Ten-sqúat-a-way, Painted in 1830 by George Catlin.

Tenskwatawa, (also called Tenskatawa, Tenskwatawah, Tensquatawa or Lalawethika) (January 1771 – November 1836) was a Native American religious and political leader of the Shawnee tribe, known as The Prophet or the Shawnee Prophet. He was a brother of Tecumseh, leader of the Shawnee. He was originally given the name Lalawethika (He Makes a Loud Noise or The Noise Maker). He denounced Americans as children of the Evil Spirit and mobilized the Indians in the Midwest to fight them, but his movement was defeated in the War of 1812 when his brother was killed, and he went to the area now known as Argentine, Kansas.


  • Early years 1
  • Purification 2
  • Tecumseh's War 3
  • Later years and death 4
  • Tenskwatawa in fiction 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early years

Portrait by Charles Bird King

Tenskwatawa's mother was Methoataske (or Methoataaskee, meaning "[One who] Lays Eggs in the Sand"), who was believed to be either Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, or Shawnee, possibly of Pekowi division and the Turtle Clan.[1][2]

He was the youngest of a set of triplets. His father, Puckeshinwa, died in 1774 and his mother, Methoaka, depressed from the death of her husband, left his family in 1779 when some 4,000 Shawnees moved west near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to avoid conflict with encroaching whites. Lalawethika was then dependent on his siblings to teach him the Shawnee ways. Because he was not close to his older sister, Tecumpease, or older brother, Chicksika, he never learned how to hunt or fight successfully, skills essential to a Shawnee man. He also lost an eye in a hunting accident, and his poor looks and braggart personality did not win him many friends. As a result, Lalawethika grew up to be an outsider to his community and turned to alcohol.[2]

Based on his history, it seemed that he would never make a contribution to his tribe. However, that changed when Lalawethika was put in trance by the Master of Life. In May 1805, he experienced the first of several visions. In one of his alcoholic stupors he fell into a fire and was thought dead. Unexpectedly reviving, he recounted a powerful vision and soon began preaching. White (1991) notes that in Algonquian tradition the "Great Serpent" came from the sea and stood for evil powers; Tenskwatawa said Americans came from the sea and were the spawn of the Great Serpent.[3] He also conducted witch hunts against Christian Indians. He forbade his people to use European foods, clothing, manufactured goods and alcohol. He changed his name to Tenskwatawa (The Open Door or One With Open Mouth).


Tenskwatawa had a series of religious visions which transformed his life and led him to reject his old ways. More revelations followed in succeeding months, revelations that the white invaders from the east were “not my children, but the children of the Evil Spirit.".[4] He led a purification movement to return his people to their traditional ways, and to extirpate the evils represented by the Americans. Indian witches still remained the most active agents of that spirit on earth, and Tenskwatawa sought to identify and destroy them.[5] He formed a new community of followers near the present site of Greenville, Ohio in 1805. His following grew even more rapidly after he accurately predicted a solar eclipse in 1806 humiliating Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison. Harrison had publicly derided Tenskwatawa as a fraud to the tribal leaders and the accuracy of Tenskwatawa's prediction was taken as proof of his power by many members of the tribes.

His followers eventually followed him west to form a large multi-tribal community known to the whites as Prophetstown or Tippecanoe in what is now Indiana in 1808. The site had both practical and spiritual significance. The site was located near the juncture of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers. Such places at the junction of two rivers had significant spiritual significance in tribal culture. The site was also a geographic central point to the political and military alliance that was forming around Tenskwatawa's brother Tecumseh.

When some chiefs tried to promote compromise and conciliation, Tenskwatawa, proclaiming his obedience to the Great Spirit, lashed out against these government sympathizing chiefs, depicting them as wicked traitors and minions of the Americans.[6]

Willig (1997) argues that William Henry Harrison administrations, to rid the area of the numerous Indian tribes eventually met with success as the Indians retreated westward by 1840 to avoid the large numbers of whites entering their territory.[7]

Tecumseh's War

The view from Prophet's Rock, looking toward the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

There is some disagreement among historians over whether Tecumseh or Tenskwatawa was really the primary leader of the Pan-Indian community that grew up around Prophetstown. Either way, Tenskwatawa's preachings grew more militant and narrowly political from 1808–1811, as more and more young disaffected warriors from nearby tribes joined his movement. By 1811, both white settlers in the region and the U.S. Army had become quite concerned about what was happening at Prophetstown.

