Tecumseh (1768-1813), chief of the Shawnee, is one of the few native Americans whose name is still well known today, partly because he was both feared and respected by many that met him, including many whites. He was a passionate defender of his people, and saw that the only way to resist the encroachment of the European settlers was for all tribes to unite in both policy and war. That he failed to do this is perhaps not surprising, but that he achieved even a temporary unity amongst some tribes is still remarkable, and while his cause was ultimately lost, he has been remembered as a dignified leader and a great orator, even by his enemies.
By the 1790s, when Tecumseh was coming to prominence, most American natives in the New England area, having long had contact with settlers and traders, had acquired muskets to replace their bows, and most of the poses in this set are carrying one. The single bowman is not wrong, since this was still a useful weapon, but only having one such pose is about right, especially later in the period. For close-quarter fighting the warriors relied on their tomahawks and clubs, and of course they all carried a knife. There are several tomahawks to be seen here, both in the hand and tucked into the belt, and several clubs are also evident, both of the 'ball' and 'gunstock' type. We were very pleased with the choice and spread of weapons here, which seems to be a fair reflection of the average group of warriors in battle.
Clothing and personal adornment could vary greatly between individuals, but the 'classic' look was a shirt on the upper torso, a breech-cloth at the waist and long leggings reaching to the thigh. This pretty much sums up the costume of these figures, who have a pleasing array of shirts (many look like hunting shirts). One man has a very small blanket wrapped round his shoulders, and others seem to have pieces of cloth draped over one shoulder. The hairstyles vary a good bit but again everything looks authentic, and some have a headband or bandanna too. One man ever wears a trapper's fur cap, which makes sense, so we liked all aspects of the costume, and also the assorted bags, powder horns and other kit that they are wearing. One note of caution, however, is that most warriors preferred to remove their shirt before battle, and generally painted themselves in various ways both to intimidate the enemy and provide good medicine for their own protection. So these figures may be less representative of men in battle than they should be, and though there is no way now of knowing what proportion of warriors were stripped for action, at least a couple of poses suitable disrobed, as indicated by the box design, would have made this a better set, and their absence has cost this set an accuracy point.
The poses are mostly fine, though none particularly stand out. The warriors are either using their muskets or else in close-quarter combat, which is as you would expect. The only one really worthy of note is the third figure in the top row, who is presumably supposed to be about to club an opponent with his musket. Since this man has no visible club or tomahawk the action is reasonable, but this is a difficult act to portray convincingly with a one-piece figure, and the sculptor has not cracked the problem with this one. As always what you have to do is imagine what happens next, and here the musket is being held vertically above the head, so it is hard to see how the arms would move in order to bring the weapon down in a clubbing action. The natural movement to swing a musket would have it well behind the head, but this figure is very flat, so fails to work. The man holding the gunstock club in the third row is also quite flat, but the rest look more natural.
Attention now turns to the last figure in the bottom row, the location we generally reserve for the officer or leader. While tribal leaders might have certain more precious items, in general there was little to identify them from their warriors when on the field of battle, and nothing that would show at this scale. This man however is very distinctive, and inevitably the question of whether he is actually Tecumseh has to be asked. The distinct characteristics are many; he wears a cap with a feather in it, a coat of European design, trousers rather than leggings, he has a sash round his waist into which a pistol is secured, he has some sort of medallion round his neck and, most obviously, he carries a European sword. In reality even Tecumseh would have looked little different to any of his men in a fight, but this is certainly the man himself because he has been dressed as he appeared when he entered Detroit, in 1812, having just captured it with his British allies. The coat, sash, sword and pistols are partly to mark his 'rank' of brigadier general, an extraordinary honour for a native, and the medallion was given to an ancestor by George III. This is great for modelling the entry into Detroit, but we have to ask how often he looked like this, and we suspect the answer is rarely apart from this one recorded moment. Something a bit less specific would have been more useful, particularly as there are four of this distinctive figure in every box.
Though these figures exhibit the usual slight roughness and disproportionate finer details we would expect of a Strelets set, this is one of their better efforts. The detail is good and generally the proportions are good too. There is a bit of a ridge round the seam between the mould halves, but hardly any flash. With some workmanlike poses and good accuracy (apart from the lack of any stripped warriors) this is a very fair set for a fascinating chapter in the early development of the United States of America.