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After the Earth QuakesElastic Rebound on an Urban Planet$
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Susan Elizabeth Hough and Roger G. Bilham

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195179132

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195179132.001.0001

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Tecumseh’s Legacy: The Enduring Enigma of the New Madrid Earthquakes

Tecumseh’s Legacy: The Enduring Enigma of the New Madrid Earthquakes

Chapter:
4 Tecumseh’s Legacy: The Enduring Enigma of the New Madrid Earthquakes
Source:
After the Earth Quakes
Author(s):

Susan Elizabeth Hough

Roger G. Bilham

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195179132.003.0006

Like any proper mystery, the tale of the New Madrid earthquakes begins on a note of intrigue. According to legend, the earthquakes were predicted—even prophesied—by the great Shawnee leader and statesman Tecumseh. Concerned over continued encroachment of white settlers onto Indian lands in the mid continent, Tecumseh traveled widely throughout the central United States in the early 1800s, striving to unite diverse tribes to stand against further land cessions. According to legend, Tecumseh told his mostly Creek followers at Tuckabatchee, Alabama, that he had proof of the Great Spirit’s wrath. The sign blazed across the heavens for all to see—the great comet of 1811, a dazzling and mysterious sight. As if to emphasize Tecumseh’s words, the comet grew in brilliance through October, dimming in the night time sky in November just as Tecumseh left Tuckabatchee for points northward. Also according to legend, Tecumseh’s speech at Tuckabatchee told of an even more dramatic sign yet to come. In an oration delivered to hundreds of listeners, the leader reportedly told the crowd, “You do not believe the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall know. I leave Tuckabatchee directly, and shall go straight to Detroit. When I arrive there, I will stamp on the ground with my foot and shake down every house in Tuckabatchee.” The Creeks counted the days until the one calculated to mark Tecumseh’s return, and on that day— December 16, 1811—the first of the great New Madrid earthquakes struck, destroying all of the houses in Tuckabatchee. Tecumseh’s Prophecy, as it has come to be known, strikes a chord with those inclined to see Spirit and earth as intertwined. But it can also capture the imagination of those who see phenomena such as earthquakes as the exclusive purview of science. What if Tecumseh’s Prophecy was born not of communication with the Great Spirit, but instead of an ability to recognize signs from the earth itself? According to the renowned English geologist Sir Charles Lyell, Native American oral traditions told of devastating earthquakes in the New Madrid region prior to 1811.

Keywords:   elastic rebound, flooding, liquefaction, magnitude, oral storytelling, prediction, religion, sand blows, tectonic plates, waterfalls

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