Robert, Charles, and their parents were seated around the dinner table when Ida asked Joe, a student of history, to tell the boys about the Battle of Tippecanoe.
“The battle took place in the early morning hours of November 7th in 1811,” Joe began. “The town of Battle Ground north of Lafayette is named for it. The Shawnee leader, who was named Tecumseh, had been gathering many tribes between where the Tippecanoe River flows into the Wabash River and where Wildcat Creek meets the Wabash River. Tecumseh wanted to block American settlers from expanding further into Indian territories. The Governor of the Indiana Territory was William Henry Harrison. He learned that Tecumseh had gone to the southern states to recruit more tribes, and he marched his troops northward from the territorial capital at Vincennes to fight a pitched battle against the Indians. He wanted to break up the confederation that Tecumseh had been forming. You remember the historical marker that we stopped to read near the Andersons’ place about four miles from here. That marker designates where Harrison’s army marched. Harrison had about a thousand men. When Harrison arrived at the Indian village on the 6th, Tecumseh’s brother met him. Tecumseh’s brother was called ‘the Prophet.’ Harrison accepted the Prophet’s offer to camp on a stretch of wooded, narrow, triangular ground between two ravines.”
Ida had percolated coffee, and she poured a cup for Joe. He dipped a teaspoon into the coffee and blew on it to cool it before sipping the coffee from the teaspoon. Robert and Charles waited expectantly.
Joe continued, “That night, representatives of the tribes discussed what to do. The Prophet wanted to negotiate with Harrison to buy time for Tecumseh to return, but most of the other leaders wanted to attack. The Prophet felt outnumbered. He agreed to attack the soldiers just before dawn the next morning. A half mile southwest of Battle Ground, there's a rocky cliff high above the low land where the rivers and creeks flow together. The Prophet, who was a spiritual leader, said he would stand there and offer holy chants to protect the Indians from the soldiers’ bullets. Today, the cliff is called ‘Prophet’s Rock.’ It is said that Indians crawled unseen through the underbrush to within a few feet of the sleeping soldiers and that some of the Indians silently climbed the trees at the perimeter of the army’s campground. Just before daybreak, the firing began almost simultaneously at the northern and southern ends of the triangular point of land. The fighting soon spread throughout the soldiers’ encampment. Many lives were lost on both sides. After about two hours, the Indians withdrew because they were running low on ammunition. Harrison regrouped and buried the dead soldiers on the spot. The Indians had dispersed because they expected Harrison to come after them. Harrison ordered his men to burn the empty Indian village, which he referred to as Prophetstown. On the return march to Vincennes, Harrison buried a few more soldiers who died of their wounds along the way.”
“How many were killed?” Charles asked.
“Some sixty soldiers were killed and well over a hundred wounded. The Indians carried off their dead, so no one knows how many were killed. Harrison’s first estimate was that about forty Indians had been killed. The country decided to blame the British for inciting the Indians, and the Battle of Tippecanoe was one of the factors that led to the War of 1812. After the battle, the Indians rebuilt Prophetstown, and Tecumseh managed to keep the confederation together, but Harrison called the Battle of Tippecanoe a decisive victory. It may be true that the Indian confederation had been weakened somewhat by the battle. Many years later, when he was in his late sixties, Harrison ran for President, and his having supposedly won a victory over the Indians helped him win the election of 1840. He died of pneumonia in the spring of 1841 only a month after taking office.”
Ida told Robert and Charles, “We’re going to see the reenactment of the battle.”
“What’s a reenactment?” Robert asked.
“People in costume,” Joe explained, “will fight the battle again—but without bullets—so that visitors can watch what took place back in 1811. This year is the sesquicentennial.”
Robert found the word “sesquicentennial” surprising.
“It means that a hundred and fifty years have passed,” his father said.
On the afternoon of the 19th of August—when the reenactment was to occur—the boys and their parents drove to Lafayette. Joe and Ida had not been prepared for the massive turnout. Over ten thousand people attended. Traffic was snarled on the highways leading to Battle Ground. As the family’s Chevrolet inched its way forward in the bumper-to-bumper procession, the reenactment began. The sound of guns popping in the distance told them that they were missing the battle. When they finally were within sight of the battlefield, which was surrounded by a tall iron fence, they saw Indians walking along the road who had obviously already done their part toward replicating the fight and were conversing casually with one another.
It was one of the rare times that Ida had not been first in line, and she was not happy that the reenactment had come and gone long before Joe could park the car. The delay could not have been avoided, though. Who would have thought that so many people would assemble for such an event?
Rather than stay for the barbeque dinner on Main Street in Battle Ground, Joe and Ida decided to return home.
Even though the family had missed the reenactment, Robert felt he had experienced a significant event. He had seen Indians wielding guns, and, even though they were “out of character,” so to speak, they were symbolic of conflict. Robert had watched many a Western, but he had not given much thought to the nature of warfare, for which he felt a deeply instinctual revulsion.
“Why would Indians and soldier have to fight each other?” Robert asked his father later that evening. Joe was sipping coffee, and Robert was sitting cross-legged on the davenport. Joe’s eyebrows drew downward, and he pursed his lips as he tried to think how best to answer Robert’s question.
Joe began, “History is full of wars. They seem inevitable.” Joe thought longer about what to say. “Your ancestors were Quakers. Many of them are buried in Quaker Cemetery near the Independence Road. We’ve taken you there on Memorial Day. The Quakers believed in peace. They would not fight. For that reason, they were generally trusted by Indians. Even though our family has attended the Methodist Church for the past four generations, some of the Quaker beliefs may have been passed down to us. I’ve given considerable thought to whether or not Quaker teachings may have persisted into the Methodist years, and I’ve concluded that there could well be Quaker attitudes among us. If you’re thinking that people lost their lives unnecessarily at the Battle of Tippecanoe, you might be getting that feeling from bits and pieces of Quaker philosophy. It's also true that, customarily, nations respect the nobility and honor of those who fight for them.”
While Robert felt satisfied with the answer, he continued to ponder why two groups of people would try to kill one another.