Late in the summer of 1838 a group of Nacogdoches citizens accidentally uncovered a plot of rebellion against the new Republic of Texas. This incident, known as the Córdova Rebellion, at first appeared to be nothing more than an isolated insurrection by local malcontents. Later evidence, however, indicated the existence of a far-reaching web of conspiracy.
A volatile mixture of political and social forces existed in the Nacogdoches area during the 1830s. For the most part, former citizens of the United States controlled the newly formed government of the republic. They lived in constant fear of repression by the Mexican government, from which they recently had declared independence. Before 1836 Texans of Hispanic descent made up the largest segment of the population of Nacogdoches. The end of the Texas Revolution, however, brought an influx of American settlers into the area. Many older inhabitants, resenting this intrusion, understandably remained loyal to Mexico. Indians, represented principally by the Cherokees, made up the third major ethnic group. These Indians, a settled people who engaged in agriculture, desired clear title to the land they occupied. Attempts to secure this title from Mexico before 1832 were unsuccessful. During the Texas Revolution, Texas officials promised the Cherokees title to their lands in return for neutrality. The agreement, never ratified, was declared null and void in 1837.
In late 1836 several sources reported to President Sam Houston that the Cherokees had concluded a treaty with Mexico for a combined attack on Texas. It would be a war of extermination, and the Indians would receive title to their land in return for their allegiance. Vicente Córdova, a financially comfortable Nacogdochian who had served his community as alcalde, judge, and regidor, maintained contact with agents of the Mexican government during this period. On August 4, 1838, a group of Nacogdochians searching for stolen horses was fired upon by a party of Hispanics. Finding evidence that suggested the presence of a large assembly of people, they returned to Nacogdoches and reported their discovery. After being informed on August 7 that at least 100 Mexicans led by Córdova were encamped on the Angelina River, Thomas J. Rusk called up the Nacogdoches squadron and sent a call to nearby settlements for reinforcements. On August 8 Houston issued a proclamation prohibiting unlawful assemblies and carrying of arms and ordered all assembled without authorization to return to their homes in peace. Two days later the leaders of the rebellion replied with their own proclamation, signed by Córdova and eighteen others. It stated that they could no longer bear injuries and usurpations of their rights. They had, therefore, taken up arms, were ready to die in defense of those rights, and only begged that their families not be harmed. On the same day Rusk learned that the insurrectionists had been joined by local Indians, who brought their number to approximately 400. After ascertaining that the rebellious band was moving toward the Cherokee nation, Rusk sent Maj. Henry W. Augustine with 150 men to follow them. Rusk, ignoring Houston's orders not to cross the Angelina River, took his remaining troops and marched directly toward the Cherokee village of Chief Bowl. En route Rusk learned that the rebellious army had been overtaken near Seguin and defeated. After communicating with local Indians, who disavowed any knowledge of the uprising, Rusk and his volunteer army returned to Nacogdoches.
Houston remained in Nacogdoches throughout the insurrection, writing letters of reassurance to his friend Bowl, and issuing orders to Rusk. Houston trusted the Cherokees' loyalty and hoped to keep peace with Bowl. Rusk, on the other hand, distrusted the Cherokee leadership and thought that a show of force was necessary. Rusk disobeyed Houston's orders and often bypassed him completely by sending reports to Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar, who was in closer agreement with Rusk's views.
The leaders of the insurrection escaped arrest and went into hiding. Córdova eventually made his way to Mexico. Thirty-three alleged members of the rebellion, all with Spanish surnames, were arrested and indicted for treason in the Nacogdoches District Court. Because of the "distracted state of public feeling" a change of venue to neighboring San Augustine County was granted to all but one of the defendants. José Antonio Menchaca, one of those tried in San Augustine County, was found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang, while the remaining defendants were found not guilty or had their cases dismissed. After several former jurors claimed to have been pressured in their decisions, President Lamar pardoned Menchaca, only four days before his scheduled execution.
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. The diary recorded that Miracle had visited Chief Bowl and that they had agreed to make war against the Texans. On May 18, 1839, a group of Texas Rangers defeated a party of Mexicans and Indians, including some Cherokees from Bowl's village. On the body of Manuel Flores, the group's leader, were found documents encouraging Indians to follow a campaign of harassment against Texans. Included were letters from Mexican officials addressed to Córdova and Bowl. Although Bowl denied all charges against his people and Houston maintained his belief in their innocence, President Lamar became convinced that the Cherokees could not be allowed to stay in Texas. The Cherokee War and subsequent removal of the Cherokees from Texas began shortly thereafter.