The Republic of Texas and the Cherokee Indians

The Republic of Texas and the Comanche Indians

With the new standards recently adopted by the Texas Board of Education which appear to emphasize the historical accomplishments of English-speaking Christians, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the forgotten (or at least ignored) history of Texas: the relationship between the short-lived Republic of Texas and some of the Indian nations within its territory.

The Republic of Texas came into being in 1836 after breaking away from Mexico. Then a decade later Texas joined the United States as a state. The interactions between the Republic of Texas and the Indian nations within the region were not always honorable.

With the election of Mirabau B. Lamar as President of the Republic in 1838, Texas openly advocated the expulsion of all Indians from the new republic.   President Mirabau B. Lamar addressed the Texas Congress:

“The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together. Nature forbids it.” His solution: “It is to push a rigorous war against them to their hiding places without mitigation or compassion.”

This is the way the Handbook of Texas Online describes Lamar’s Indian policy:

For Houston’s conciliatory Indian policy, Lamar substituted one of sternness and force. The Cherokees were driven to Arkansas in 1839; in 1840 a campaign against the Comanches quieted the western Indians in the west at a cost of $2.5 million.…

This diary focuses on the Republic of Texas and the Cherokee Indians.  

The Texas Cherokee:

The Cherokee homeland is not in Texas, but in the Southeast, in what are now Georgia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee. Following the Revolutionary War, the American government and the government of the state of Georgia sought to remove the Cherokee and other Indians from the United States. As early as 1782, some Cherokee began to look for a new homeland outside of U.S. jurisdiction. They applied to the Spanish governor of the Louisiana Territory for permission to resettle west of the Mississippi River.

In 1785, some of the Cherokee began to move into Spanish territory. One group under the leadership of Konnetue settled on a tract of land given to them by the Spanish King. By 1786, Cherokee hunters from Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina were regularly hunting in Spanish-controlled territory.

In 1786 another group of Cherokee moved to Spanish territory. The Spanish government approved the establishment of six Cherokee villages along the Saint Francis River in what is now Arkansas and Missouri.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed a secret compact with Georgia in which the state of Georgia relinquished its claims to land in Mississippi and Alabama. In exchange, the United States vowed to extinguish title to Cherokee lands in western Georgia. The Cherokee were neither consulted nor informed.

The following year, the United States purchased the right to govern the Louisiana Territory. The Cherokee who had immigrated east of the Mississippi to escape American restrictions found themselves under American law once again. Meriwether Lewis reported more than 1,000 Cherokee living in Missouri in 1804.

By 1818 one band of Cherokee under the leadership of Bowle (also spelled as The Bowl, Bowles, and Duwala) had settled on the east side of the Red River in Arkansas. The following year Bowle led a group of about 300 Cherokee to Texas where they established a settlement near the present-day city of Dallas. Bowle was angry at having been told to leave Arkansas and was seeking to escape the jurisdiction of the United States. Soon after the move, Richard Fields was chosen to replace Bowle as the principal leader.  

Spain granted citizenship to the Indians of Mexico in 1820. This included what would later become Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and California.

In 1822, the Cherokee under the leadership of Richard Fields met with the provincial governor in San Antonio and signed a treaty. Under the treaty, the Cherokee were granted the right to reside in Texas. Richard Fields moved the Cherokee settlement from a location near present-day Dallas to a forested area in east Texas north of the Spanish fort of Nacogdoches. The Cherokee moved because of continuing conflicts with the Plains tribes which resulted in the deaths of nearly one-third of their warriors.

In 1827, Cherokee leaders Bowle and Big Mush conspired to kill Chief Richard Fields. While Fields had worked hard for his people he had tried to lead them in a political direction they did not wish to go.

The Cherokee  continued their efforts to obtain a land grant. In 1833, the Mexican governor of Texas issued the order for a title for a Cherokee land grant, but he died before the order could be carried out. The Cherokee continued to press for title, but the Indian agent persuaded the Mexican government not to give them title to land in east Texas, but instead to settle them in the west where they could act as a buffer against the Plains tribes.

At this time (1833) there were about 800 Cherokee living in Texas. Many were prosperous farmers and stockgrowers. Most of the adults were able to read and write in English and/or Cherokee.

The Republic of Texas:

With the creation of an independent Republic of Texas the Cherokee quest for a Mexican land title became moot. The Texans originally vowed friendship with the Cherokee. The Texans issued a declaration recognizing the Cherokee land claims in east Texas and vowing friendship with them.

The Texas provisional government met in council with the Cherokee under the leadership of Bowle. A formal treaty was negotiated and was signed by Texas leader Sam Houston and others. However, the treaty generated great dissatisfaction among many Texans and was not presented to the provisional convention for ratification.

In 1837, Sam Houston again met with the Cherokee to sign a treaty of friendship and trade with the new Texas government. The treaty recognized Cherokee title to the lands in east Texas which were claimed by the tribe. The treaty was signed by Bowle, Big Mush, and six others. Houston then presented Bowle with a sword, a silk vest, a sash, and a military hat. Bowle responded by declaring Houston to be a chief among the Cherokee. Houston was then presented with Bowle’s daughter for a wife.  

While Sam Houston may have been friendly with the Cherokee, the rest of Texas was not. The Texas Senate met in secret session and rejected the treaty with the Cherokee in spite of Sam Houston’s efforts on their behalf.

In spite of their refusal to acknowledge the treaty with the Cherokee, Texas still turned to the Cherokee as allies and friends in their conflict with the Comanche.  In 1837, Cherokee chief Bowle was commissioned by the government of Texas to visit the Comanche and assess the potential for peace. Following Bowle’s report, Texas President David G. Burnet, who had lived with the Comanche, sent a representative to negotiate a peace treaty with the northern Comanche bands, but the bands refused to enter into a treaty agreement.

In 1829, letters from the Mexican government to Chief Bowle were intercepted by the Texas government. In the letter, the Mexicans promised the Cherokee land in exchange for raiding Texas settlements. While there was no indication that the Cherokee had known about the offer or had encouraged it, an enraged President Mirabau Buonaparte Lamar publicly vowed to eject the Cherokee from Texas. Lamar wrote to the Cherokee:

“The Cherokee will never be permitted to establish a permanent and independent jurisdiction within the inhabited limits of this Government.”

The Texans offered the Cherokee $25,000 for their improvements, goods, crops, and other property. The Cherokee refused the offer which would require that they give up their guns and leave Texas under military escort as prisoners.

Texas moved militarily against the Cherokee, killing 100 Cherokee and Chief Bowle in the first day of fighting. Chief Bowle was eighty years old and he rode into battle wearing a Mexican army hat and carrying a sword that had been presented to him by Sam Houston. His body was scalped, mutilated, and left to rot unburied. The Texans killed 55 Cherokee and wounded another 80. The militia followed the survivors, cutting down Indian cornfields and burning Indian houses.

Some of the Cherokee who escaped fled to the Mexican state of Coahuila where they established a village.


Texas joined the United States on the condition that Texas was for Texans: Indians were not welcome in the new state. The United States federal government was to assume responsibility for the Indians, while the new state of Texas reserved all rights to “public” lands (those lands which had been Indian lands). Indians were to be removed to Oklahoma.  

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