TECUMSEH: A LIFE, by John Sugden, Henry Holt & Co., 492 pages, $34.95.
This masterful study of the life of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh–based on more than 30 years of exhaustive research in archives in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States–provides ample evidence to prove that while the inspirational Shawnee chief was very much influenced by the traumatic times in which he lived, he also demonstrated inherent leadership skills that left an indelible imprint on the history of his people and on American history.
Tecumseh has received much recognition over the years, but readers may be surprised to learn that this is the first comprehensive and reliable biography of him. Sugden set out not only to tell the compelling story of this noted Indian leader but also to provide an overview of the Shawnee nation. The book also underscores the dynamic role that Tecumseh, and native people in general, played in the Early Republic period of American history. Too often, historians tend to minimize the Indians’ contributions to this era, focusing instead on diplomatic and political concerns that involved the United States and the major European powers. Sugden’s efforts will force scholars to recognize that a balanced understanding of the period requires an examination of the native role. Even with such ambitious goals, Sugden’s definitive work manages to tell the inspirational story of a great American leader.
David Dixon is an associate professor of history at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania.