generally don’t give the Cherokees much thought in regards to the great Indian
wars fought in Texas. Popular history affords them
a reputation as a friendly and reasonable tribe. Compared to more warlike Texas
tribes like the Comanche, Apache and Kiowa, they were.|
doesn’t mean that the Texas Cherokees weren’t divided on major issues of the day,
like whether it was nobler to inflict slings and arrows on the white settlers
or the Mexican soldiers who were fighting them, or both.
Nor does it mean
that the Cherokees weren’t treated in the same shabby manner as other friendly
and hostile tribes alike. Treaties promising peace and property were invariably
broken but promises of removal, violent or otherwise, were promptly carried out.
chief Duwali (or Chief
Bowl or Bowles as he is often referred) led a band of what would come to be
known as the Texas Cherokees across the Red River in the early 1820s. They settled
along the banks of the Sabine,
Neches and Angelina
rivers in East Texas, welcomed by
Mexico as a buffer against
The presence and prominence of Sam Houston, an
adopted Cherokee, boosted the tribe's early dealings with the Anglo settlers.
When Mirabeau Lamar succeeded Houston as president of the Republic, relations
between the Cherokees and Texas changed in a hurry.
Lamar suspected Duwali and the tribe of doing what they were actually doing, which
was promising allegiance to both Texas and Mexico.
For his part, Duwali tended to side with the Texans, believing that Houston would
see to it that a treaty of 1836 setting aside land for the tribe would eventually
be honored; it wasn’t.
Many of the younger warriors thought Duwali was
the Cherokee equivalent of an old fuddy duddy. This more militant faction was
all for throwing in with the Mexicans and getting rid of the upstart Texans once
and for all. A certain number of these Cherokees did join forces with the Mexicans
and with other tribes to fight the Anglos.
Lamar didn’t understand the
intricacies of Cherokee custom, which allowed not only for dissent but for what
Lamar called disobedience and the Cherokees viewed as respect for the individual;
if the warriors wanted to go off and fight with Mexico,
Cherokee custom allowed them to do so.
After the Battle
of San Jacinto, Mexico mounted various insurgencies, hoping to recruit the
Indians to drive the settlers out before the victory at San
Jacinto could be consolidated.
As part of the insurgency, Mexico
sent Manuel Flores to Texas to enlist the
aid of the Cherokees and other tribes in an armed rebellion against the Anglos.
Flores carried with him a packet of communications from Mexico
that offered land and other perks in exchange for military support against the
Flores’ contingent was overtaken at the San
Gabriel River by rangers under the command of Lieutenant James O. Rice,
who laid hands on the communications and sent them to Edward Burleson, commander
of the First Texas Infantry, and Albert Sidney Johnson, Texas secretary
Though Flores probably never communicated with Duwali or any of
the other tribes, the communications provided further evidence to Lamar that the
Cherokees planned to take up arms against the Republic. He sent an armed delegation
to Duwali’s village with an offer to leave under conditions set forth by the Republic
or be destroyed.
General Thomas J. Rusk met with Duwali, Shawnee
chief Spy Buck and others on June 10, 1839, to assert Republic’s dim view
of the Cherokees while outlining, in grim detail, how the Republic intended to
deal with the tribe.
“We do not wish to injure you now,” Rusk told the
delegates. “You are between two fires (and) if you stay you will be destroyed.”
The Cherokees wanted some kind of consideration in the matter but little
was offered. With the devil in the details, no formal agreement was reached. The
Cherokees stalled for time and were gone when Texas soldiers rode into the camp
to carry out the promise of violent removal.
A regiment under the command
of Gen. Kelsey H. Douglas pursued the Cherokees, who attacked Douglas’ soldiers
and killed two but lost 18 of their own warriors.
Duwali mustered more
than 500 warriors by enlisting Delawares, Shawnees and Kickapoos
to the cause but it wasn’t enough. More than 100 Cherokees, including 83-year
old Duwali, were killed in the Battle
of Neches on July 16, 1839.
During roughly the same time this was
happening in Texas, between 16,000 and 18,000 Cherokees
were marched to Indian Territory from their ancestral homes in North Carolina
and Tennessee. More than 4,000 died on the march, which came to be known as The
Trail of Tears.
Most of the surviving Texas Cherokees were removed
to Indian Territory where the arrival of another destitute tribe was not a cause
for celebration. A few ragged bands of Cherokees stayed behind in Texas,
and others took to conducting raids against the whites, using the reservation
as a base of operations. A few fled to Texas during
the Civil War but mostly the Cherokees faded into a smoky corner of the state’s
For more than 100 years after their expulsion from Texas,
the Cherokees have lobbied for compensation for the lands that were taken from
them, citing the 1836 Treaty as part of their case. The request has been denied
each time it has come up in court, most recently in 1964 when state attorney general
Wagonner Carr denied the validity of any claim against the state, ruling that
the state was not liable for claims against the Republic of Texas.
"Letters from Central Texas"
March 16, 2009 Column
Related Stories: See
Battle of Neches by Archie McDonald, Ph.D ("All Things Historical")
Tragedy of Chief Bowles by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical")
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