Tecumseh (1972)




Director:     .

Starring:     Gojko Mitic (Tecumseh), Annekathrin Bürger (Eileen), Rolf Römer (Simon McKew), Leon Niemczyk (McKew), Mieczyslaw Kalenik (General Brook), Milan Beli (Raffael), Wolfgang Greese (Governor William Harrison), Gerry Wolff (Newman), Rolf Ripperger (Barry ), Helmut Schreiber (Colonel Procter), Herbert Köfer (Mac), Rudolf Ulrich (O'Brian), Fritz Links (Aldington), Minja Vojvodic (Black Eagle), Maciej Rayzacher (Wanata).

 East German film of famed warrior Tecumseh (1768-1813) battling the Americans in the northwest frontier and in Canada




Spoiler Warning:

Ontario, Canada. 1813.  An Indian woman, as narrator, says the the armies of the Long Knives have destroyed their homes seven times and have driven them farther and farther from their homeland.  The American armies always attacked them at harvest time.  The narrator is the mother of Chief Tecumseh.  She refers to her son as warrior of warriors and the last warrior. 

Tecumseh says that tomorrow they will meet with William Henry Harrison and his soldiers.  He says they will defeat them.  [Tecumseh was a leader of the Shawnee and fought in what is known as Tecumseh's War.  They had settled in Ohio, but in 1808 they lived in present-day Indiana.  Tecumseh fought on the side of the British in the War of 1812.]

Shawnee Homelands, Ohio, 1768.  Mother remembers the birth of her son Tecumseh.  A shooting star passed by on the night of his birth.  This was taken as a sign that Tecumseh would be a great Shawnee chief.  They called him the Panther in the Sky.

As a young boy, Tecumseh watches as the Shawnee warriors chase the white men who burned down the Shawnee village.  Cornstalk is the chief of the tribe, Hardstriker, Tecumseh's father, calls for a war on the whites.  The chief says they must be sure first that there is no chance of a peace treaty.  Tecumseh watches and listens as Hardstriker calls for war.  When Hardstriker asks who is with him, Tecumseh is the first to say he is. 

A white man comes to the tribe and says he wants to be one of them.  So the white man must go through the gauntlet.  The fellow never cries out during the beatings and he is accepted into the tribe.

Hardstriker wants his wife Medotasis to support the coming war.  He says he can't go to war without his wife's approval and support.  Medotasis says she's afraid for the safety of her family, but she agrees with her husband and will support him. 

Two days later, the men prepare to leave to meet the enemy.  Her son Chiksika and the white boy Blue Jacket go with the war party.  At night, Tecumseh has a bad dream about the battle and wakes up screaming that they killed his father.

There is a burial ceremony for Tecumseh's father, Pucsinwa. 

Chief Cornstalk says he will sign the new treaty with the whites.  There is a lot of dissension to this position among the warriors. 

The Revolutionary War.  Now Tecumseh is a young boy.  The British Red Coats come to the Shawnee village.  They ask for help from the Shawnees to fight against the Americans coming from Kentucky.  They offer the Shawnee many guns.  And then they demonstrate the power of a British cannon. 

The Shawnee go to war against the Kentuckians, but at the fort they were supposed to attack, the British didn't show up, and they didn't give the Shawnee any cannons.  Since the Shawnee couldn't attack the fort, they attacked the farms in the area, killing men, women and children.  Medotasis is very upset to hear that her son and the others are now killing women and children.  She tells Chiksika that they never should have fought the whites.  And they now should move west of the Mississippi River to where there are no white men.  Chiksika says his mother talks like a weakling and she slaps him across the face.  She says her son is ruled by hate and his heart is stone. 

Medotasis tells her children that she is joining with the other half of the tribe to go find a new homeland for her grandchildren.  She asks her children to go with her, but they say they must stay with the main village.  The children hug their mother goodbye.  She says to them:  "This hurt will never heal.  I leave my heart with you."  She goes with the others. 

Tecumseh asks Blue Jacket to teach him how to read English from the Bible. 

Tecumseh now will experience his first battle.  The Shawnee ambush an American column of soldiers.  Tecumseh is so frightened by the experience that he runs away.  The Americans are massacred. 

One of the older men of the village, Black Hoof, tells Tecumseh that he is not the first man that has run away from battle.  In fact, as a young man, his father Hardstriker had run away.  But he returned as one of the greatest of the Shawnee warriors.  Furthermore, a warrior feels fear, but he conquers that fear by thinking about the good for the people of his village and not about his own fear.  A warrior overcomes the natural fear that is there. 

Chiksika rides up to Tecumseh, who is reading from the Bible, and tells him that the whites are coming back.  They will fight at dawn.  Tecumseh asks him:  "You're not ashamed to take me?"  His brother replies:  "We need you."  Tecumseh goes to get ready for battle. 

There are frontiersmen on the river.  The Shawnee watch them from hiding places.   The skirmish starts and Tecumseh is very active in the fight.  They kill all the frontiersmen.  After the fight, the two brothers hug each other.  Tecumseh's brother tells him that he killed four white men in his first fight.  Chiksika also tells him that he will fulfill his destiny and become their greatest leader.     

