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Expulsion of the Cherokees

Mirabeau B. Lamar

President Mirabeau B. Lamar, Prints and Photographs Collection, 1987/097-1

President Mirabeau B. Lamar, who took office at the end of 1838, had a very different attitude towards Indians than did Sam Houston. Lamar believed that the Indians had no integrity; thus, there was no possibility of peaceful negotiation or co-existence. The only solution to the violent clashes between whites and Indians was to rid Texas of the Indians--permanently.

Lamar spoke for the majority of white Texans, who had wearied of Sam Houston's peace efforts. Houston had achieved little cooperation with the Texas Congress, which ratified almost none of his treaties. By contrast, Congress was quick to pass Lamar's frontier defense bills and appropriated more than a million dollars to pay for troops, military roads, and forts.

Relations with the Cherokees were the first to come to a boil. Lamar hoped to convince the Cherokees to leave Texas peacefully, but he made it clear that if they did not leave, they would face unmerciful military action. Lamar sent a commission of leading hard-liners, including David G. Burnet, Thomas J. Rusk, and Albert Sidney Johnston, to negotiate the removal of the tribe to the Arkansas territory. He also deployed about 900 army regulars, volunteers, and militia to East Texas.

Fearful of being attacked, the Cherokees retreated to a fortified Delaware village near Camp Jackson. On July 15, 1839, several hundred warriors under Chief Bowl engaged the Texans near present-day Tyler. In the initial battle, the Indians were defeated, losing eighteen men to the Texans' three. The next day, the Texans pursued the retreating Indians and inflicted more than 100 casualties, Chief Bowl among them. They also burned the Indian villages and chased the Indians across the Red River into neighboring Indian Territory (Oklahoma). In the aftermath, many of the weaker or more peaceful tribes in East Texas were also forced to relocate.

Lamar message to Congress, 1838

Lamar Declares, "No Compromise," 1838

Most Texans agreed with Lamar that Indians and whites could not live together as neighbors. Lamar instituted a hard-line policy that he hoped would result in the expulsion or extermination of Indians from Texas.


House Journal, Third Congress of the Republic of Texas.


"The Cherokee Can No Longer Remain Among Us"

In this letter to Shawnee chief John Linney, Lamar denounces the Cherokee alliance with the Mexicans and urges the Shawnees to remain neutral in the event of war. The Shawnees kept the peace but were eventually forced to leave Texas, though they received some compensation for the crops and property they were forced to leave behind.

Texas Indian Papers Volume 1, #35. Mirabeau B. Lamar to John Linney, May 1839.

Lamar to Linney, 1839
Lamar to Burnet, et al, 1939

Lamar Orders the Cherokee Removal, 1839

After discovering evidence of a Mexican plot to ally with the Indians to overthrow the Republic of Texas, Lamar abandoned any efforts to find a peaceful solution. He sent troops to occupy the Neches Saline area and notified Chief Bowl that his people would be removed beyond the Red River, by force if necessary. The Cherokees decided to fight.

Texas Indian Papers Volume 1, #36. Mirabeau B. Lamar to David G. Burnet, Albert Sidney Johnston, Thomas J. Rusk, I.W. Burton, and James S. Mayfield; June 27, 1839.

Kelsey Douglass to Secretary of War Albert Sidney Johnston, 1839

In July 1839, Texas congressman Kelsey H. Douglass was put in command of approximately 500 troops and ordered to remove the Indians to Arkansas Territory. On July 15, the final peace negotiations failed, and Douglass marched on the Cherokee village.

Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers # 1373. Kelsey Douglass to Albert Sidney Johnston, July 17, 1839.

Douglass to Johnston, 1839

Stubblefield to Lipscomb, 1840

Relocation of the Alabamas and Coushattas, 1840

The defeat and expulsion of the Cherokees changed life for many other tribes in Texas. By 1841, East Texas was almost entirely cleared of Indians. The Alabamas and Coushattas were exceptions. A peaceful tribe who had aided the Texans during the Runaway Scrape, they were granted two leagues of land along the Trinity River.


Texas Indian Papers Volume 1, #94. Thomas G. Stubblefield to Secretary of State Abner L. Lipscomb, November 2, 1840.

In This Section: Expulsion of the Cherokees -The Comanche War -
Treaty Negotiations - Trade
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