To Wage A War of Extermination
Bonham Daily Favorite, March 13, 1994
In addition to the Indian depredations reported in Judge John P. Simpson's writings and the additional compilation of stories by Josiah Wilbarger other incidents of Indian warfare and minor occurrences are to be found in some of the correspondence from Fannin County. Not only were the pioneer settlers faced with imminent death nearly everyday but they also had to put up with a number skirmishes involving horse and cattle theft and untold numbers of petty thefts of property.
One problem dealing with these incidents seems to be that the Anglo settlers of the Red River valley simply were unable to identify the tribes from which these predators were connected. Most of the Texas tribes were unfamiliar to the settlers.
Mark Roberts, who commanded a Fannin Guard militia unit during parts of 1839 and 1840 wrote a letter to Charles Mason, Texas Secretary of War, reporting on the kind of warfare he believed was being waged by the Indians along Red River. His report, in part, reads as follows:
"In the month of February there was seven persons murdered by Indians near Journey's Camp and the Indians made their retreat across Red River. (Note: This particular incident has been unrecorded in other records of Indian warfare and we have only Robert's account. Journey's Camp probably refers to the compound where N.T. Journey had homesteaded. The location would be somewhere near present day Mulberry. The names of the victims are not known.) We believed them to be Caddo or Kickapoo, but lately we have been visited by a band of Cherokee Indians from Arkansas.
(These) stole twenty head of horses, were pursued to the nation and the horses found, and also one of the horses of the murdered men in February last seen amongst them which is a convincing proof that the murder was done by the same Indians.
I was ranging on the waters of the Trinity when the murders were committed and was not able to ascertain the route the enemy had come from that struck the blow as there was no trace of their trails to be found in the direction that we expected an enemy from. Those murders were committed in the very bosom of the country and on the banks of Red River where no rangers are ranging."
Dr. Daniel Rowlett on January 5, 1840 wrote to then Acting Secretary of State David G. Burnet with a complaint of horse theft by Cherokees in the Spring of 1839. Whether or not these were the same Cherokees referred to by Roberts is not clear.
Rowlett reported that he had lost two horses, John R. Fitzgerald and J.R. Garnett each lost one horse while John Duncan and George Duncan had one mare stolen from each. George Duncan lost two additional mares and one colt. In the central section J.C. Dodd and John and Isham Davis had one horse and two mares stolen.
Rowlett indicated that a company of eleven men, under his command, pursued the Indians about 250 miles into Indian territory. Just outside Fort Smith the company caught up with the thieves and were able to recover a part of the stolen herd. A complaint was filed with Indian Agent Armstrong who assured the group that they would be compensated for their losses and expenses in the amount of $1577.
Whether or not the threat was real, from time to time fears in the Red River valley were heightened at rumors of an invasion, from the north, by various bands of Indians. In 1842, at the request of Secretary of State, Anson Jones, Fannin County attorney Thomas F. Smith launched an investigation into these rumors. He gathered and submitted over the next several months a series of affidavits from area citizens.
On April 22, 1842, Smith wrote Jones from Warren with an explanation as to why the information had not been forthcoming as he had promised: "The cause of the delay is attributable to the fact that I have been unable to see the persons I wished to see for that purpose and as yet have been unable to procure their testimony. . . Considerable excitement prevails in this county in consequence of news having been communicated by a friend in the Chickasaw Nation . . .
Mexican emissaries are and have been for some time past among the wild Indians for the purpose of enlisting them in behalf of Mexico to wage a war of extermination against Northern Texas.
It is said that they have succeeded with the Kickapoo, Waco, Shawnee, Delaware, Coushatta, Keechi, and a portion of the Cherokee and Creek. This information comes from a creditable source, and was communicated to us by a white man living in the nation who has ever been a friend to Texas and has a brother living in the country. He has no hesitancy in assuring us of his entire belief in its truth.
It is said also that Major Upshaw has two companies of U.S. Dragoons stationed on Washita about twelve miles from Red River for the purpose of watching the movements of the Indians. This Country, it appears, is doomed to be the Theatre of a protracted and more serious border warfare than any we have every yet experienced."
Seemingly, much of the apprehension and fears expressed by the residents of the valley were due in part from the incident involving Joseph Sowell and his company of men who crossed into Indian Territory some months before and surprised a band of Indians in their wigwams and killed ten or twelve.
Holland Coffee, from his home at Glen Eden near Preston, filed an affidavit on May 6, 1842. Whether or not his particular document is a part of Tom Farrow Smith's investigation is unknown. The cover and explanatory portion is missing from the paper. Coffee asserted that, "The depredations that were alleged to have been committed by a party of Texians in the year of 1841 . . . when it was charged . . . that Choctaw or Chickasaw Indians were followed over Red River by a party of Texians and killed in violation of the laws and treaties existing between the United States and the Republic of Texas . . .
At this time this portion of Texas was in a state of war against hostile Indians, of Texas, who were likewise in a state of war with Texas, daily committing depredations, killing families on the frontier of Fannin County, and engaged in stealing horses. The Indians charged to have been killed were Coushatta, and they were at war with Texas, and engaged in stealing horses. Under these circumstances the party of Texians pursued them and followed them across Red River where they were alleged to have been killed.
He (Coffee) does not think the Texians had any idea of trespassing on the Choctaw or Chickasaw Indians, and knows the Texians were on friendly terms with them - and at peace.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas