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Chief Bead Eye

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Not every interesting or even important figure from Texas’s past has been remembered, or if so, we have been left with only a snippet of their story.

An Indian chieftain named Bead Eye is an example. Type the name of many notable Indians into a search engine and multiple pages of hits will appear, but not so with Bead Eye, a man whose story amounts to one of history’s mysteries.

Excluding any yet-undiscovered sources, most of what is known about Bead Eye is contained in one paragraph of a wonderful 107-page memoir written around 1909 by an early Hill County settler named A.Y. Kirkpatrick, “The Early Settlers Life in Texas and the Organization of Hill County.”

Addison Young Kirkpatrick, born Jan. 23, 1836 in South Carolina, came to Texas via Arkansas with his family in 1849. They settled in a 14-foot square cabin on Bynum Creek in what is now Hill County near the military post of Fort Graham, which had been established in March that year and occupied by troops the following month.

Of Bead Eye, Kirkpatrick wrote:

“The first winter we were here old Bead Eye, an Indian chief with a band of 30 or 40 Indians camped on the creek bottom near our house and kept us in meat, such as bear, buffalo, deer and antelope.”

Kirkpatrick did not say which tribe Bead Eye belonged to, but the fact that the Indian helped his family indicates he was what 19th century Texans referred to as a “friendly Indian.” Indeed, Bead Eye, identified as an Ioni Caddoan chief, was one of 32 Indian head men who signed a treaty of “Peace, Friendship and Commerce” with the Republic of Texas on Oct. 9, 1844.

But the presence of Bead Eye’s name on the Tehuacana Creek Treaty is far from the most notable thing about this chief. To continue Kirkpatrick’s all-too-brief sketch:

“Old Bead Eye claimed to be 130 years old and said he was in the Revolution with George Washington and with a company of Indians helped him to defend this country. He also claimed to have been present with [British Gen. Charles] Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at the close of the war.”

While Bead Eye probably had not been alive for 13 decades, it is possible his story about having fought in the American Revolution was true. Cornwallis handed his sword to Washington at Yorktown, Va. on Oct. 19, 1781. That was 69 years prior to the time a young Kirkpatrick listened to Bead Eye’s stories. (That the chief could speak English is another point in favor of his claim.)

The Texas Society, Sons of the American Revolution, in a list of proven or possible American Revolution veterans buried in Texas says Bead Eye was an Ioni Caddo. However, the chief is listed as not yet totally proven to have fought the British in behalf of the colonists.

The trouble with Bead Eye’s assertion is that the Ioni, a branch of the Caddoan Confederacy, were a Southeast American tribe associated primarily with Louisiana and East Texas. They do not show up in various articles and papers on Indian participation in the war with the British. On the other hand, there is no known evidence to dispute Bead Eye’s claim.

As for Bead Eye’s advanced age, a few genetically and otherwise lucky people do live for a century plus. Gerontologists today refer to those who survive and often still thrive beyond 110 as supercentenarians. The oldest unambiguously documented American life lasted 117 years, with at last count 11 persons in the U.S. currently alive who have seen more than 11 decades of life.

So, Bead Eye could have been a very healthy senior citizen when Kirkpatrick met him, though maybe a mere 100 or so. Still, considering the average lifespan in the 1850s was only 40, Bead Eye was a very old man when he lived in Texas.

The last detail Kirkpatrick offers on the benevolent chief is this:

“He told of his trip from South Carolina to Florida and on to Texas, how they crossed all the large water courses by building large rafts. He certainly had a marvelous time.”

Unfortunately, if Bead Eye indeed played a role in freeing the American colonies from British rule, the young nation did not treat his people particularly well. In 1854, the U.S. Army moved the Caddo and other tribes still in Texas onto a reservation in present Young County. They remained there until 1859, when they were relocated to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

What became of Bead Eye has not been determined, though surely he had passed by the time what remained of his people were moved north of the Red River.

As for the man who saved the chief from total obscurity, Kirkpatrick remained in Hill County for the rest of his life. He died at 81 on April 24, 1917 and is buried at Ridge Park Cemetery in Hillsboro.



© Mike Cox April 9, 2015 column
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