Re: History

Ruby Rohrlich (Pathcpis@AOL.COM [now ])
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 Na[va]rre 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.

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