October 5, 2013

Death of Tecumseh: Stop, stranger!

On October 5, 1813, near Moraviantown, in Ontario, Canada, United States forces led by William Henry Harrison engaged in battle with the British Army allied with s Native American coalition led by a Shawnee named Tecumseh. The Battle of the Thames River, as it was called, was a decisive victory for the Americans in the War of 1812. Tecumseh, however, was killed in battle that day.

Charles A. Jones, a poet/lawyer born in Philadelphia but raised in Cincinnati, honored Tecumseh in a poem in 1838. It begins by noting that there was no known grave marker for him:

Stop, stranger! there Tecumseh lies;
    Behold the lowly resting-place
Of all that of the hero dies;
    The Caesar — Tully, of his race,
Whose arm of strength, and fiery tongue,
    Have won him an immortal name,
And from the mouths of millions wrung
    Reluctant tribute to his fame.

Stop — for 'tis glory claims thy tear!
    True worth belongs to all mankind;
And he whose ashes slumber here,
    Though man in form was god in mind.
What matter he was not like thee,
    In race and color; 'tis the soul
That marks man's true divinity;
    Then let not shame thy tears control.

Art thou a patriot? — so was he!
    His breast was Freedom's holiest shrine;
And as thou bendest there thy knee,
    His spirit will unite with thine.
All that a man can give, he gave;
    His life: the country of his sires
From the oppressor's grasp to save:
    In vain — quench'd are his nation's fires.

Art thou a soldier? dost thou not
    O'er deeds chivalric love to muse?
Here stay thy steps — what better spot
    Couldst thou for contemplation choose?
The earth beneath is holy ground;
    It holds a thousand valiant braves;
Tread lightly o'er each little mound,
    For they are no ignoble graves.

Tecumseh had been the main figure responsible for rallying an alliance among Native American tribes. For years, he had called for the return of lands granted to his people years earlier while Harrison was governor of the Indiana territory. Jones celebrates Tecumseh's leadership and bravery by comparing his work to other legendary battles in the poem, including those at Marathon and Thermopylae. Tecumseh, after all, sacrificed himself for an idea: that his people deserved a recognized country of their own. Jones goes on:

Oh, softly fall the summer dew,
    The tears of heaven, upon his sod,
For he in life and death was true,
    Both to his country and his God;
For oh, if God to man has given,
    From his bright home beyond the skies,
One feeling that's akin to heaven,
    'Tis his who for his country dies.

Rest, warrior, rest! — Though not a dirge
    Is thine, beside the wailing blast,
Time cannot in oblivion merge
    The light thy star of glory cast;
While heave yon high hills to the sky,
    While rolls yon dark and turbid river,
Thy name and fame can never die—
    Whom Freedom loves, will live forever.

1 comment:

  1. Makes me curious to know more both about Tecumseh (we know so little of real Native American history!) and the poet himself as well. I wonder what kind of response the poem got at the time.


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