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Indian Reservations

W. E. S. Dickerson General Entry

After the annexation of Texas, the federal government assumed control of Indian affairs but had no authority to settle the Indians on reservations in the state since Texas retained ownership of the public lands. The Indians in East and North Central Texas were generally peaceful but were being hemmed in by the advance of frontier settlement in the south and the attacks of hostile northern tribes. Retaliation took the form of depredations against the frontier settlements, participated in by the greater part of the previously friendly tribes. The state government finally recognized the need for separate lands for the Indians, and on February 16, 1852, passed a bill authorizing the governor to negotiate with the federal government regarding territory for reservations. A bill was passed on February 6, 1854, setting aside twelve leagues of land for Indian reservations to be selected, surveyed, and governed by the United States government, but to revert to state jurisdiction when no longer used by the Indians. These twelve leagues, according to the act, were to be in three separate districts, or less, each to be approximately square. The War Department on April 26, 1854, ordered Randolph B. Marcy, in conjunction with Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors, to locate and survey land for the Indian reservations in unsettled territory, preferably on timbered land of good soil adjacent to navigable water. The sites selected after consultation with the various Indian groups concerned were four leagues of land, or 18,576 acres, on the Brazos River below Fort Belknap near the site of present Graham (see BRAZOS INDIAN RESERVATION), and another tract of the same size forty miles away on the Clear Fork of the Brazos (see COMANCHE INDIAN RESERVATION). The third tract of four leagues adjoined the one on the Brazos and was intended for the use of the Indians living west of the Pecos River, chiefly the Mescalero Apaches and the Lipan Apaches. These western Indians, however, failed to come in to the reservation, and this tract was given over to the use of the Brazos agency, making that reservation total eight leagues, or 37,152 acres. Both reservations reverted to the state when the Indians were removed to the Indian Territory in 1859.

One other reservation experiment, that with the Alabama-Coushatta Indians, proved more successful. The Alabama-Coushattas had some sort of genius for peace and diplomacy lacking in the other tribes, for during the long period of Indian-White conflict in Texas they remained aloof from the struggle. Even Mirabeau B. Lamar, implacable foe of the Indians generally, stated in his message to the legislature on November 12, 1839, that the Alabama-Coushatta should be guaranteed occupancy of the land, and the Fourth Congress provided two leagues for the Alabamas and two leagues for the Coushattas. The encroachment of White settlers, however, prevented the complete occupancy of these tracts, and the Indians had no permanent home until 1854, when by legislative act the state provided for the purchase of 1,280 acres of land in Polk County as a combined reservation for these two groups. The Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation was increased in 1928 by federal purchase to 4,351 acres. From 1928 to 1954 the Alabama-Coushattas were trustees of the federal government, thus the management of the reservation was left to the discretion of the national government. In 1954 the state of Texas took over as a guardian of the Alabama-Coushattas and nine years later established the Texas Commission for Indian Affairs to deal with the management and administration of the tribe and their lands. In 1968 the Tigua Indians of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo received federal recognition and came under the jurisdiction of the commission, which changed its name to the Texas Indian Commission by 1977.

In 1986 the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation was the home to 510 people. The reservation land consisted of 4,766 acres, of which 3,071 was held in trust by the state of Texas and 1,280 was managed directly by the inhabitants. Income was generated through the operation of a tourist complex that includes a gift shop, restaurant, museums, campgrounds, and fishing facilities. The Tigua Indians, a pueblo tribe with historic claims to most of the land in the El Paso area, lost their homelands in the nineteenth century, when state and federal authorities took legal possession of the land. In 1968 the group gained formal recognition from both the federal and state government. Most of the tribe's ninety-seven-acre reservation is in the city limits of El Paso and Ysleta in El Paso County. Like the Alabama-Coushattas the Tiguas rely on tourism to generate revenues. Some residences are located on the reservation, but most of the Indians do not live there. In 1985 the Texas Band of Traditional Kickapoo received federal recognition as a distinct American Indian group. Along with the recognition came federal and state economic assistance to its members. The state designated 125.4 acres on the Rio Grande close to Eagle Pass as reservation lands. Most of this land is used by for residences and community institutions.

Virginia Pink Noël, The United States Indian Reservations in Texas, 1854–1859 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1924). Harriet Smither, "The Alabama Indians of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 36 (October 1932). Texas Indian Commission, The Texas Indian Commission and American Indians in Texas: A Short History with Definitions and Demographics (Austin, 1986).


  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Reservations

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas

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

W. E. S. Dickerson, “Indian Reservations,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed November 29, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.