Tenskwautawa's original name was Lalwethika, or "the rattle" (not a good thing to be named.) He was generally known as the local drunk until his 1805 visions. His chosen name means "The Open Door." Although he certainly was a unifying force for the Shawnee and the Native alliance, there was a dark side to his religious movement. He was absolutely intolerant of viewpoints contrary to his own; in 1806, he instigated a sort of witch hunt among the Delaware and Wyandot tribes, in which a chief and several tribespeople were burned as "witches" for converting to Christianity.

In 1811, William Henry Harrison camped his army across Tippecanoe Creek from Prophetstown, where Tenskwatawa was living. The Prophet ignored his brother's orders to wait for reinforcements and led a suicide squad against Harrison. The battle ended in a draw, but the Shawnee warriors were forced to retreat, and Harrison burned Prophetstown. In 1812, he led what would be his final military mission against Harrison, which also ended in failure.

After the death of his brother in 1813, Tenskwautawa wandered around for a few years. In 1826, he led a group of 200 Shawnee from Ohio to Kansas, a journey of starvation which few survived. The Prophet died in 1836, a man hated by his own people.