9780805061215 / 0805061215

Tecumseh: A Life


Publisher:Holt Paperbacks



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About the book:

Ask any Brit to name a famous North American Indian and the chances are that Sitting Bull is the only one that comes immediately to mind. Push a little harder and they might come up with Hiawatha and Kevin Costner. Ask the same question to an American and the first name that will trip off the tongue is Tecumseh, the legendary Shawnee chieftain. Unlike most Indian leaders who operated locally or participated in intertribal warfare, Tecumseh did not stand for one tribe or nation but for all Native Americans. In the early years of the 19th century he dreamed of welding the diverse North American confederacy stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, strong enough to defend the cultures and lands of the Indians from the aggression of the United States. Ultimately, of course, Tecumseh's vision was ground into the dust by the rapacity, greed and violence that passed for the pioneering spirit of the early days of the US, and Tecumseh himself was killed in 1813 at the battle of Moraviantown, on the Canadian border, fighting alongside the Brits against the Yanks. Even so, he has entered American folklore as the ultimate symbol of courage, integrity and unity.

So there's something quite ironic about the fact that it's taken a British academic, Dr John Sugden, to write the first truly definitive biography of Tecumseh. But then, maybe it was always going to take an outsider to tread an objective path through the mythology that has grown up around the Indian chieftain. American literature is littered with fanciful. fictionalised accounts of his life, but none that comes close to the real man. Maybe, too, there is something fitting about a British person rehabilitating Tecumseh's memory in this country. British history can be extremely parochial, and the fighting in North America in the early 19th century has long since been relegated to the status of irrelevant, historical side-show. Sugden's biography goes a long way towards finally giving Tecumseh the acknowledgement he deserves for his role in British imperialist history. To this day, Canadians honour him as a saviour of their country at the time of the war of 1812.

Tecumseh has been a labour of love for Sugden. The research has taken nearly 30 years and Sugden has already published one book, Tecumseh's Last Stand and has another in the pipeline on Shawnee culture. But one man's obsession is our enlightenment and he presents a rare glimpse into a world that has been shrouded in celluloid reinvention. --John Crace

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