We're driving into the American Black Hills of Montana and South Dakota, which means also heading into Lakota Sioux Territory. My daughters and I spent all of last year studying World History, what I called, "The Story of the World," and this year we are traveling the country reading American history, going to famous places, studying on the road, and just trying to soak up as much as we can of this great country. You can call me a Kook, I'll happily accept. We're having the time of our lives.
"Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and in the service of your people..." -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief
The Black Hills mean Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and George Armstrong Custer. It means Mt. Rushmore and Black Elk Speaks. It means Deadwood and Devil's Tower or Bear's Lodge, and the history of the Sioux. But... the whole point of this trip, driving around the country with my daughters, is not jumping directly into a single event in history, but telling the full back story, giving it context, letting the complete vision of America settle before trying to understand multiple layers of time. I mean, we haven't even gotten to the Oregon Trail yet, or the Gold Rush, or the War of 1812! So... just like all things, we begin slowly, astutely... with Tecumseh. His war and his words.
"Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault likes only in yourself..." -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief
Tecumseh (1768 - 1813) grew up in the Ohio County during the American Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War. As an amazing and eloquent leader, he hoped to unite many Indian tribes under one Native American nation. Rejecting U.S. Military Treaties, he allied with the British to capture Fort Detroit during the War of 1812 after the defeat of his younger brother at Prophetstown. He died a year later in a fierce Battle of the Thames. Though his wisdom and words live on in legend, it would be 130 years later before Tecumseh's dream of a pan-Indian confederation would be realized with the founding of the National Congress of American Indians.
"When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose lives are filled with the fear of death, so that when the time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." -Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief
Much of Tecumseh's writing has been preserved, as with the legendary poem printed above, along with an account of his death, recorded from oral history from the Saugeen First Nation by Dr. Edwin Seaborn. The following is an excerpt: "Grandfather was tall. He carried himself as straight as an arrow for all his years. HIs long white hair touched his shoulders. On his great snow white horse he was easily marked. Shot through the body, he fell. The fatal bullet came from behind a fallen tree....he fell, gone where the good fighting men go." I choose Tecumseh to start with because he embodies so many of the great qualities native to this American land. His bravery. His voice. His wisdom. His vision. His words apply to all of us. We pulled the car over on the side of the road and climbed a little hill and read this poem out loud. Letting the words carry on the wind. Ready to plunge deeper into history.