Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Cherokees Gathering to Invade Texas

Bonham Daily Favorite, February 6, 1994

Five frontier militia companies, acting under the regulations set down by the Texas Congress for the Fannin Guards, have been identified from muster rolls found in the Texas State Archives. In addition to these five, three others, probably organized from Fannin County volunteers can be identified from records of the PayMaster General. These records show that companies headed by John Hart, Jesse Stiff, and John P. Simpson were active during 1838 and 1839.

On October 24, 1839, PayMaster General Jacob Snively sent a report to Secretary of War A. Sidney Johnston ; "I have also the honor to submit an estimate for funds required to pay the balance of the militia under command of General Rusk, in 1838 - for the Rangers raised for the protection of the frontier in different sections. . ."

In his report Snively produced one document titled "Of funds required for the payment of the Rangers for services rendered on the Red River frontier in 1838 and 1839."

Field and Staff    $ 3,100
Captain N. Journey's Co.    6,900
Captain M. R. Robert's    390
Captain J. Hart's    1,300
Captain R. Sloan's    3,259
Captain J.  Stiff's    354
Lieut. J. P. Simpson    350

Total:  $15,643.00

In addition to these militia companies composed exclusively of men from Fannin County, two other companies were also in action along the frontier just a couple of years later. The units were commanded by John Emberson, very early settler in the Red River valley, and Captain James Bourland who was to achieve fame during the Civil War. About half of the men in each company were made up of Fannin County settlers.

Emberson's company was sworn in by Colonel Daniel Montague of the 2nd Regiment, 4th Brigade, Texas Militia. The term of enlistment was for March 16th to September 16th, 1839. In addition to the Captain, there were two other commissioned offices, Lieutenants William M. Williams and Charles W. Sadler. Three non-commissioned officers and forty-nine privates made up the company.

Also serving was Dr. Edwin C. Rogers who substituted for Dr. John Trimble as company physician.

One interesting sidelight to be found on the muster roll of the company is the listing of sixteen men who subsituted for other individuals who evidently were conscripted into the company. Four of these substitutes, according to the records, were paid for their substitution. Hiring someone to takes one's place in the military was certainly not unusual and was a common practice during the American Revolution, but it seems somewhat unusual to find the practice along the Texas frontier.

One stalwart private in this company had been involved in the defense of the area for several years. Jesse Stiff served in three of Joseph Sowell's companies, headed his own company at one time, and then signed on for six months with Emberson's group as a private.

The records also indicate the supplies issued to each man, presumably for the six month term. This was not one of your more healthful diets but probably very standard for the times and the area. Each man received the following: 222 1/3 pounds of beef, 17 1/2 pounds of bacon, 23 2/3 pounds of pork, 6 pounds of salt, 4 3/4 pounds of sugar, and 38 bushels of corn.

Near the end of the service period Emberson wrote an interesting letter to Secretary War Johnston, dated September 2, 1839, at Camp Bois d'Arc. (It is not known whether this reference was to the town of Bois d'Arc, as Bonham was then called or to a camp along the creek of the same name.)   "Since my last letter nothing of importance had transpired on this frontier - no sign of any Indians crossing red River either to or from Texas, with the exception of a small party of Shawnees a few days ago, on their way from Texas, to their village on the north side of Red River, which party was permitted to pass unmolested, and crossed the Red River in peace and safety. This party informed us of a party of Cherokees, settled, and are now remaining on the east fork of the Trinity River about ______________.  
We will keep a close watch for them."

"I have just received a communication from Mr. Clark, sub agent for the Choctaw Indians of the United States, which informs me that a party of Cherokees are now embodying on the Arkansas River, for the purpose of invading Texas, and advising me to keep a close watch for them. I believe the United States Indian agents are doing all in their power to prevent the Indians from crossing Red River, to commit depredations upon our citizens. Yet it will be impossible to prevent it, so long as Red River remains the dividing line for two hundred miles between our settlements and the Indians and no station or military post at any point upon said stream."

​Colonel James Bourland was twice called on to defend Texas from invasion across Red River. In 1841 he commanded another of the frontier militias, this one defined as protection from possible invasion from warlike Indians north of the river. Twenty years later he was called upon to command a large number of men defending the river border against a perceived invasion by the troops of the Union army.
In the spring of 1841 Bourland assembled a group of men from the Red River counties and swore them in or a term of three months.  For over a year Bourland had been conducting trade with Chickasaw Indians at his trading post located on Red River about where the Grayson - Cooke County line now runs. His honesty and fair dealings with these Indians had earned him their respect and it was felt by authorities that his reputation would enable him to deal with any serious threats to the citizens of the valley.

The organization of his company is interesting. No pun intended, but it seems that the Bourland company had about as many chiefs as it did Indians. In addition to Captain Bourland, there were eleven lieutenants, and 15 sergeants. Rounding out the group were only 29 privates.

Many of the men in the company were to achieve some measure of fame along the frontier in those early dangerous years when the Republic of Texas was beginning to shape itself from the influences of these men. In the group were Holland Coffee, Silas Colville, Mabel Gilbert, J.R. Oneal, John Hunter, and John B. Denton.

Denton was to die in one of the more famous Indian fights in north Texas at the battle of Village Creek about six miles east of the present site of Fort Worth, May 21, 1841 .