Tenskwatawa and Adoption

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


Tenskwatawa (Open Door) was one of triplet boys (one source states that he and Tecumseh were twin brothers). Their father, Pucksinwa, was killed in a battle with white men (1774) before they were born and their mother left them in 1779 to be raised by relatives, including older brothers and sisters (one of whom was the future Chief Tecumseh, 1768-1813).

When he was between nine and 12 he lost an eye in an accident with an arrow.

Tenskwatawa grew up to be insecure, a boaster and something of a wastrel. In 1804 or 1805 he apparently died but revived before his funeral. He described visions he had while "dead," which became the basis of a new religion among the Shawnee people. Among other things the new faith denounced alcohol, intertribal violence, polygamy and sexual promiscuity, and promoted a return to a more traditional lifestyle with the renunciation of European technology. It led to the foundation at Tippecanoe of what he and Tecumseh hoped would be the nucleus of a pan-tribal nation, stretching from the western slopes of the Appalachians to the Pacific coast, in 1808.

The new religion was quite influential for a few years, but after 1811 and several military defeats at the hands of the US Army it declined, although Tenskwatawa remains an important figure in Native American life. Tenskwatawa was largely responsible for the decisive defeat, because he attacked General Harrison's troops against Tecumseh's advice while Tecumseh was away on a recruiting mission.


Dictionary of American Biography Hirschfelder, Arlene, and Molin, Paulette. Encyclopedia of Native American Religions: An Introduction. (New York: Facts on File, 1992) Drake, Benjamin. Life of Tecumseh and His Brother the Prophet. (Lewisburg: Wennawoods Publishing, 1999) Edmunds, R. Daird. The Shawnee Prophet. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983) Handbook of North American Indians: Vol. 15: Northeast, edited by Bruce G. Trigger. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1978) Ohio Public Library Information Network. "Ohio Indians: The Prophet." [Includes portrait]. Available at: