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Tecumseh and the Prophet

The Heroic Struggle for America's Heartland

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Winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Biography
A Washington Independent Review Favorite Book
A Cowboys and Indians Editor’s Pick


Tecumseh and the Prophet is the first biography of the great Shawnee leader to make clear that his misunderstood younger brother, Tenskwatawa, was an equal partner in the last great pan-Indian alliance against the United States.

Until the Americans killed Tecumseh in 1813, he and his brother Tenskwatawa were the co-architects of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in United States history. In previous accounts of Tecumseh’s life, Tenskwatawa has been dismissed as a talentless charlatan and a drunk. But award-winning historian Peter Cozzens now shows us that while Tecumseh was a brilliant diplomat and war leader—admired by the same white Americans he opposed—it was Tenskwatawa, called the “Shawnee Prophet,” who created a vital doctrine of religious and cultural revitalization that unified the disparate tribes of the Old Northwest. Detailed research of Native American society and customs provides a window into a world often erased from history books and reveals how both men came to power in different but no less important ways.

Cozzens brings us to the forefront of the chaos and violence that characterized the young American Republic, when settlers spilled across the Appalachians to bloody effect in their haste to exploit lands won from the British in the War of Independence, disregarding their rightful Indian owners. Tecumseh and the Prophet presents the untold story of the Shawnee brothers who retaliated against this threat—the two most significant siblings in Native American history, who, Cozzens helps us understand, should be writ large in the annals of America.
 
“An insightful, unflinching portrayal of the remarkable siblings who came closer to altering the course of American history than any other Indian leaders.”⁠ —H.W. Brands, author of The Zealot and the Emancipator
 
“In 1768, the year of Tecumseh’s birth, 60,000 Native Americans in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley stood against a white colonial population of two million. As settlers crested the Appalachians, this imbalance only got worse. Against this epic backdrop, Peter Cozzens weaves his marvelous tale of the two Shawnee brothers who stood against the storm. Tecumseh and the Prophet tells a story of nation-defining events and larger-than-life leaders, and Cozzens' nuanced portrait stands as one of the best pieces of Native American history I have read.” —S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon, and Rebel Yell

“Cozzens expertly mines the surprisingly varied array of sources for the brothers’ early lives; he presents the fullest picture yet of who these men were before they achieved national fame. His book balances them more than any previous retelling of the story ever has. Tecumseh and the Prophet is as close to a fully realized popular biography of Tenkswatawa as is ever likely to be written. . . . Tecumseh and the Prophet paints in vivid colors the grandest effort of Native Americans to retain their independence—and the political and spiritual leaders who tried to make it happen.” —Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor

“Cozzens rightly rejects the old stories, arguing convincingly that Tenskwatawa successfully shaped a powerful spiritual doctrine out of nativist resistance.” —Philip Deloria, The New Yorker

“Mr. Cozzens puts his narrative skills to great use. His compelling prose and deep research in both primary sources and histories of the period combine to place the reader on the ground with the Shawnee brothers. . . . Sharply drawn.” —Kathleen DuVal, The Wall Street Journal

“Award-winning historian Peter Cozzens admirably brings this lost world to life. . . . Cozzens’s descriptions of Tenskwatawa’s spiritual agenda, centered on Indian independence and rejection of White culture, will remind readers that tribal leaders from Osceola to Sitting Bull attempted to preserve native culture with the weapons of war. The tragedy of their failure haunts America today.” —Nancy Tappan, American History Magazine

“This . . . is no sentimental paean to an innocent martyr, no simplistic homage to a “noble savage”. . . . Cozzens is a master storyteller; his books weave a wealth of intricate detail into gripping historical narrative. . . . In this book descriptions of battles are especially enthralling; one can almost smell the gunpowder, the blood and the loamy forest floor.” —Gerard DeGroot, The Times (UK)

Tecumseh and the Prophet is a thorough profile of the notable Tecumseh and his Brother. Author Peter Cozzens sculpts his narrative deftly and compellingly. In relating the barbarity of the frontier wars, the author remains objective yet empathetic. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa are fascinating figures, capable of greatness and leadership, yet destined for tragedy. A+ work.” —Philip Zozzaro, San Francisco Book Review

“The strength of Cozzens’ book is his ability to bring to life the thrilling adventures of Tecumseh and his people. Many a war yarn gets bogged down in minutiae, but the author animates these battles by sharing the human stories behind the fighting. By ably piecing together a history that is equal parts engaging and amply sourced, Cozzens has crafted a satisfying work that leads us to sympathize with his subjects without putting his finger on the scale to prove his point.” —Chris Rutledge, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Cozzens has a gift for depicting the intricacies of combat with both clarity and flair . . . the dual biography comes across as fair and impartial. Without sentimentality, and without overlooking the faults of its heroes, it presents a nuanced look at their attempt to halt the invasion of their lands.” —Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch

