It’s widely accepted today that Tecumseh—among the most influential Native Americans in history—was born in Ohio, but a handful of historians contend he was born in West Virginia where a statue, now missing, was once raised in his honor.
“There’s evidence he was born here in what’s now Lewis County, West Virginia,” says Travis Henline, an adjunct professor of Native American Studies at West Virginia University and of history at West Liberty University.
“He reportedly came through the Lewis County area in the late 1790s after the 1794 Treaty of Greenville—after the peace,” Henline says. “During the visit, he reportedly commented that he was ‘born in this country’.”
A native village once stood on Hacker’s Creek at present-day Jane Lew, and it may have existed in 1768 when Tecumseh was born, Henline said.
Though historians may not agree on the place of his birth—most propose that he was born at Chillicothe, now in southern Ohio—few dispute the remarkable role he played in U.S. history.
Rather than reacting with aggression, he worked assertively to protect native interests, often engaging William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana Territory and later president.
With his brother Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh gathered an inter-tribal following to deter hostile European expansion, though many members lost faith after Tenskwatawa rejected Tecumseh’s advice and engaged the U.S. in the ill-fated Battle of Tippecanoe.
Tecumseh and his remaining forces then allied with the British in the War of 1812, during which Tecumseh was killed and the movement lost all force, though he won the respect of many through his deliberate, heroic actions.
“Tecumseh is certainly among the best known Native Americans in history,” Henline says.
The late historian Shirley Donnelly was also among those who acknowledged that Tecumseh was born in West Virginia.
“This celebrated Indian chief is said to have been born on Hacker’s Creek, most likely in the Indian village at the mouth of Jesse’s Run in Lewis County,” Donnelly wrote while recounting one of the chieftain’s earliest known visits to West Virginia.
In 1792, when Tecumseh was 24, he traveled with a band of Shawnee to raid a settlement by John Waggoner on Hacker’s Creek.
“Waggoner had been burning some logs and was sitting on a log with a big handspike in his hand, resting from his labors,” Donnelly wrote in a 1962 column in The Beckley Post-Herald.
“Tecumseh, who had been lying in wait for a shot, was nervous when he fired because he took the handspike in the hands of the huge Waggoner to be a gun. Although only 30 paces from Waggoner when he shot at him, Tecumseh’s aim went bad. The bullet passed through the sleeve of Waggoner’s shirt.”
Tecumseh’s recollection of his birth was conveyed several years after the Waggoner raid, during which much of the family were killed or captured.
In any case, his birth—”His name means ‘panther passing across’ which is a reference to a shooting star that crossed the sky when he was born,” Henline says—has become a tradition in Lewis County.
“This assertion by him is the reason they put a statue of him near Jackson’s Mill,” Henline says.
Yet, another mystery yet to be solved, the removal of the statue has never been publicized.
“There are photos of the statue in which he is wearing a plains Indian headdress—which is not correct,” Henline says, referring to an elaboration not customary in the eastern woodlands.
“The base is still there on the hill, but the statue is gone.”