding truth”, I chose to make the point in what I thought was a lighter way. But if you wanted to defend your statement, I’d be very willing to argue the case.

    I’m sure your deconversion was based on more substantial issues than this, but if you couple an argument against belief in Jesus with such a flimsy case, I think you should expect christians to respond vigorously, though hopefully still politely.

    Best wishes.


  10. In the case of Tecumseh I don’t think I know enough about this to know whether he was a prophet or not, let alone what sort of prophet he was. Generally speaking, I think prophecy can come from different origins. There are many people who claim to be clairvoyants. Whether it be for financial gain, fame or affirmation there are many people out there who claim to be actively receiving messages from the unseen.

    Regarding the groups that host psychic conventions, séances, workshops and television series I am often highly sceptical. However amongst the multitude I believe there are people out there that really do seek to communicate with “questionable sources” and share what these spiritual entities are saying to them. So what I’m concerned about is not so much whether some peoples “prophecies” are accurate but rather where they are getting this information from.

    I don’t doubt people can make accurate predictions regarding world events. But when these cease to be just “predictions” I start to wonder how they are getting this information. Psychics might allude to dead relatives that they are communicating with, but these messages could be coming from a far more sinister source. So I’m more concerned of who is providing the inforation to the “medium”, especially if the message includes information that no human being could have known at the time.


  11. Furthermore, I don’t think that it is impossible that some people do actually practise real manifestations and conjuring and dress them up as entertainment or spectacle. These practices might be seen as just a novelty or “a thrill” because an audience doesn’t really believe that the person on stage is really doing what they claim to be doing.

    People want to know how a person does a “trick” – What is the secret? However, if there is no “trick” then that leaves people very uncomfortable. The only reason it is considered a form of entertainment rests on the assumption that people feel that this trick could not be true. Like watching horror movies, it is thrilling to be in front of a spectacle that you can choose to detach from, because you can always remind yourself that it is only a movie.

    However, that doesn’t rule out that such things exist. That’s why I find watching magicians unsettling. Not because all performers are practising magik, but because there is so much secrecy and vagueness involved in peoples routines that entertainment isn’t always discerned.


  12. Ryan,

    Thanks for the comments! You raise an interesting point about from what source people might get this kind of information. But if the source could be nefarious, how do you know which people to trust? Especially when they’re all using the same proofs?



  13. Hi unkleE,

    Thanks for the reply — sorry I misread parts of your previous comment. My statement that “we have as much reason to believe…” was probably lazy and an overstatement. I didn’t actually prove that point in the post, so I can see why you would object to it. I’ll briefly lay out the similarities as I see them.

    This paper talks about Tecumseh’s prophecies, but more importantly, it offers a number of sources. I haven’t researched them all, but it seems to me that these stories about Tecumseh came from several different tribes, not just one. And they refer to Tecumseh making similar statements about this earthquake (and some other events) before they happened. These stories were collected by historians through personal interviews with eye-witnesses who were present for Tecumseh’s speeches. There’s also the fact that many Indians reacted to these events and joined Tecumseh’s movement against the Americans, though they had many incentives to avoid him. There may be some other explanations for all this, but it’s not like these are just random claims with no support.

    Now with Jesus, we’re told that he healed the sick, prophesied his own death and resurrection, performed various miracles, was born of a virgin, and rose from the dead. This information comes from four gospels that were written decades after his death. We aren’t really sure who wrote them, though they were obviously believers (just like our sources for Tecumseh’s prophecies are ultimately the Indians who revered and believed in him). Another piece of evidence is the later growth of Christianity — so Jesus obviously made some kind of impression, even if it was just in the stories about him. Our secular sources of the time show that people believed in him.

    I haven’t treated either of these cases in much detail, but I still think they’re accurate synopses. At this point, I think it’s hard to say definitively if one of these makes a better case than the other. Jesus’ case is tougher, because it’s claimed that he’s the Son of God, not just a prophet. Tecumseh also has a slight advantage in that he only lived 200 years ago, not 2000. And we have many historical sources from that time that reference him or these events. But more attention has been paid to Jesus over the years, and there’s much more material to research in reference to him, even if it’s not contemporary to his time. So maybe that’s an advantage to him.

    Either way, I think the two scenarios are very similar. When you get down to it, people who believe in Jesus have to decide if the early Christians (the ones that wrote the gospels) were trustworthy. Are the fantastic stories about their leader reliable? For the people who answer “yes” and believe that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water, changed water molecules into wine molecules, healed the blind and the lame, and rose from the dead because his followers told them it happened — what do they think about Tecumseh’s followers saying he accurately prophesied some events? If they find the former believable, but not the latter, despite the very similar natures of the evidence, I would be interested to know why.

    So far, no one has taken that position in these comments, though I know there are plenty of Christians who fit into that category.

    Anyway, do you feel that there are too many differences in these cases for my overall point to be valid? Does it seem to you that the amount and quality of evidence is vastly different between Tecumseh and Jesus?


  14. Nate, I also wanted to ask,

    is there a way I could read that book you wrote outlining why you no longer believe in Christianity?


