generally don’t give the Cherokees much thought in regards to the
great Indian wars fought in Texas. Popular
history affords them a reputation as a friendly and reasonable tribe.
Compared to more warlike Texas tribes like the Comanche, Apache
and Kiowa, they were.
That doesn’t mean that the Texas Cherokees weren’t divided on major
issues of the day, like whether it was nobler to inflict slings and
arrows on the white settlers or the Mexican soldiers who were fighting
them, or both.
Nor does it mean that the Cherokees weren’t treated in the same shabby
manner as other friendly and hostile tribes alike. Treaties promising
peace and property were invariably broken but promises of removal,
violent or otherwise, were promptly carried out.
The great Cherokee
chief Duwali (or Chief
Bowl or Bowles as he is often referred) led a band of what would
come to be known as the Texas Cherokees across the Red River in the
early 1820s. They settled along the banks of the Sabine,
and Angelina rivers in East
Texas, welcomed by Mexico
as a buffer against white settlement.
The presence and prominence of Sam
Houston, an adopted Cherokee, boosted the tribe's early dealings
with the Anglo settlers. When Mirabeau
Lamar succeeded Houston as president of the Republic, relations
between the Cherokees and Texas changed
in a hurry.
Lamar suspected Duwali and the tribe of doing what they were actually
doing, which was promising allegiance to both Texas
For his part, Duwali tended to side with the Texans, believing that
Houston would see to it that a treaty of 1836 setting aside land for
the tribe would eventually be honored; it wasn’t.
Many of the younger warriors thought Duwali was the Cherokee equivalent
of an old fuddy duddy. This more militant faction was all for throwing
in with the Mexicans and getting rid of the upstart Texans once and
for all. A certain number of these Cherokees did join forces with
the Mexicans and with other tribes to fight the Anglos.
Lamar didn’t understand the intricacies of Cherokee custom, which
allowed not only for dissent but for what Lamar called disobedience
and the Cherokees viewed as respect for the individual; if the warriors
wanted to go off and fight with Mexico,
Cherokee custom allowed them to do so.
After the Battle
of San Jacinto, Mexico mounted various insurgencies, hoping to
recruit the Indians to drive the settlers out before the victory at
San Jacinto could be consolidated.
As part of the insurgency, Mexico
sent Manuel Flores to Texas to
enlist the aid of the Cherokees and other tribes in an armed rebellion
against the Anglos. Flores carried with him a packet of communications
that offered land and other perks in exchange for military support
against the Texans.
Flores’ contingent was overtaken at the San
Gabriel River by rangers under the command of Lieutenant James
O. Rice, who laid hands on the communications and sent them to
Edward Burleson, commander of the First Texas Infantry, and Albert
Sidney Johnson, Texas secretary of war.
Though Flores probably never communicated with Duwali or any of the
other tribes, the communications provided further evidence to Lamar
that the Cherokees planned to take up arms against the Republic. He
sent an armed delegation to Duwali’s village with an offer to leave
under conditions set forth by the Republic or be destroyed.
General Thomas J. Rusk met with Duwali, Shawnee chief Spy
Buck and others on June 10, 1839, to assert Republic’s dim view
of the Cherokees while outlining, in grim detail, how the Republic
intended to deal with the tribe.
“We do not wish to injure you now,” Rusk told the delegates. “You
are between two fires (and) if you stay you will be destroyed.”
The Cherokees wanted some kind of consideration in the matter but
little was offered. With the devil in the details, no formal agreement
was reached. The Cherokees stalled for time and were gone when Texas
soldiers rode into the camp to carry out the promise of violent removal.
A regiment under the command of Gen. Kelsey H. Douglas pursued the
Cherokees, who attacked Douglas’ soldiers and killed two but lost
18 of their own warriors.
Duwali mustered more than 500 warriors by enlisting Delawares,
Shawnees and Kickapoos to the cause but it wasn’t enough.
More than 100 Cherokees, including 83-year old Duwali, were killed
in the Battle
of Neches on July 16, 1839.
During roughly the same time this was happening in Texas,
between 16,000 and 18,000 Cherokees were marched to Indian Territory
from their ancestral homes in North Carolina and Tennessee. More than
4,000 died on the march, which came to be known as The Trail of
Most of the surviving Texas Cherokees were removed to Indian Territory
where the arrival of another destitute tribe was not a cause for celebration.
A few ragged bands of Cherokees stayed behind in Texas,
and others took to conducting raids against the whites, using the
reservation as a base of operations. A few fled to Texas
during the Civil War but mostly the Cherokees faded into a smoky corner
of the state’s history.
For more than 100 years after their expulsion from Texas,
the Cherokees have lobbied for compensation for the lands that were
taken from them, citing the 1836 Treaty as part of their case. The
request has been denied each time it has come up in court, most recently
in 1964 when state attorney general Wagonner Carr denied the validity
of any claim against the state, ruling that the state was not liable
for claims against the Republic
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
16, 2009 Column