Cherokee Indians Massacre: The Republic of Texas forces indigenous peoples from the state

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In 1838, members of the Killough family were killed by what was believed to be a group of rogue Cherokee Indians. A few months later the Cherokee were decimated.

Christmas Eve 1837 was a time of great change for 30 members of the Killough family. The family had purchased a tract of land in East Texas and were leaving their homes in Alabama for Texas.

Little did they know this tract of land had been promised to the Cherokee Indians as part of the 1836 Houston-Bowles treaty. Texas was still a fledgling nation having just a year earlier won its independence from Mexico. There was still alot of hatred in Texas from those who wanted Texas to remain part of Mexico. This included many Mexicans, Blacks, Native Americans and some White men. One of the most vocal was Vincente Cordova.

Cordova was very upset with Texas’ freedom and wanted nothing but to give Texas back to Mexico. He concocted a plan to get the Cherokee and other Northeastern Texas tribes stirred up he would force Texas to move its military into the region and allow Mexico easy access into Texas across the Rio Grande. Cordova was able to get the allegiance of Chief Bowles using the failed Houston-Bowles treaty as a focal point.

The treaty had been negotiated in 1836 by Chief Bowles and Sam Houston it was intended to ensure peace between the Cherokee and the new White settlers in East Texas. However the Texas senate felt this treaty was based on false pretences and never ratified it. This instead spread anger and resentment for the White Settlers among the Cherokee.

The Killoughs moved to the land, built their new homes and began farming the land. In August 1838 they learned of increasing dangers in the area as reports of Indian raids became common. They soon chose to abandon their crops and sought safety in Nachodoches, before they left they made an agreement with the Cherokees in their area that they could return before the first frost to harvest their crops without the worry of being harmed.

In early October the Killoughs returned to their crops and began harvesting them. Each day they left their farms armed as they went into the fields, however on October fifth they went unarmed since they were almost done and would be finished rather quickly. They were soon attacked by a group of Indians, Mexicans, Black Men and at least one White Man. Before it was over eighteen members of the Killough family were either dead or captured. Eight members managed to escape and three women and a baby were left at the scene of the massacre.

The three women and baby fled toward Lacy’s Fort which was about fifty miles away. They moved at night and hid during the day, after a few days they were found by a friendly group of Indians who took them the rest of the way to the fort.

When Mirabeau Lamar took office in 1838 he used the stories of the massacre to fuel his own desire to rid Texas of Indians like he had done when he was Governor of Georgia years earlier. He convinced many Texans that there was no way that the White man could ever live in peace with the Indians in Texas. He blamed the Killough Massacre on the Cherokees even though it was believed the massacre was conducted by mostly Mexicans. He ordered that all Indians must leave Texas for Oklahoma which at the time was Indian Territory, those who refused were to be hunted down and killed.

The Cherokee refused to give up their land that was promised to them under the 1836 treaty, so under the leadership of Chief Bowles they met the Texans in battle near present day Chandler on July 15th 1839. In this battle the Cherokees fled north after eighteen Cherokee were killed. Two Texans were also killed in this battle.

The next morning the Texans caught up with the fleeing Cherokees near the Neches River. The force of 500 fully armed Texans surrounded the 800 Indians made up mostly of Cherokee, but there were other tribes present as well. The eight-hundred was made up of over 500 women and children and they only had about 24 rifles in their party. The Texans attacked killing over 100 Native Americans that day.

Among the dead was the 83-year-old Chief Bowles. After ordering the Cherokee to flee he was shot and his horse wounded as he dismounted he was shot again in the back. Chief Bowles sat on the ground facing the approaching soldiers. The Texas captain approached him pulled out his revolver and shot the Chief in the head. The Texans then celebrated the death of Bowles by striping his skin off and keeping it as a souvenir.

The remaining Cherokee fled across the Red River into Oklahoma, thus ending the era of the Cherokee Nation in East Texas.