TSHA Home Publications Education Events Southwestern Historical Quarterly The Handbook of Texas Online About Us News Site Search Contact Us Giving Opportunities Links FAQ Join the TSHA
skip to content
TSHA Online Home
Handbook of Texas Online

Article Extract


INDIANS DURING STATEHOOD (Extract from the Handbook of Texas Online article Indians.)

Texas entered the United States in 1845-46 (see ANNEXATION), and the situation for Indians was altered. For one change, raiders such as the Comanches, Kiowas, and Wichitas had to learn that the Americans and Texans were one people now, and that they could not rob one and sell the loot to the other, although unscrupulous frontier traders did this for a while. For another, the United States was obligated by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgoqv to block Indian raids into Mexico, a part of the agreement that the Comanches did not respect because they had not been consulted. The United States army built forts along the border and tried to maintain a forceful presence in the area. Ecological and demographic changes also took place in the late 1840s and 1850s. With entry into the Union, immigration to Texas rose considerably. The state's population tripled between 1850 and 1860, the country west of San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas filled up with settlers, and the new army forts attracted settlements that sprang up near them. The influx of newcomers and the passing caravans of Forty-niners on their way to the goldfields of California also brought a new wave of disease that laid waste the Indians. The Comanches were hit by smallpox in 1848 and cholera in 1849, when by some estimates half their population died, including such leaders as Santa Annaqv and Mopechucope (Old Owl), who had been influential advocates of peaceful relations. If this were not enough, the buffalo population began declining during the same period. Partly, the expansion of white settlement and the federally sponsored "Indian removal" program that put 50,000 eastern Indians on the margins of the South Plains reduced available buffalo range and increased the number of people hunting them. But the Indians' hunting style also contributed. They preferred to hunt buffalo cows because their meat was more tender and their hides easier to process into finer robes; the overhunting of breeding-age females contributed to the decline of the buffalo. As the herds shrank, Comanches took to eating their horses, and this depletion of their most important form of property impelled them to increase their cattle raids on both sides of the Rio Grande. They also attack outsiders who hunted buffalo.

The most important change affecting Indians when Texas joined the United States, however, had to do with relations between the state and federal governments. The federal government, constitutionally mandated to be in charge of Indian affairs, took over that role in Texas, but the new state retained control of its public lands.qv In all other new territories, Washington controlled both public lands and Indian affairs and so could make treaties guaranteeing reservations for various groups. In Texas, however, the federal government could not do this. The state adamantly refused to contribute public land for Indian reservations within the boundaries of Texas, all the while expecting Washington to bear the expense and responsibility of Indian affairs. Since federal Indian agents in Texas understood that guaranteeing Indian land rights was the key to peace, no peace could be possible with the intransigent attitude of state officials on the land question. Furthermore, Texans in the decade before the Civil Warqv were highly critical of the inability of the army to defeat the Indians decisively and prevent raids; many believed that Texas protected its white citizens better when it was independent. This attitude regarding frontier policy became important when Texas seceded from the union in 1861.

Only once did the Texas legislature relent in its opposition to reservations. In 1854 state officials gave in to federal requests and established two small reservations on the Brazos River near Fort Belknap (see BRAZOS INDIAN RESERVATION and COMANCHE INDIAN RESERVATION). On one, remnants of Caddo and Wichita bands and the Tonkawas, with a few Shawnees and Delawares who had married into the Caddos, established themselves. On the other the Comanches were supposed to settle. Only a small group of Comanches, elements of the Penateka band, came to the reservation, while their kinsmen continued to live freely and raid the frontier. The reservation plan might have worked had the area not filled up with white settlers almost immediately. Since the whites established horse and cattle ranches, the area naturally became a target for Comanche, Kiowa, and Kickapoo raids; whites believed the proximity of the reservations had something to do with the raids, and blamed the reservation population for either conducting or abetting them. There may be some justification for accusing the reservation Comanches, since they entertained nonreservation Comanche visitors and their social structure could not prevent young men from leaving the reservation to live with other bands. The Indians of the other reservation, however, had also been the victims of stock raids. They even contributed to two important Texan victories north of the Red River. In May 1858, Rip Ford led a force of Texas Rangers and Brazos reservation warriors to the heartland of Comanche country, and the reservation Indians supplied more men than the rangers. The reservation Indians found a Comanche trail, hunted buffalo along the way to feed the expedition, and found two large Comanche camps. In the ensuing battle, seventy-six Comanches, including the celebrated chief Iron Jacket, were killed. A year and a half later, Indians of the Brazos reservation participated in a similar campaign led by Maj. Earl Van Dornqv of the United States Army. Waco and Tawakoni scouts learned the location of a Comanche camp through their Wichita kinsmen and attacked the Comanches, killing fifty-six and burning 120 lodges. "If it had not been for [the Indians' help], Major Van Dorn would not have seen a Comanche, nor would Captain Ford," explained army lieutenant William Burnet.