“Engrossing. . . . Cozzens’ biographyis solidly researched, fluently written, and bound to stand as the best history to date about the Shawnee brothers’ lives and effort to rally pan-Indian resistance.” —Booklist, (starred review)

“An enthralling, deeply researched dual biography of Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother. . . . Cozzens’s cinematic narrative is steeped in Native American culture and laced with vivid battle scenes and character sketches. American history buffs will gain a new appreciation for what these resistance leaders accomplished.” —Publishers Weekly

“Comprehensive. . . . Blending historical fact with solid storytelling, Cozzens delivers a nuanced study of the great warrior and his times.” —Kirkus Reviews
© Antonia Feldman
PETER COZZENS is the author or editor of eighteen acclaimed books on the American Civil War and the Indian Wars of the American West, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Lincoln Prize. In 2002 he was awarded the American Foreign Service Association's highest honor, the William R. Rivkin Award, given annually to one Foreign Service officer for exemplary moral courage, integrity, and creative dissent. He lives in Kensington, Maryland. View titles by Peter Cozzens
Prologue
 
Dawn of the Long Knives
 
Daybreak, October 10, 1774. In dense forest, a column of 700 Shawnee and Mingo warriors uncoils into a ragged, mile-long line. Unlike years past, the warriors are not stalking game. Rather, they are preparing to strike 1,200 unsuspecting Virginia militiamen camped at Point Pleasant, a craggy triangle at the confluence of the Ohio and Great Kanawha rivers, approximately 150 miles southwest of modern Wheeling, West Virginia. A carpet of red and russet leaves deadens their footfalls. The warriors wear breechclouts, which are single pieces of cloth wrapped around the hips, buckskin leggings, and moccasins. A few also sport linen hunting shirts purchased from white traders. Most carry smoothbore muskets, tomahawks, scalping knives, and bow and arrows for use if their ammunition runs out. Silver rings dangle from their noses. Huge earrings hang on distended earlobes, framing faces painted in fierce patterns of red and black.
 
The leader of the war party, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk, would prefer to be elsewhere. Although the provocation had been immense, he had called for restraint. Virginians had flouted a royal proclamation prohibiting settlement on Indian land and instead spilled across the Kanawha River into the Kanawha Valley, part of the greater Kentucky country, all of which was prime Shawnee hunting ground. “I have with great trouble and pains prevailed on the foolish people amongst us to sit still and do no harm till we see whether it is the intention of the white people in general to fall on us,” Cornstalk had told a British official, “and shall continue so to do in the hopes that matters may be settled.” But the royal governor of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, who himself coveted Indian land for personal profit, had no expectation of a peaceful denouement. Frontier subjects, he wrote the Crown, despised treaties made with Indians, “whom they consider but little removed from the brute creation.” So too did the Virginia aristocracy. With the spring thaw in 1774, surveyors representing George Washington, Patrick Henry, and other Tidewater elites staked large claims along the Ohio River. Waving away the royal edict against land grabs as a “temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians,” Washington told his personal surveyor not to worry.
 
With the surveyors came settlers willing to wager their scalps on a scrap of land. For a time, Cornstalk succeeded in controlling his young warriors. They turned back white intruders with stern warnings but seldom harmed them. Then in April 1774 a gang of frontier ruffians butchered a small party of inoffensive Mingo men and women who had crossed the Ohio River to buy rum at a neighborhood grog shop. Other Mingoes who attempted to investigate were shot from their canoes. The dead included the sister and younger brother of the Mingo chief “Captain John” Logan, a longtime friend of the whites who, averred a pioneer who knew Logan well, represented “the best specimen of humanity, either white or red,” that he had ever met.
 
The massacre shocked the colonies and the Crown. The young Virginia aristocrat Thomas Jefferson excoriated the supposed perpetrators. Hard words and hand-wringing, however, marked the extent of the white response. When the Crown’s colonial justice proved empty, Logan sought revenge in the Indian fashion; he slayed just enough frontiersmen to even the score, taking care to exculpate the Shawnees from his bloody work. To the charred door of a ravaged cabin, Logan posted a succinct confession. “You killed my kin . . . then I thought I must kill too. The Indians is not angry [sic] only me.” Backcountry settlers saw matters otherwise. Misconstruing Chief Cornstalk’s neutrality as hostile intent, Virginia militiamen destroyed a large Shawnee village in the Ohio country. They also laid waste to six Mingo towns.
 
