By Mary Giorgio

On November 7, 1811, Battle Ground, Ind., became the site of a famed battle between American soldiers and Native American warriors. The Battle of Tippecanoe would become a catalyst for the War of 1812. It would catapult a governor into the role of war hero and future President of the United States.

It all happened just north of West Lafayette near the Shawnee village of Prophetstown. The well-known Native American warrior Tecumseh and his brother, “The Prophet” Tenskwatawa established the village in 1805.

Tecumseh and his brother decided to form a confederation of tribes to fight against the influx of American settlers into their lands. The warriors that they recruited soon camped at Prophetstown in large numbers.

Nearby settlers began to feel threatened by the presence of the warriors. They appealed to William Henry Harrison, Governor of Indiana Territory, to do something to protect them. Harrison began preparations to lead a militia of almost 1,000 men to Prophetstown.

When they arrived, Tecumseh was not there. His brother, Tenskwatawa, had been left in charge of the village. The Prophet was a spiritual leader with no military experience. Harrison agreed to meet the following morning and removed his soldiers to camp nearby.

Tenskwatawa worried that his warriors would not be victorious in a battle against so many soldiers. He ordered a contingency to kill Harrison. The Prophet believed that with Harrison dead, the soldiers would retreat.

He cast spells to prevent the chosen men from being harmed while carrying out the mission. In the early hours of the next day, around 4:30 AM, Native American warriors attacked the soldiers’ encampment.

The ensuing battle lasted more than 2 hours. The warriors first attacked from the north, then swarmed in from all directions. Both sides engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat. The warriors eventually fell back to reorganize. Harrison launched a counterattack and successfully dispersed the Native American fighters. The warriors and villagers quickly abandoned Prophetstown and fled the militia.  

The next morning, Harrison’s men burned Prophetstown to the ground. In all, Harrison lost 62 men, with another 126 injured. The Native Americans likely lost around 50 warriors, with 70-80 injured. Despite the carnage, Harrison succeeded in disbanding Tecumseh’s forces and destroying Prophetstown. Harrison claimed a decisive victory. He earned the nickname “Old Tippecanoe” for his success.

Tecumseh regrouped and eventually led a contingent of Native American warriors to join the British forces during the War of 1812. Tecumseh was killed in 1813 while fighting Harrison at the Battle of the Thames. Harrison went on to win the presidency in 1840 using the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.”

Today, Tippecanoe Battlefield Park is a National Historic Landmark. The 96-acre park is open to the public. For those interested in military history, a battlefield museum is open 6 days a week for a small entrance fee. Other attractions include a nature center, picnic areas, and hiking trails.