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
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.”
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
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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