The die was cast. Shawnee and Mingo war parties retaliated. Frontiersmen reciprocated. Havoc and horror rent the wilderness. As the frontier crumbled, Lord Dunmore mustered the militia to deal the Indians a two-pronged thrashing. No longer able to keep the peace, Chief Cornstalk assumed the mantle of supreme Shawnee war leader. He tried to forge a broad Indian alliance, but British threats and cajolery sidelined other tribes. And so in late September, Cornstalk sallied forth with his Shawnee and Mingo force to defend their lands. Calculating that his only chance lay in defeating Dunmore’s armies before they could unite, Cornstalk turned his attention first to the command of Gen. Andrew Lewis, who was then creeping across the wilds of western Virginia toward Point Pleasant. Although outnumbered, Cornstalk had able Shawnee lieutenants, among them the rising star Puckeshinwau, already honored as both a war and a civil leader, offices the Shawnees rarely combined.
 
The Indians hated the militiamen but respected their fighting prowess. They called the Virginians the “Long Knives” because of the butcher knives and short swords that they wielded with as much skill as the Indians did the tomahawk. Like Indian warriors, the Virginians were a colorful if undisciplined lot. A few of the officers wore regular uniforms, but most were clad in the same sort of hunting shirts, leather leggings, homemade breeches, broad-brimmed hats or animal-skin caps, and moccasins as their men. Each militiaman carried a flintlock long-rifle or English musket, a bullet pouch, and powder horn carved to individual taste. In addition to knives, many also tucked tomahawks into their belts. Well schooled in Indian warfare and raging with the Kentucky land-fever, the Virginians were impatient for the fray.

This morning, however, they slumbered soundly, unaware of the approaching warriors. The night before, the Indians had slipped across the Ohio River in crude rafts beneath a cobalt sky, debouching on the rocky, timber-strewn Virginia riverbank four miles north of the militia camp. Cornstalk and his lieutenants oversaw the carefully choreographed battle preparations. Their warriors slept a few hours, leaning against trees or propped against forked poles, weapons at the ready. Hunters killed twelve deer and ritually sliced the venison under the watchful eyes of medicine men (spiritual and natural healers), who examined the roasted strips for spiritual purity before handing each warrior one piece. After eating, the men buried their blankets and shirts beneath leaves. Deploying in units of twenty, they each crammed four balls into their muskets to inflict maximum punishment at short range. They would tomahawk any survivors. Cornstalk selected the best marksmen to descend to the riverbank to pick off any Virginians desperate enough to plunge into the broad Ohio after the Indians sprang their trap.

And then his plan unraveled. At dawn, October 10, 1774, two early-rising Virginians wandered into the forest to hunt deer. Instead they ran into the Indians. One militiaman crumpled, riddled with musket balls, but the other stumbled back into camp to sound the alarm. Instantly the drums beat to arms. The backwoodsmen rolled from their blankets, examined their flints and priming, and awaited orders.
 
Feigning composure, General Lewis lit his pipe. He blew a few puffs and then ordered two colonels to lead double columns of 150 men forward to discover the source of the commotion. Both officers fell in the first Indian volley. Concealed behind the trunks of maple and pine and in the tangled underbrush of the river bottom, the warriors dropped dozens of militiamen, screaming epithets at the “sons of bitches” and “white dogs” as they fired. Lewis pushed out reinforcements, and the combatants grappled at close quarters in the smoke-choked timber. “Hide where I would,” a Virginian recalled, “the muzzle of some rifle was gaping in my face and the wild, distorted countenance of a savage was rushing towards me with uplifted tomahawk. The contest resembled more a circus of gladiators than a battle.”
 
After six hours of close combat, the two sides backed apart and traded fire from behind trees and fallen timber. Puckeshinwau and his fellow war leaders moved along the Indian line, exhorting their warriors to “lie close,” “shoot well,” and “fight and be strong.” Near sunset, General Lewis occupied a high ridge that Cornstalk had neglected to secure. Stung by bullets from above their left flank and low on ammunition, the Indians melted back into the forest and recrossed the Ohio. The Virginians contented themselves with scalping fallen warriors and collecting souvenirs.
 
It had been a bloody twelve hours. The Indians killed seventy-five Virginians and wounded another 140. Perhaps forty warriors died. Hoping to disguise their losses, the Indians rolled several of their dead into the river. The Virginians nevertheless collected thirty-two scalps. These they affixed to a post at Point Pleasant.
 
The battle claimed just one prominent Indian, the Shawnee war leader Puckeshinwau. His thirteen-year-old son Cheeseekau, not yet a warrior, had accompanied him into action. After Puckeshinwau fell mortally wounded, Cheeseekau helped ease him back over the Ohio in a driftwood raft. Before dying, Puckeshinwau reputedly admonished his young son to preserve his family’s honor, never reconcile with the Long Knives, and “in the future lead forth to battle his younger brothers” against them. Cheeseekau swore to obey. Puckeshinwau’s warriors buried their chief deep in the forest.
 
