historical figures are as tragic as Chief Bowles, the 83-year-old Cherokee Indian
chief who died on a Neches
River battlefield near Tyler
164 years ago this month.|
of the Neches, fought on July 15 and 16, 1839, was the principal engagement
of the Cherokee War, an event discolored by shame akin to the Trail
of Tears, the forced march of the Cherokees
from their homeland in the Southeast to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1839.
-- also known as The Bowl, Duwal'li, or Bold Hunter -- was born in North Carolina
around 1765, the son of a Scottish father and a Cherokee
As the leader of a village, he led his people from North Carolina
to the St. Francis Valley in Missouri in 1810 to escape growing pressures of white
settlers in the South. He later led the tribe to Arkansas and then into East
February of 1836, when Texas revolted against Mexico,
Sam Houston negotiated a treaty
with the chief that would guarantee the Cherokees
possession of 1.5 million acres of land in East
But after the Texas Revolution, the Senate of the Republic
of Texas invalidated the treaty because the Cherokees
had been briefly allied with Mexico
in an effort to secure their lands in East
Texas before the revolution. Indian and Mexican attacks on settlers in East
Texas also complicated the Cherokees'
When Mirabeau B. Lamar replaced Houston
as president of the Republic, he ordered Bowles and his people to leave Texas.
Negotiations failed and Bowles put the question to the Cherokees,
as well as other tribes sharing the lands.
Would they stand together
in an effort to hold their land? The decision was made to fight.
Lamar sent his troops to the Neches River
and the first day's battle
was fought in what is now Henderson County. The second day's fighting occurred
in what is now Van Zandt County.
The Texan Army numbered only 500, compared
to 700 to 800 Indians, but Bowles' warriors were routed, and pursuit continued
until July 24. The old chief, wearing a handsome sword and sash given him by Sam
Houston, remained in the field on horseback for two days. On the last day, he
signaled retreat, but few of his men were left to flee. Bowles was shot in the
leg and his horse was wounded. As he climbed from his mount, he was shot in the
As the Texas militia approached him, he sat down, crossed his arms
and legs facing the soldiers, and waited for his death. The captain of the militia
walked to where Bowles sat, placed a pistol to his head, and killed him. The Texans
took stripes of skin from his arm as souvenirs. His body was left where it lay.
No burial ever took place.
battle of the Neches was the largest single massacre in East
Texas with more than 800 men, women and children of the associated tribes
killed. While a state historical marker stands on the battleground, no funeral
was held for Chief Bowles until 1995 -- the 156th anniversary of his death --
when descendants of the tribe met to honor the chief and those who died with him.
Today, the American Indian Heritage Center is raising money to purchase 70
acres of the 1.5 million acres promised to the Cherokees
and other tribes in the l830s as a memorial to the old chief and his people.
July 4, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
Published with permission
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association.
Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of
30 books on East Texas history and folklore.