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. Hello again William,

    Thanks for your reply – I appreciate your thoughtful and friendly approach too.

    “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’m sure we all try to, but I doubt any of us can do so as much as we’d like. I only mentioned this because this isn’t a debate where personal attitude doesn’t matter, this is ‘real life’ where personal attitude really matters, and that is something I cannot address because I don’t know you, and it would be presumptuous and arrogant even if I did. So I mention it for your consideration.

    “buddah, tecumseh, whomever else, etc”

    I can’t think of anyone who made the explicit and implicit claims that Jesus did. Even if I didn’t believe in him, I would think he was unique in world history for a range of reasons. So I don’t have to do comparisons, I just have to ask the question – is there good reason to trust his biographers and to trust him? I think the answers are ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.

    I think that almost all lapsed christians I have met on the web have not given me reason to believe they have satisfactorily answered those questions. They seem to have decided to disbelieve for other reasons (often related to doctrines like Biblical inerrancy, hell and condemnation or the Old Testament portrayal of God, which are not central to faith in Jesus). Perhaps it is the same with you?

    “Should I be condemned for simply not finding something believable? Should I be destroyed/erased from existence?”

    I cannot believe anyone will miss out on eternal life for reasons that are beyond their control. That seems unjust to me, and God’s justice must be fairer than my sense of justice. The BIble hints at this.

    But this is where motivation and intention are important. (And here I can only ask questions, not make statements.) Do you really want Jesus to be true, but lack the evidence, or are you making unrealistic demands for evidence to justify your wish not to believe? Are you searching with all your heart or sitting back and waiting for God to do something? I can’t know those things, and they’re none of my business, but I suggest God knows.

    “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 think two aspects are important here:

    (1) Thousands of scholars have exhaustively analysed the history of Jesus, and even by their over-exacting standards (more than are applied to other ancient history, many classical historians say) there is sufficient broad consensus about Jesus to assess his claims (see Jesus in history. There is none of this for Tecumseh, just one (so far that I’ve seen) rather speculative assessment. If the same standards were applied to Tecumseh as are applied to jesus, we would know practically nothing extraordinary (based on what I’ve seen so far).

    (2) The real issue is not Tecumseh but Jesus. I’ll happily accept that Tecumseh, Buddha, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah, etc, all lived and did more or less what is written about them. The issue is the truth or otherwise of their teachings. Again, I’ll happily accept that much of what they teach may be true (there is much in common after all). But Jesus makes the most important claims, and is (in my judgment) the most believable. So the comparison with Tecumseh, or anyone else, is largely irrelevant. The questions still is: What do you think of Jesus, based on the historical evidence?

    “especially when the rational and physical explanation seems more believable”

    But what is the rational explanation? That somehow people didn’t know then that the lame don’t walk and the dead don’t rise, or somehow believed they saw what they didn’t see, hundreds and thousands of them?? That his followers had many mass hallucinations of Jesus alive after his death, that somehow motivated them to spread the faith with extraordinary energy and success? That it was all a lie, made up almost immediately after Jesus was killed?

    If a person refuses to believe in God, then I guess they have to hold to something along those lines, but that doesn’t make such theories believable (to me at any rate). I think the physical evidence of the universe and the personal evidence of people’s experiences of God shows me that God is by far a better hypothesis than no God, and once I accept even that God is a possibility, the “rational” explanations for Jesus look a little lacking compared to the most obvious one that the gospel writers told the truth.

    I really don’t think you are an idiot (far from it), but I think you have approached christianity, or left it, with some assumptions that are questionable. Sorry for the long answer, but I wanted to try to answer your questions as best I could. Thanks.


  2. Thanks again to everyone who has commented so far.

    unkleE, I thought I’d jump back in a little to the discussion you and William are having. First of all, I agree that our motivations are important, but I disagree that we should be trying to favor one outcome over another. If we desperately want Jesus to be the actual son of God, then we are very likely to come to that conclusion — even if it’s not true. Likewise, if we desperately do not want him to be the son of God, we’ll probably come to that conclusion too, even if it’s not true. I think the best motivation is a motivation to find objective truth, no matter where that takes you. So I think the best prayer someone can offer is to find truth — that’s it. I think praying “please let me see Jesus in truth” is basically saying the same thing, but it puts an unnecessary focus on Jesus. If Jesus is truth, then just praying for truth should lead us to him (provided someone’s actually listening).

    Anyway, that’s a minor point that we probably actually agree on anyway.

    For my main point, you can check out my latest post. I started to write it here, but it was getting too long! 🙂


  3. G’day Nate, interesting question, and I’m still not sure I have a final answer on it. But here’s my first thoughts.

    If things are a matter of facts alone, then objectivity is clearly best. And even when more than facts are involved, a certain level of objectivity is still good. But I’m wondering (not sure) whether in the case of Jesus, objectivity is (for most of us) either impossible or undesirable. Here are my reasons for wondering:

    1. In our pseudo christian culture, most of us already have an attitude to Jesus. I doubt we can be completely neutral and objective.

    2. If a person has been a christian for a while, they have in a sense “walked with Jesus”. No matter how objective and rational their belief is, they must surely have related to Jesus as a person (e.g. in prayer). I am a person whose faith is very rationally based, but I still feel this way. If such a person doesn’t feel a sense of personal loss if they stop believing, I would find that very strange – loss of faith must surely be a bit like a divorce.

    3. If christianity is true, God isn’t some neutral bystander watching us like rats in a maze, but a God who cares and grieves and gets involved – to the extent of becoming a human (or his son becoming a human, depending on the exact theology one holds). The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit influences people to believe. So I have to allow for this in my thinking about why believe. And while the Spirit’s influence will be rational for some, it may be emotional or personal for others.

    4. No-one can prove christianity, nor any alternative – it is a matter of judgment. I think God wants it that way. If it was all logic and evidence and proof, then the smart ones would go to heaven and the dumb ones would miss out. God wants us to respond to Jesus because we recognise his goodness as well as because he is true. So it is emotional and volitional as well as rational.

    So I think I still say that we have to want to believe as well as believe it’s true.


  4. Try John Sugden’s biography of Tecumseh. It’s a scholarly study, not a work of semi-fiction. Nobody reported Tecumseh’s supposed prophesies until long after the fact, which casts doubt on their validity. Sound familiar? When you place your faith in just one book, you make the choices easy because you don’t have to choose.


  5. Something for searchers:
    Recent findings suggest a meteor from the dust tail of Comet C/1811 F1 was the initial mechanism to cause the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812:
    “1811 A Comet and A Quake”, wix, documents and links, “A Few Comments on 1811”. “Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America”, Chapter 14, by Alexander von Humboldt has excdellent accounts of the effects caused by the close passing of a Sungrazer comet.
    Find the truths behind the myths… :-]


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