Cheeseekau had accepted a heavy burden. He had three siblings, and his now-widowed mother was pregnant with triplets. Cheeseekau’s favorite sibling, upon whom he would lavish most of his attention and who would best fulfill his father’s last wish, was his six-year-old brother Tecumseh, the “Shooting Star.”
Winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Biography
A Washington Independent Review Favorite Book
A Cowboys and Indians Editor's Pick


"Cozzens expertly mines the surprisingly varied array of sources for the brothers’ early lives; he presents the fullest picture yet of who these men were before they achieved national fame. His book balances them more than any previous retelling of the story ever has. Tecumseh and the Prophet is as close to a fully realized popular biography of Tenkswatawa as is ever likely to be written … Tecumseh and the Prophet paints in vivid colors the grandest effort of Native Americans to retain their independence – and the political and spiritual leaders who tried to make it happen.”
⁠—Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor

"This... is no sentimental paean to an innocent martyr, no simplistic homage to a “noble savage”... Cozzens is a master storyteller; his books weave a wealth of intricate detail into gripping historical narrative... In this book descriptions of battles are especially enthralling; one can almost smell the gunpowder, the blood and the loamy forest floor."
⁠—Gerard DeGroot, The Times (UK)

"Tecumseh and the Prophet is a thorough profile of the notable Tecumseh and his Brother. Author Peter Cozzens sculpts his narrative deftly and compellingly. In relating the barbarity of the frontier wars, the author remains objective yet empathetic. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa are fascinating figures, capable of greatness and leadership, yet destined for tragedy. A+ work."
⁠—Philip Zozzaro, San Francisco Book Review

"The strength of Cozzens’ book is his ability to bring to life the thrilling adventures of Tecumseh and his people. Many a war yarn gets bogged down in minutiae, but the author animates these battles by sharing the human stories behind the fighting. By ably piecing together a history that is equal parts engaging and amply sourced, Cozzens has crafted a satisfying work that leads us to sympathize with his subjects without putting his finger on the scale to prove his point."
⁠—Chris Rutledge, Washington Independent Review of Books

"Cozzens has a gift for depicting the intricacies of combat with both clarity and flair. ... the dual biography comes across as fair and impartial. Without sentimentality, and without overlooking the faults of its heroes, it presents a nuanced look at their attempt to halt the invasion of their lands."
⁠—Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch

"Engrossing... Cozzens' biographyis solidly researched, fluently written, and bound to stand as the best history to date about the Shawnee brothers' lives and effort to rally pan-Indian resistance."
⁠—Booklist, starred

"Cozzens rightly rejects the old stories, arguing convincingly that Tenskwatawa successfully shaped a powerful spiritual doctrine out of nativist resistance."
⁠—Philip Deloria, The New Yorker

"Mr. Cozzens puts his narrative skills to great use. His compelling prose and deep research in both primary sources and histories of the period combine to place the reader on the ground with the Shawnee brothers... Sharply drawn."
⁠—Kathleen DuVal, The Wall Street Journal

"Award-winning historian Peter Cozzens admirably brings this lost world to life... Cozzens’s descriptions of Tenskwatawa’s spiritual agenda, centered on Indian independence and rejection of White culture, will remind readers that tribal leaders from Osceola to Sitting Bull attempted to preserve native culture with the weapons of war. The tragedy of their failure haunts America today."
⁠—Nancy Tappan, American History Magazine


"In 1768, the year of Tecumseh’s birth, 60,000 Native Americans in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley stood against a white colonial population of two million. As settlers crested the Appalachians, this imbalance only got worse. Against this epic backdrop, Peter Cozzens weaves his marvelous tale of the two Shawnee brothers who stood against the storm. Tecumseh and the Prophet tells a story of nation-defining events and larger-than-life leaders, and Cozzens' nuanced portrait stands as one of the best pieces of Native American history I have read.”
⁠—S. C. Gwynne, author of New York Times best-sellers Empire of the Summer Moon, and Rebel Yell


"Cozzens... shows his skill at revealing the social and daily realities of late 18th- and early 19th-century life, including wonderfully vivid descriptions of pioneer conditions and Algonquin villages... A long overdue non-fiction account. Tecumseh's life and the wider struggle for the Great Lakes and Ohio River valley now has a current, solid work by an accomplished author."
⁠—Library Journal, starred

"An enthralling, deeply researched dual biography of Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother... Cozzens’s cinematic narrative is steeped in Native American culture and laced with vivid battle scenes and character sketches. American history buffs will gain a new appreciation for what these resistance leaders accomplished."
⁠—Publishers Weekly

"Comprehensive... Blending historical fact with solid storytelling, Cozzens delivers a nuanced study of the great warrior and his times."
⁠—Kirkus


About

Winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Biography
A Washington Independent Review Favorite Book
A Cowboys and Indians Editor’s Pick


Tecumseh and the Prophet is the first biography of the great Shawnee leader to make clear that his misunderstood younger brother, Tenskwatawa, was an equal partner in the last great pan-Indian alliance against the United States.

