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Chief Bowles and the Texas Cherokees

by Paul Ridenour email

Updated 6/28/2005

Chief Bowles Memorial Ceremony
July 15, 2006
7 PM


Photo Source: Ft. Worth, TX, "Starr-Telegram, Nov 20, 2005, p. 6, Section G

You can find a lot of information on the Internet about Chief Bowles and the Battle of the Neches.  Here are just two webpages:
Texas Escapes
Texas Escapes

The 83 year-old Cherokee Chief Bowles (Chief Duwali) and about 800 Indians (around 600 being women, children, and the elderly) from various tribes including many Cherokees were killed in the Battle of the Neches on July 15-16, 1839, less than one month after Major Ridge, Elias Boudinot, and John Ridge were murdered.

Unlike Texas' first President Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas, wanted the Indians out of East Texas and the result was a massacre near the Neches River.   The historical marker erected in 1936 is 13.5 miles west of Tyler, Texas, off SH 64.  Turn right on Van Zandt County Road VZ 4923 and follow the signs for 2.4 miles.  Turn right just before the Tyler Fish Farm.  If you are driving from Canton, Texas, it is about 21 miles east of Canton and 3 miles north of Redland, Texas.

Although President Mirabeau B. Lamar was responsible for the massacre, in 1856, Cherokee Chief Major Ridge's daughter Sarah Ridge was married to her second husband Charles Pix in the home of then Texas Governor Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Bowles Genealogy:

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The links above and the historical marker mention that after this massacre, there was no more trouble with Cherokees in Texas.  However, that is not true.  See below pictures for more information.


Large and old Oak trees in the area - fall


Chief Bowles marker

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The last home by Chief Bowles in near Alto, Cherokee County, Texas, is owned by Dorothy Morgan.  The marker is laying on the ground.  Mrs. Morgan, at one time, suggested that the marker be moved near the road and she said she would put a fence around it.

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Little Bean, Cherokee Village, and John Bowles (Historical marker on 84 just west of Rusk, Cherokee County, Texas

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San Saba

After creating my Chief Bowles webpage, Wendell T. Fleming, Jr. email sent me the following email and pictures about San Saba

"The Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas," by John Henry Brown, L. E. Daniel Publisher, 1988, pages 69-70 (Only 750 copies printed)

"After the double defeat of the Cherokees in East Texas, in the battle of July 16th and 17th, the whereabouts of those Indians was unknown for a considerable time. Doubtless a considerable portion of them sought and found refuge among their kindred on the north side of the Arkansas, where Texas had long desired them to be. The death of their great chief, Col. Bowles, or "The Bowl," as his people designated him - the man who had been their Moses for many years - had divided their counsels and scattered them. But a considerable body remained intact under the lead of the younger chiefs, John Bowles, son of the deceased, and "The Egg." In the autumn of 1839, these, with their followers, undertook to pass across the country, above the settlements, into Mexico, from they could harass our Northwestern frontier with impunity and find both refuge and protection beyond the Rio Grande and among our national foes.

At that time it happened that Col. Edward Burleson, then of the regular army, with a body of regulars, a few volunteers and Lipan and Toncahua Indians as scouts, was on a winter campaign against the hostile tribes in the upper country, between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers.

On the evening of December 23rd, 1839, when about twenty-five miles (easterly) from Pecan Bayou, the scouts reported the discovery of a large trail of horses and cattle, bearing south towards the Colorado River. On the following day Col. Burleson changed his course and followed the trail. On the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day, the scouts returned and reported an encampment of Indians about twelve miles distant, on the west bank of the Colorado River and about three miles below the mouth of the San Saba River (This was presumably the identical spot from which Captains Kuykendall and Henry S. Brown drove the Indians ten years before in 1829).

Fearing discovery if he waited for a night attack, Col. Burleson determined to move forward as rapidly as possible, starting at 9 AM. By great caution and the cunning of his Indian guides, he succeeded in crossing the river a short distance above the encampment without being discovered.

When discovered within a few hundred yards of the camp, a messenger met them and proposed a parley. Col. Burleson did not wish to fire if they would surrender; but perceiving their messenger was being detained, the Indians opened a brisk fire from a ravine in rear of their camp, which was promptly returned by Company B. under Capt. Cleindenin, which formed under cover of some trees and fallen timber; while the remainder of the command moved to the right in order to flank their left to surround them; but before this could be executed, our advance charged and the enemy gave way, and a running fight took place for two miles, our whole force pursuing. Favored by a rocky precipitous ravine, and a dense cedar break, the warriors chiefly escaped, but their loss was great. Among the seven warriors left dead on the field were the Chief John Bowles and 'The Egg.' The whole of their camp equipage, horses and cattle, one man, five women and nineteen children fell into the hands of the victors. Among the prisoners were the mother, three children and two sisters of John Bowles.

Our loss was one Toncahua wounded and the brave Capt. Lynch of the volunteers killed - shot dead while charging among the foremost of the advance.