  15. Nate,

    “Thanks for the reply — sorry I misread parts of your previous comment.”
    Thanks. I think you were justified in objecting to what I wrote. I have explained my reasons, and you may have misunderstood, but my words were clumsy and ultimately a little too strong. So I’m sorry about that.

    “Anyway, do you feel that there are too many differences in these cases for my overall point to be valid? Does it seem to you that the amount and quality of evidence is vastly different between Tecumseh and Jesus?”

    I think there are at least two important factors to consider – (1) the documentary or other evidence, and (2) the person in question.

    Now I think your analysis of (1) is fair as far as it goes, but omits a few crucial matters (as far as I can see from reading the one paper you referenced).

    (a) The paper admits that there are many versions of the stories and none of them certain. The same is true to a degree for Jesus, but the variations seem to me to be less. And in the end, I trust the writers – Luke for example is so obviously interested in accuracy and history, even if his sources are not always infallible.

    (b) Most historical Jesus study (even when done by christians) assumes (methodological) naturalism. Most historians either refuse to make judgments on prophecies and miracles, including the resurrection, because they want historical study to be independent of the philosophical beliefs of the historian. Thus for example, a major factor in the dating of the gospels after 70 CE is because Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple, and the naturalist assumption is that this can only be a post hoc “prediction”. This despite the fact that there is a strong argument that, had the temple been destroyed, the gospels of Acts would have mentioned it.

    If you applied this criterion to Tecumseh, there would be nothing left to marvel over except perhaps his energy in promoting native American welfare. But even with this methodological naturalism, there is a lot left of Jesus’ life and ministry.

    But I think it is in (2) that your argument is weaker. In assessing these sorts of claims, the character and status of the person is relevant. (If I said I had gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson you’d know I was lying, but if a huge and fit boxer said the same, you might believe him.)

    There is a lot more to Jesus than miracles or prophecy – claims to be messiah, son of man and son of God; forgiving sins; the resurrection; healing miracles; speaking with authority greater than the Old Testament; challenging the status quo and defending the weak and marginalised; etc – and his ability to inspire people to live and die and change the world for him. If you believe he was a good and truthful person, and that his biographers were honest reporters, then it is easy to believe that he prophesied, was resurrected and was divine.

    I don’t see anything like that in Tecumseh’s story. He was obviously an interesting character, probably motivated by good, and he may well have genuinely prophesied (he may equally well have not).

    So it isn’t only the quality of the evidence, but the status of the person, and whether the amazing things said about them fit together into a believable whole.

    Let me conclude in a better way than I did before. If you think the two can in any way be compared, then it may not be that you have too high a view of Tecumseh, but that you have too low a view of Jesus and what the historians say about him. And, while I accept that you were a genuine believer, I suspect that your understanding of Jesus even back then was not what I think can be shown from the texts.

    Hopefully we have now made peace and I have also made my views clear. Thanks for the opportunity.


  16. UnkleE,

    I suspect that Nate doesn’t believe that Tecumseh was a prophet anymore than he thinks Jesus was the son of god.

    And you’re right, most people probably wouldn’t believe it if you claimed to have gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. Would it make it more believable if you also claimed to have killed a bear with a single punch, defeated Bobby Fisher at chess, and round house kicked Chuck Norris while arm wrestling Arnold Schwarzenegger? I would think, to a rational person, than you would be even less believable.

    You seem to be saying that Jesus is more believable because even more wild stuff if said about him. Remember, we only have other people claiming that Jesus said this and that, claiming that Jesus did that or this…

    Maybe Jesus was really the son of god and really did all that stuff, but an old book of claims does not make it any more credible than an old book of claims about an old american Indian.

    I don’t know, though. Maybe the wilder the claims get the more believable it should be…

    Since my “falling away” I have prayed every day “that if the bible is god’s word to please let me see it and believe it again,” but the more I prayed that, the more i saw the bible was not from god… but, that’s not proof either….

    Maybe all religions are right. If nothing is impossible for god, then all avenues wouldn’t be either, i guess.


  17. UnkleE, thanks for your response. An explanation like yours for why you view the two differently is exactly what I was hoping someone would give. Thanks for giving your view!

    William, thanks for your comment as well. I always value your input.


  18. G’day William, interesting questions and comments, and I’m not sure I have adequate answers for you.

    “Would it make it more believable if you also claimed to have killed a bear with a single punch, defeated Bobby Fisher at chess, and round house kicked Chuck Norris while arm wrestling Arnold Schwarzenegger? “

    Well I have done all of those things, but actually I only went 9 rounds with Iron Mike before I wore him out!!! : ) But it isn’t a fair or good analogy. Believability depends on the unusualness of the claim and the level of evidence. There are many things about Jesus that secular historians generally agree on as ‘facts’ – see Jesus in history. These all add to the believability of the bits that are harder to assess historically, not add to the unbelievability as do the things you mentioned.

