"The Raven"

Sam HoustonSam Houston became the first president of the Republic of Texas on October 22, 1836. Houston had a unique relationship with American Indians. As a teenager in Tennessee, he had run away from home and lived for several years with the Cherokees. Houston was adopted by Chief Oolooteka and given the name Colonneh, or "The Raven." Houston developed a deep attachment to the tribe that continued even after he returned to the white world, where he became a successful military officer and protégé of Andrew Jackson. Houston served in Congress and, in 1827, was elected Governor of Tennessee.

In 1829, Houston's first marriage collapsed. The failure and scandal rocked him to the core, and he resigned his office and fled to Indian Territory. For the next three years, he lived once more among the Cherokees, who helped nurse him through this period of heartbreak and acute alcoholism. He married a Cherokee woman named Diana Rogers Gentry, became a Cherokee citizen and became actively involved in peacekeeping, trade, and other tribal affairs. (Visit Portraits of Texas Governors for a picture of Houston in Cherokee garb.) In late 1832, he left Oklahoma for Texas. Though he never lived with the Cherokees again, he spent much of his career trying to promote peaceful and moderate policies towards American Indians.

During his first term as president, Houston held conferences with Indian leaders in an attempt to address past grievances and establish new trust. He appointed agents to deal with the tribes and to run government trading houses. Though Houston pulled back surveyors and military companies from the frontier, he authorized a new force of 280 mounted riflemen to enforce the trade laws and deal fairly with both sides, removing white trespassers and arresting Indian raiders.

However, Houston's forces were unable to keep peace between whites and Indians. Many Texans refused to wait for Houston's policy to work and demanded that the Indians be removed from Texas. Much of the white discontent stemmed from raids by the Comanches. Houston sent the Cherokee chief Bowl to act as his intermediary to negotiate with the Comanches, but Bowl had no success. On August 10, 1838, Colonel Henry Karnes and a contingent of 21 men defeated a force of 200 Comanches at Arroyo Seco.

Whites and Indians were competing for the same land in East Texas. Around the same time as Karnes's fight, a Mexican-led uprising at Nacogdoches involved more than 300 Indians. In October 1838, violence erupted again in East Texas, when an estimated 300 Kickapoos and others attacked a surveying party and killed eighteen whites. Thomas Jefferson Rusk, head of the Texas militia, attacked both the Kickapoos and the Caddos in retaliation. By the time Houston's term ended on December 22, 1838, a majority of white Texans were ready for a drastic change in Indian policy.

Houston Speeches to Congress

Messages to Congress:
The Raven Speaks

Houston advocated a policy of fairness and friendship toward the Indians because "natural reason will teach them the utility of our friendship," he explained in his 1836 presidential inaugural address. He believed Indians, as rational human beings, would find it in their best interests to maintain peace with Texans.

 


House Journals. First, Second, and Third Congresses of the Republic of Texas.

"They Are Steelen and Killen All Our Stock"

Washington H. Secrest, a scout and cavalry soldier, reported to Houston that the Caddos, apparently upset about wrongs done them under a United States treaty, were taking their revenge on Texans.


Texas Indian Papers Volume 1, #12. W.H. Secrest to Sam Houston, March 1, 1837.

Secrest to Houston, 1837
Bean to Houston, 1837

"They Ware A-Comin' In and Killing His Buffalo"

In this letter, Peter Ellis Bean, a colorful Texas character and former Mexican Indian agent, reports on the mission of Chief Bowl of the Cherokees, who traveled as an emissary to the Comanches. The Comanches rejected Bowl, telling him that there could be no peace with the Texans who encroached on the tribe's hunting grounds. At this time, buffalo roamed the western and central plains of Texas in large numbers, sometimes leaving trails several miles wide.

 


Andrew Jackson Houston Papers #1047. P.E. Bean to Sam Houston, May 6, 1837.

Thomas J. Rusk Urges Bowl to Keep the Peace, 1838

Late in Houston's first term of office, several of his officials began to bypass him and make Indian policy on their own. One of these was Thomas J. Rusk, former Secretary of War and a major-general in the Texas militia. Rusk suspected that the Cherokees were involved in a joint Mexican-Indian uprising in the Nacogdoches area. In this letter, Rusk warns the Cherokee chief by detailing the attack he led four days earlier against the Kickapoo village.


Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers #839. Thomas J. Rusk to Chief Bowl, October 20, 1838.

Thomas J. Rusk to Bowl, 1838

McLeod to Lamar, 1838

Renewal of Mexican and Indian Hostilities, 1838

Hugh McLeod was adjutant general in the Army of the Republic of Texas. In this letter to incoming president Mirabeau B. Lamar, he discusses the dissatisfaction with Houston's peace policy and the fighting taking place in East Texas.


Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers #846. Hugh McLeod to Mirabeau B. Lamar, October 22, 1838.


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Page last modified: September 21, 2011