Back at the village, one of the prettiest young women takes a liking to Tecumseh.  His brother is happy that the two people might marry. 

Tecumseh's mother narrates that even after the end of the Revolutionary war, there was tension and conflict on America's frontier between American and Great Britain.  And once again the Shawnee ally themselves with the British.  The Shawnee learn that George Washington is sending out a big army to crush the Shawnee.  General Anthony Wayne is moving north to attack the British fort.  One of the British officers says that Fallen Timbers is a perfect place to ambush Wayne.  Tecumseh asks what will they do if the ambush goes badly?  Then the Shawnee can fall back to the British fort and they together will fight off the Americans.  [Fallen Timbers was located along the Maumee River, not far from present-day Toledo, Ohio.  Fort Miami was the name of the nearby British fort in the area.]

Tecumseh and the pretty girl are the equivalent of boyfriend and girlfriend now. 

Chiksika, Tecumseh and Blue Jacket look at General Wayne and his officers through a looking glass.  Tecumseh also sees the man he has seen many times in his dreams, the man who kills his father in the dreams.  [The man is William Henry Harrison.]  Later Chiksika asks his brother what was he looking at through the glass that so intrigued him?  Tecumseh tells him.  And now, Chiksika says that he too has seen something --  his own death.  Tecumseh wants the two of them to run away from the battle.  Chiksika says no, one cannot change one's destiny.  He also tells his brother that he will be the Shawnee's greatest chief because Tecumseh will not surrender to the whites. 

Fallen Timbers. 1794.  The conglomeration of Indians from different tribes set up their ambush.  Tecumseh notices that it's the militia walking into their ambush.  Where is Wayne's army?  Tecumseh sends Blue Jacket to the fort to tell them that they will be returning to fight at the fort.  But the British close the fort's doors in Blue Jacket's face.  The Indians fire on the militia and then charge the soldiers.  Tecumseh holds his men back saying it's a trap.  And sure enough, Wayne's army shows up and now the fight is fully on.  Fire from the regular army downs a lot of the Indians, but the Indians do a lot of damage to the American regulars too.  Tecumseh has to give the order to fall back to the fort.  Blue Jacket arrives to tell Tecumseh that the British won't let them into their fort.  As Chiksika starts insulting the British, he is struck in the forehead with an American bullet.  Tecumseh screams out for his brother and then picks his body up and starts carrying it off the battlefield.  The other Shawnee go with him. 

For days Tecumseh mourns over the loss of his brother.  Tecumseh's mother says that the Shawnee had suffered their greatest defeat. 

Tecumseh marries his sweetheart.  At night they make love.

Blue Jacket signs the peace treaty with the Americans.  Tecumseh refuses to sign.  He tried to convince Blue Jacket to do the same, but it was no use.  Blue Jacket says they used to have a chance at winning, but now victory for them in battle in not possible.  Tecumseh tells everyone that Blue Jacket and Black Hoof should be ashamed of signing the peace treaty.  That, however, doesn't bind Tecumseh to the agreement.  Tecumseh and his followers leave the village to build a new one far away from the whites. 

Tecumseh' mother says:  "Black Hoof and Blue Jacket signed the Greenville Treaty, surrendering over 16 million acres of our land to the Long Knives.  Tecumseh's small band roamed the land for the next 11 years with little purpose and no hope.  The light from the Panther in the Sky had dimmed."

Old Shawnee Homelands, Ohio, 1804."  Tecumseh comes to a farm that is on the land where Tecumseh played as a child.  He gets the drop on the white farmer, but he does not shoot.  The man says he is grateful to the Shawnee for not shooting him.  He says his name is Galloway and this is his land.  Tecumseh comments:  "What they stole from us, they gave to you."  Galloway replies:  "That's what it amounted to, yes."  The farmer even invites Tecumseh to dinner. 

Tecumseh visits the village of Black Hoof.  It seems a lot of the people there are old and sickly.

Tecumseh visits his alcoholic brother Loud Noise.  Apparently, he had a near death experience.  He says "she" chose him to be her messenger and now he has a mission to accomplish.  He says his name now is He Who Opens the Door. 

Prophet Town, Indiana Territory, 1805.  Medotasis says:  "They were consumed with an idea and from everywhere people from all tribes came to hear them.  The place came to be known as Prophet Town.  Open Door preached a return to our old ways, while Tecumseh called for the unification of all tribes against the Long Knives."  Tecumseh says the whites have increased from 13 fires (that is, states) to 17 fires.  He adds not to trust this man known as Governor Harrison. 

Vincennes, Indiana Territory, 1806.  A man congratulates Harrison on getting millions of acres of land for just few thousands of dollars.  The Governor says he still has to deal with Tecumseh and his brother Open Door. 

Galloway tells Tecumseh that Harrison fears Tecumseh.  He wants to destroy Tecumseh before he can unite the tribes.  Galloway also tells Tecumseh that on June 16 there will be a total eclipse of the sun.  Tecumseh will use this information and have Open Door ask one of their gods to show the people his powers by blotting out the sun. 