    I think you are coming from a viewpoint on evidence known as ‘foundationalism’, which tries to build on a known foundation. But philosophers recognise that it is very difficult to find any known foundation. An alternate view is ‘coherentism’, which finds truth not in beliefs that have a sure foundation, but in the total coherence of the beliefs. I don’t know enough to hold any particular view, but I can see some merit in coherentism. And that is part of my thinking here. Does everything we know relevant to the question add up and make more sense than any other interpretation? So I think the view that Jesus was indeed divine and God guided the early christians to think, reflect, conclude and write down what they saw and believed makes much more sense of the evidence than any other view.

    “an old book of claims does not make it any more credible than an old book of claims about an old american Indian.”

    And as I have been saying to Nate, I think this statement is not based on the evidence, but on prejudice. Thousands of historians of every belief have analysed the gospels over two millennia, but particularly in modern times. They set very exacting standards, generally tougher than historians would normally apply, and still they can say that we can know a lot about Jesus.

    “Since my “falling away” I have prayed every day “that if the bible is god’s word to please let me see it and believe it again,” but the more I prayed that, the more i saw the bible was not from god… “

    It is hard to know what to say here without risking being presumptuous or insulting. But it seems to me that Jesus said if we honestly seek we will find. I cannot say how honest your seeking is (probably none of us can even say that about ourselves), but your seeking seems to be based on wrong premises.

    1. Your conclusions don’t seem to be based on a correct historical understanding (as noted above).
    2. The historical facts about Jesus do not depend on the Bible being God’s word, but can be known via secular history. I suggest the ‘right’ prayer is: “please let me see Jesus in truth”.
    3. I think God sometimes allows people to sit back and be filled up with understanding, but mostly we have to go out and actively seek it. If you want an answer, read the historians and read the gospels again with new eyes.
    4. In the end, if christianity is true (which is the question we are discussing), knowing Jesus will depend on more than just evidence, but also on our attitude. Do we want to believe if we find it true, or are we hoping to find it isn’t true and are avoiding that conclusion? Praying as you say is a good start, but answers to prayer often depend on motivation.

    So that is the best I can do with what you have said. As with others I have discussed here and elsewhere recently, I think it will depend in the long run on how we respond to those four points. I will be praying that you can think in a new way. Best wishes.


  19. I didn’t read all the above comments so sorry if I’m repetitive. Here are my two cents as a Christian:

    -God allowed Tecumseh to know these events and prophesy them. Perhaps God wanted to use him to stem the tide of abuse against the tribes. Obviously that’s speculation, I’m just saying I don’t have a problem with God using Tecumseh. It also seems the Native Americans possessed some degree of revelation perhaps from antiquity with their worship of an invisible, all powerful sky god. We see in the bible several examples of people who have incomplete revelation but nonetheless love God and are doing the “best they can with what they have” so to speak. Perhaps that was the case with Tecumseh. I don’t know.
    -Other spiritual principalities opposed to God enabled the prophecy. An example of this might be Pharaoh’s astrologers being able to replicate the signs of Moses up to a point.
    -As someone else said (albeit tongue in cheek) Jesus’ claim to uniqueness wasn’t prophecy, but literally being divine. Thus, prophecy in other religions doesn’t necessarily threaten Jesus’ claims.

    Interesting question. I want to read this book.


  20. UnkleE,

    I appreciate the tone of your responses – always do. Thanks. I don’t quite follow though, which is likely my fault. I’m not sure what label I should ascribe to my viewpoint, but I try to approach things fairly and honestly (dont we all, right?).

    I see that history agrees that Jesus did in fact live, and that history does agree that he had followers who thought and claimed he did miraculous things. I am also aware that history affirms that many thought he was the son of god.

    The thing that gets me is that history says similar things about similar people. We all tend to find rational and physical explanation for the more outlandish/supernatural claims that given societies/religions/believers/follows claimed about their own messiah/deity/leader, even though we can agree that parts or portions of what they claim is true (buddah, tecumseh, whomever else, etc).

    You for example. I don’t know you really, but I have no trouble believing that you are in fact alive. But because I have a high probability that you do in fact exist, that does not imply that I automatically believe that you fought Mike Tyson for even a single round, should you actually claim to have done so. That claim is not even beyond physical or rational explanation. It’s just too grandiose to find credible, in my opinion. Now, I understand that whether i find something believable or not has no bearing on whether it’s actually true. Should I be condemned for simply not finding something believable? Should I be destroyed/erased from existence?

    But back to the subject at hand, History tells us of Tecumseh as well. I don’t understand, when you appear to be making it out to be that belief that Jesus is the son of god and Tecumseh is a prophet as being different? I don’t quite follow how I am the one being prejudice in this instance. I see similar historical validity for both, both had devout followers… I don’t yet see how believing they are similar is prejudice. In fact, I highly doubt that tecumseh was any more a true prophet than Jesus was the literal son of god and miracle worker.

    If anything, I can see that i am prejudice toward miraculous claims (claims i have not witnessed and claims of miracles that are apparently never going to be repeated), especially when the rational and physical explanation seems more believable. It seems prejudice to me, at least right now, to lend belief or credit to one of the above men and then not the other…

    It could be, and maybe even likely, that I am an idiot, and also thereby incorrect – in which case i offer my apologies.


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