Until the Americans killed Tecumseh in 1813, he and his brother Tenskwatawa were the co-architects of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in United States history. In previous accounts of Tecumseh’s life, Tenskwatawa has been dismissed as a talentless charlatan and a drunk. But award-winning historian Peter Cozzens now shows us that while Tecumseh was a brilliant diplomat and war leader—admired by the same white Americans he opposed—it was Tenskwatawa, called the “Shawnee Prophet,” who created a vital doctrine of religious and cultural revitalization that unified the disparate tribes of the Old Northwest. Detailed research of Native American society and customs provides a window into a world often erased from history books and reveals how both men came to power in different but no less important ways.

Cozzens brings us to the forefront of the chaos and violence that characterized the young American Republic, when settlers spilled across the Appalachians to bloody effect in their haste to exploit lands won from the British in the War of Independence, disregarding their rightful Indian owners. Tecumseh and the Prophet presents the untold story of the Shawnee brothers who retaliated against this threat—the two most significant siblings in Native American history, who, Cozzens helps us understand, should be writ large in the annals of America.
 
“An insightful, unflinching portrayal of the remarkable siblings who came closer to altering the course of American history than any other Indian leaders.”⁠ —H.W. Brands, author of The Zealot and the Emancipator
 
“In 1768, the year of Tecumseh’s birth, 60,000 Native Americans in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley stood against a white colonial population of two million. As settlers crested the Appalachians, this imbalance only got worse. Against this epic backdrop, Peter Cozzens weaves his marvelous tale of the two Shawnee brothers who stood against the storm. Tecumseh and the Prophet tells a story of nation-defining events and larger-than-life leaders, and Cozzens' nuanced portrait stands as one of the best pieces of Native American history I have read.” —S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon, and Rebel Yell

“Cozzens expertly mines the surprisingly varied array of sources for the brothers’ early lives; he presents the fullest picture yet of who these men were before they achieved national fame. His book balances them more than any previous retelling of the story ever has. Tecumseh and the Prophet is as close to a fully realized popular biography of Tenkswatawa as is ever likely to be written. . . . Tecumseh and the Prophet paints in vivid colors the grandest effort of Native Americans to retain their independence—and the political and spiritual leaders who tried to make it happen.” —Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor

“Cozzens rightly rejects the old stories, arguing convincingly that Tenskwatawa successfully shaped a powerful spiritual doctrine out of nativist resistance.” —Philip Deloria, The New Yorker

“Mr. Cozzens puts his narrative skills to great use. His compelling prose and deep research in both primary sources and histories of the period combine to place the reader on the ground with the Shawnee brothers. . . . Sharply drawn.” —Kathleen DuVal, The Wall Street Journal

“Award-winning historian Peter Cozzens admirably brings this lost world to life. . . . Cozzens’s descriptions of Tenskwatawa’s spiritual agenda, centered on Indian independence and rejection of White culture, will remind readers that tribal leaders from Osceola to Sitting Bull attempted to preserve native culture with the weapons of war. The tragedy of their failure haunts America today.” —Nancy Tappan, American History Magazine

“This . . . is no sentimental paean to an innocent martyr, no simplistic homage to a “noble savage”. . . . Cozzens is a master storyteller; his books weave a wealth of intricate detail into gripping historical narrative. . . . In this book descriptions of battles are especially enthralling; one can almost smell the gunpowder, the blood and the loamy forest floor.” —Gerard DeGroot, The Times (UK)

Tecumseh and the Prophet is a thorough profile of the notable Tecumseh and his Brother. Author Peter Cozzens sculpts his narrative deftly and compellingly. In relating the barbarity of the frontier wars, the author remains objective yet empathetic. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa are fascinating figures, capable of greatness and leadership, yet destined for tragedy. A+ work.” —Philip Zozzaro, San Francisco Book Review

“The strength of Cozzens’ book is his ability to bring to life the thrilling adventures of Tecumseh and his people. Many a war yarn gets bogged down in minutiae, but the author animates these battles by sharing the human stories behind the fighting. By ably piecing together a history that is equal parts engaging and amply sourced, Cozzens has crafted a satisfying work that leads us to sympathize with his subjects without putting his finger on the scale to prove his point.” —Chris Rutledge, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Cozzens has a gift for depicting the intricacies of combat with both clarity and flair . . . the dual biography comes across as fair and impartial. Without sentimentality, and without overlooking the faults of its heroes, it presents a nuanced look at their attempt to halt the invasion of their lands.” —Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch

