Mirabeau B. Lamar, Presidential Address on the Protection of the Frontier, February 28, 1839

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During the years of Spanish and Mexican rule of Texas, bands of Indians, especially the Apaches and the Comanches, staged constant raids against the scattered settlements on the frontier. At the same time, Indian tribes from the eastern United States, including the Alabama, Coushatta, Shawnee, Delaware, Creek, and Cherokee, moved into Texas as they were pushed westward by white expansion and U.S. Indian removal policies. Their arrival coincided with the years of Anglo-American immigration and the conflict that culminated in the Texas Revolution.

After the revolution, Texas' initial Indian policy was set by Sam Houston, who had spent years of his life living with the Cherokees and had for several years been married to a Cherokee woman. Houston was sympathetic to the Indians. He negotiated a treaty to set aside a large reservation in east Texas for the use of the eastern tribes, but the treaty was never ratified by the Texas Congress. The late 1830s saw incident after incident of armed conflict, murder, and atrocities between white settlers and the eastern tribes. By the time Mirabeau B. Lamar became president in December 1838, most white Texans had had enough. They agreed with Lamar's view that there was no possibility of peaceful coexistence with the Indians.

Lamar was determined to throw the Cherokees and other eastern tribes out of Texas. In what became known as the Cherokee War, the Texans attacked the Cherokees, destroyed their crops and villages, and chased them north of the Red River into present-day Oklahoma. Rather than be destroyed, many of the other tribes -- Caddo, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Delaware, and others -- accepted military escort out of the country. With a few exceptions, Lamar succeeded in his policy to rid east Texas of the Indian refugee tribes.

In the meantime, the Comanches waged unrelenting warfare against the western frontier. Lamar's secretary of war, Albert Sidney Johnston, invited the Comanches to a negotiation in San Antonio in 1840. The Comanches were to bring their white captives to the Council House, a traditional place for negotiation. The captives would be turned over to the Texans, who would then negotiate a land treaty with the Indians. The Comanches showed up with only one captive, a horribly burned teenage girl. The Texans announced that they would hold the entire delegation of twelve Comanche negotiators hostage until all white captives were delivered. The Comanches decided to fight their way out of the Council House. Warriors outside in the streets of San Antonio joined in, and in the melee 35 Comanches and 7 whites were killed, 29 Comanche women and children were taken prisoner, and over 100 horses were captured by the whites. In retaliation, the Comanches sacked Victoria, Linnville, and other towns on the Texas coast. On their return to their own territory, the Comanches were themselves attacked by militia and defeated at the battle of Plum Creek.

Bloody raids on both sides continued for the rest of Lamar's administration. When Sam Houston returned to office in 1841, he attempted to negotiate with the Comanches, but his efforts were unsuccessful. In the end, it took the combination of disease, the destruction of the buffalo, and the ruthless efforts of the U.S. Army after the Civil War to finally defeat the fearsome tribe. The last major battle with the Comanches took place at Adobe Walls in 1874. By the following year, the remnants of the tribe had surrendered at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

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Lamar address on the protection of the frontier, 1839

The President's Address
Calling for Volunteers for the
protection of the Frontiers.

Executive Department

Houston February 28th 1839.

Fellow Citizens

            I am forced by the suf
fering conditions of our North Western
frontier, to make an appeal to your
valor and patriotism, which have never
been appealed to invain [sic]. The fierce and
perfidious savages are waging upon our
exposed and defenceless inhabitants, an un-
provoked and cruel warfare, masacreing [sic]
the women and children, and threatning [sic]
the whole line of our unprotected borders
with speedy desolation. All that a brave
and energetic people could achieve for their
own safety has been nobly done. They
have met their enemies with unflinching
hearts, and have borne their trials and
reverses with a fortitude equaled only
by their heroism. But their population,
thinned by repeated and continued losses,
are no longer able to sustain themselves.

Mirabeau B. Lamar, Presidential Address on the Protection of the Frontier, February 28, 1839. Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers #361, pages 118-121. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: August 19, 2011