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"Ten-sqúat-a-way, The Open Door, Known as The Prophet," painted by George Catlin in 1830

Tenskwatawa, also called Tenskwatawah, Tensquatawa, and Ten-Sqúat-A-Way (The Open Door) (1775 - 1836), was known as “The Shawnee Prophet.” He was the younger brother of Tecumseh, the famous military leader of the Shawnee Native American people, and during Tecumseh's attempt to create a unified resistance to American genocide and land-appropriation, he served as a visionary prophet and seer. Originally given the name Lalawethika (Noise-Maker or Rattle Sound), Tenskwatawa came by his role as a seer in an unusual way. During his early years he accidentally blinded himself in his right eye with one of his own arrows, and by the time he was an adult, he was a ne'er-do-well alcoholic who could not support his family. During a drunken stupor, he had a prophetic vision of the Master of Breath and was shown a heaven wherein were found both wild game and honey. He underwent a transformative mystical experience and when he awoke, he understood and espoused the importance of living virtuously and returning to traditional Native American values. He took the name Tenskwatawa and founded a purification movement that promoted unity among all Native American tribes, rejected assimilation with European-American settlers, and renounced the use of alcohol.

In the early 1800s Tenskwatawa and his followers built a community at the confluence of the Tippecanoe River and the Wabash River, near present-day Lafayette, Indiana. The Americans called the village Prophetstown. There the brothers brought together displaced Native American groups that had formerly lived from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes, including members of the Fox, Sauk, Shawnee, Chickamauga, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Mascouten, Piankeshaw, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi tribes. In 1811, Governor William Henry Harrison of Ohio led an expeditionary force of 1,000 men to disperse the residents of Prophetstown. With Tecumseh away on a diplomatic mission, Tenskwatawa ordered a pre-dawn attack by about 700 men on Harrison's forces. This engagement, known as the Battle of Tippecanoe, led to the destruction of Prophetstown and the dispersal of its residents. The British sided with Tecumseh's Confederacy, hoping to use the Native lands as a bulwark against American incursions into British territory, and Tecumseh's warriors fought alongside the British during the War of 1812. Tenskwatawa's call for a return to nativism spread far and wide. For instance, the Red Stick faction of the Creek tribe who carried out the Fort Mims massacre in Alabama in August 1813 were followers of Tenskwatawa's teachings. In October 1813, Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames, in Canada, and his Confederacy did not recover its momentum. Tenskwatawa became an outcast and remained in exile in Canada until 1824. In 1826 he led a group of 500 Shawnee from Indiana and Ohio to an Indian reservation in what is now the state of Kansas, and by 1828 he was settled there to live out the remaining years of his life.

In 1830, George Catlin painted a portrait of Tenswatawa, which he titled "Ten-sqúat-a-way, The Open Door, Known as The Prophet," while he was at Fort Leavenworth, in modern Kansas. Catlin described the subject of the painting thus: "The 'Shawnee Prophet,' is perhaps one of the most remarkable men who has flourished on these frontiers for some time past. This man is brother of the famous Tecumseh, and quite equal in his medicines or mysteries, to what his brother was in arms; he was blind in his right eye, and in his right hand he was holding his 'medicine fire,' and his 'sacred string of beads' in the other. With these mysteries he made his way through most of the North Western tribes, enlisting warriors wherever he went, to assist Tecumseh in effecting his great scheme, of forming a confederacy of all the Indians on the frontier, to drive back the whites and defend the Indians' rights; which he told them could never in any other way be protected ... [he] had actually enlisted some eight or ten thousand, who were sworn to follow him home; and in a few days would have been on their way with him, had not a couple of his political enemies from his own tribe ... defeated his plans, by pronouncing him an imposter ... This, no doubt, has been a very shrewd and influential man, but circumstances have destroyed him ... and he now lives respected, but silent and melancholy in his tribe."


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