Regardless of their service on the frontier, however, the reservation people continued to be accused of stock thefts by frustrated ranchers in Jack, Palo Pinto, and Young counties. A few days after Christmas 1858, a party of Caddos with official permission to hunt off the reservation were attacked in their sleep by a group of whites; seven were killed. Federal Indian agents insisted that state authorities prosecute the killers, but nothing came of these requests. An organized movement led by John R. Baylorqv and other local residents formed to expel the reservation Indians from the state; armed parties of citizens patrolled the reservations' boundaries, and in a few instances killed Indians found outside the line. The United States Army entered the reservations to defend the Indians from vigilante violence, a move that enraged Texans and further fed their belief that the federal government's frontier policies were detrimental to the state. At one time, Baylor led armed citizens onto the reservation to force the Indians' expulsion, but the Indians (armed by the United States Army) fought back and chased the Texans away. In August 1859 federal officials negotiated the removal of the reservation Indians to new land north of the Red River on the Wichita reservation. Feeling ran so high against the Indians and their white defenders that federal Indian agent Robert Simpson Neighborsqv was murdered by a local white man near Fort Belknap after having removed the Indians from the state.

The expulsion of the reservation Indians did nothing to lessen the frequency or intensity of Comanche and Kiowa raids. Texans had their opportunity, beginning in 1861, to prove their earlier assertions that Texas could defend the frontier and pacify Indians better than the United States could when the state seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. They accomplished little more than federal efforts had, although it must be taken into account that the needs of the Civil War took priority in manpower and spending. Raids continued as before and even increased in some counties. The growth of cattle ranching added a new target for raiders, who drove off cattle for resale to the Comancheros,qv traders from New Mexico who ventured onto the Llano Estacado to buy from the Comanches.

With the defeat of the Confederacy and the length of time it took United States troops to return to the frontier, Indians noticed the unorganized status of the frontier and increased their raids in late 1865. Federal officials tried to settle frontier affairs in the traditional manner-with a land treaty. In October 1865, the Kiowas and a few Comanche bands signed the treaty of the Little Arkansas, in which the federal government promised them a large reservation comprising the Panhandleqv and most of West Texas (from the southeastern corner of New Mexico to the junction of the North and South forks of the Red River). But the war had not changed the unique legal situation of Texas or the attitudes of its officials. The state still controlled its own public land, and even Republican lawmakers in the Reconstructionqv state government, heavily influenced by military occupation, refused to cede any land to Indians. In 1867 the Kiowas and Comanches negotiated another reservation treaty at Medicine Lodge Creek, which secured for them less land in the Indian Territory. Although ten Comanche chiefs signed the treaty, as was customary, they spoke only for the people they represented (less than half of all Comanches) and could not speak for all bands. Therefore, even with the establishment of a reservation, the government still had to use force on the recalcitrant bands.

