CHEROKEE INDIANS (Extract from the Handbook of Texas Online article Indians.)

Ethnologists have identified hundreds of groups of Texas "Indians," as the first European explorers to arrive called the peoples they found. Some of these were true tribes, accumulations of families or clans with social customs, traditions, and rules for order; these were occasionally quite large. At the opposite extreme, some were merely small family groups whose names or ethnic designations were taken for "tribal" names by the Spanish and French and in subsequent secondary literature. The extant names of Texas Indian groups present a dazzling array of variants, partly because the Spanish, French, and English heard the newly "discovered" peoples differently and recorded their names differently. Some names in the historical records are mistakes for groups that never existed.

Spanish period. The variety of the peoples and cultures whom Europeans first found in Texas and the different histories of each group make generalizations about Indians hazardous. Texas was not simply a Spanish-Indian or Anglo-Indian frontier, but rather a multisided frontier, a Spanish-Anglo-Comanche-Wichita-Apache-etc. frontier, where multiple groups acted for their own reasons. A few generalizations, however, apply to all Texas Indian groups. First, diseases introduced by the Europeans decimated them, especially after mission and military institutions brought people in contact so that they could be infected (see HEALTH AND MEDICINE). More broadly, anthropologist John C. Ewers has identified no fewer than thirty major epidemics-mainly of smallpox and cholera-between 1528 and 1890 that wiped out perhaps 95 percent of Texas Indians.

Texas also became a "horse-and-gun" frontier for Indians located between competing European powers. French and English traders from the East introduced firearms to the Indians in order to purchase peltry from them and win them as allies in both trade and war. The Spanish introduced horses. Groups able to obtain these two important items had a powerful advantage over others. The introduction of the horse, especially, produced nothing less than a cultural, technological, and economic revolution, enabling groups to move their habitats, intensify their raiding and trading activities, and hunt buffaloqv more effectively. When the French gun trade met the Spanish horse trade in the late 1600s, the situation impelled the Spanish to settle Texas in order to block French efforts to move southward and westward toward the Spanish provinces of Mexico and New Mexico. Texas, in effect, was of little importance except as a buffer to be occupied for the protection of more important Spanish possessions.

The impetus for offensive action against the Cherokees and others came in 1839, when Texas Rangersqv killed Manuel Flores,qv a Mexican agent sent to recruit East Texas Indians. Among his effects was found a letter from a Mexican general proposing an alliance. Since the courier had been killed before delivering the message, obviously the Indians had not seen it; nevertheless, this incident was all Lamar needed to link the Cherokees to the Mexicans. He offered to pay the Cherokees for any improvements they had made on their land but not for the land itself, in accordance with his position that they had no title. As General Rusk succinctly told Cherokee, Shawnee, and Delaware leaders, "The wild Indians and Mexicans & we are enemies. It is impossible for you to be friendly to both of us....You are between two fires & if you remain will be destroyed." Chief Bowl agreed to leave, but insisted on remaining until his people's corn could be harvested. He also refused to surrender his warrior's gunlocks, perhaps because the Cherokees had no consensus for removal and he did not want to cause dissent among his people. He declined a Texan escort to the Red River, stating he "had come to this Country by himself and wished to return in the same way." These negotiations accomplished nothing, however, because Texans believed the Cherokees were only stalling until the Mexicans invaded. So they attacked the Cherokee town, destroyed it and the cornfields, killed Duwali, and sent the refugees north of Red River (see CHEROKEE WAR). Two weeks after the Cherokees' defeat, the Shawnees and Delawares, who had been among the friendliest Indians to the whites and had not been implicated in the documents found on Flores, agreed to virtually the same removal terms. Unlike the Cherokees, they surrendered their gunlocks and accepted the escort out of the country. Pecan, a Shawnee leader, "apprehended that times could be worse" and said "he did not like a fuss[,] that he was going away to avoid it."

The campaigns chased the Caddos westward onto the prairies, wiped out the Kickapoo and Cherokee settlements, and intimidated the Shawnees and Delawares into leaving the republic. Caddos, Shawnees, Delawares, and others had been so splintered by warfare and dislocation that they combined into one multitribal town near the Three Forks of the Trinity. There they traded buffalo robes, tended livestock, and planted 300 acres of corn until 1841, when a force of Texas Rangers destroyed the town, burned the fields, and took the buffalo robes and cattle as prizes. Viewed as a whole, the Republic of Texas waged a successful campaign to clear East Texas of Indians, to rid the area of an undesirable race, and to open it to economic development. The Alabamas and Coushattas, however, present an exception. Though subjected to the same treatment as other Indian groups, they did not retaliate (and thus provoke more white attacks) and looked instead to the government for satisfaction. The fact that they rendered aid to the cause of independence in 1836 worked in their favor; at that time, Alabamas and Coushattas helped retreating white families cross the Trinity River and cared for them while Texans under Houston met Santa Anna at San Jacinto. In recognition of this, the republic assigned the Alabama-Coushattas two leagues of land along the lower Trinity River.

George Klos

 Citation: "Cherokee Indians," extract from The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2001, <> [Access Date].

For bibliography and complete article go to Indians.
  top of page | alignment tool | student guide | home