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Texas Cherokees were the small settlements of Cherokee people who lived temporarily in what is now Texas, after being forcibly relocated from their homelands, primarily during the time that Spain, and then Mexico, controlled the territory. After the Cherokee War of 1839, the Cherokee communities in Texas were once again forcibly removed to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. While scattered individuals remained in Texas and assimilated, surviving families who remained culturally Cherokee generally returned to the Cherokee Nation.[1]



In 1806 a band of Cherokee, most likely migrating south from the Arkansas area of the Louisiana Territory, founded a village along the Red River. That same year, an intertribal delegation, including Cherokee, petitioned the Spanish officials at Nacogdoches for permission to settle there, which was granted. Cherokee immigration into Texas increased between 1812 and 1819. The Republic of Texas, following Sam Houston's recommendations, established a reservation for the Cherokee, but the negotiated Treaty of 1836 was never ratified (See below).[1]

The Bowl, a former Chickamauga chief, led many Cherokee families into Texas in 1820. They settled near present-day Dallas but were forced by local tribes to move east into what is now Rusk County, Texas. By 1822, an estimated 800 Cherokee lived in Texas.[1]

When Texas passed from Spanish to Mexican governance, Cherokee petitioned the new Mexican authorities for formal land grants but were denied. In 1830, an estimated 800 Cherokee lived in three to seven settlements in Texas. When the Texas Revolution came, the Cherokee settlements tried to remain neutral.[1]

The TreatyEdit

Having married into a Cherokee family and having a long-standing relationship with Chief Bowl, Sam Houston sought an alliance with the Cherokee while he served as President of Texas. General Houston, with fellow commissioners John Forbes and John Cameron, negotiated a treaty with the settlements for the east Texas lands north of the San Antonio Road and between the Angelina and Neches rivers. This would have created a reservation in the greater part of present-day Cherokee County, all of Smith County and parts of Gregg, Rusk and Van Zandt Counties.[1]

The Senate of the Republic of Texas, however, tabled and refused to ratify the treaty, and proceeded to formally nullify it.[2] The settlements, who already thought they had conceded enough in accepting the limits of the treaty, became extremely agitated. When, almost immediately, the Land Office began issuing patents to lands within the Cherokee Nation, the immediate and increasing influx of Anglo settlers into territory thought to have been theirs did little to calm resentment.[3]

The Cordova RebellionEdit

There was also residual bitterness among some Tejanos still loyal to Mexico and others who felt mistreated by, as they saw it, the new Anglo ruling class. The atmosphere in the Nacogdoches district became tense in early 1838. Complicating matters was the fact that some in the Cherokee settlements were also still loyal to Mexico.[4]

By the summer of that year, there were rumblings of coming insurrection from either or both of those factions, and a contingent of Tejanos led by Vicente Córdova (a former alcalde of Nacogdoches) gathered under arms and, in an affair known as the Córdova Rebellion, began raids against Anglo settlers. Some from the Cherokee settlements were believed to have joined Cordova. In the summer of 1838, evidence was discovered of an active Mexican intrigue to incite members of the east Texas settlements against the Republic.[5]

Killough MassacreEdit

Responding to this growing unrest, Isaac Killough and his extended family, who had settled in Cherokee lands southeast of the Neches Saline, fled to Nacogdoches for refuge.[6] On condition they would return simply to harvest their crops and leave the area after doing so, the Cherokee leadership sent word to the Killough party that they would not be molested. They did return. On October 5, 1838, a band of Cherokee who had not been party to the agreement attacked the settlement. Most of the Killough group—a total of eighteen—were killed or abducted as they worked their fields. Those who survived fled for a time to Lacy's Fort on the San Antonio Road, just west of present-day Alto, Texas.[7]

Whether or not Chief Bowl or the larger Cherokee community had been complicit in this slaughter, and notwithstanding denials of involvement, this affair was seized upon by Houston's successor, Mirabeau Lamar, as grounds to either expunge Cherokee people from Texas or destroy them. In an address to the Texas Congress on December 20, 1838, Lamar said in part:

If the wild cannibals of the woods will not desist from their massacres, if they will continue to war upon us with the ferocity of tigers an hienas, it is time that we should retaliate their warfare. Not in the murder of their women and children, but in the prosecution of an exterminating war upon their warriors; which will admit of no compromise and have no termination except in their total extinction or their total expulsion.

In a manner of reply, Chief Bowl, leader of the Cherokee, said to the commissioners sent by Lamar in June 1839 to conduct "peace talks:"[8]

If I fight, the whites will kill me. If I refuse to fight, my own people will kill me.