The final subjugation of the South Plains Indians involved a combination of economic and military measures, in which the destruction of the Indians' trade and subsistence base became primary to their acceptance of reservation life. The suppression of the Comanchero trade in the early 1870s removed an important market for raiders. The arrival of increasing numbers of white buffalo hunters all but destroyed the great South Plains herds; the newly constructed railroads brought not only more hunters but sent hides to eastern markets faster. Furthermore, William T. Sherman,qv commander of the United States Army, and Philip H. Sheridan,qv commander of United States troops in Texas, understood from their experiences in the Civil War (Sherman's march through Georgia and Sheridan's campaigns in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia) that victory comes not just from the defeat of enemy armies but from breaking the people's will to resist by destroying their ability to feed and supply themselves. With this strategy in mind, the generals looked to the buffalo. Sheridan encouraged commercial hunters and even tourists to hunt buffalo, and he trained new recruits in marksmanship with buffalo targets. Buffalo meat also supplemented the poor food at many army posts. These attacks on the Indians' economic base coincided with inducements to get them to accept reservation life. The government promised to provide food and shelter. Food shipments to the reservation, however, were sporadic, and on one occasion bureaucrats in Washington ordered the reservation agent to withhold food until the Comanches surrendered some suspected raiders to authorities. The uncertainty of rations therefore failed to make the reservation as attractive as the government would have liked, and actually provoked some Comanches to leave the reservation and continue raiding for subsistence.

Militarily, the army conducted winter campaigns, something not previously done. The Indians learned they had no sanctuary and could find their tepees and food stocks destroyed during the harshest time of the year. Frequently this was done with the help of Indians working for the government, most notably Tonkawas and Lipans working out of Fort Griffin. They received pay and rations as regular cavalrymen while on duty and were allowed to live near the fort for their own protection. The Tonkawas benefited from this relationship because they had no where else to go-all other Indian groups except the Lipans despised them for helping the whites and for their ritual cannibalism. Their arrangement with the military was mutually advantageous; they could be safe only with army protection, and the army needed their scouting skills. A great breakthrough for the army came in 1872, when Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie, with a captured Comanchero from New Mexico leading the way, crossed the Llano Estacado, the final redoubt of the Comanche resistance. He noted the trails and areas with abundant grass, wood, and fresh water to support cavalry movements through the area. He put his new knowledge to work immediately by locating and destroying a Comanche camp on McClellan Creek in October 1872; more than twenty Indians were killed, and 124 women and children were captured and subsequently held prisoner at Fort Sill to induce others to surrender. Mackenzie tried to return to his fort with the Indians' 3,000 horses, but the Comanches harassed him so severely while he was driving them off that afterward his policy was to shoot all captured horses. In this additional way, more a result of exasperation than planning, the Comanches found their ability to survive outside the reservation fading away. The next year, Mackenzie's focus turned to the Mexican border, the scene of raids by Kickapoos and others who took advantage of the international boundary to live in Mexican territory and raid in the United States. With 400 troops he crossed the Rio Grande and destroyed three villages of Kickapoos, Potawatomies, and hostile Lipans; Black Seminole Scoutsqv supplied important scouting work. Mackenzie took Indian captives back to the United States to force the rest of the Indians to move from Mexico to the Indian Territory. Eventually, 250 Kickapoos and all the Potawatomies agreed to return to the United States. Communities of Kickapoos and Lipans, however, remained in Coahuila and live there today; some Kickapoos received a reservation in Texas in the 1980s.

