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Pipe tomahawk

Pipe tomahawk presented to Chief Tecumseh (Shawnee, 1768–1813)
ca. 1812
Wood, iron, lead
66 x 22.5 cm
Gift of Sarah Russell Imhof and Joseph A. Imhof

“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

This ceremonial pipe-tomahawk, a gift from Colonel Henry Procter to Tecumseh, probably was presented to the Shawnee war chief at Fort Malden, in Amherstburg, Ontario, late in the autumn of 1812. During that summer, when the War of 1812 officially started, Tecumseh led Native American warriors against the Americans on the Detroit frontier. In mid-August he joined with British forces led by General Isaac Brock to capture Detroit from General William Hull and an American army.

Tecumseh admired Brock’s decision to prosecute the war against the Americans vigorously, and Tecumseh and Brock became good friends. After Brock was killed on October 13, 1812, the British command passed to Procter. More cautious than Brock, Procter was reluctant to attack American positions in Ohio, and Tecumseh soon lost patience with his hesitancy. In response, Procter met repeatedly with Tecumseh and other Native Americans, attempting to maintain their loyalty and support for the Crown. At these meetings the British often awarded tomahawks and other gifts of weapons to tribal leaders.

This tomahawk is typical of such a weapon and bears the inscription “To Chief Tecumseh / From Col. Proctor / MDCCCXII.” (The inscription, with its alternate spelling of Procter, can be seen in the detail image below.) The tomahawk was probably made in France. The gift did little to mend the rift between Tecumseh and Procter. Less than a year later, on October 5, 1813, when the Americans attacked at the Battle of the Thames, Procter and the British fled from the field. Tecumseh and his warriors stood and fought, but Tecumseh was killed, and Native American armed resistance subsequently disintegrated.

—R. David Edmunds (Cherokee)

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