historical figures are as tragic as Chief Bowles, the 83-year-old
Cherokee Indian chief who died on a Neches
River battlefield near Tyler
164 years ago this month.
of the Neches, fought on July 15 and 16, 1839, was the principal
engagement of the Cherokee War, an event discolored by shame
akin to the Trail of Tears, the forced march of the Cherokees
from their homeland in the Southeast to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1839.
Bowles -- also known as The Bowl, Duwal'li, or Bold Hunter -- was
born in North Carolina around 1765, the son of a Scottish father and
a Cherokee mother.
As the leader of a village, he led his people from North Carolina
to the St. Francis Valley in Missouri in 1810 to escape growing pressures
of white settlers in the South. He later led the tribe to Arkansas
and then into East Texas.
February of 1836, when Texas revolted
Sam Houston negotiated
a treaty with the chief that would guarantee the Cherokees
possession of 1.5 million acres of land in East
But after the Texas Revolution, the Senate of the Republic of Texas
invalidated the treaty because the Cherokees
had been briefly allied with Mexico
in an effort to secure their lands in East
Texas before the revolution. Indian and Mexican attacks on settlers
in East Texas also complicated
the Cherokees' position.
B. Lamar replaced Houston
as president of the Republic, he ordered Bowles and his people to
leave Texas. Negotiations failed and
Bowles put the question to the Cherokees,
as well as other tribes sharing the lands.
Would they stand together in an effort to hold their land? The decision
was made to fight.
Lamar sent his troops to the Neches
River and the first day's battle
was fought in what is now Henderson County. The second day's fighting
occurred in what is now Van
The Texan Army numbered only 500, compared to 700 to 800 Indians,
but Bowles' warriors were routed, and pursuit continued until July
24. The old chief, wearing a handsome sword and sash given him by
Sam Houston, remained
in the field on horseback for two days. On the last day, he signaled
retreat, but few of his men were left to flee. Bowles was shot in
the leg and his horse was wounded. As he climbed from his mount, he
was shot in the back.
As the Texas militia approached him, he sat down, crossed his arms
and legs facing the soldiers, and waited for his death. The captain
of the militia walked to where Bowles sat, placed a pistol to his
head, and killed him. The Texans took stripes of skin from his arm
as souvenirs. His body was left where it lay. No burial ever took
battle of the Neches was the largest single massacre in East
Texas with more than 800 men, women and children of the associated
tribes killed. While a state historical marker stands on the battleground,
no funeral was held for Chief Bowles until 1995 -- the 156th anniversary
of his death -- when descendants of the tribe met to honor the chief
and those who died with him.
Today, the American Indian Heritage Center is raising money to purchase
70 acres of the 1.5 million acres promised to the Cherokees
and other tribes in the l830s as a memorial to the old chief and his
Things Historical July
4, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of
Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of
30 books on East Texas history and folklore.
Bob Bowman's East