Late in 1811, Tecumseh journeyed south to meet with representatives of other tribes in hopes of building a larger alliance, leaving Tenskwatawa in command at Prophetstown. According to legend, Tecumseh ordered Tenskwatawa to avoid any confrontation with whites during his absence. However, on November 7, 1811, while Tecumseh was still away, an American force under command of William Henry Harrison surrounded the village. Though the village was surrounded, it was Tenskwatawa and his smaller besieged force that attacked first. Tenskwatawa's forces were soundly defeated. (See the Battle of Tippecanoe.) It was a two hour battle that left many dead or wounded. The Indians buried their men in the night, and stripped The Prophet of his powers. The village at Prophetstown was burned down and the defeat put an end to Tecumseh's hope of a broad Native alliance.

With his brother, Tenskwatawa participated in the defense of the Canadian colonies during the War of 1812. In 1813 he was present at the Battle of the Thames, When Tecumseh came back from his journey, he was furious with his brother and many wanted him killed for ruining their chance to keep their land, but Tecumseh sent him away never to come back. Tenskwatawa was not present during Tecumseh's death.

Later years and death

In the following decade he unsuccessfully tried to regain a position of leadership among Native Americans. In 1825 he returned to the United States and assisted in removing many of the Shawnees west of the Mississippi River. In 1826 he traveled through Vincennes, Indiana with a group of 500 Shawnee from the reservation at Wapaghkonetta, Ohio, headed to the Mississippi.[8] In 1826 he established a village at the site of modern Kansas City, Kansas. He died in 1836 at his village in Kansas City, Kansas (located in the Argentine area; the White Feather Spring marker notes the location).

Tenskwatawa in fiction

Tenskwatawa, known simply as "The Prophet," appears in Kiowas, Pawnees, Cheyenne, and Sioux in an alliance against the White settlers.[9]

Tenskwatawa, along with his brother Tecumseh, is one of the major characters in Orson Scott Card's alternate history fantasy series of novels The Tales of Alvin Maker (especially the second book, Red Prophet). In those books he is called Tenskwa-Tawa (previously Lolla-Wossiky).

He is a supporting character in James Alexander Thom's historical novel Panther in the Sky.

David Brin makes a nod to Tenskwatawa's legacy in his novel Existence, introducing a Native American prophet in the future named Tenskwatawa, who leads the Renunciation movement to return to simpler, wiser ways of life, and to control the expansion of technology with careful consideration of the disruptive effects of adopting new advances.

Further reading

  • Eckert, Allan W. " A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh"
  • Cave, Alfred A. "The Shawnee Prophet, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe: A Case Study of Historical Myth-Making," Journal of the Early Republic, Winter 2002, Vol. 22 Issue 4, p637-74
  • Edmunds, R. David. "Tecumseh, The Shawnee Prophet, And American History: A Reassessment," Western Historical Quarterly (1983) 14#3 pp 261–276. argues the Prophet was much more important than Tecumseh. in JSTOR
  • Edmunds, R. David. Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership (2nd Edition, 2006)
  • Edmunds, R. David. The Shawnee Prophet (1985) excerpt and text search
  • Jortner, Adam. The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier (2012)
  • Willig, Timothy D. "Prophetstown on the Wabash: The Native Spiritual Defense of the Old Northwest," Michigan Historical Review, Mar 1997, Vol. 23 Issue 2, pp 115–158
  • Willig, Timothy D. Restoring the Chain of Friendship: British Policy and the Indians of the Great Lakes, 1783-1815 (2008) excerpt and a text search


  1. ^ Schutz, Noel. "The Family of Tecumseh & Tenskwatawa"
  2. ^ a b Sugden, John (1997). Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Holt.  
  3. ^ Richard White, The middle ground: Indians, empires, and republics in the Great Lakes region, 1650-1815 (1998) p 507 online
  4. ^ Edmunds, The Shawnee Prophet p. 38 online
  5. ^ Edmunds, The Shawnee Prophet p. 39
  6. ^ Willig, Restoring the chain of friendship (2008) p. 207
  7. ^ Willig, Timothy D. (Mar 1997). "Prophetstown on the Wabash: The Native Spiritual Defense of the Old Northwest". Michigan Historical Review 23 (2): 115–158. 
  8. ^ "Shawnee Indians - Wapakoneta Ohio - Vincennes Indiana". Boston Reporter and Telegraph. 1826-12-15. p. 3. Retrieved 2013-02-18. 
  9. ^ Ben Bowie and His Mountain Men #7. Dell Comics. Western Printing and Lithographing Company, 1956.


External links

  • The Emigrant Tribes. wyandotte-nation.org (pdf)
  • Battle Ground, Indiana
  • Prophet's Rock
  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography OnlineBiography at the
  •  "Ellskwatawa".