Before the year was over, the Texas Cherokee would be forcibly removed from the settlements in the Cherokee War of 1839. Almost 600 Cherokee, mostly women and children, led by Chief Bowl, fought the Texans in two separate battles on July 15 and 16, 1839. They were defeated and Chief Bowl was killed in the battle of the 16th. Seriously wounded by a shot to the back, and then shot point-blank in the face as he sat incapacitated, the body of the 83-year-old chief was left to rot on the battlefield, his bones on open display for years afterward.[9]

Most of the remaining Texas Cherokee were driven north into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).[1] Sam Houston was once again elected President of Texas and negotiated peace treaties with them in 1843 and 1844.

From the 1840s on, the original Cherokee Nation sought compensation for the lands they lost in Texas. William Penn Adair was a staunch advocate for the claims of Texas Cherokee.[1]

Legal statusEdit

Several groups of self-identified Cherokee descendants have organized but are not recognized by the state of Texas or the federal government. Numerous individuals living in Texas today are enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, with fewer enrolled in the United Keetoowah Band, and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Members of the Cherokee Nation in Texas have several organized cultural groups.[citation needed]

Notable Texas CherokeesEdit

  • The Bowl Duwali, (d. 1839), Texas Cherokee chief and military leader. Killed at the Battle of the Redlands during the Cherokee War July 1839.
  • Stand Watie (1806-1871), Brigadier General Confederate States of America; Principal Chief of the Southern (Confederate) Cherokee (including the Mount Tabor Community) 1863-1865. His wife (Sarah Caroline Bell-Watie) remained a part of the Mount Tabor Community in Rusk County, Texas for most of the war. Continued as leader of the Southern Cherokee following the war until his death in 1871
  • Jesse Bartley Milam (1884–1949), Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1941–1949
  • W. W. Keeler (1908–1987), Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands Executive Committee Chairman 1945-1972 (Replaced by Judge Foster T. Bean) Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation 1949-1975 (Replaced by Ross O. Swimmer)
  • William Penn Adair (1830-1880), Colonel, Confederate States of America. Second in Command under General Stand Watie; Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands Executive Committee Chairman 1871-1880 (Founded the Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands out of the descendants of the Mount Tabor Indian Community, along with Clement Neely Vann in 1871.)
  • John Martin Thompson (1829-1907), Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands Executive Committee Chairman 1880-1907 (Replaced by Claude Muskrat)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lipscomb, Carol A. "The Cherokee Indians." Handbook of Texas History. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  2. ^ Handbook of Texas Online. "Cherokee War". Retrieved December 7, 2012. The treaty was tabled by the Texas Senate on December 29, 1836, and was declared null and void by that body on December 16, 1837, despite Houston's insistence that it be ratified.
  3. ^ Whitington, Mitchel (1998). "A monument to the Killough Massacre". Texas Escapes Online Magazine . The Cherokee weren’t all that happy with the treaty because it greatly reduced their lands – since they were led to believe that it would give them a permanent home, however, they accepted the terms. Some bitterness still existed among many tribe members, and the nullification of the treaty only exacerbated those feelings. External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. ^ Lipscomb, Carol A. "Cherokee Indians". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 5 January 2013. Although a majority of the Cherokee had agreed to peace with the Texans, a militant faction of the tribe remained pro-Mexican, a fact that greatly complicated Texan-Cherokee relations.
  5. ^ Herring, Rebecca J. ""Cordova Rebellion," Handbook of Texas Online". Retrieved December 7, 2012. The capture of two Mexican agents after the rebellion produced new evidence pointing to an extensive Indian and Mexican conspiracy against Texas. On about August 20, 1838, Julián Pedro Miracle was killed near the Red River. On his body were found a diary and papers that indicated the existence of an official project of the Mexican government to incite East Texas Indians against the Republic of Texas.
  6. ^ Baker, Lindsey T. (1986). Ghost Towns of Texas. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. Fearing hostilities as a result of unrest among the Cherokee who occupied the same general area, the Killough family retreated . . . to a vicinity nearer to Nacogdoches.
  7. ^ Whitington, Mitchel. "A Monument to the Killough Massacre". The survivors, [who] included Issac’s wife Urcey, began a harrowing journey to Lacy’s Fort, forty miles south of the Killough settlement.
  8. ^ Moore, Stephen L. (2006). Savage Frontier II. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press.
  9. ^ Moore, Stephen L. Savage Frontier II. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press. The body of Chief Bowles remained on the battlefield as a grisly testament to the loss of the Cherokee. His lonely skull and skeleton were reportedly still visible on the spot for years.

Further readingEdit