American Indian Reservations

By: W. E. S. Dickerson

Revised by: Laurie E. Jasinski

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: July 14, 2021

After the annexation of Texas, the federal government assumed control of American Indian affairs but had no authority to settle the American Indians on reservations in the state since Texas retained ownership of the public lands. American Indian groups 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 American 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 reservations to be selected, surveyed, and governed by the United States government, but to revert to state jurisdiction when no longer used by the American 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 reservations in unsettled territory, preferably on timbered land of good soil adjacent to navigable water. The sites selected after consultation with the various American 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 American Indians living west of the Pecos River, chiefly the Mescalero Apaches and the Lipan Apaches. These western tribes, 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 American Indians were removed to the Indian Territory in 1859.

One other reservation experiment, that with the Alabama-Coushatta Indians, proved more successful. During the long period of American Indian-White conflict in Texas the Alabama-Coushattas remained apart 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 Alabamas and Coushattas 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 was in the city limits of El Paso and Ysleta in El Paso County. Like the Alabama-Coushattas the Tiguas relied on tourism to generate revenues. Some residences were located on the reservation, but most of the Indians did 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 was used by for residences and community institutions.

In 1987 the federal government once again assumed responsibility for the American Indian tribes of Texas, and the Texas Indian Commission was subsequently abolished in 1989. By the mid-1990s the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation had some 650 residents. The Tiguas listed 1,463 members on their tribal rolls, and the Kickapoos, who migrated as farmworkers throughout a portion of each year, consisted of about 650 members. In 1996 the Kickapoos opened Lucky Eagle Casino on their reservation near Eagle Pass. Under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed by U. S. Congress in 1988, they could conduct gaming activity to generate revenue. Technically, under Texas law, the Alabama-Coushattas and Tiguas could not allow gambling on their lands, and litigation regarding this matter occurred in the early part of the twenty-first century.

In 2017 the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation had approximately 572 residents; the Tiguas (known as Ysleta del sur Pueblo) had approximately 350, and the Kickapoo Tradition Tribe of Texas Reservation had a population of 366.

Virginia Pink Noël, The United States Indian Reservations in Texas, 1854–1859 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1924). San Antonio Express-News, April 26, 2014. 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). Texas Indian Commission Records, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Reservations
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
  • Texas in the 1920s

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

W. E. S. Dickerson Revised by Laurie E. Jasinski, “American Indian Reservations,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

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July 14, 2021