If you’ve been living under a rock for the past several months, you might not know that a solar eclipse is coming to America. Solar eclipses are not new or terribly uncommon. What is uncommon is for the path of totality to cross the continental United States. Missouri’s last total eclipse was in 1806, when the band of totality stretched from Maryland to the area now known as Arizona. This map shows the path. You can see it ran through the Kansas City area and several of our other Midwest Almanac states.
It also ran through the 1806 lands of the Shawnee tribe of Native Americans in Ohio and Indiana. During that time, the US government was actively trying to move the Shawnee off their lands to make room for settlers. The story is told of the Indians banding together to resist this encroachment under the leadership of Tecumseh. Most of us have heard of Tecumseh, but did you know he had a brother? One of a rare set of triplets? His name was Tenskwatawa. Tenskwatawa went from being the village drunk to being known as The Prophet after a, perhaps drunken, vision. He claimed to have been visited by the Great Spirit and decided to change his ways. Regardless of the validity of his vision, he did become a teetotaler and preached abstinence to the other members of the tribe. Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh formed a confederation and made their home base at Tippecanoe. This confederation made the settlers a bit nervous. Although both sides talked a lot about peace, neither was too good at acting peaceful.
In 1806, William Henry Harrison, who would later become the ninth president of the US, was still making a name for himself. Concerned that The Prophet would stir up trouble, he sought to discredit him and his brother in the eyes of their people. He issued a challenge. In an open letter to the gathering at Tippecanoe, he wrote, “If he (Tenskwatawa) is really a prophet, as him to cause the Sun to stand still or the Moon to alter its course, the rivers to cease to flow or the dead to rise from their graves.”
After consulting with the Great Spirit, Tenskwatawa announced, “Fifty days from this day there will be no cloud in the sky. Yet, when the Sun has reached its highest point, at that moment will the Great Spirit take it into her hand and hide it from us. The darkness of night will thereupon cover us and the stars will shine round about us. The birds will roost and the night creatures will awaken and stir.”
Sure enough, on June 16, 1806, exactly fifty days after Tenskwatawa’s prediction, the moon “changed its course” and overshadowed the sun. The eclipse lasted nearly five minutes.
How did Tenskwatawa know about the eclipse? He could read English, so perhaps he got ahold of an almanac or simply stumbled upon the information. We have no way of knowing. We’re not even positive it’s a true story, but true or not, it’s a good one!
Direct quotes from Tecumseh and The Eclipse of 1806.