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INDIANS DURING THE REPUBLICS OF MEXICO AND TEXAS (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.

Republics of Mexico and Texas. The problems associated with the final years of Spanish rule and Indian relations were inherited by the government of the new Republic of Texas.qv Most missions had been abandoned; the only active ones were in the vicinity of San Antonio and Goliad. Political upheavals in Mexico City caused virtually annual changes of government and contributed to the neglect of the frontier. As during Spanish rule, the frontier communities of Texas had little to attract settlers from other parts of Mexico. Raids by Comanches, Apaches, and others also checked Mexico's frontier development, and the increase in such raids reflected the changing conditions of the region. At the time of Spanish decline and Mexican independence, traders from the United States began to venture onto the Plains and establish contacts with Santa Fe and the Indian groups between the United States and New Mexico. Mexico was unable to repair broken trade alliances or impose order militarily. Because the American trade gave the Indians a new, strong market and steady source of firearms, raiding increased in the northern states of Mexico. The Republic of Mexico responded to these changes on its frontier by encouraging immigration from elsewhere.

Most significantly for the Indians of Texas, two new types of immigrant entered the province-Indian bands from the eastern United States and Anglo-Americans. Indian migration from the east began in the 1790s as Choctaw, Chickasaw, Alabama-Coushatta, and Creekqqv hunting parties, reacting to the decline of game in their traditional homelands, seasonally and temporarily entered Texas. Over time, eastern bands found it more convenient to trade deerskins locally than to carry them back east. Expanding white settlement also pushed them westward. By the first decade of the 1800s, the Alabama Indians had established a town on the Neches River above its junction with the Angelina River, and the Coushattas had settled on the Trinity. Relations between the Caddos and these newcomers were generally friendly, although the Caddos occasionally clashed in the early years with Choctaw hunting parties. For the most part, however, the Caddos welcomed the immigrants as allies against the Osages. A second and larger wave of Indians from the east occurred after the War of 1812, as the United States removed the British influence on its frontier and established its unilateral control over frontier tribes. Several tribes, such as the Shawnee and Delaware Indians,qqv had sided with the British in the war, and individual bands moved into Texas. The Creek confederacy had been badly splintered by a civil war during the War of 1812. One faction was soundly defeated by Gen. Andrew Jackson at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama in 1814, and many of its refugees moved west. Even some groups that had peaceful relations with the United States, such as the Cherokees,qv moved because of their role in the fur trade and the pressure of white expansion on their traditional lands. By 1820, the concept of "removing" eastern Indians westward began to be discussed by United States politicians; although the policy was not enacted until 1830, many groups understood the implications and left the United States by moving to Texas. The Mexican government welcomed the immigrants and promised them land titles in East Texas, but no titles were ever formally secured.

The Indian migration into East Texas in the 1820s coincided with another important influx-that of Anglo-American immigrants, both legal and illegal. During the Texas Revolutionqv the independence forces sought conciliation with nearby Indians to keep them from allying with the Mexican army. Most bands were neutral, and some, such as the Shawnees, were willing to join in the fight against Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna.qv Sam Houstonqv planned to raise a 300-man force of Cherokees, Delawares, Shawnees, and Kickapoosqv with payments of cash and plunder, but this plan never materialized. The fear that Indians might side with Santa Anna seems to have been greatest during the period between the fall of the Alamoqv and the Texas victory at San Jacinto. It does not appear to have been grounded in the Indians' behavior but on a general fear that the entire rebellion was falling apart. Nevertheless, the specter of potential Indian hostility remained even after the crisis had ended, and it remained important in the new republic's policies. Certainly, the tribes did listen to Mexican agents who visited them, but on the whole they remained neutral out of doubt about which side would win. The Indian scare had one very significant effect on Texas independence: the widespread rumors of Indian hostility persuaded United States troops from Louisiana to cross into Texas and occupy Nacogdoches in 1836, thus ending the Texans' eastward flight at the same time as the battle of San Jacinto.qv

In an effort to maintain good relations with the Indians, the provisional governmentqv declared in November 1835 that the East Texas bands had just claims to their land and that definite boundaries should be drawn for them. Indian land rights would be respected, explained the General Council,qv "so as not to compromise the interest of Texas." In February 1836, Sam Houston made a treaty with the Quapaw, Choctaw, Biloxi,qqv Alabama, Coushatta, Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, and Kickapoo Indians and with various Caddo bands, which established a reservation where all would live, bounded by the Angelina, Neches, and Sabine rivers and the Old San Antonio Road.qv According to the treaty, the land could not be sold or alienated to any entity but the Republic of Texas, Indians could have their own laws as long as they were not contrary to Texas law, and the republic would regulate all Indian trade. This first treaty of the Republic of Texas was never ratified by either the provisional government or the Texas Senate. Later, the Texas government realized that no Indians had been granted land titles by the Mexican government, and used this as justification for expelling most of them from Texas.

