In 1811, General William Henry Harrison fought Tecumseh’s Confederacy to a draw at the Battle of Tippecanoe, thus putting an end to the Native American military movement. According to legend, Tecumseh responded by setting a curse upon Harrison and the office of the President of the United States. What was this mysterious Curse of Tecumseh?
The Curse of Tecumseh (aka The Curse of Tippecanoe or the Presidential Death Curse)?
The Curse of Tecumseh (also known as the Curse of Tippecanoe) is shrouded in mystery, its exact origin having been lost to time. Perhaps the most popular version of the story is that Tecumseh sent an oral message to General Harrison via released prisoners, stating that, “Harrison will not win this year to be the great chief. But he may win next year. If he does … he will not finish his term. He will die in office.” When informed that no President had ever died in office (the United States was only on its fourth President at the time), Tecumseh supposedly said:
“Harrison will die, I tell you. And when he dies you will remember the deaths of my people. You think that I have lost my powers: I who caused the sun to darken and red men to give up firewater. But I tell you Harrison will die. And after him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.” ~ Tecumseh, 1811
Another version of the legend is that the Curse of Tecumseh was actually uttered by Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa. Tenskwatawa was known as the Shawnee Prophet, in part for correctly predicting a solar eclipse in 1806. That prophecy humiliated General Harrison, who’d staked his reputation with other Native American leaders on Tenskwatawa being a fraud. Supposedly, Tenskwatawa uttered the Curse of Tecumseh in 1836, just months before his passing.
There is also a third version of the story. In this telling, Tecumseh realized that he would die at the 1813 Battle of Thames. Before he left to meet his fate, he gave away his things and stated one final prophecy to his brother:
“Brother, be of good cheer. Before one winter shall pass, the chance will yet come to build our nation and drive the Americans from our land. If this should fail, then a curse shall be upon the great chief of the Americans, if they shall ever pick Harrison to lead them.
His days in power shall be cut short. And for every twenty winters following, the days in power of the great chief which they shall select shall be cut short. Our people shall not be the instrument to shorten their time. Either the Great Spirit shall shorten their days or their own people shall shoot them.
This is not all. Each contest to select their great chief shall be marked by sharp divisions within their nation. Within seven winters of each contest, there shall be a war among their people, either within their nation or with other nations, I know not which. Our people shall prosper only if they can avoid these wars.” ~ Tecumseh, 1813
The Curse of Tecumseh…120 Years Later
Three decades later, William Henry Harrison won the 1840 U.S. Presidential election. One month later, he was dead, a victim of pneumonia. The Curse of Tecumseh had begun. And for the next 120 years, every U.S. President elected at the end of a 20-year cycle (and during a year ending in “0”) died tragically while still in office.
- 1840: William Henry Harrison, Pneumonia (1841)
- 1860: Abraham Lincoln, Assassination (1865)
- 1880: James Garfield, Assassination (1881)
- 1900: William McKinley, Assassination (1901)
- 1920: Warren Harding, Heart Attack, Stroke, Possible Assassination (1923)
- 1940: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Cerebral Hemorrhage (1945)
- 1960: John F. Kennedy, Assassination (1963)
In the 1980 U.S. Presidential election, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. 69 days later, on March 31, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. shot and wounded him, puncturing his lung. But unlike his predecessors, Reagan survived the attempt and lived out two full terms in office. Twenty years later, George Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 U.S. Presidential election. In 2005, he survived an assassination attempt of his own when Vladimir Arutyunian’s hand grenades failed to detonate.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
The Curse of Tecumseh is a modern-day example of dating mining and numerology. For centuries, people have attempted to create models linking up number sequences with real world events. But while such models look promising when backtesting old data, they tend to fall apart when subjected to new information.
In 1980, the Library of Congress supposedly researched the Curse of Tecumseh story and concluded that “although the story has been well-known for years, there are no documented sources and no published mentions of it.” (On a side note, I was unable to find any confirmation of this study so take it with a grain of salt).
In the unlikely event that the Curse of Tecumseh was something tangible, it appears that it was lifted with President Reagan’s term of office. But some observers believe differently. They claim that the Curse of Tecumseh encompasses both death as well as mere assassination attempts. Thus, they think that future presidents could very well suffer from the curse, either with deaths or near-death experiences.
So, has the Curse of Tecumseh been extinguished? Or will more lives feel its wrath?
Only time will tell.