Jim Shaw, a Delaware Indian, was noted as a valuable frontier scout, interpreter, and diplomat during the period of the Republic of Texas and in antebellum Texas. His Delaware name was translated roughly as Bear-Head. He appeared on the frontier of the Red River as early as 1841, when he was in his twenties or early thirties. At that time he reportedly saw the botched Texan Santa Fe expedition as the party turned west at the Wichita River, which they mistook for the Red River. Shaw later claimed that if he had not been leery of the Texans on account of President Mirabeau B. Lamar's harsh Indian policy, he would have offered his services and guided them to Santa Fe, thus perhaps changing the course of history. At any rate, Shaw was obviously familiar with the vast plains and breaks of West Texas. On the recommendation of Gov. Pierce M. Butler, the United States Indian agent in Indian Territory, he was employed by President Sam Houston in 1843 to aid in carrying out Houston's Indian peace policy, and until about 1858 he was ubiquitous on the Texas frontier, much of the time as an employee of the Indian service. He was a handsome man of superior intelligence, who spoke English adequately and had command of several Indian languages as well as Indian sign language.
In the summer of 1843, with the Delaware chief John Conner, Shaw guided Col. Joseph C. Eldridge, commissioner of Indian Affairs of the Republic of Texas, on a visit to the Penateka Comanches on the Red River; that fall he was an interpreter at the Indian Council at Fort Bird on the Trinity River. In May 1844 he was an interpreter at the Indian council held by President Houston at Tehuacana Creek. There the western artist John Mix Stanley painted Shaw's portrait, but it apparently was one of the paintings lost in the Smithsonian fire of 1865. In August 1845 Shaw and Benjamin Sloat, Texas Indian agent, led a party that conferred with Buffalo Hump and other Penateka chiefs on the San Saba River, and it was to Shaw's credit that he was able to win the friendship and trust of several Comanche leaders. In 1846–47 he guided John O. Meusebach's party in search of a suitable location for a German colony.
After annexation, Shaw's services continued to be in demand by federal officials and the United States Army. His brother Bill, or Tall-Man, who had worked as an Indian trader during the period of the republic, was also employed in a similar capacity. By the early 1850s Jim Shaw was residing with his wife and two children on the Upper Brazos near Fort Belknap. Often he commuted between the garrisons at forts Belknap and Phantom Hill, where he was on the civilian payroll list as an interpreter for a monthly salary of forty dollars. Emma Johnson Elkins, who spent part of her childhood with her family at Fort Phantom Hill, later recalled that Shaw "tried to emulate the whiteman in dress and manners, taking great pride in the personal appearance of his own family." In 1854 he accompanied Capt. Randolph B. Marcy's surveying party to locate the Upper Brazos Indian reservations and was the leader of a band of Delaware scouts under Col. Robert E. Lee's garrison at Camp Cooper in 1856. He died near Fort Belknap in 1858 or a little later after falling from the roof of a new house that he was building for himself and his family.
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H. Allen Anderson, "Fort Phantom Hill: Outpost on the Clear Fork of the Brazos," Museum Journal 16 (1976). Rupert N. Richardson, ed., "Eldridge's Report on His Expedition to the Comanches," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 4 (1928). Rupert N. Richardson, "Jim Shaw the Delaware," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 3 (1927). Rupert N. Richardson, "Removal of Indians from Texas in 1853: A Fiasco," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 20 (1944).
Guides, Scouts, and Interpreters
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Rupert N. Richardson and H. Allen Anderson,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 07, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
June 1, 1995