Texans knew little about the Indians within the borders they claimed, and they had to figure out the proper policies to be followed. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs tried to delineate the various groups in October 1837 by identifying bands, estimating their length of residency in Texas, and evaluating their relations to others. The Coushattas, Alabamas, Biloxis, and Creeks were identified as living near Nacogdoches and resident in Texas for fifty years. The Choctaws were reported to have lived in Texas for only ten years and thus to have "no pretensions to the soil." The committee distinguished several Caddo bands, identifying them as friendly to the hostile "Prairie Indians" (the confederacy of Wichita bands that had raided white settlements since the establishment of Stephen F. Austin'sqv first colony). The "Prairie Indians" were described as hunters and horsemen living high up the Brazos and Trinity rivers and friendly with the Comanches. Since the Comanches did not live near the white settlements of East Texas, members of the new government knew little about them except that they were "the natural enemies of the Mexicans whom they contemptuously denominate their stock keepers and out of which nation they procure slaves." The committee believed a treaty of friendship-and alliance with them against Mexico-was possible. Other groups were identified as current residents of Texas but not the government's responsibility. The "Northern Indians" (Kickapoos, Shawnees, Delawares, and Potawatomisqv) had migrated a decade earlier from the United States and consequently were deemed that nation's responsibility. The Lipans and Tonkawas, on the other hand, were considered by the committee to be part of the Mexican nation, even though the Tonkawas' tenure in Texas predated the Europeans' and the Lipans had arrived a century and a half before Texas independence. The committee made a few errors in its analysis of Texas Indians, as indicated by its description of the Tonkawas and Lipans, but it did trace the Caddo-Wichita-Comanche connection and the Comanches' raiding activities against Mexicans. It also identified and located most of the bands that had migrated from the United States and tried to establish their length of residency in relation to the arrival of Anglo-Americans. Generally, the committee identified as "native" any group that lived in Texas before Stephen F. Austin; the Alabama and Coushattas, for example, were considered natives of Texas despite their migration from Alabama because they predated Austin's colony. The Shawnees, on the other hand, were classed as "emigrants" for having moved to Texas at approximately the same time as Austin. In reality, the "native-emigrant" division was fluid and inconsistent, and it meant relatively little in terms of the republic's policies and actions.

The Indian policy of the Republic of Texas was for the most part defined by the president, especially Sam Houston and Mirabeau B. Lamar,qv whose divergent policies defined the spectrum of debate about how to handle the Indians. Houston advocated a policy of fairness and friendship toward the Indians because "natural reason will teach them the utility of our friendship," he explained in his 1836 presidential inaugural address. He believed Indians, as rational human beings, would find it in their best interests to maintain peace with Texans. On a more practical level, Houston understood that trade connections and the recognition of reservation lands were less costly than war, that they would gradually foster Indian dependency on the government, and that the more mobile horse tribes would be very difficult to find and defeat decisively. Lamar took a far more bellicose position. "The proper policy to be pursued towards the barbarian race, is absolute expulsion from the country," he said in 1839. "The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together. Nature forbids it." The republic's Indian policy was greatly influenced by considerations of how the various Indian groups figured into the ongoing conflict between Texas and Mexico. The apprehension that they would join the Mexicans so permeated public attitudes and government policy that this fear was exploited to justify dispossession of the Indians. The Mexican forces in Matamoros did hope to win Indian alliances and to reoccupy Texas, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. Texans, however, saw the hand of Mexico in several violent clashes between whites and Indians, and this fed the popular belief that Houston's conciliatory policy was a failure. The campaigns against East Texas Indians in the late 1830s are illustrative. When some Mexican residents of Nacogdoches led by Vicente Córdovaqv rebelled in 1838, individual warriors of several tribes joined them. Córdova first camped on Cherokee land, and although Cherokee chief Duwali (commonly known as Bowlqv or Bowles) never cooperated with him, the chief held discussions with both sides, an astute move unappreciated by Texans. Gen. Thomas J. Ruskqv led troops into Cherokee country and chased Córdova to the Kickapoos, who had already been suspected of frontier raids. Rusk assured the Kickapoo chief that he had no intention of attacking the Indians, but he privately believed that an opportune moment had come to expel them. Several weeks later he attacked the Kickapoo village and, after a sharp fight in which eleven Indians were killed, burned it. Days later, Texans destroyed a Caddo village on the West Fork of the Trinity, killing six, even though they had no apparent connection to Córdova.