“Engrossing. . . . Cozzens’ biographyis solidly researched, fluently written, and bound to stand as the best history to date about the Shawnee brothers’ lives and effort to rally pan-Indian resistance.” —Booklist, (starred review)

“An enthralling, deeply researched dual biography of Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother. . . . Cozzens’s cinematic narrative is steeped in Native American culture and laced with vivid battle scenes and character sketches. American history buffs will gain a new appreciation for what these resistance leaders accomplished.” —Publishers Weekly

“Comprehensive. . . . Blending historical fact with solid storytelling, Cozzens delivers a nuanced study of the great warrior and his times.” —Kirkus Reviews

Author

© Antonia Feldman
PETER COZZENS is the author or editor of eighteen acclaimed books on the American Civil War and the Indian Wars of the American West, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Lincoln Prize. In 2002 he was awarded the American Foreign Service Association's highest honor, the William R. Rivkin Award, given annually to one Foreign Service officer for exemplary moral courage, integrity, and creative dissent. He lives in Kensington, Maryland. View titles by Peter Cozzens

Excerpt

Prologue
 
Dawn of the Long Knives
 
Daybreak, October 10, 1774. In dense forest, a column of 700 Shawnee and Mingo warriors uncoils into a ragged, mile-long line. Unlike years past, the warriors are not stalking game. Rather, they are preparing to strike 1,200 unsuspecting Virginia militiamen camped at Point Pleasant, a craggy triangle at the confluence of the Ohio and Great Kanawha rivers, approximately 150 miles southwest of modern Wheeling, West Virginia. A carpet of red and russet leaves deadens their footfalls. The warriors wear breechclouts, which are single pieces of cloth wrapped around the hips, buckskin leggings, and moccasins. A few also sport linen hunting shirts purchased from white traders. Most carry smoothbore muskets, tomahawks, scalping knives, and bow and arrows for use if their ammunition runs out. Silver rings dangle from their noses. Huge earrings hang on distended earlobes, framing faces painted in fierce patterns of red and black.
 
The leader of the war party, the Shawnee chief Cornstalk, would prefer to be elsewhere. Although the provocation had been immense, he had called for restraint. Virginians had flouted a royal proclamation prohibiting settlement on Indian land and instead spilled across the Kanawha River into the Kanawha Valley, part of the greater Kentucky country, all of which was prime Shawnee hunting ground. “I have with great trouble and pains prevailed on the foolish people amongst us to sit still and do no harm till we see whether it is the intention of the white people in general to fall on us,” Cornstalk had told a British official, “and shall continue so to do in the hopes that matters may be settled.” But the royal governor of Virginia, the Earl of Dunmore, who himself coveted Indian land for personal profit, had no expectation of a peaceful denouement. Frontier subjects, he wrote the Crown, despised treaties made with Indians, “whom they consider but little removed from the brute creation.” So too did the Virginia aristocracy. With the spring thaw in 1774, surveyors representing George Washington, Patrick Henry, and other Tidewater elites staked large claims along the Ohio River. Waving away the royal edict against land grabs as a “temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians,” Washington told his personal surveyor not to worry.
 
With the surveyors came settlers willing to wager their scalps on a scrap of land. For a time, Cornstalk succeeded in controlling his young warriors. They turned back white intruders with stern warnings but seldom harmed them. Then in April 1774 a gang of frontier ruffians butchered a small party of inoffensive Mingo men and women who had crossed the Ohio River to buy rum at a neighborhood grog shop. Other Mingoes who attempted to investigate were shot from their canoes. The dead included the sister and younger brother of the Mingo chief “Captain John” Logan, a longtime friend of the whites who, averred a pioneer who knew Logan well, represented “the best specimen of humanity, either white or red,” that he had ever met.
 
The massacre shocked the colonies and the Crown. The young Virginia aristocrat Thomas Jefferson excoriated the supposed perpetrators. Hard words and hand-wringing, however, marked the extent of the white response. When the Crown’s colonial justice proved empty, Logan sought revenge in the Indian fashion; he slayed just enough frontiersmen to even the score, taking care to exculpate the Shawnees from his bloody work. To the charred door of a ravaged cabin, Logan posted a succinct confession. “You killed my kin . . . then I thought I must kill too. The Indians is not angry [sic] only me.” Backcountry settlers saw matters otherwise. Misconstruing Chief Cornstalk’s neutrality as hostile intent, Virginia militiamen destroyed a large Shawnee village in the Ohio country. They also laid waste to six Mingo towns.
 
