Tenskwatawa

Tenskwatawa, American Indian wearing blue coat and red turban
Portrait of Tenskwatawa, known as

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Quick Facts

Significance:
Religious leader of Pan-Indian Federation
Place of Birth:
Ohio
Date of Birth:
1775
Place of Death:
Kansas City, Kansas
Date of Death:
November 1836

Known as the Prophet, Tenskwatawa was born in a time of turmoil for both American Indians in general and also in his family. Native Nations struggled to keep settlers out of the Ohio Valley, and Tenskwatawa's father was killed shortly before his birth in the Battle of Point Pleasant Puckshinwa. At birth, Tenskwatawa was given the name Lalawethika, or “The Noise Maker.” He and brother Tecumseh were raised by siblings.

Lalawethika seemed destined to live in the shadow of his deceased father and his older brothers. Small of stature, he did not receive the warrior training Tecumseh would receive. He was so poor with a bow and arrow that he shot his own eye out in a hunting accident, later contributing to a reliance on alcohol, and separation from his family.

But this life would dramatically change one day during the winter of 1804. Following an alcohol-enduced near-death experience, Lalawethika suddenly awoke and shared a vision. He preached how he was going to change and lead the American Indians to change so they could reclaim what they had lost. From this day forward he would be known as Tenskwatawa, meaning the “The Open Door” or “One With Open Mouth,” or more simply "The Prophet." This and visions that followed called for a united federation of American Indians to give up Euro-American conveniences and distractions and go back to traditional ways of the American Indians.

This following was cemented in 1806, with a miracle. William Henry Harrison, Territorial Governor of Indiana, challenged Tenkswatawa to prove that he was truly a prophet. Tenskwatawa correctly predicted a solar eclipse, cementing his follower’s beliefs and attracting more followers. Eventually Tenskwatawa established a headquarters for the united Indian Confederation on the banks of the Tippecanoe River in western Indiana Territory, called Prophetstown. Tensions mounted between the Federation and American settlers in 1811, and the village was attacked and destroyed by William Henry Harrison's army.

Although devastating to the cause of the Pan-Indian Federation, Tenskwatawa continued to preach and have a substantial following even after the death of his brother Tecumseh in the Battle of the Thames. In 1825, Tenskwatawa established a village for the Shawnee people at the site of modern day Kansas City, Kansas. Tenskwatawa died in 1836 in the village he established.