The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
Kunu ("First Born") was one of triplets who had been sent by Earthmaker to instruct the Indians on how to live. Kunu convened a council of the Hočągara to announce his mission on earth. The people challenged him to prove that he was divinely sent, so Kunu placed his warclub upon the ground and asked that each person present try to pick it back up, but no one could lift it. Kunu demanded that henceforth people renounce the sins that Herešgúnina had promoted among them, for they needed to be strong for the struggle ahead. He called for a Great Council to destroy the Big Knives who were encroaching upon Indian lands. When it was convened, Kunu told the delegates that they must spend three years preparing for the war, and once commenced, a spell would fall upon the white warriors that would render them helpless. He proved himself by prophesying a sign: "In four days the noon sun will shed no light," he declared; and at the appointed time the sun was indeed eclipsed.
However, after a provocation by the whites, the Indian allies prematurely attacked one of their forts, and were repulsed with heavy losses. The allies blamed Kunu for their defeat. Haga ("Third Born") agreed to kill his own brother in retaliation, but when he went to strike him with a warclub, he found that the prophet had magically paralyzed his arm. Kunu explained that the allies had not observed the conditions that he had set down for success. They could never kill him anyway, since he was invulnerable to all weapons except his own, a weapon that no one else could lift. Nevertheless, he prophesied his own death, which came about exactly as he had predicted. After he was buried, a great storm arose, and when it had passed, all that could be found was an empty grave and a black cloud floating up to the heavens.1
Commentary. Kunu, of course, is the Shawnee Prophet [inset], whose name in his native language was Tenskwatawa, "Open Door." He was the twin brother of the famous Tecumseh (1768-1813), who would have been Hena in the present story, which manages to avoid mentioning him. In his childhood Tenskwatawa lived with his tribe in Ohio, where the Shawnee were introduced to many of the corruptions of white culture, particularly the consumption of alcohol. As a child, he was said to be a ne'erdowell, and even accidentally blinded himself in one eye with a stick. While his brother Tecumseh rose to greatness, Tenskwatawa fell into dissolution and drunkenness. One day he seemed to have died, and his friends and relatives prepared his funeral wake, but during its course he suddenly revived and told them how he had visited Spiritland and had talked with the Great Spirit. Much later in November, 1805, he announced that he was a prophet and was the bearer of a new revelation from the spirits. He urged all Indians whatever to set aside the things that they had obtained from the whites and to lead independent lives like their ancestors had led before they had met the white man. In particular, he launched an attack against those who practiced witchcraft. He began to attract followers, some from other tribes. In 1806 he correctly predicted an eclipse of the sun, an event that got him proclaimed by one and all the true Prophet. He won many converts both from the northwest and the south, and when the War of 1812 broke out, he took up the British cause. His ideas are believed to have been instrumental in causing the Creek War of 1813. However, Tecumseh's defeat at Tippecanoe led to the dissolution of the movement and the discrediting of many of the Shawnee Prophet's ideas. Tenskwatawa received a pension from the British government and lived in Canada until 1826, when he rejoined his tribe in Ohio. Eventually the tribe was forced into new territory in Kansas, where the Prophet died in November, 1837.2
External Link: The History of Tecumseh and the Battle of Tippecanoe.
Stories: about the Shawnee Prophet: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; about seers: The Seer, Witches, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, A Prophecy, Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Claw Shooter, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Diving Contest; mentioning the Battle of Tippecanoe: Great Walker's Medicine, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; mentioning the Shawnee: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hočągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Mighty Thunder; about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hočągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Annihilation of the Hočągara II, First Contact, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, Jarrot's Aborted Raid, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago".
Themes: multiple births: The Birth of the Twins, The Twin Sisters, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Man with Two Heads, The Children of the Sun, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, The Two Brothers; a small item set on or driven into the ground by a great man cannot be lifted by anyone else: The Twins Visit Their Father's Village (packs), The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara (a warclub), Wojijé (a dog), The Raccoon Coat (a dog), The Roaster (a pack); a man proves his power by moving a weapon that no one else can budge: The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara (a club), Hare Kills Sharp Elbow (an arrow); descriptions of human warfare: Annihilation of the Hočągara II, The Warbundle Maker, The First Fox and Sauk War, Great Walker's Medicine, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Wazųka, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Big Thunder Teaches Čap’ósgaga the Warpath, The Fox-Hočąk War, Great Walker's Warpath, White Fisher, The Lame Friend, White Thunder's Warpath, The Osage Massacre, A Man's Revenge, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, They Owe a Bullet, The Spanish Fight, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2), Tobacco Man and Married Man; a being is vulnerable in a highly unusual way: River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, Snowshoe Strings, The Green Man, Partridge's Older Brother, The Dipper, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Migistéga's Death (v. 2); ascending to heaven in a storm: Fourth Universe, The Man Who Fell from the Sky, cf. Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, The Glory of the Morning, Red Cloud's Death; someone turns into a cloud: Bladder and His Brothers (v. 2), Heną́ga and Star Girl.
1 Capt. Don Saunders, When the Moon is a Silver Canoe. Legends of the Wisconsin Dells (Wisconsin Dells, Wisc.: Don Saunders, 1947) 50-54.
2 Emma Helen Blair, The Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Region of the Great Lakes, 2 vols (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996 ) 2:273-279 and nt 100.