The die was cast. Shawnee and Mingo war parties retaliated. Frontiersmen reciprocated. Havoc and horror rent the wilderness. As the frontier crumbled, Lord Dunmore mustered the militia to deal the Indians a two-pronged thrashing. No longer able to keep the peace, Chief Cornstalk assumed the mantle of supreme Shawnee war leader. He tried to forge a broad Indian alliance, but British threats and cajolery sidelined other tribes. And so in late September, Cornstalk sallied forth with his Shawnee and Mingo force to defend their lands. Calculating that his only chance lay in defeating Dunmore’s armies before they could unite, Cornstalk turned his attention first to the command of Gen. Andrew Lewis, who was then creeping across the wilds of western Virginia toward Point Pleasant. Although outnumbered, Cornstalk had able Shawnee lieutenants, among them the rising star Puckeshinwau, already honored as both a war and a civil leader, offices the Shawnees rarely combined.
 
The Indians hated the militiamen but respected their fighting prowess. They called the Virginians the “Long Knives” because of the butcher knives and short swords that they wielded with as much skill as the Indians did the tomahawk. Like Indian warriors, the Virginians were a colorful if undisciplined lot. A few of the officers wore regular uniforms, but most were clad in the same sort of hunting shirts, leather leggings, homemade breeches, broad-brimmed hats or animal-skin caps, and moccasins as their men. Each militiaman carried a flintlock long-rifle or English musket, a bullet pouch, and powder horn carved to individual taste. In addition to knives, many also tucked tomahawks into their belts. Well schooled in Indian warfare and raging with the Kentucky land-fever, the Virginians were impatient for the fray.

This morning, however, they slumbered soundly, unaware of the approaching warriors. The night before, the Indians had slipped across the Ohio River in crude rafts beneath a cobalt sky, debouching on the rocky, timber-strewn Virginia riverbank four miles north of the militia camp. Cornstalk and his lieutenants oversaw the carefully choreographed battle preparations. Their warriors slept a few hours, leaning against trees or propped against forked poles, weapons at the ready. Hunters killed twelve deer and ritually sliced the venison under the watchful eyes of medicine men (spiritual and natural healers), who examined the roasted strips for spiritual purity before handing each warrior one piece. After eating, the men buried their blankets and shirts beneath leaves. Deploying in units of twenty, they each crammed four balls into their muskets to inflict maximum punishment at short range. They would tomahawk any survivors. Cornstalk selected the best marksmen to descend to the riverbank to pick off any Virginians desperate enough to plunge into the broad Ohio after the Indians sprang their trap.

And then his plan unraveled. At dawn, October 10, 1774, two early-rising Virginians wandered into the forest to hunt deer. Instead they ran into the Indians. One militiaman crumpled, riddled with musket balls, but the other stumbled back into camp to sound the alarm. Instantly the drums beat to arms. The backwoodsmen rolled from their blankets, examined their flints and priming, and awaited orders.
 
Feigning composure, General Lewis lit his pipe. He blew a few puffs and then ordered two colonels to lead double columns of 150 men forward to discover the source of the commotion. Both officers fell in the first Indian volley. Concealed behind the trunks of maple and pine and in the tangled underbrush of the river bottom, the warriors dropped dozens of militiamen, screaming epithets at the “sons of bitches” and “white dogs” as they fired. Lewis pushed out reinforcements, and the combatants grappled at close quarters in the smoke-choked timber. “Hide where I would,” a Virginian recalled, “the muzzle of some rifle was gaping in my face and the wild, distorted countenance of a savage was rushing towards me with uplifted tomahawk. The contest resembled more a circus of gladiators than a battle.”
 
After six hours of close combat, the two sides backed apart and traded fire from behind trees and fallen timber. Puckeshinwau and his fellow war leaders moved along the Indian line, exhorting their warriors to “lie close,” “shoot well,” and “fight and be strong.” Near sunset, General Lewis occupied a high ridge that Cornstalk had neglected to secure. Stung by bullets from above their left flank and low on ammunition, the Indians melted back into the forest and recrossed the Ohio. The Virginians contented themselves with scalping fallen warriors and collecting souvenirs.
 
It had been a bloody twelve hours. The Indians killed seventy-five Virginians and wounded another 140. Perhaps forty warriors died. Hoping to disguise their losses, the Indians rolled several of their dead into the river. The Virginians nevertheless collected thirty-two scalps. These they affixed to a post at Point Pleasant.
 
The battle claimed just one prominent Indian, the Shawnee war leader Puckeshinwau. His thirteen-year-old son Cheeseekau, not yet a warrior, had accompanied him into action. After Puckeshinwau fell mortally wounded, Cheeseekau helped ease him back over the Ohio in a driftwood raft. Before dying, Puckeshinwau reputedly admonished his young son to preserve his family’s honor, never reconcile with the Long Knives, and “in the future lead forth to battle his younger brothers” against them. Cheeseekau swore to obey. Puckeshinwau’s warriors buried their chief deep in the forest.
 
