Monday, October 5, 2009

Progress report: Tippecanoe and Scott Farkus



The village of Battle Ground, Indiana is located about 3 miles east of Indiana 43, on guess what? The Monon Railroad line. It was a consolidation of two towns, Harrisonville and Battle Ground, both named in honor of the Battle of Tippecanoe.

So some of the signs I’ve been seeing for “Battle Ground” have been confusing—they are for the town rather than the battlefield. It took some looking around, and I finally had to ask at the post office, but I found the Tippecanoe Battle Ground and Museum.

There’s and obelisk about 60 feet high, with a statue of old William Henry in front. It was built in 1908, to commemorate the battle, fought on November 7, 1811. The U.S. lost 37 lives and 151 wounded. Indian losses unknown. In recent years there has been a concerted effort to sort of even things out by paying due deference to the Indians. At one point the battle is referred to as “a clash of two ways of life,” as indeed it was. Our way, or the highway, so to speak. And eventually the Indians hereabouts were put on the highway and sent to Kansas.

Off to the side of the battlefield is a little nature center, with skulls of animals and stuffed wildlife. The dead woodpecker I saw yesterday was a "hairy woodpecker."

Here’s a little background on the battle. The Shawnee chief Tecumseh had been attempting to form a coalition of Indian tribes into a confederacy, hoping to make a united effort to hold some land in northern Indiana and Ohio, mostly, as Indian Territory, excluding the white man, and also (this was his big hope) to drive the white man back into the sea. Needless to say, the Americans of the Northwest Territory (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin) viewed this with some alarm, including General William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory.

Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawah (meaning "the open door"), also known as the Prophet, had some sort of revelatory experience, in which he was given to believe that he had been chosen by God to lead others to paradise. (This is always a dangerous sign, isn't it?) He became sort of a fundamentalist religious leader of the Indians. The religion called for a return to the “old ways,” including the rejection of alcohol, condemnation of violence among the Indian tribes, and rejection of false holy men (in other words, holy men other than him). Think Jim Jones or David Koresh, only with a lot more followers. Maybe Joseph Smith.

In 1801 the Prophet moved his followers to a new town at the mouth of the Tippecanoe River on the Wabash, about a mile from here, which became known as Prophetstown.

At first Harrison accepted the reforms of the leaders of the confederacy—he thought it would make the Indians easier to deal with. Meanwhile the British were urging Tecumseh to lead the confederacy against the U.S., in connection with the disputes between the Americans and the British that lead to the War of 1812.

Harrison met with Tecumseh in Vincennes, to discuss the confederacy. At this meeting Harrison opined that if the Great Spirit had meant the Indians to join together like this, he would have given them one mutually intelligible language. At this Tecumseh took umbrage, shouting “You lie!” There was a moment when pistols were drawn and swords unsheathed, but it was defused.

So Harrison had a detatchment of troops which he took over to the area of Prophetstown, to the site of the battle. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of November 7, 1811, fighting broke out, and by 6:00 a.m. it was pretty much all over, the Americans having driven back the Indians, under the Prophet, and routed them. This caused the Prophet to lose face, and the Indians abandoned Prophetstown that day. The next day a cavalry detachment looted and burned Prophetstown. (It was rebuilt, and burned a year later by Zachary Taylor.) Tecumseh was furious at the loss, and even more so at his brother’s having engaged the Americans, because he had ordered him not to for the time being. Tecumseh engaged Harrison again in 1813, at the Battle of the Thames in Ontario, where he had gone to help the British in a last ditch effort to keep the confederacy idea going. Tecumseh was killed at that battle, and that was the end of the confederacy of Indian tribes.

Harrison managed to parlay those victories into a political career, becoming first a U.S. congressman and senator from Ohio, then being elected ninth president of the U.S. in 1840. He was a Whig—one of four Whig presidents we had. (Besides Harrison, there were John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore.) The Whigs started in the 1830s, in opposition to the Democrats, and by the 1850s they had split over the issue of slavery, and sort of morphed into the Republican Party, which ran its first candidate, John Fremont, in 1856. Lincoln had been a Whig at one time and in 1860 was the first Republican to be elected president.

Old William Henry Harrison was 68 when he took office, running on the slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” As it turned out, there was a lot more “Tyler, too” than there was Tippecanoe. Harrison caught cold on inauguration day after giving a long speech, and it developed into pneumonia, and he died a month later. First Whig president. First president to die in office. Last president born before the United States was formed. Oldest president to take office (until Reagan). First president from Indiana (although he was born in Virginia; the only other one from Indiana was his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, born in Ohio).

