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Document Number: AJ-155
Author: Ruddell, Stephen
Title: Reminiscences of Tecumseh's Youth [manuscript]
Source: Draper Manuscripts: Tecumseh Papers, 2 YY 120-133, Wisconsin Historical Society.
Pages/Illustrations: 15 / 0
Citable URL:

Author Note

Stephen Ruddell, the author of this memoir, was born about 1771 to pioneer settlers on the western frontier where Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky border one another. When he was nine, in June 1780, the settlement was attacked by British soldiers and several hundred Indians, some of whom carried him and his family away as prisoners. Stephen and his brother Abraham were claimed by the Shawnee and made adopted brothers of Tecumseh (1768-1813).

Ruddell spent seventeen years with the Shawnee in the Ohio Valley, taking part in battles against the American military and white settlers. He was given the name Big Fish, rose to positions of leadership, commanded many warriors, and married a Shawnee woman with whom he had two sons. Throughout those years he was intimate with Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet.

Throughout the 1790s Tecumseh led Shawnee resistance against white incursion into the Old Northwest. After 1805, The Prophets messianic espousal of native religion brought thousands of Indians from eastern states to the Shawnee village near Tippecanoe, Indiana. While The Prophet preached, Tecumseh formed pan-tribal alliances based on common ownership of Indian lands, multi-tribal treaties with whites (rather than local ones), and refusal to sell any more land to settlers. While he was away in 1811, General Willian Henry Harrison attacked and burned the Tippecanoe village. When the War of 1812 broke out a few months later Tecumseh sided with the British and was killed in battle in October 1813.

About 1797, during a temporary cessation of hostilities between Indians and whites, Stephen Ruddell decided to return to settler life. He traveled with a party of warriors to northern Indiana and gave himself up to General Anthony Wayne, who reunited him with his father. They returned to Kentucky, where Ruddell was educated and became a prosperous farmer. During the War of 1812 he was instrumental in persuading some bands of Shawnees to side with the United States rather than to join the British. In later years he was a Baptist minister in Terre Haute, Indiana, and in Ohio. As late as 1845 he was living in Adams County, Illinois, near the Mississippi River.

Document Note

In 1864 Lyman Copeland Draper purchased the papers of Benjamin and Daniel Drake of Cincinnati, who had researched and written books on Indian and local history. Among these was the document given here, which was probably obtained when Benjamin Drake was researching his biography of Tecumseh (published in 1841). It is preserved in the Draper Manuscripts, volume 2YY (Tecumseh Papers), pages 120-133.

Other Internet and Reference Resources

For more documents on early Kentucky, see AJ-125, AJ-150, AJ-151, AJ-157, AJ-158 and AJ-159.

For a biography of Tecumseh, see the Houghton Mifflin Encyclopedia of North American Indians at na_038300_tecumseh.htm.

A brief account of the Shawnees during these years is available at Ohio History Central at shawnee.shtml.

The literature on early Kentucky in general is immense. A convenient starting place is the Kentuckiana Digital Library at

Another useful site is The First American West: the Ohio River Valley 1750-1820 (, a collection of fifteen thousand pages of original historical materials selected from the collections of the University of Chicago Library and the Filson Historical Society of Louisville, Kentucky.

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