Cheeseekau had accepted a heavy burden. He had three siblings, and his now-widowed mother was pregnant with triplets. Cheeseekau’s favorite sibling, upon whom he would lavish most of his attention and who would best fulfill his father’s last wish, was his six-year-old brother Tecumseh, the “Shooting Star.”

Praise

Winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Biography
A Washington Independent Review Favorite Book
A Cowboys and Indians Editor's Pick


"Cozzens expertly mines the surprisingly varied array of sources for the brothers’ early lives; he presents the fullest picture yet of who these men were before they achieved national fame. His book balances them more than any previous retelling of the story ever has. Tecumseh and the Prophet is as close to a fully realized popular biography of Tenkswatawa as is ever likely to be written … Tecumseh and the Prophet paints in vivid colors the grandest effort of Native Americans to retain their independence – and the political and spiritual leaders who tried to make it happen.”
⁠—Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor

"This... is no sentimental paean to an innocent martyr, no simplistic homage to a “noble savage”... Cozzens is a master storyteller; his books weave a wealth of intricate detail into gripping historical narrative... In this book descriptions of battles are especially enthralling; one can almost smell the gunpowder, the blood and the loamy forest floor."
⁠—Gerard DeGroot, The Times (UK)

"Tecumseh and the Prophet is a thorough profile of the notable Tecumseh and his Brother. Author Peter Cozzens sculpts his narrative deftly and compellingly. In relating the barbarity of the frontier wars, the author remains objective yet empathetic. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa are fascinating figures, capable of greatness and leadership, yet destined for tragedy. A+ work."
⁠—Philip Zozzaro, San Francisco Book Review

"The strength of Cozzens’ book is his ability to bring to life the thrilling adventures of Tecumseh and his people. Many a war yarn gets bogged down in minutiae, but the author animates these battles by sharing the human stories behind the fighting. By ably piecing together a history that is equal parts engaging and amply sourced, Cozzens has crafted a satisfying work that leads us to sympathize with his subjects without putting his finger on the scale to prove his point."
⁠—Chris Rutledge, Washington Independent Review of Books

"Cozzens has a gift for depicting the intricacies of combat with both clarity and flair. ... the dual biography comes across as fair and impartial. Without sentimentality, and without overlooking the faults of its heroes, it presents a nuanced look at their attempt to halt the invasion of their lands."
⁠—Margaret Quamme, Columbus Dispatch

"Engrossing... Cozzens' biographyis solidly researched, fluently written, and bound to stand as the best history to date about the Shawnee brothers' lives and effort to rally pan-Indian resistance."
⁠—Booklist, starred

"Cozzens rightly rejects the old stories, arguing convincingly that Tenskwatawa successfully shaped a powerful spiritual doctrine out of nativist resistance."
⁠—Philip Deloria, The New Yorker

"Mr. Cozzens puts his narrative skills to great use. His compelling prose and deep research in both primary sources and histories of the period combine to place the reader on the ground with the Shawnee brothers... Sharply drawn."
⁠—Kathleen DuVal, The Wall Street Journal

"Award-winning historian Peter Cozzens admirably brings this lost world to life... Cozzens’s descriptions of Tenskwatawa’s spiritual agenda, centered on Indian independence and rejection of White culture, will remind readers that tribal leaders from Osceola to Sitting Bull attempted to preserve native culture with the weapons of war. The tragedy of their failure haunts America today."
⁠—Nancy Tappan, American History Magazine


"In 1768, the year of Tecumseh’s birth, 60,000 Native Americans in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley stood against a white colonial population of two million. As settlers crested the Appalachians, this imbalance only got worse. Against this epic backdrop, Peter Cozzens weaves his marvelous tale of the two Shawnee brothers who stood against the storm. Tecumseh and the Prophet tells a story of nation-defining events and larger-than-life leaders, and Cozzens' nuanced portrait stands as one of the best pieces of Native American history I have read.”
⁠—S. C. Gwynne, author of New York Times best-sellers Empire of the Summer Moon, and Rebel Yell


"Cozzens... shows his skill at revealing the social and daily realities of late 18th- and early 19th-century life, including wonderfully vivid descriptions of pioneer conditions and Algonquin villages... A long overdue non-fiction account. Tecumseh's life and the wider struggle for the Great Lakes and Ohio River valley now has a current, solid work by an accomplished author."
⁠—Library Journal, starred

"An enthralling, deeply researched dual biography of Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother... Cozzens’s cinematic narrative is steeped in Native American culture and laced with vivid battle scenes and character sketches. American history buffs will gain a new appreciation for what these resistance leaders accomplished."
⁠—Publishers Weekly

"Comprehensive... Blending historical fact with solid storytelling, Cozzens delivers a nuanced study of the great warrior and his times."
⁠—Kirkus


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