The last large military campaigns, and the Comanches' last sustained effort to continue their old way of life without government dependency, occurred in 1874. In the early summer, a medicine man named Isa-taiqv had a vision in which he learned that Comanches must resist whites or else be reduced to the dependent state of nearby groups like the Wichitas and Caddos; the performance of a Sun Dance was to be the means by which Comanches would be delivered from white domination. Comanches from all bands attended the dance, a ceremony previously unknown to the Comanches and probably learned from the Kiowas. It took place at the time when women and children were being held prisoner to compel good behavior by Comanche men, and when rations at the reservation were being withheld as punishment. At the gathering, the Comanches determined to take action. Their two main problems were military pressure and the destruction of the buffalo herds. First they considered attacking the Tonkawas at Fort Griffin to make an example of them that might compel the government to renegotiate the conditions under which the Comanches would live, but this idea was rejected in favor of an attack on buffalo hunters. These were a far more important target, given the economic crisis the Comanches found themselves in with the loss of trade opportunities, the loss of customary subsistence, and the specter of dependency on the government. As the Kiowa leader Kicking Birdqv explained, "The buffalo was their money[,] their only resource with which to buy what they needed and did not receive from the government. The robes they could prepare and trade. They loved them just as the white man does his money, and just as it made a white man's heart feel to have his money carried away, so it made them feel to see others killing and stealing their buffalo." In June 1874 the Comanche war party, led by Quanah Parker,qv chose to assault a gathering of buffalo hunters encamped at Adobe Walls, the ruins of an abandoned trading post in the Panhandle. The hunters managed to get behind the walls before the attackers could inflict serious damage and return fire with their new, long-range rifles. The Comanches charged repeatedly but could not breach the walls or withstand the hunters' accurate marksmanship. At the end of the day, the Comanches withdrew, having killed three hunters and lost thirteen warriors. This second battle of Adobe Wallsqv slowed only temporarily the ingress of commercial buffalo hunters. After it, events were increasingly determined by the army rather than any initiative on the part of the Comanches. Military pressure on the bands outside the reservation increased during the summer and fall of 1874 and caused greater destruction of the Indians' subsistence base. On the Salt Fork of the Red River cavalrymen burned 500 Comanche lodges, and although only one Indian was killed, the destruction of their supplies compelled many Comanches to turn themselves in at Fort Sill. Colonel Mackenzie led his command into Palo Duro Canyon in late September and destroyed five Comanche villages; although there were few casualties on either side, the cavalry captured 1,400 horses, which Mackenzie ordered shot (after his Indian scouts selected some as prizes). Most Comanches off the reservation surrendered by the onset of winter, and by 1875 the last small bands came in. The Lipans and Tonkawas who assisted the government in the final subjugation of the groups resisting reservation life were themselves moved out of the state and put on reservations in the early 1880s.

Texas had been a cultural crossroads where varied groups of Indians met, traded, and fought long before the arrival of Europeans. Spanish settlement and French trade greatly altered the trade networks, alliances, and demography of the area. Some native groups lost their distinct cultural identity through population loss and intermarriage with other groups; others thrived, taking advantage of new opportunities to strengthen their positions in regional diplomacy and trade. The Spanish, though influential, were unable to dominate the Indians of Texas or dictate to them. Spanish immigration to Texas was slight, and politically the province was a marginal, neglected backwater of the empire. The Indians' ability to secure goods, especially guns, from French and later United States sources-and thus play European and American powers off against one another-strengthened their relative independence until the early years of the nineteenth century. The Anglo-American migration into Texas changed trade and diplomacy, to the Indians' detriment. Texas filled up with immigrants who threatened tribal hunting prerogatives and land bases. Attempts to keep the settlers in check, such as stock raids and murder, not only failed to stop the spread of white settlement but angered the newcomers into effective retaliatory strikes. As a result, the Indians were destroyed or chased out of the state. Today in Texas there are only three reservations, populated, ironically, by Indians who migrated to Texas after European colonization. Though many older historical narratives of Texas portray the Indians as enemies and obstacles, the reality was far more complicated than the civilization-versus-savagery schema so frequently employed in the past. In 1995 the Alabama-Coushatta reservation in East Texas near Livingston, the Tiguaqv Reservation in El Paso, and a projected 125-acre Kickapoo reservation near Eagle Pass were all that remained of any organized Indian settlement in Texas. See also INDIAN RELATIONS, SPANISH TEXAS, MEXICAN TEXAS, ANTEBELLUM TEXAS, LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY TEXAS, ANGLO-AMERICAN COLONIZATION, and MUSTANGS.

George Klos

 
 Citation: "Indians During Statehood," extract from The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2001, <http://www.tshaonline.org/tools/article_extracts/bzi4_statehood.html> [Access Date].
 

For bibliography and complete article go to Indians.
 
  top of page | alignment tool | student guide | home
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association    Published by the Texas State Historical Association
and distributed in partnership with the University of North Texas
Policy Agreement