Re: History

Ruby Rohrlich (Pathcpis@AOL.COM)
Tue, 29 Aug 1995 01:31:36 -0400

In a message dated 95-08-28 10:24:21 EDT, Nick Corduan writes in a reply to

>The answer, IMHO, is no. History is not "had." History is not in
>*anybody's* hands -- or at least it shouldn't be. History is absolute -- it
>is not subjective or relative. What happened happened, period. History
>should not be in the hands of the victors *or* the losers. History is
>history is history. Facts are facts. Truth is truth.

The point I was trying to make is the same. Interpretation of historical
events (writing history) is best achieved by those researchers, Indian and
Non-Indian, that can conduct objective research into problems areas
reconstructing the original events (facts), or as close as possible to the
original happening or occurrence, using primary sources. As one compares the
original event as it happened to later versions that have been altered or
modified as told by succesive writers, only then can one properly interpret
what is historically true (correct) or not.

I disagree that history is absolute. It is not. It is mutable, it is
subject to change through different interpretations of the facts and evidence
that one considers in writing about a particular problem or event. The
written record is subjective and selective acording to those who record
observations on social and cultural phenomena. What actually hapened is not
always "what happened", but an altered or modifed version of the event
producing folklore, legend and what some people call "historical fact".

Here is an example of how an actual historical event is modified through
memorial knowledge before it actually becomes part of the written, historical
record. This example demonstrates the pitfalls of doing sound historical or
ethnohistorical research and the proper interpreation of the facts and events
to arrive at historical knowledge or truth.

In the annals of the Old Northwest Territory, much has been written about the
death of Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames on October 5 during the War of
1812. No less than forty-five accounts of Tecumseh's death exist, each
differing with one another in various points or details of the circumstances
surrounding Tecumseh's death. One account is found by Peter Navarre in the
local history of the Maumme Valley in Ohio. Peter Navarre was a legendary
figure during the War of 1812. Being French he was employed by General
William H. Harrison as a spy for the American Army. He escaped from the
infamous River Raisin maasacre after General James Winchester surrendered to
the British at Frenchtown (Monroe, MI). He went on to the Battle of Ft.
Meigs in 1813, carried messages to Ft. Stephenson at Sandusky, Ohio, and went
on to Canada with the American forces pursuing General Procter and Tecumseh

In his memoirs, Navarre states that he took part in the Battle of the Thames
and that he fought under COL Johnson's command at the battle. During the
battle COL Johnson had his horse killed under him and while he was down
Tecumseh sprang from behind a tree to tomahawk and scalp Johnson. Navarre
states ..."I saw an Indian powering upon my colonel and [I] fired with this
gun upon him [Tecumseh]. He fell and the war cry of Tecumseh was heard no
more..." (Peter Navarre, Memoirs, Manuscript Collection, Toledo-Lucas County
Public Library, Toledo, Ohio, n.d.).

There are no corroborative accounts supporting Peter's claim. There is no
indication of this event (Peter killing Tecumseh) in the early written
accounts of the Maumee Valley where Peter resided. Nor are there any
suggestions in his interviews with Lyman C. Draper in 1863 and 1866. In
addition, it is known that Peter's memoirs were solicted for publication by
John Gunckel for his book "The Early History of the Maumee Valley" which was
published in 1902. This account by Gunckel appears in the Toledo News Bee
for August 22, 1922 entitled "How I Slew Tecumseh!" in honor of the
celebration and festivities of Peter Navarre Day on September 22, 1922 in
Toledo, Ohio. Peter in his account of the death of Tecumseh states that
Medard Labadie was with him during the battle, but Labadie's account mentions
nothing of Navrre killing Tecumseh or even that Navarre was at the battle
site. Labadie states that he was directed by General Harrison after the
battle to help search for Tecumseh's body. Upon returning from the place
where COL Johnson was killed, the Indian lying next to him and supposedly
shot by Navarre, was mutilated and disfigured in the face. Harrison who knew
Tecumseh well identified the mutilated remains as Tecumseh from a large scar
on the dead Indian's right thigh which Tecumseh had received from a severe
burn during childhood.

Further, Dennis Au has come upon some records in the National Archives that
are statements by the Narre Brothers who were also in service with Peter
during the War of 1812. One of these statements suggests that Peter was not
at The Battle of the Thames, but actually sick in Detroit when the battle
took place.

In summary, what we have are Navarre's memoirs written around 1866 at a time
when he was already a local, super hero and whose memoirs were solicited by a
local historian for publication in a book. No other accounts of the battle
substantiate Peter's claim to having killed Tecumseh nor do these accounts
even indicate that he was at the battle. Quite clearly what we have is a
memorial account altered through time in specific details of a particular
event that is simply false, but has become recorded as written fact in the
local history of the Maumme Valley in Ohio.

The point is we will never reconstruct the actual events that have become
recorded as written history, unless we go back to the primary sources for the
event and compare other sources or accounts for accuracy and then trace the
versions of the event through time to determine whatis original and what is
added to the story.