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COUSHATTA INDIANS

COUSHATTA INDIANS. The Coushattas (Koasatis), an important Muskogean-speaking Indian tribe, had moved to village sites near what is now Montgomery, Alabama, when discovered by the French at the beginning of the eighteenth century. This tribe was a member of the Upper Creek (or Muskogee) Confederacy and has always been closely associated with the Alabama (Alibamu) Indian tribe. When the English defeated the French, and the latter began leaving the territory east of the Mississippi River after 1763, many Alabamas and Coushattas left their homes on the Alabama River and migrated to Louisiana. Of several villages the Coushattas established in various sections of Louisiana, the largest was near the mouth of Quicksand Creek on the east bank of the Sabine River about eighty miles south of Natchitoches, Louisiana. In the 1780s the Coushattas began drifting across the border into Spanish Texas. There they were welcomed by the Spanish officials in Nacogdoches, Texas, who expected them to strengthen the bulwark of friendly tribes on the eastern border of Texas. During the early nineteenth century the Coushattas blazed an important trail from their Sabine River village westward to La Bahía. This trail, known as the Coushatta Trace, was a wilderness thoroughfare used by Indians, adventurers, and smugglers journeying between Louisiana and Mexico.

To control this traffic through the heart of Texas, the Spanish posted Coushattas at strategic points along the Trinity River to serve as sentinels and scouts. They were to inform the Spanish in Nacogdoches of any activity on the Coushatta Trace or the Trinity River. In 1830 about 600 Coushattas were living in or near three Coushatta communities, and the population living in independent villages reached its zenith. They hunted, gathered, fished, and farmed, and they traded with white settlers. In what is now San Jacinto County, where the Coushatta Trace crossed the Trinity River, was the Upper Coushatta Village (Battise Villageqv). This village site was on the opposite side of the Trinity River from the site of Onalaska in Polk County and is now under the waters of Lake Livingston. John R. Swanton quoted William Bollaert's estimate that in 1850 there were 500 Coushatta warriors in the Battise Village and Colita's Village. Long King's Village, the Middle Coushatta village, was at the confluence of Tempe Creek and Long King Creek, in Polk County about two miles north of the present site of Lake Livingston Dam on the Trinity River. This village could be called the headquarters of the Coushatta Tribe: here lived Long King, the principal chief above all other Coushatta chiefs. The village's importance in the Big Thicket during the 1830s was further evidenced by the trails that radiated from it like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The location of Long King's Village is shown on various maps prepared by the General Land Office in Austin. The last in this series of GLO maps indicating the continued existence of this village is dated 1856.

Colita, one of the best-known Indian chiefs in East Texas, lived in the Lower Coushatta Village. He succeeded Long King as principal chief in the latter part of the 1830s. His village was on the Logan league in what is now San Jacinto County, in a great bend of the Trinity River called the Shirt-tail Bend by the steamboat sailors. As indicated in the estimate for the Battise Village, the population of Colita's Village remained at a substantial level until at least 1850. The Coushatta chiefs Long King, Tempe, and Long Tom all had creeks named after them in Polk County. In addition to these chiefs and Colita, other Texas Coushatta chiefs were Ben-Ash, Canasa Gimingu, Chickasaw Abbey, Mingo, Payacho, Pia Mingo, and Usacho. The Coushattas remained neutral during the Texas Revolution at the request of Gen. Sam Houston. But during the Runaway Scrape, when Texas families fled before Antonio López de Santa Anna's advancing Mexican army, the Coushattas fed and cared for white settlers who surged through their villages. During the early years of the Republic of Texas, Mexican agents tried to incite counterrevolution in several areas and apparently were able to influence Kickapoos and members of other Indian tribes in East Texas. Coushatta chief Colita, however, managed to maintain peaceful relations with the white settlers. Nonetheless, the Coushattas could not entirely avoid the turmoil of the period 1836–39. A Comanche raiding party approached Long King's Village from the north in 1839; in the valley of Long King Creek the Coushattas defeated and turned back the invaders.

For nearly a century after 1763 the Coushattas were compelled to move from one place to another in search of permanent homes. Whenever white men wanted the land on which Coushattas happened to be living, the Indians moved. Their prospects seemed to brighten when the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1840 granted two leagues of land (including Battise Village and Colita's Village) to the Coushattas for permanent reservations. Though the land was surveyed and the field notes filed, the grants were never made effective because white settlers had already claimed the land. In the 1850s two events further darkened the Coushatta prospects. First, in 1852, Chief Colita died. He had been such an effective leader that the Galveston News editorially lamented his passing. His death left the tribe leaderless at a critical time. Second, the Coushattas failed to obtain land for a reservation. Though the Texas legislature in 1855 granted them 640 acres for a permanent home, suitable land was no longer available in Polk County, and the grant remained only a scrap of paper. Fortunately for the Coushattas, however, their kinsmen, the Alabamas, had received a grant of Polk County land in 1854. With the permission of the Alabamas, most of the Coushattas settled on this reservation in 1859. A few remained on the site of Colita's Village in San Jacinto County until 1906, when they joined the others on the Polk County reservation. See also ALABAMA-COUSHATTA INDIANS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

David B. Edward, The History of Texas (Cincinnati: James, 1936; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1990). Mattie Austin Hatcher, The Opening of Texas to Foreign Settlement, 1801–1821 (University of Texas Bulletin 2714, 1927). A Pictorial History of Polk County, Texas, 1846–1910 (Livingston, Texas: Polk County Bicentennial Commission, 1976; rev. ed. 1978). John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 73 (Washington: GPO, 1922). Dorman H. Winfrey and James M. Day, eds., Texas Indian Papers (4 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1959–61; rpt., 5 vols., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1966).

Howard N. Martin

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Howard N. Martin, "COUSHATTA INDIANS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bmcag), accessed December 19, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.