Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) Tenskwatawa (The Prophet)
(1775-1837)
Indian chief
Henry Inman (18011-1846), after Charles Bird King
Oil on canvas, c. 1830-1833


Among the best-known and most feared Indians of the nineteenth century, the Prophet and his brother, Techumseh, were Shawnee leaders of a fervent movement to instill Indian unity in the Ohio Valley from 1805 through the War of 1812. Angered by the Jefferson administrations's attempts to gain Indian lands through piecemeal cessions, the Prophet preached resistance. He also rejected Jeffersonian suggestions about Indian assimilation, and urged instead that Indians retain their own culture. By 1811 his resistance movement had led to sporadic warfare in the Old Northwest. But in November of that year, William Henry Harrison routed the Prophet and his allies near Tippecanoe in the Indiana Territory. The destruction of this Indian confederacy effectively opened the Ohio River Valley to white settlement.

The exact date when the Prophet sat for his picture is not recorded, but the original by Charles Bird King (1785-1862) was part of the War Department Indian Gallery, painted between 1822 and 1832. This collection was almost totally destroyed by fire at the Smithsonian (where the Gallery was housed) on January 24, 1865. Fortunately, the young Henry Inman was commissioned between 1830 and 1832 to copy the collection for the publication of McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1836-1844). In 1882 most of the Inman copies were given to the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, the previous owner of this portrait.