Reservations in Texas Alabama-Coushatta chiefs in 1936

In the more settled east and north-central parts of the state, the remaining Indians were generally peaceful, but they were unhappily hemmed in by white settlers and other tribes. The different cultures living closely to each other brought renewed of violence to these areas. As in other parts of the United States, the decision to create separate lands, or reservations, seemed like an obvious solution.

When Texas was annexed to the United States, it retained control of its public lands. As a result, the Texas Legislature had the authority to set aside land for Indian reservations. Under the so-called "Location Bill," the legislature set aside twelve leagues of land for the use of the United States government for Indian reservations. These lands would revert to Texas when no longer needed for use by the Indians. Explorer and Army officer Randolph Marcy teamed up with Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors to locate and survey northwest Texas for suitable sites for these reservations.

Two major Indian reservations were built as a result of the Location Bill (a third was planned for the Apaches but never built). The Brazos County Indian Reservation was located below Fort Belknap near present-day Graham. About 2000 Indians moved to the reservation, including Caddo, Anadarko, Waco, and Tonkawa. One of the main motives for these Indians in taking up reservation life was to gain protection from the Comanches. The Indians raised corn, wheat, vegetables, and melons and lived at peace with most of their white neighbors. However, some whites were implacably hostile, going so far as to publish a newspaper called White Man to whip up hatred against the Indians. By 1858, the Brazos agency was on the verge of an explosion.

The Comanche Indian Reservation, sometimes called the Clear Fork reservation, was located about forty miles away. About 450 Penateka Comanches agreed to settle in the area. The reservation lands had good hunting. Farming was not part of the Comanche culture, but they agreed to learn. Their first crops were a surprising success, producing corn, melons, beans, peas, pumpkins, and vegetables. But the Comanches too faced hostility from neighboring whites, as well as many temptations to leave the reservation and return to their old raiding way of life. The hardships of reservation life, including drought and grasshoppers, soured the Comanches on farming, and a large number returned to the plains.

In a separate effort, the Alabama-Coushatta, unique among Texas tribes in their ability to maintain peace with whites, moved to a reservation in Polk County. These people managed to avoid becoming involved in the warfare that was about to engulf their fellow Texas Indians.

General George Brooke to Governor Peter Bell, 1850

General Brooke to Governor Bell, 1850

Peter Hansborough Bell was an experienced frontiersman and soldier when he became governor in 1849. His election helped inspire Texans to continue to push past the frontier, then protected by a string of Army forts from Fort Worth to Eagle Pass. In this letter, U.S. Army commander George M. Brooke updates Bell on a new federal treaty. As Brooke mentions, the government had now agreed to take on responsibility for supporting the Indians. The days of Indian freedom were drawing to a close.

 


Records of Peter Hansborough Bell, Texas Office of the Governor, December 26, 1850.

 

"The Wishes of Their Great Father"

Most white Texans had grown to feel that peace between whites and Indians depended on the Indians being settled on reservations, where they would live separate lives from whites. The Texas legislature set aside twelve leagues, or approximately 70,000 acres, for Indian reservations in northwest Texas. Randolph Marcy and Robert S. Neighbors conducted an extensive exploration of the area and reported back on the most likely sites for the reservations.


Texas Indian Papers Volume 3, #125. Report of Randolph Marcy and Robert S. Neighbors to Peter Hansborough Bell, September 30, 1854.

Marcy-Neighbors report, 1854
Neighbors to Pease, 1854

"To Entirely Relieve Our State From Indian Depredations"

The high hopes for Indian reservations as a means to peace are shown in this letter from Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors. Over the next few years, Neighbors made a heroic effort to make the reservation experiment a success. He never faltered in his efforts to protect the Indians and hold the white people back from the Indian settlements.


Texas Indian Papers Volume 3, #126. Letter from Robert S. Neighbors to Governor Pease, December 7, 1854.

John R. Baylor to Robert S. Neighbors, 1855

John R. Baylor had been a farmer, rancher, and schoolteacher in Fayette County near La Grange. He had also served in various militia companies and once been charged as an accomplice in the murder of an Indian trader. Baylor became involved in politics in the 1850s, and in 1855 he was appointed Indian agent to the Comanches at the Clear Fork reservation. Almost at once, Baylor began to feud with the Comanches and with his supervisor, Robert S. Neighbors. He was discharged in 1857 but was destined to play a fateful role in the expulsion of the Indians from Texas.


Texas Indian Papers Volume 3, #153. Letter from John R. Baylor to Robert S. Neighbors, October 7, 1855.

John R. Baylor to Robert S. Neighbors, 1855

Hardin R. Runnels to John Barclay, 1858

The Alabamas and Coushattas Settle in Polk County, 1858

In a rare act of generosity towards Indians, President Mirabeau B. Lamar had granted the Alabamas and Coushattas their own land in 1840. However, for various reasons, the grants never became effective. In 1853, Chief Antone and other leaders petitioned the federal government for a reservation. They received land in Polk County and settled there the following winter. In 1859, they were joined by their close relatives, the Coushattas. With the help of their agent James Barclay they resisted efforts to move them to a dreary tract of land on the Brazos County Reservation.

 


Records of Hardin R. Runnels, Texas Office of the Governor, July 7, 1858.


In This Section: The Army and Frontier Defense -Reservations in Texas -
"Necessity Knows No Law" - Frontier Defense in the Civil War
Next Section - Table of Contents - HOME

Page last modified: September 30, 2011