Looking up from the water as you paddle under the
overpass for Interstate 45 and the various ramps for Memorial Drive
the annual Bayou Regatta, it is easy to be awed by the monumental
and towering buildings of Houston's downtown. In May, 1837, the local
reported a similar state of wonderment among the native Americans who
witnessing a building boom of the kind they had never before seen. The
where they had only recently hunted prairie deer and buffalo was being
by a large gathering of 'Europeans' into the capitol of the new
The first Congress of the Republic of Texas convened in Houston in the
of 1837 and began meeting in the partially completed Capitol Building
Street and Texas Avenue. Many issues of great significance had to be
in the first years of the republic. It was not surprising, then, that
of all types converged on the town to lobby for their causes. The
Americans who lived in Texas were not ignorant of this. Reports of the
of Indians, as the native Americans were called then and now, in
during the first five years of an independent Texas were common.
In what surely must have been a dramatic situation, about three hundred
arrived in Houston hoping to make a treaty with the Texas government.
that the population of Houston at the time was no more than a fifteen
or so, such a large contingent of Comanches caused quite a stir.
The Comanches set up camp in an area generally bounded by Travis
Bayou, Prairie Avenue and Congress Avenue on the western edge of the
town. Shortly thereafter, a group of Lipans joined the Comanches and
camped near the home of Mary J. Briscoe on the corner of Main Street
Prairie Avenue. The riparian woodlands of the bayou banks gave way to
tall grass prairie near the southern edge of town (hence the name
Avenue). A gully, which began near Milam Street, ran west between Texas
and Prairie Avenue to the bayou. At the point where it crossed Smith
near the front door of the Wortham Center today, there was a large
which had minnows and a large, overhanging oak tree. It was a good
set up a temporary home as those of us who have done some wilderness
of our own know.
Mary Briscoe, however, had a different feeling about those camped in
of her back door. Her observations of the Comanches were of a filthy
looking group whose drunken orgies at night kept the ladies of town in
night out of apprehension. She felt that the Lipans, on the other hand,
"finer looking" than the Comanches and more "cleanly" in their habits,
she felt "their presence was particularly obnoxious to me."
In spite of the condescending and often hostile attitude of many of the
of Houston toward the tribes, many persons in Texas, including
Houston, took the matter of how to settle the concerns expressed by the
seriously. Houston held peace talks with the tribal chiefs among a
of pecan trees located in what is now the Theater District. A
these pecan trees was exposed when the Rice Hotel Garage at Milam
Prairie Avenue was demolished in 2001.
In November, 1837, the Cherokee chief Duwali, the emissary of the Texas
to the Comanches, arrived in Houston to negotiate a treaty for his
which was formally known as the Cherokee and Associated Bands. Chief
called Chief Bowles by the Anglos because his name in Cherokee means
bowl," had brought his band of Cherokees to Texas in the early 1820's,
about the same time that Moses Austin was establishing his colony for
settlement of Anglos in Texas.
By the time of the Texas Revolution, the Cherokee and about a dozen
tribes had obtained squatters' rights to land from the Spanish
in East Texas near modern day Tyler. The provisional government of
the land to these tribes for their neutrality during the revolution
on February 23, 1836, they signed a treaty with Sam Houston. After the
at San Jacinto and the Republic was becoming a reality, the treaty with
Cherokee and Associated Bands was tabled by the Texas Senate on
29, 1836. In a blow to the hopes of Chief Duwali and his people, the
that had been negotiated and signed by Sam Houston was declared null
void by the Texas Senate on December 16, 1837.
Throughout the second year of his term as president, Sam Houston
to seek a reasonable resolution to the Indian issue. John Torrey and
came to Houston in 1838 and built the first frame building in town on
Avenue as a trading house for Indians as a part of Houston's policy and
to secure peace with the Indians. Tribal summit meetings continued
the spring of 1838. Representatives of several tribes held formal
in the capitol with the President and Vice President.
On March 6, 1838, the Lipan chief Castro met with Vice President
B. Lamar in Houston. Castro and a group of Lipans, who lived along the
Grande in South Texas, sought to negotiate a treaty. While in town, the
held a ball in which the Lipans were honored guests.
Several members of the Tonkawa tribe, who inhabited the Hill Country
of the Edwards Plateau, visited Houston on April 6, 1838. They left the
on April 10 after being presented gifts by President Houston.
Duwali, the Cherokee chief, arrived in Houston on May 1, 1838 and was
with the utmost diplomacy. He accompanied the president, the vice
and members of Congress on a trip aboard the steamer 'Friend' to
to inspect the naval garrison and the brig of war 'Potomac'.
Yet, in spite of all of the diplomatic efforts on behalf of President
no treaty was concluded with any of the tribes living in Texas.
term ended in late 1838, and Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar, who took office
December, immediately announced his intention to rid Texas of "the
menace." President Lamar, earlier in his career, had been a major
the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia and was well known to have a
abiding dislike of Indians. Seizing the moment and the popular
sentiment of the time, on May 26, 1839, Lamar issued a letter to Chief
stating "...my duty as Chief Magistrate of this Republic, to tell
the Cherokee will never be permitted to establish a permanent and
jurisdiction within the inhabited limits of the Government."
The change in the administration reversed Sam Houston's policy of
and assimilation of the native Americans into Texas society to Lamar's
of eradication and removal. In one of the ironies of history that only
expediency can produce, President Lamar set his attack, not on the
tribes of the plains who hunted and raided the fringes of the frontier,
the brunt of his policy was directed at the Cherokees who were among
civilized of any tribe in Texas or the United States. The Cherokees
farmers and livestock raisers who wore European style clothes and lived
log cabins. The Cherokee had the misfortune of living on land that the
In the summer of 1839, at President Lamar's order, Kelsey H. Douglass
approximately 500 troops of the Texas Cavalry who were to remove the
and Associated Bands to the Indian Territory. On July 16, 1839, a
party under James Carter engaged the Cherokee farmers, led by their
chief Duwali, near the headwaters of the Neches River.
After thirty minutes of fighting, over a hundred Cherokee men were
Chief Duwali, mounted on his sorrel horse, holding a cherished sword
to him by Sam Houston, and wearing an old black military hat on his
signaled the retreat. As the Cherokee were leaving the field of battle,
horse was shot out from under him. Rising slowly, the chief began
away when he was shot in the back by Henry Conner. Chief Duwali sat
crossing his legs and arms facing the militia. Captain Smith of the
walked over to the chief, placed a pistol to his head and shot him to
Cavalry members stripped skin from his arms for souvenirs and they left
there without burial.
The remaining Cherokees moved to the Indian Territory of modern
today there is a large tribal center in the town of Tahlequah.
Sam Houston denounced the death of Duwali, Chief Bowles, and, in a
before the Texas assembly in 1840, declared that Duwali was "a better
than his murderers." In 1841, Houston began his second term as
instituted a new Indian policy. Treaties were made with the remaining
and remnant tribes in Texas in 1843 and 1844, providing a reservation
the Alabama and Coushatta tribes near present day Jasper.
But, by this time, President Lamar had moved the capitol of Texas to
of Austin and the town of Houston was suffering a serious period of
The native Americans who showed up in town were a destitute lot with
of their previous nobility. The Indian wars on the frontier of Texas
rage for another 40 years.
One final ironic footnote: What is the mascot of the Mirabeau B. Lamar
School in Houston?