Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Shawnee Prophet Predicts an Eclipse

When William Henry Harrison, the governor of Indiana Territory, heard of the Delaware witch purge of 1806 he sent the tribe a letter demanding that they denounce the Shawnee prophet as an "imposter."  He did so with poetic language:
If he really is a prophet, ask of him to cause the sun to stand still - the moon to alter its course - the rivers to cease to flow - or the dead to arise from their graves.  if he does these things, you may then believe he has been sent from God.
The prophet, still known as Lalawethika at that time, claimed to receive revelations from the "Master of Life," his term for the Great Spirit.  He answered Governor Harrison's challenge by predicting that the Master of Life would turn the sun black on June 16, 1806.

Incredibly, a solar eclipse really did occur that day.  And, as one might imagine, it did something for the prophet's reputation.  The Native confederacy that nowadays is usually identified with the prophet's brother, Tecumseh, owed a lot to Lalawethika/Tenskwatawa.

By predicting the eclipse did the Shawnee prophet prove that he was not an "imposter"?
Not necessarily.  There were scientists around Lake Erie in 1806 positioning themselves for a good view of the eclipse.  Some of them may have talked to the prophet or his followers.  There were also white farmers in the area that kept almanacs with information about eclipses and other astronomical events.  The prophet's brother,Tecumseh, could read English and may have come across an almanac.


A speech of Governor Harrison to the Delawares "Early in 1806" as printed in Esarey, Logan (Editor) Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison (vol.1, pages 182-184).  New York: Arno Press, 1975.  See this book on the Internet Archive.

Eclipse Chasers website: Tecumseh and the Eclipse of 1806

Cave, Alfred (2006) Prophets of the Great Spirit pages 87-88

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Delaware Witch Purge of 1806

Above:  An artist's conception of the Purge of 1806.  The Shawnee Prophet, later known as Tenskwatawa,is depicted second from right (the rightmost "fully drawn" person). 

After Beata withdrew her witch-finding services, the White River Delawares brought in an emerging spiritual leader from the Shawnee tribe.  The man's name was Lalawethika.  He'd been an alcoholic and his face was deformed from a hunting accident, but in May of 1805 he went into a trance and experienced a vision, which convinced him to stop drinking and started his career as a prophet in much the same way as the careers of other Native prophets began.

The Shawnee prophet arrived at White River on March 15, 1806.  Those accused of witchcraft were brought before him and he performed ceremonies before passing judgement.  Outwardly, Lalawethika made a big deal about being against aspects of traditional Algonkian religion, but the victims of the 1806 purge were the more acculturated Indians; they may have either been Christians or had done business with the United States.

Confessions were induced through torture.  An old woman named Coltos, aka Anne Charity was the first to confess her guilt and was put to death.  Then the elderly chief Tetepachsit met the same fate, and the Moravian missionaries witnessed his body being burned.  Tetepachsit's nephew Billy Patterson is said to have died "Bible in hand, praying, chanting hymns, and defying the power of evil until his voice was stifled" (Cave quotes Jacob Dunn's True Indian Stories 1909, page 67, but appears to doubt the accuracy of the statement).  Finally Joshua, the Moravians interpreter, was also executed.

Another round of excecutions was set to take place on April 9th.  The first of eight accused Indians was the last surviving chief, Hockingpompsga.  But this time, as the executioners put their hands on the old chief; his friends grabbed their weapons and put a stop to the killings.


Cave, Alfred (2006) Prophets of the Great Spirit pages 81-85.

Miller, Jay.  "The 1806 Purge among the Indiana Delaware: Sorcery, Gender, Boundaries and Legitimacy"  Ethnohistory, Spring, 1994 pages 246-266.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Beata: The Munsee Prophet

The parents of John Henry Kluge were Moravian missionaries at White River.  John Henry appears to have been born during Beata's career as a Native prophet.

For a number of reasons - including that her career as a prophet may have been short - we don't know much about Beata.  We don't even know her Indian name.  She was given the name Beata at her baptism, apparently when she was a young woman. Like other Munsee Delawares, Beata left Ohio for the White River in present-day Indiana.  She also turned away from her Christian faith as was common among her people after the Gnaddenhutten Massacre.

The careers of Native prophets tend to begin with visions. Beata's career is no exception. Her vision was recorded in one of the diaries of the White River Moravians in a February, 1805 erntry:

There had appeared to her one evening while she was alone in front of her house , two men, whom she could not recognize,  and whose voice alone she could hear.  These told her..... "We came to tell you that God is not satisfied with you Indians, because at your sacrifices you do so many strange things with wampum and all kinds of juggling.....You Indians will have to live together again as in olden times, and love one another sincerely.  If you do not do this, a terrible storm will arise and break down all the trees in the woods, and all the Indians will lose their lives in it."
It so happened that "a bilious fever was raging" and it took the lives of many White River Delawares in the period of just a few days.  Knowing little about modern medicine, the Delawares blamed the fever and deaths on witchcraft.  For some time Beata was believed to be a good witch finder.  But before long Beata felt that witchcraft had become so rampant that the task of witch-finding was overwhelming.  This ended her career as a spiritual leader and from then on we hear no more about her.


Gipson L. H. (Editor). Moravian Indian Mission on the White River: Diaries and Letters, May 5, 1799 to November 12, 1806;  page 333.

Cave, Alfred (2006).  Prophets of the Great Spirit: Native American Revitalization in Eastern North America.  Page 81

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Delaware Indians on Indiana's White River

This graphic was "borrowed" from Wikipedia's entry on Delaware County, Indiana.

The scene of my next few posts was known many years ago simply as "the White River."  Now, more than two hundred years later, it is part of the state of Indiana and a county that is fittingly named after the Delaware Indians.  The county seat is called "Muncie," a different spelling than we now use to refer to the Munsee Delawares.  (Supposedly all the Delawares living north of the Raritan River during a certain period of time spoke the Munsee dialect.)  By the 1780's many of the Delawares - we can assume they included not only Munsees, but also Unamis, and Unalachtigoes - were settling in six villages along the White River. 

Some of these Delawares had been associated with Moravian missionaries, but no longer had a taste for the "white people's religion" after the Gnadenhutten massacre.  It goes without saying that the militiamen that committed the murders were not "good Christians," and maybe not practicing Christians at all, but the horrible event nevertheless set some of the Delawares on a path away from Christianity.  The idea was that the  Moravian missionaries had made their kinsmen "tame" and thus vulnerable.  A better explanation for the vulnerability, however, was simply their location, but that didn't matter, Christianity had lost its appeal for them.    

The White River Delawares were the subject of Roger J. Ferguson's Ed D. dissertation while he studied at Ball State University (which is in Muncie, Indiana, by the way).  According to Ferguson (page 80) the Delawares "were frantically striving for tribal solidarity and identity and thus resisted assimilation."  Since you and I are tolerant, modern people, that doesn't necessarily sound bad, they should have been allowed to do their own thing, right?  Well, Ferguson also says (page 70) that the Delawares were "one of the least self-sufficient tribes in the [old] Northwest."  In other words, they were not doing well from the 1790's to well linto the 1810's.