The Army and Frontier Defense

John O. Meusbach and the Comanche Indians, 1847In 1846, Texas was annexed by the United States, becoming the twenty-eighth state in the Union. The change in government had a major impact on Indian affairs in Texas. Now, the federal government was legally responsible for negotiating with the Indian tribes and for protecting the Texas frontier.

This time of transition was a disappointment to both Texans and Indians. For the first two years of statehood, the Mexican War drained away both U.S. Army troops and Texas state regiments from the frontier, leaving the settlers more exposed to Indian raiding.

Governor J. Pinckney Henderson took personal command of Texas troops in the war, so the settlers petitioned Lieutenant Governor Albert C. Horton for help. Horton managed to muster five companies of mounted state rangers for frontier service. However, frontier defense would be a problem for years to come. In spite of the risks, settlers continued to press into the traditional Comanche range, putting themselves in harm's way and beyond the reach of those few troops assigned to protect them.

For the Indians, the Army presence in Texas was at first so small as to mean little change to their way of life. With the end of the Mexican War in 1848, the U.S. struggled to meet its military commitment to the Texas frontier. The forts in the "Department of Texas" were poorly staffed and supplied. By the summer of 1854, only 2886 soldiers were stationed in Texas, many of them on perpetual sick call. This small force could do little to stop the Indians from doing as they had always done, raiding settlements both in Texas and across the border in Mexico. But Texan complaints about the size of the force met with an unsympathetic hearing in Washington. Small though it seemed in the vastness of Texas, the U.S. military commitment to Texas represented about one-fourth of the entire U.S. Army in the 1850s.

Diplomacy also continued during this period, with federal agents holding councils with Indian leaders similar to the meetings that preserved the peace during Sam Houston's presidency. A severe clash of cultures prevented the meetings from being very productive. To the Americans, it seemed that the Indians had difficulty keeping promises. The Indians lived in bands, and when one band of Comanches or some other tribe would "touch the pen," their promise to cease raiding had no effect on other bands. The Indians felt the same about the Americans. For example, the Indians might agree to cease raiding in exchange for food, supplies, and trade goods, but often the promised goods never arrived.

On the surface, it seemed that not much had changed. For the time being, the Comanches and their allies still owned the plains. But the Indians were acutely aware that U.S. expansion had already forced many tribes onto reservations in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Now they feared it was their turn. The impact of statehood was felt during the Gold Rush, when Texas became a major route to California. The Forty-Niners didn't stay long in the state, but they brought cholera to the plains and began the slaughter of the southern buffalo herd. The way west now passed straight through Comanche territory.

Henderson to B.L. Beall, 1846

German Emigration, 1846

In the early 1840s, an organization in Germany called the Adelsverein began a project to transport thousands of German immigrants to Texas. By 1847, over 7000 Germans had reached Texas, many of them settling in New Braunfels, a town in the rugged Hill Country on the edge of the Indian frontier . This letter refers to the founding of a new settlement at Fredericksburg. One of the German leaders, John O. Meusebach, negotiated a treaty for the Germans with the Comanches in 1847. This treaty was one of the most important works ever undertaken by a Texas pioneer. It opened over three million acres of land to white settlement.

 


Records of J. Pinckney Henderson, Texas Office of the Governor, April 13, 1846.

 

"The Blow Might Be Struck Against Austin"

The Mexican War (1846-1848) drained troops away from the frontier. In this letter, Acting Governor Albert C. Horton writes to U.S. Army Colonel William S. Harney, expressing concern that both San Antonio and Austin had been left exposed to attack. Henderson notes: "The loss of the Archives would of course be irrepairable, and ruinous to the State."


Records of J. Pinckney Henderson, Texas Office of the Governor, June 27, 1846.

Horton to W.S. Harney, 1846
Horton to Fauntleroy, 1846

Mounted Rangers on the Frontier, 1846

During the Mexican War, Governor Henderson and Acting Governor Horton authorized ranging companies to protect the Texas frontier. Some of these companies continued to operate after the war, though the federal government assumed most of the responsibility for frontier defense.


Records of J. Pinckney Henderson, Texas Office of the Governor, July 31, 1846.

"I Will Not Speak to You of the Injustice"

Through the period of early Texas statehood, Texas clashed with the federal government over frontier protection. In this early example, Acting Governor Horton complains to U.S. Secretary of War William Marcy that Texas had raised five companies of rangers at considerable expense, only to be told by the Army that they were not needed after all.


Records of J. Pinckney Henderson, Texas Office of the Governor, August 8, 1846.

Horton to Marcy, 1846

Petition from Limestone County, 1849

Limestone County Petition, 1849

These citizens of Limestone County complained of Caddo, Hainai (Ioni), Anadarko, and Delaware Indians stealing horses, killing livestock, and "burning the praries woods and etc." They asked Governor Peter H. Bell to compel the Army to remove the Indians beyond the line of settlement. Limestone County is in Central Texas east of present-day Waco.

 


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 3, #86. Petition from the Citizens of Limestone County to P.H. Bell, December 25, 1849.


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