His death inspired this poem, first published in the Drayton Plains Whig-Federalist, circa 1963:

William Henry caught a cold,
And when his term was one month old
A mourning nation watched him pass.
He lived a man, but died, alas.
At the gift shop of the museum I purchased a genuine coon skin cap, with tail, which I am showing off in the top photograph. I think the raccoon might be my spirit animal, or some such crap. If they have spirits, I've certainly been in close contact with enough of them lately. (And no, I am not going to wear the cap when I walk. I don't want to look like an old version of Scott Farkus.)

Purdue University campus, in West Lafayette, is pleasant enough. More separated from the surrounding town than University of Michigan is. The buildings look a lot like U of M buildings. Purdue was started in 1869 as a land grant university of the State of Indiana (what we like to call a "cow college"), and was named after its prime mover, John Purdue, a Lafayette businessman. It is best known as an agricultural and engineering school. High points of campus architecture are the clock tower, the modern fountain in Purdue Square, and the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.

The campus is full of kids on this magnificent warm cloudless day. Of course, college life is wasted on the young, to coin a phrase. The kids rarely manage to look anything other than serious and preoccupied, not realizing that they are having the best time they’re ever likely to have. I was the same way.

Lafayette was named in honor of our Revolutionary War pal from France, who had the ridiculously long aristocratic name of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Wonder what they called him at home? Maybe Gil (zheel, in French). Probably not Marie.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can I get continuing education credits for this? Will there be a test? You really should be teaching history. LMoses

Randy said...

And for something completely different---Do you favor your Yankees playing the Twins or the Tigers? For all my life I have been either a Tiger or a Twins fan, and in recent times I follow the Twins more closely. Its a little hard to be against either team so my loyalties are torn. Tomorrow the Twins play what may be their last game in the Metrodome; The Crappiest Place To Watch A Baseball Game Ever. It would not be unlike baseball for the Twins to get even hotter and wind up with a World Series in that horrible bubble. But I suspect the walking old man might have a different view of the upcoming postseason.

Randy said...

Are there any copies of the Drayton Plains Whig-Federalist floating around? I believe I was around to read a copy, hot of the press.

Billie Bob said...

I was going to respond to yesterday's blog entry this morning, but noted I had to get going or be late for work. So I delayed until this evening. In the mean time something interesting happened.
First, the Lafayette hospital where I was born was Saint Elizabeth (probably now part of a huge group). A year or so later, I lived in Honolulu, and my sister Laura was born there. That is probably why you had thought Honolulu was my birth place.
One thing to note about the Purdue Boilermakers, and my time in Lafayette: My parents occasionally told of the great football game that occurred when we were living there. Notre Dame was rated number one in the country. Notre Dame came in pretty cocky. But Purdue had one of those days and pulled off the upset of the century. I believe the final score was 27-14. It was a huge deal in West Lafayette. It was party time for a whole lot of celebrating fans. It may be the last time anything like it has happened at Purdue. And that was the early 50’s.
And now, in the weird coincidence department: I had never heard of the Monon Railroad until I read about it in your blog this morning…never knew it existed. So today, at lunch, I am sitting in a restaurant in Burlington, North Carolina, and a word on the wall caught my eye. Yep, you guessed it, “Monon”. My first reaction was, “I know that word from somewhere.” Then it hit me, the railroad. I looked closer at it and in smaller letters it said “Hoosier Railroad”. This sign, or plaque, or whatever it was had a big M with a tree like thing in the “v” of the M. Even though in means absolutely nothing in the scheme of things, I think it’s interesting that on the first day I learn of the Monon Railroad, I actually see it displayed on a wall…and on a wall in NC. Then again, maybe Monon paraphernalia is everywhere and I haven’t bothered to notice.

Anonymous said...

Being a “cow college” football season ticket holder (no, not Purdue), I wonder how you now feel about such prestigious centers of education. I also wonder if you have found a punter of a non “cow college” on the Monon rail system you have so closely walked along? His coach certainly tied him to those tracks.

Jason K.

Anonymous said...

So now you know why the Hoosiers have a truck to pick up the roadkill: to make coon caps out of the not-too-squashed ones! Just kidding!
S

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody. Suky, you might have a point. The cap was made locally.

I do have a copy or two of the Whig-Federalist. I'll try to dig it up when I get home.

As for tonight's AL central playoff, I'm neutral. Maybe even leaning a little toward the Twins, what with Katie being out there. Whoever wins, I predict that the Yankees will beat them in the first round. Great matchup, though. Low budget versus high budget. I think the Yanks are fated to play the Red Sox for the pennant.

Jason, based on your "logo" I gather you're very happy with what happened on Saturday. Congratulations. I owe somebody in Rockford a dollar, but I'm staying out of the state to avoid paying up.