History,  Western Pennsylvania

Tecumseh and the Prophet . . . and the Eclipse


Did you know that a solar eclipse darkened the Ohio and Pennsylvania sky in June 1806? (The path of totality ran through the Pittsburgh region!)

This eclipse is an important character in one of my favorite stories about the early 1800’s. During these years, the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh allied Native American tribes against the white settlers who wanted to migrate west of Pittsburgh.

Tecumseh had a brother named Tenskwatawa. Tenskwatawa struggled in many of the skills valued by the Shawnees. (He accidentally shot himself in the eye with an arrow!) In 1805, Tenskwatawa fell into a trance. When he de-tranced, he claimed to be a prophet. He said that he could tell the Native Americans how to drive the white men from the lands in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

Tenskwatawa gathered his followers at Greenville, Ohio. He announced that the Moon would block the Sun on June 16, 1806.  Greenville is indeed slightly south of the path of the eclipse that happened on June 16, 1806. So, the sky darkened in Greenville that day. Tenskwatawa won his  “street cred” that day.

His followers called him The Prophet. They swore allegiance to his brother Tecumseh.

How did The Prophet know about the eclipse? When I first read this story, I assumed that Tenskwatawa was very good at math and astronomy. Then, I read the claim that The Prophet did not actually figure this out on his own – that he learned about the coming eclipse from scientists who travelled into the area to study it. (Even in 1806, people travelled to view an eclipse!)

Partly due to the “prophesy” of Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh won the allegiance of Native Americans from many tribes. He gathered them in the Indiana territory.

Unfortunately, William Henry Harrison and his troops attacked these allied tribes at Tippecanoe in 1811. Tecumseh was away at this time, and Tenskwatawa, The Prophet, was in charge of everybody. The Prophet was not prepared for Harrison’s attack.

Harrison’s troops destroyed the Native American’s corn supplies. It was almost winter then. Many of the survivors starved to death. The others scattered. They blamed The Prophet for not foreseeing this attack.

Tenskwatawa’s claim to fortune-telling came back to bite him in the ass!

Tecumseh was not able to rally the tribes for a comeback after Tippecanoe. He continued to fight the United States until his death in battle a few years later.

Harrison became President of the United States in 1841. Storytellers claim that Harrison’s death a month after taking office as POTUS was due to the “Curse of Tecumseh. ”

I have posted above one of the many dozens of photos that I took of the eclipse of August 21, 2017. I am excited for the sky to darken in Pennsylvania for the eclipse of 2024.


If you want to read more about The Prophet, here is the state of Ohio’s website about him.

Here is the Wikipedia page for the eclipse of 1806.