Conspiracy Theory Column: The Curse of Tippecanoe

The White House. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

The conspiracy theory of The Curse of Tippecanoe has always been an interesting but surprisingly not widely known theory. Keeping with the political conspiracies, this one has to do with presidents and deaths, and dates all the way back to 1809.

The Curse of Tippecanoe, or The Tecumseh’s Curse allegedly killed seven U.S. presidents, starting with President William Henry Harrison and ending with an attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan.

In 1809, there was an alleged debate between William Henry Harrison and Shawnee Indian leader, Tecumseh, over the Indiana land Territory. Harrison had negotiated a treaty with the Shawnee signing a large amount of land off to the U.S. government, but leader Tecumseh claimed that the U.S. had used unfair negotiation tactics to seal the deal.

So, Tecumseh and his brother organized a group of locals tribes to attack Harrison’s army – this battle was later named the Battle of Tippecanoe, and would be one of the platforms Harrison would use to gain presidency. Later, during the War of 1812, Harrison continued his fight against the Shawnee tribes, which further angered Tecumseh. After more and more defeats, Tecumseh’s brother, known to the locals as “The Prophet,” placed a curse of death on all future U.S. presidents elected in years ending in a zero – and history would go on to prove this curse mostly right.

On December 2, 1840, William Henry Harrison was elected. Once inaugurated, he stayed in office for exactly 32 days, catching a cold from giving a long inauguration speech without a coat in freezing temperatures, later dying from pneumonia.

In 1860, President Abraham Lincoln was elected into office as the 16th U.S. president. Lincoln survived the Civil War, which killed over 620,000 men in four years, only to be assassinated by John Wilkes Booth days after the end of the war April 14, 1865 – a tragic but interesting turn of events.

In 1880, James Garfield was elected and took office March 4, 1881. On July 2 the president was shot by Charles J. Guiteau, who was motivated by the false belief that he had played a role in Garfield’s presidential victory and wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. Garfield ended up dying two months after from infections related to the bullet wound.

In 1900, William McKinley was elected to his second term and was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz Sept. 6, 1901, and later died Sept. 14. Czolgosz claimed that his motive was simply that William Mckinley was the enemy of the people and had to be stopped, another strange sign of insanity.

In 1920, Warren G. Harding, a president who many people believe to be one of the worst of all time, died from a stroke Aug. 2, 1923 while in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Although, his death also is surrounded by hearsay.

First lady, Florence Harding, took fast precautions right after her husband’s death, embalming the body right away and refusing an autopsy. Either Florence or the doctor who possibly over prescribed President Harding pain pills could be at fault for his death, not to mention that the supposed curse is still fully active and thriving during this time.

In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt was elected into office for his third term. Later he would be elected again in 1944. However, he died April 12, 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Since he was elected for one of his terms in a year that ended in zero and died he counts as being part of the curse, although this could be casting the curse’s net a bit too wide.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected into office and captured most every family’s heart in the U.S. On Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, and maybe the whole government, during a parade in Dallas. His death definitely contributes to the Curse of Tippecanoe and would be the last time the U.S. would be fully affected by the strange magic.

Lastly in 1980, Ronald Reagan took presidential office after winning 49 out of 50 states. On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Reagan in D.C. – Reagan was shot but luckily survived – making him the first to break The Curse of Tippecanoe.

However the curse could have lasted on. During the attempted assassination Hinckley Jr. also shot Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who died 22 years later because of the gunshot wound. On top of this, Hinckley was found not guilty of the shooting and deemed clinically insane, which seems to match a lot of the other characteristics of past president assassins.

After Ronald Reagan’s survival the curse seemed to fade away, spearing President George W. Bush’s life, who was elected in 2000 and possibly our next president’s life, who will be elected in 2020.

Personally, however, I’m not sure if this supposed curse has much footing, no matter how hard I want to believe in it. It is odd that a president died every 20 years from the 1840s all the way to the 1960s, and it is strange that almost all these presidents died from outside causes – such as a disease or bullet. Part of me wants to just contribute this to the curse.

If someone stands out in freezing temperatures without a coat for almost two hours in the 1800s there is a high likelihood they would catch pneumonia and die. If someone is elected into office and is on the winning side of the most deadly war in the U.S., it’s pretty likely someone wants them dead – the logical explanations continue on. Presidents are hugely recognized figures all throughout history and hold tons of power – with great power, comes a great amounts of enemies – so I’m not sure if a curse can be the sole cause of all these deaths. Even still, this conspiracy theory is a pretty intriguing one to consider and could be something that only gets more footing as time progresses.

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