Harrison decides to write a letter to Tecumseh to ask that Tecumseh comes speak with him.  Tecumseh says he will do it, because they need more time to unite the different Indian tribes together. 

Harrison asks Tecumseh to cease riling up all the tribes in the area against the Americans.  Tecumseh really condemns the Americans, but really has no understanding of them at all.  Not only of the Americans, but of the larger world.  Sure, there is a lot of deceiving and stealing among the nations of the world.  And most times might makes right, but there still are common concepts which most nations can agree upon.  But the Indians are not even a nation.  Tecumseh doesn't have any real conception of the differences between the world and his own village.  He is filled with indignation about losing their land to the white men, but world history is filled with examples of duplicity and deceit and the taking of land as the Shawnee recently took the land that belonged to the Miami people.  But now it's Shawnee land.

The two cannot really understand each other and Harrison doesn't have time to teach Tecumseh the way the world works.  Tecumseh still preaches that the land belongs no one and yet to all at the same time.  That concept is not acceptable in the modern world.  So Harrison sees no way to make progress with the angry Indian and he calls off the meeting. 

Tecumseh is mad at himself for losing his cool and telling Harrison and the world off.  He says that they will have to wait and see what his folly has cost them. Harrison and Tecumseh meet on the grounds of the Shawnee.  Harrison says that Tecumseh could become the great man of his race if he would become partners with the Americans and teach the Indians the American way of life.  Tecumseh rejects this out of hand, sighting the diseases the white men bring to the Indian villages leaving many dead behind them.  So Harrison calls off the meeting again.  He simply says to Tecumseh:  "There will be war."

Tecumseh's wife is not pleased with her life with him.  She says she always has to be the women's leader, but she gets none of the  privileges or things from holding this high position.  And Tecumseh is rarely home because he belongs to the people and not her.  So Tecumseh says that she is no longer his wife and she may do as she wants now. 

Tecumseh says it will take Harrison a while before he can gather an army together.  This gives Tecumseh time to visit the southern tribes and ask for their support.  He wants all the Indians to join together. In the mean time, Open Door will act as the chief.  Above all, Open Door must not be drawn into a war with Harrison.  The Indians need more time to unify before taking on Harrison. 

Tecumseh goes on a three month journey preaching unity to the various tribes.  He becomes somewhat of a legend in his own time. 

Meanwhile, Harrison is thinking about striking Prophet Town soon.  He can't afford to wait until Tecumseh unites all the tribes in the area against them. 

Tecumseh's sister comes to see Open Door.  She asks him what is his plan because Harrison is on the Wabash River with 2,000 soldiers. He is only three days away.  Open Door has no plan.  Sister says that Tecumseh told Open Door to avoid a war at all costs.  But the prophet is more concerned with what the gods say rather than what Tecumseh told him.  He prays for the gods to show him the way.  He has a vision that the people will assassinate Harrison.  This plan, however, backfired.  It gave Harrison the excuse he needed to attack the Shawnee.  He destroys the Shawnee village.  [This was the battle of Tippecanoe, November 6, 1811.  The Indian confederation attacked Harrison's army and the US won the battle.]

Tecumseh returns to a still burning village.  So now Tecumseh vows a war of vengeance on the whites.  But first, he goes to Open Door and threatens to kill him for betraying Tecumseh, himself and the people.

Tecumseh fought with the British against the Americans in the War of 1812. 

Ontario, Canada, 1813.  The Shawnees villagers move farther into Canada.  Tecumseh tells his brother-in-law to kill him in the battle with Harrison.  If Tecumseh than arises, they will defeat Harrison.  If he does not rise, then it wasn't meant to be and the Shawnee will lose. 

The battle begins.  Harrison's cavalry attacks the Shawnee.  They run  into a furious blast of fire from the guns of the Indians.  The Indian then rush the cavalry as it rides toward the Indians.  The infantry comes right behind the cavalry.  Tecumseh is shot and goes down.  He waits for his brother-in-law to strike him four times.  The only problem is that his brother-in-law is bayoneted by an infantryman.  [Tecumseh was killed in Canada at the battle of Thames near Moraviantown, October 5, 1813.  Shortly after the battle, most tribes of Tecumseh's confederacy surrendered to Harrison at Detroit.]

Harrison looks for the body of Tecumseh, but the Indians have already taken his body off the battlefield.  They have a small funeral for Tecumseh. 

William Henry Harrison was elected president of the United States in 1840.


Good movie for the historian.  We not only learn about the Shawnee and their famous leader Tecumseh, but we also learn about William Henry Harrison, the battle of Fallen Timbers (in 1794), the battle of Tippecanoe (1811) and about the War of 1812 and the Battle of Thames (1813) were Tecumseh was killed.  So, the film is one of the few that deal with the battles in the northwest frontier between the British (with the Shawnee and other Indian tribes) against the Americans.  The acting in the film is good and the story is interesting.  The film also shows just how much out of touch with the world the Indians were in trying protest their conditions to the Americans.  The knowledge gap between Harrison and Tecumseh was just too large to overcome and neither man understood the other and that seemed inevitable too.  With such distances between leaders, war was inevitable between the Americans and the Indians.  They couldn't talk it out, so they had to fight it out. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)