Aside from the fear of Indian alliance with Mexico, questions of national sovereignty also made Texans want to erase Indian enclaves in regions filling up with white settlers. Recognition of Indian land rights, Lamar insisted, would be "parcelling out our territory to strangers and intruders, and introducing into the very viscera of the body politic an alien, independent and innately hostile people." Most Texans agreed with Lamar that whites and Indians could not live as neighbors, although Houston maintained that a reservation with well-defined and enforced boundaries could exist peacefully surrounded by whites.

Examples of skirmishes in East Texas abound in this period. Whites did suffer from raids, and they sought retribution. In some cases, Texans did not bother to discern which Indians had committed offenses and punished any Indians they found. In 1840, for example, a small party of Indians killed two whites near Nacogdoches; a white party in pursuit found the raiders' camp, but the culprits had fled. Instead of continuing the pursuit, reported a Houston newspaper, "the party fell back upon a village of Choctaws, and after killing eleven of them returned home." Two years earlier, a man who had lost some horses believed Caddos had taken them, so he went to their village and attempted to kidnap several women and children; three Indians and two whites were killed in the skirmish. The man later found his horses, which had only strayed from his farm. These skirmishes occurred at a time when East Texas was filling up with both white settlers and Indian refugees from the United States. At the time of the Texas Revolution, the Caddos living in Louisiana had signed a treaty agreeing to move out of the United States-so they crossed the border to join their kinsmen in Texas and greatly alarmed white settlers. During this tense period the Texas Senate renounced the treaty Houston had made in 1836, thus provoking encroachment on Indian land by surveyors and squatters and retaliatory raids by exasperated Indians. As always, the fear of an Indian alliance with Mexico was prevalent.

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.

The republic's relations with the Comanches changed drastically in the late 1830s. As mentioned earlier, whites knew relatively little about them at first; Anglo-American settlers lived far enough away from them not to be victimized by Comanche raids but close enough to be considered by the Comanches as a market for horses taken from Mexico and buffalo robes. But the relentless advance of white settlement, the new government's refusal to recognize Comanche territorial sovereignty with established borderlines, and the fact that white Texans took a much harder line against the Comanches than the Mexicans previously had taken resulted in unyielding warfare by 1840. With the westward advance of white settlement, the Comanches had new communities to raid. In the summer of 1836, Comanches took more than 100 horses from settlements, taking advantage of the unstable state of affairs during the war for independence. The first serious counterblow occurred in February 1839, but with mixed results. A company of rangers assisted by the Comanches' Lipan Apache enemies penetrated the Comanche heartland, something that had never been done before. The Lipans, who originally proposed the expedition, found a Comanche camp on a creek in the San Saba valley, and they and the rangers charged into it at dawn, "throwing open the doors of the wigwams or pulling them down and slaughtering the enemy in their beds," reported the commander, Col. John H. Moore.qv The Comanches regrouped and counterattacked as the Texans reloaded their firearms, and Moore was forced to pull back. Soon the Texans found themselves surrounded by hundreds of Comanches, who rode up with a white flag and proposed a prisoner swap. Later, as the rangers rode toward home, the Comanches stole their horses, and they had to walk home the last 100 miles, carrying their wounded.

