Indians and Early Texans: An Uneasy Coexistence

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Favorable Indian relations were crucial to the Texans who wanted independence from Mexico. If the Indians joined the Mexican cause, the result for the Texas revolt could be disastrous. In an attempt to ensure Indian neutrality, the provisional government of Texas promised to respect the land rights of the Indians in East Texas and establish clear boundaries with the tribes. The government also appointed three commissioners to confer with the Indians, including Sam Houston, an adopted member of the Cherokee Nation.

In February 1836, Houston negotiated a treaty with the Cherokees and other East Texas bands. However, the Convention of 1836 failed to ratify the treaty. The Indians viewed the failure of the treaty as a betrayal, and the threat of war hung over the republic through most of that year.

President Mirabeau B. Lamar, who took office at the end of 1838, had no faith in the Indians' integrity; thus, he believed there was no possibility of peaceful negotiation or co-existence with them. He 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 tribe’s removal to Arkansas Territory. He also deployed about 900 army regulars, volunteers and militia to East Texas.

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On July 15, 1839, several hundred warriors under Cherokee Chief Bowl (also known as Chief Bowles or Duwali) engaged the Texans near present-day Tyler. In the initial battle, the Indians were defeated. The next day, the Texans pursued the retreating adversaries and inflicted more than 100 casualties, Chief Bowl among them. They also burned the Indian villages and chased the inhabitants 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.

Sam Houston was elected again as president in 1841. He began diplomatic initiatives to bring peace to the frontier. In 1843, a grand council held at Bird's Fort with several tribes, including the Cherokees, resulted in a treaty that was ratified by the Texas Senate and signed into law on February 3, 1844.

Tensions with settlers continued to rise, and by the late 1850s the peaceful tribes, for the most part, had moved into Indian Territory. The Comanches and Apaches were still a threat to westward settlement and continued to be so for much of the 19th century.

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Items on display in this exhibit

The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a separate window or tab. The documents are shown here in their entirety so some of the files contain multiple pages.

Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentLetter from Chief Bowl to Sam Houston, August 16, 1836. A.J. Houston collection, 2-22/153, Document #507. Bowl was the principal chief of the Texas Cherokees. He considered Houston a friend and wrote to him in desperation over rumors that the Texas Cherokees were to be exterminated.


Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentLetter from Big Mush to the Committee of Safety, April 13, 1836. A.J. Houston collection, 2-22/151, Document #368. Big Mush was a principal diplomat of the Texas Cherokees. In this letter he defends his tribe against accusations of aggression and states the intent of the Cherokees as a whole is to remain peaceful. The top portion of the letter is in the Cherokee language.


Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentBird's Fort Treaty Ratification Proclamation, 1843. Treaties, Texas Secretary of State, 2-9/35. On March 31, 1843, chiefs of nine tribes accepted an invitation to a grand council to conclude a treaty of peace. They met on September 29, 1843 at Bird's Fort and signed one of the few Indian treaties ratified by the Republic of Texas Senate.


Thumbnail image of the first page of this old handwritten documentLetter from Quanah Parker to Texas Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, July 22, 1909. Governor Campbell records, 301-237. Quanah Parker, a Comanche chief, requests permission to return to Texas and collect the remains of his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker.  

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016