The prisoners were sent under guard commanded by Lt. Moran to Austin, together with important papers found in the camp.

Col. Burleson made his official report the next day to Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston, Secretary of War, from which these details are derived. He then continued his original march, scouring the country up the Pecan Bayou, then across to the Leon and then down the country. Several bodies of Indians were discovered by the scouts - one being large, but they fled and avoided the troops. Two soldiers deserted on the trip, and both were killed by the hostiles. Among others in this expedition were Col. William S. Fisher, Maj. Wyatt, the gallant Capt. Matthew Caldwell, Lt. Lewis, Dr. Booker and Dr. (then Capt.) J.P.B. January, who died in Victoria, Texas, a worthy survivor of the men of '36.

A few months later, after an amicable understanding, the prisoners were sent to their kindred in the Cherokee Nation, west of Arkansas." 


The train trestle near the spot where the Cherokees battled with the Texans on December 25th, 1839.  Just to the right of the trestle appears to be an old road bed or trail used by the Indians for centuries.  Just to the west of this spot two miles away is Signal Hill where the Indians who traveled this road would send smoke signals that could be seen across the San Saba River Valley to the west.  There is a historical marker to this fact.


Here's a picture from the same spot looking to the south to the Hwy 190 bridge across the Colorado River.  The Cherokees fled Burleson's troops from left to right and raced up a rocky creek that has no listed name on any maps and ran one mile up the creek where the final battle was fought and John Bowles and The Egg were killed.


Here's the trestle over the small rocky creek about one mile from Burleson's first contact with the Cherokees led by John Bowles and The Egg.  It is said that the Cherokee leaders bolted to this area where they were killed by Burleson and his men.


Here's the other side of the small trestle at the rocky creek and the view off to the north under the bridge.  Somewhere in this area John Bowles and The Egg were killed by Burleson's men.


This is the view to the north from the trestle.  Perhaps the Cherokees had camped further north than the area of the trestle crossing.  They may have because the Hwy 190 area to the south was an old trail developed by the Spaniards and Mexicans many years earlier.  Off in the distance you see the hills where the San Saba River runs into the Colorado River.  This was also an old trail used by the Indians for centuries.  Further to the south, the Colorado River is more difficult to cross because of higher hills, canyons, and deep water.  To the north and west, the river flows from the northwest and this is the easiest crossing of the River.  It also has some good shallow fords here.

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John Dunn Hunter/Fredonian Rebellion

The Texas Cherokees - A People Between Two Fires, 1819-1840 by Dianna Everett

Page 37- 38

All apparently misunderstood the motives of Fields and the Cherokees, and all assumed the worst.  It might be appropriate to note that their judgments were based less on fact than on fear and prejudice and, perhaps, on prior experience. Nonetheless, they would continue to worry about the safety of the frontier settlers because they did not receive the truth about the Cherokee’s scheme.  At this juncture, an adventurer named John Dunn Hunter came into the Cherokee country.  His arrival and, subsequently, his well-intentioned interference in Cherokee politics were to have unfortunate consequences.

John Dunn Hunter came to Texas in 1825. Possessing a remarkable affinity for Indian life, he claimed to have been captured at infancy and raised a Cherokee.  He said that he had been befriended by an Englishman and given a good education; then he lived with the Osages.  It is true that Hunter had traveled widely in the United States and in England, where he had been lionized as a “white savage.”  Embued with a desire to “save” Native Americans, he wanted to move them out of the path of white settlement by promoting settlement west of the Mississippi River, and he intended to help them become “civilized” and able to live with a world ruled by whites. In 1825, with this goal in mind, he traveled through Missouri and Arkansas looking for a place to relocate the Quapaws and other tribes.  In the autumn of 1825 he had come to Texas in search of a refuge for these peoples.

Hunter was quickly accepted by the Cherokees, who saw in him a ready diplomat who might advance their interests.  Attending the council of twenty tribes in November 1825, he appears to have presented himself as a representative of the Quapaws and other tribes residing north and east of the Red River.  Fields and Hunter must have instantly agreed on the viability and political expediency of relocating large numbers of U.S. Indians in Mexican Texas.  In December 1825 Hunter began a trip to the Mexican capital in search of both a land title for the Cherokees and a tract on which he could settle the Quapaws.  The Cherokees financed the excursion, for they had found in Hunter a delegate who could obtain a passport and who, by virtue of his international reputation, might be able to sway the Mexican government in the tribe’s favor and bring the Quapaws into Texas as another barrier to American settlement.

Following Hunter’s departure, in December Fields, Duwali, and four other headmen visited Nacogdoches, spoke to the alcalde, Samuel Norris, and once again expressed their good intentions.  Declaring their friendship for the Mexican government, the chiefs reported that several thousand Shawnees were on their way from the United States with the intention of settling in Texas,  Investigating the story, the alcalde learned, no doubt by surprise, that twelve tribes of U.S. Indians were on the verge of entering Texas.  Apparently, the Cherokees’ resettlement efforts were about to be successful.

