Tecumseh was originally called Frances, and under the latter name was established in 1856. The label of Frances has long been falsely attributed as the name of the wife of Col. Richard M. Johnson, the namesake of Johnson County. Johnson's only marriage was to Julia Chinn, a common-law spouse. Some historians have accepted the possibility that the legislature intended to name the county seat after Francis Burt, the first Governor of the Nebraska Territory. Shortly after being founded, the name was changed to Tecumseh after the Native American Chief said to have been killed by Johnson during the Battle of the Thames. The Nebraska Territorial Legislature established Tecumseh as the county seat in February 1857.
The town was used largely for the setting of the miniseries "Amerika", which depicted life in a small American town after a successful takeover by the Soviet Union. The town served as "Milford", the fictional setting for most of the series.