“Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun … Will we let ourselves be destroyed in our turn, without making an effort worthy of our race? Shall we without a struggle, give up our homes, our lands, bequeathed to us by the Great Spirit? The graves of our dead and everything that is dear and sacred to us? I know you will say with me, Never! Never!” — Tecumseh, 1811
For the first time in more than 200 years, a ceremonial peace pipe tomahawk that once belonged to the Shawnee leader Tecumseh has been held in the hands of the lineal descendants of the Shawnee in Northeast Oklahoma.
“This is the first time for this pipe to go out of Ohio,’’ said Glenna Wallace, chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. “I don’t think it is possible to verbalize what this means to the tribe.
“To have that pipe brought here to our Oklahoma homelands exceeds any dream imagined,” Wallace said. “And to have it returned to Tecumseh’s seventh generation adds to the spiritual significance of this pipe.
“We believe in the seventh generation, and we, today, are the seventh generation. Tecumseh said that the seventh generation ‘shall bring my people back.’ So I am happy to bring his pipe to Oklahoma in the seventh generation.’’
It’s significance to the tribe, she said, should be viewed in the context of what has been lost.
“We had lost our language,” she said. “We had lost our ceremonials. We had lost our Indian names. We had lost much of our history.’’
The Shawnee and other tribes passed their tribal history from one generation to the next via an oral, or storytelling, tradition. As the tribes assimilated into white culture, little about their history was recorded in writing. Complicating that was the dwindling membership of the tribe. At one time, there were only 69 members of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe.
When Wallace became chief of the tribe in 2006, she made tribal history a priority. To help achieve that goal, members of the tribe organized bus trips in 2007 and 2009 to return to their native lands in Ohio. While there, they started a dialogue with the Ohio Historical Society. The outcome of that relationship would be the sharing of artifacts.
Tecumseh’s peace pipe tomahawk will be on display for one year in the hotel lobby of the Indigo Sky Hotel and Casino, located on U.S. Highway 60 west of Seneca.
The Shawnee, a woodland people, lived in long houses that formed what were called “Shawnee towns.” They could be found from northern Ohio to the convergence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at the southern tip of Illinois. They lived in that region before being relocated under the Indian Removal Act to Northeast Oklahoma in 1831.
Tecumseh, born in 1768, would emerge from one of those long houses to become a warrior at age 15. By the early 1800s, he had conceived the concept of an Indian federation in which intertribal differences would be set aside so that the indigenous people of the Great Lakes and Mississippi Valley could unify to resist white expansion.
In that quest, Tecumseh would use a bundle of green sticks to represent the strength of his proposed Indian federation. One stick could be broken, but a bundle could not be broken. He argued that all Native Americans held land in common and that one tribe alone could not cede land to the U.S. government.
His ambitious plan was alarming to frontier whites, including William Henry Harrison, the federal governor of the Indiana Territory. A former Army officer, Harrison negotiated with Tecumseh on two occasions. Harrison said Tecumseh was “one of those uncommon geniuses who spring up occasionally to produce revolutions and overturn the established order of things.’’
Tecumseh established his reputation in the Indian resistance during the Indian Wars of the late 18th century. During the War of 1812, Tecumseh supported the British in hopes of regaining lost land. He was killed during the Battle of the Thames in 1813.
John Sugden, author of the book “Tecumseh,” described the chief’s death as the closing chapter of the era in which Indians were fighting to decide the future of North American lands.
Tecumseh presented the peace pipe tomahawk to Ohio statesman Thomas Worthington in 1807 when he visited Worthington at Adena, his home in Chillicothe. Worthington served as one of the first two U.S. senators from Ohio as well as the sixth governor of the state. Worthington’s home is now open to the public as Adena Mansion and Gardens Historic Site.
The peace pipe tomahawk is about 16 inches long. It is made of curly maple and forged iron. It has two silver bands and two silver oval inscription plates engraved with “Tecumseh 1807’’ on one end and the initials “TW’’ on the other. It was brought to the casino by Sharon Dean, director of the Ohio Historical Society museum and library services.
Wallace said, “This is our pipe, meaning it belongs to all of the Shawnee tribes — the Eastern Shawnee, the Shawnee and the Absentee Shawnee, of Shawnee, Okla.’’
When the pipe was brought to the casino, representatives of the three tribes — Chief Ron Sparkman of the Shawnee, former Absentee Shawnee Gov. George Blanchard and Wallace — participated in a ceremony in which Blanchard spoke in the Shawnee language.
“We smoked the pipe,” Wallace said. “That does not mean we put tobacco in it and smoked it. It’s when you take cedar and sage and smoke them. The smoke carries our prayers to the Great Spirit in heaven.’’
In comments to the Ohio Historical Society, Wallace said: “The Shawnee leader Tecumseh has forever been the role model Shawnees have desired to emulate. A spirited and principled individual, communicator extraordinaire filled with vision and willing to fight, even giving his life for that vision, he always placed his people at the forefront.
“To visit our former Ohio homelands, to walk in his footsteps, to commune with his spirit, to stand on the grounds he trod, to see his personal objects such as his pipe is a dream of the Shawnee people. We are truly honored the Ohio Historical Society has chosen to share this cultural treasure with the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.’’
A tomahawk is a peace pipe that you could smoke. If a tribe wanted to declare peace with another tribe, the leaders would bury or stick the tomahawk in the ground. That is the origin of the phrase — burying the hatchet.