December 1809

Tecumseh summoned Tenskwatawa and talked to him at length, giving him strict orders that his brother was warned to obey to the letter. Foremost among these was the preparation of what he was to designate as 'sacred slabs'.

Tecumseh opened one of two sealed bales he had brought back with him on a packhorse from his last trip and showed Tenskwatawa the contents -- fifty slats of red cedar wood, each of them thirteen and one-half inches long and three - eights of an inch thich, one inch wide at the base and tapering to one-half inch wide at the rounded top. Tenskwatawa was to retire into absolute seclusion with these pieces of wood and carve each into a replica of the sacred slab he now showed his brother that had already been carved into the design required. When Tenskwatawa was finished with the task, he was to assemble all the Indians, show them the slabs and tell them that he had made them under the direction of the Great Spirit. The directions for carving the sacred slabs were explicit.

Each slab was to be carved, on one side only, with the same symbols. These symbols were to have a double meaning -- one to tell any curious whites who might see them, the other to be the true meaning. For the whites, these were to be described as heavenly sticks -- symbols which would guide them to the happy Afterlife. The public interpretation of the symbols, reading from bottom to top were family, which was the most important factor in everyday Indian life, the earth , upon which they lived, followed by the principal features of the earth: water, lightning, trees, the sun, the blue sky and all of these to be experienced and understood before the people could reach the uppermost symbol, Heaven.

The actual meaning of this symbolism, however, was considerably different and much more menacing. It was for all the Indians on both sides of the Mississippi River to come in a straight direction toward the rendezvous point at lightning speed with their weapons ; coming from all directions, leaving behind the tending of corn or storing of grain to become united when the great sign of trembling earth was given so that all the tribes might, in one movement, by peaceable means if possible but by warfare if necessary, take over the place of the whites which had been upsurged from them.

This is a liberal interpretation of the symbolism of the sacred slab, based upon the preachments of Tenskwatawa, the grand plan of Tecumseh and other events which subsequently transpired. Whether this interpretation is entirely accurate is subject to debate. One of these slabs is still known to exist and is presently part of the Milford G. Chandler loan collection in the Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

The slabs, Tecumseh told Tenskwatawa, must all be finished during the next month, since they had to be delivered by runners during the Hunger Moon and each must be accompanied by a bundle of special sticks. He opened the second bale and showed Tenskwatawa the sticks stained red with vermilion -- each stick a quarter - inch square and fifteen inches long, twenty - one such sticks to a bundle, each of the bundles tied with a length of rawhide tug, and fifty of these bundles.

Thirty of these bundles, each accompanied by one of the slabs, were to be delivered during the Hunger Moon to the principal chiefs of the thirty major tribes of the West, Northwest, North, Northeast, and East. The remainder, along with their slabs, would be taken by Tecumseh himself when he went to visit the Southern tribes, perhaps during the coming year but more likely in the year to follow. Each of the red sticks was to represent one moon. Each runner, as he delivered the bundle and slab entrusted to him to the specific chief, would instruct that chief as to its meaning, both public and private, and that he should, beginning with the next moon -- the Wind Moon -- throw away one of the sticks at each full moon until only one stick remained. Then they were to begin a nightly vigil, watching the sky for the sign from Tecumseh -- the Panther Passing Across. When they observed this great celestial body sear its way across the night sky from east to west in a brilliant streak of greenish fire, they were immediately cut the final stick into thirty pieces. Each night thereafter, one of these pieces was to be burned and when no more remained, then would come to all at the same time the great sign that Tecumseh had been telling them would occur and which they would not fail to recognize -- a great and powerful trembling of the very earth itself.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

reference: A Sorrow in Our Heart; Allan W. Eckert


"Shawnee's Reservation"


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