Battise, Robert Fulton (1909–1994)

By: Howard N. Martin

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Fulton (Kina) Battise, principal chief of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians from 1970 to 1994, was born on the reservation in Polk County on March 16, 1909, the son of McConico and Mabel (Sylestine) Battise. His father was a farmer and woodsman on the reservation, and Fulton lived there his entire life. He grew up with five sisters and one brother in a one-room log cabin. Electricity was not available, and the only running water was a spring a half-mile behind their house. He helped his parents draw water from this spring, picked cotton, gathered corn, and tended cows. He went to school at the Presbyterian Mission School on the reservation through the eighth grade. While in school he and his sister Ivy earned money chopping wood for the steam locomotive used by the W. T. Carter Lumber Company on the logging railroad through the reservation. As a boy he helped on his father's farm, but money was scarce, and he tried several other activities to improve family finances. During the Great Depression years he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. Also, while visiting the Indian Exposition in Oklahoma, he wrestled a twelve-foot alligator for forty dollars. Later, he worked for the W. T. Carter and Kirby Lumber companies and became an expert log scaler for the Carter firm.

Fulton was elected second chief (Mikko Atokla) of his tribe at the young age of twenty-six and was inaugurated on January 1, 1936. After the death of Principal Chief Bronson Cooper Sylestine in 1969, Fulton was elected principal chief (Mikko Choba) and installed on January 1, 1970. He was active in community affairs and served as elder, Sunday school teacher, church secretary, and choir leader for the Indian Presbyterian Church on the reservation. The local Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs were among his other interests. The office of chief involves only ceremonial duties, and the principal chief is the ceremonial head of the tribe. Despite lack of authority, the word of Principal Chief Fulton Battise carried great weight among the Alabama-Coushattas. He was respected, admired, and liked by nearly everyone, members of the tribe as well as nonmembers. He was progressive and helped to stabilize thinking for the benefit of the reservation as a whole. He encouraged the development of such improvements as tourist facilities on the reservation, construction of modern housing through a federally funded housing project, construction of a multipurpose community center, organization of a kindergarten Head Start Program, and the construction of a medical-services clinic.

Chief Battise received many distinguished visitors at the reservation. Also, he was available consistently to meet with special groups that visited the reservation–school groups, scouts, groups from state schools, senior citizens, media personnel, and politicians. Also, he traveled throughout the state and nation as the Alabama-Coushatta representative in dedications, parades, programs, meetings, and presentations. He made numerous appearances before governmental agencies asking for assistance for the Alabama-Coushattas, including appealing to the Texas legislature to help the Indians help themselves. In 1966 he asked the Housing and Urban Development Administration to allow Indian Mutual Help Home Ownership houses to be built on the reservation. He appealed to congressmen and other federal officials in 1971 for assistance in developing a tourist industry to provide jobs for the Alabama-Coushattas and revenue for tribal operations. In 1972 he traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Indian Claims Commission in relation to land that had been taken from the tribe in the early 1800s.

Battise frequently lamented that his formal education had been limited, and he was always interested in the welfare and education of children. Two scholarships were established in his name: the Chief Kina Scholarship at Sam Houston State University and the Chief Kina Scholarship at the Alabama-Coushatta reservation.

A summary of the highlights of Chief Battise's accomplishments and contributions during his fifty-eight years of tribal leadership was inserted into the Congressional Record on February 9, 1994. On March 3, 1934, Fulton and Eva Bullock were married. Their daughter, Zetha, graduated from Southeastern State Teachers College, Durant, Oklahoma, and taught school for twenty-five years in New Mexico. Battise died on February 8, 1994, and was buried three days later in the Alabama-Coushatta tribal cemetery.

Houston Post, June 25, 1970, May 21, 1982.
  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Chiefs and Other Leaders

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

Howard N. Martin, “Battise, Robert Fulton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995