Page 41

John Dunn Hunter returned in May [1826], perhaps in time to attend the council and impart the disappointing news that his mission had failed.  In return for a grant of land in Texas, he had offered to bring thirty thousand Indians into Mexico to establish communities for border defense, British charg’e d’affaires Henry George Ward had promoted Hunter’s cause and assisted him in writing a petition to present to President Guadalupe Victoria.  Victoria was intrigued by the prospect of having thirty thousand border guards, but U.S. Minister Joel Poinsett, who apparently had the ear of those in power, managed to thwart the plan in order to keep Texas open for purchase by the United States.  Hunter presented his petition in March; caught between two nations’ maneuverings, it was rejected.

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During the autumn months the Cherokees had been courted by Benjamin Edwards.  The empresario’s brother had been busy, trying to muster support among the Edwards colonists, but he had only been able to secure the loyalty of thirty men.  With uncharacteristic perspicacity he saw an opportunity to involve the Cherokees in the controversy and thereby bolster his forces.  The council allowed Fields and Hunter to open negotiations with Edwards, who was able to persuade at least some, if not most, of the Cherokees to support him.  On December 21 several Indian leaders went to Nacogdoches, met with leaders of the Fredonian Republic, as Benjamin Edwards had styled it, and signed a treaty of friendship and alliance.  Fields speech during the assembly gave some idea of his people’s temperament in these trying times:

In my old days I travelled 2000 miles to the City of Mexico to beg some lands to settle a poor orphan tribe of Red people that looked up to me for Protection.  I was Promisid lands for them     after staying one year in Mexico and spending all I had I then came to my people and waited two years and then sent Mr. Hunter again after selling my stock to Provide him money for his expenses    when he got there he stated his mission to government     they said that they knew nothing of this Richard Fields and treated him with contempt  - I am a Red man and a man of honor and cant be imposed on this way   we will lift up our tomahauks and fight for land with all those friendly tribes that wishes land also    If I am Beaton I then will Resign to fate and if not I will hold lands By the forse of my Red Warriors.

Fields and Hunter then pledged the Cherokees to aid the Fredonians in evicting the unwelcome occupants of the grant.  In return, the Cherokees were to receive title to all of Texas lying north of a line drawn from Nacogdoches westwards to the Rio Grande.  Richard Fields, John Dunn Hunter, Nekolakeh, John Bags, and Cuktokeh signed for the Cherokees.

The Cherokees probably held a large council to consider this important decision.  Fields and Hunter, both consummate diplomats, no doubt played up the tribe’s recent failures with the Mexican government and by doing so convinced many of the tribe that uniting with the seemingly powerful Fredonians would solve all difficulties.

Through the joint offices of Peter Ellis Bean, acting as an agent of the Mexican government, and Jose Antonio Saucedo, most of the Cherokees were dissuaded from adhering to the treaty.

While Duwali and other chiefs at first may have been persuaded by Field’s demands for an alliance with the Fredonians, and the customary unanimity may have prevailed in the council autumn of 1826, by the first of the new year a factional spilt had surfaced.  With the Mexican army en route to attack Fredonians, Hunter and Field’s machinations no longer seemed to offer much advantage.  Bean’s and Austin’s arguments and Saucedo’s promises had the desired effect, and opponents of the Fredonians held sway in the council.  In early February, as Saucedo’s army approached Nacogdoches, no Cherokees appeared to reinforce Edwards’ minions, and the rebels fled across the Sabine.

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Duwali was now left to prove to the victorious Mexican authorities that the Cherokees’ momentary intransigence was not to be taken as a disloyal act.  Again the elders met in council.  What transpired can only be imagined, but it resulted in an order to execute Fields and Hunter. 

Fields headed for American territory, but was captured and executed after crossing the Sabine.  Hunter escaped but was pursued by a force of Americans, including some of Austin’s militia led by Bean.  They failed to capture Hunter, but he was later apprehended at the Anadarko village and killed.  Duwali and Gatunwali came into Nacogdoches on February 28 to report the execution to the Mexican authorities, bringing with them one of Hunter’s guns and a Fredonian flag said to have been hanging in Fields’ house.

In April the general [Anastasio Bustamante] commended Duwali and Gatunwali (“Bowl” and “Big Mush”) to the Supreme Government for their prompt action in the affair.

Civil Chief Duwali and the council sent Hunter to Mexico City to be their advocate, although he, too, was unfamiliar with Mexican law and political manipulation and fell victim to international political maneuvering.  After failing in his mission, Hunter persuaded the council to ally with the Edwards brothers and their cohorts in a scheme that was bound to backfire, as Mexican authorities did not brook rebellions of this sort among resident foreigners. The only effect of Cherokees involvement in the Fredonian rebellion, if it even deserves the appellation, was that Americans in east Texas learned to distrust them.  Even Austin did nothing more to help them before he died. Fields pitiful protests about “poor Indians” notwithstanding, it was evident to Mexican officials, empresarios, and settlers alike that the Cherokees were a diplomatic and military presence henceforth to be watched and feared.