The incident that most irreparably altered Texan-Comanche relations was the Council House Fightqv of 1840. The Comanches went to San Antonio to negotiate a land treaty and return white captives. Secretary of War Albert Sidney Johnston,qv however, instructed negotiators not to make any promises that would compromise the republic's ability to decide unilaterally the conditions of residence of any Indian tribe, and further to hold the Comanche delegation hostage until all "American Captives" were surrendered (see INDIAN CAPTIVES). At the Council House in San Antonio, a traditional meetingplace for Indian negotiations, the Comanches delivered up a teenage girl, who told the Texans that she had seen many other white captives in the large Comanche camp outside of town. Muke-war-wah, the main Comanche spokesman, claimed, "We have brought in the only one we had; the others are with other tribes." Given the decentralized Comanche society, the girl may indeed have been the only captive in Muke-war-wah's band, and he had no authority to deal in captives held by others. Whatever the truth may have been, the Texans assumed he was lying and told the Comanche delegation that they were going to be hostages until more whites were brought in. The delegation rushed the door, stabbing soldiers, and all twelve Comanches in the Council House were shot to death. The gunfire prompted the warriors outside the building to take up the fight, and a general melee ensued through the streets of San Antonio. When the battle ended, thirty-five Comanches and seven whites had been killed, 100 horses and a great number of buffalo hides had been taken by the whites, and some twenty-nine Comanche women and children had been taken prisoner. In turn, the fight provoked the largest Indian raid since the attack on the San Saba mission eighty-two years earlier. Five hundred Comanches sacked Victoria and Linnville and raided all the way to the Gulf of Mexico (see LINNVILLE RAID OF 1840). On their return to their own territory, however, they were cut off by militia companies from the Colorado River counties and defeated at the battle of Plum Creek.qv

Later that year, Colonel Moore conducted another campaign well into Comanche territory, much more successful than his attack a year earlier. Once again, he took his troops far from white settlements and attacked a Comanche camp discovered by his Lipan allies. The villagers fled the attack by running into the river, but the steep banks on the other side proved difficult to climb. Texan marksmen killed them as they slipped and scrambled on the banks. Twice as many Indians were killed in the river than in the initial attack on the village, and approximately 120 bodies littered the site.

The Council House Fight loomed in the memories of Comanches; government officials often found themselves negotiating with men who had lost family members in the battle. Comanches were leery of sending representatives to meetings because they did not want to prominent leaders to be taken hostage. They declined to send a delegation to one council unless four whites were sent to them as hostages guaranteeing the safety of the four chiefs who would attend. Though bitter warfare seemed unavoidable, Sam Houston, upon regaining the presidency in 1841, continued to pursue peace overtures. He wanted to establish territorial boundaries for the Comanches, but Congress always voted down such provisions. The 1844 treaty of Tehuacana Creek (see TEHUACANA CREEK COUNCILS), for example, drew a line from the Cross Timbersqv to Comanche Peak (now in Hood County) to the ruins of the San Saba mission, then southwesterly to the Rio Grande, but this boundary provision was deleted from the ratified version. Even when treaties were made, the Republic of Texas learned what had plagued Spain and Mexico earlier-that an agreement with one Comanche band had no bearing on the half dozen or so others that continued to raid. The Comanches learned that white settlers would continue to encroach on their territory, and that the government could not stop them even if it was so inclined.

Unlike the other groups discussed earlier, the Tonkawas and Lipans allied early with the Republic of Texas. They did so for the same reasons they had previously sought the friendship of Spain, Mexico, and the Caddos-they were small, shrinking groups, and they needed allies to defend themselves against the Comanches when they ventured onto the buffalo range west of San Antonio. They resided between the Colorado and San Antonio rivers in the 1830s and 1840s. They assisted Texans in retrieving horses taken by raiding Wichitas and Caddos, and they joined Texas Rangers in campaigns against the Comanches, as noted earlier. Unfortunately for them, such assistance did not make the Texans treat them differently from other Indians. In one case, a group of Texans and Mexicans in Goliad stole horses from a Tonkawa camp while the warriors were serving with the Texas army on the Nueces frontier. Though many Texans recognized the injustice of the incident, too many potential jurors in the Goliad area were involved in it for the authorities to prosecute the thieves. The Tonkawas responded by robbing and killing some whites, thus arousing residents of Goliad to talk of exterminating them. Thereupon the Tonkawas moved and by the 1840s were living near Bastrop, begging for food, hiring out as cottonpickers during the harvest season, and buying liquor from unscrupulous storekeepers. Members of the Texas Congress attempted to recognize their service to the republic by reserving for them two fourteen-square-mile reservations on the Brazos and Colorado rivers beyond white settlement, a location where they could serve as a buffer against Comanche raids; this proposal, however, was defeated, as were all other similar measures.

George Klos

 Citation: "Indians During the Republics of Mexico and Texas," extract from The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2001, <http://www.tshaonline.org/tools/article_extracts/bzi4_republics.html> [Access Date].

For bibliography and complete article go to Indians.
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