Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

According to the Strictest Rigour of Law

Bonham Daily Favorite, March 27, 1994

Despite the murderous raids perpetrated by Indians in Fannin County, the Indians of the region were not without their supporters among the early settlers. All the depredations were not committed by the feared "Redskins," for there are a number of recorded instances when the "White Man" was equally as guilty.

In those early years of frontier warfare many of the region's leaders were guilty of acts that were as heinous as those committed by the Indian raiders. Captain John Hart, one of the earliest settlers in the Red River valley was an experienced Indian fighter and had the reputation of giving no quarter to any Indian who dared to give the slightest provocation to Hart. Descriptions of Hart given by inhabitant of the area often commented on the number of Indian scalps that he had taken and proudly displayed on his belt much like the battle ribbons of a modern warrior.

Thomas Cowart, son-in-law of Bailey Inglish, was recorded by John Simpson as having scalped Indians on more than one occasion.

Joseph Sowell's 1841 raid into Indian Territory with the resulting death of several Indians who were surprised at their camp was probably a contributing factor in Sowell's own death a few weeks later outside his tavern at Fort Warren. Sowell's company of about eight men were in pursuit of a band of Coushattas who were suspected of horse theft. Accounts of Sowell's raid strongly suggest the the slain Indians were massacred without warning.

A curious twist of fate also involved the brother of Joseph Sowell some months after Sowell's death. District Attorney Jesse Benton, Jr. reported on the affair to the Secretary of State in May of 1842.

"It is with regret that I am compelled to state one instance of wanton aggression a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Richard H. Sowell without any provocation within my knowledge, fired upon and mortally wounded said Indian whilst crossing Red River into the United States of which wound the said Indian died a few days thereafter in the County of Fannin, of this Republic. He received every attention which the citizens were enabled to afford him.

For this offense an Indictment has been found, the offender arrested, and will be tried at the next term of the District Court. . . when he shall be dealt with according to the strictest rigour of law.

Since proceedings have been instituted against said Sowell, I have been informed that a demand has been made upon General E.H. Tarrant, for Sowell, by the Agent of the Chickasaw to be delivered to the authorities of Arkansas, in order that he may be tried there for this offence. Believing that the Jurisdiction of the Case more properly belongs to this country, I shall proceed upon the indictment, now pending against him, unless otherwise instructed by my own government."

Richard Sowell was tried and prosecuted by Benton in Red River County. A jury of his peers acquitted him of all charges. In the June 14, 1845 edition of The Northern Standard newspaper it was reported that on election day Richard Sowell was killed in Bonham by a Mr. Turner. The report indicated that Sowell had been threatening and pursuing Turner all over town. In self defense Turner fatally stabbed Sowell in the abdomen. Turner was arrested and examined before a judge and discharged.

One incidence of brutal depredation against Indians occured in Fannin County nearly two years after the hostile Indians had been pushed to the west. In the Spring of 1844 a small peaceful band of Delaware Indians were camped in east central Fannin County near the Lamar County line. The men and small boys had been away from their home for many weeks hunting buffalo, deer, and bear, collecting the pelts for trade with fur buyers to the east.

A group of several men, who were suspected of criminal activity along Sulphur River valley for several months, came upon the Indian camp unexpectedly and discovering the rich cache of hides proceeded to slay everyone in the camp. The was looted of everything of value and divided among the men.

Word of the atrocity reached the worthy citizens of southeast Fannin County and soon an armed party of men went in search of the criminals. Each was arrested at his home and the entire group was taken to a spot somewhere west of present day Ladonia. There a jury was chosen, the evidence presented, the sentence pronounced, and several of the men, who were presumed to be the actual killers, were hanged. Others were ordered to leave the area immediately and never to return. In spite of all the deaths attributable to Indian raids only a few years earlier, the law abiding settlers of the county insisted that justice be served.

Nearly 150 years after this violent period in the history of Fannin County we can only conjecture as to the emotions experienced by those who chose to make a new life for themselves along the Red River. Certainly these men and women never considered that they were stealing the land from those who chose to wage the war. Evidence strongly suggests that there were no actual Indian settlements within the confines of the vast Fannin County created in 1837.

What then compelled the Indian to launch the four year bloody war? Certainly loss of hunting grounds had to have played a part. Early records show that there were a number of large buffalo herds to be found within the boundaries of Fannin County. Other game, deer, bear, and beaver were also reported to be plentiful. So the white man's arrival could certainly be viewed as an intrusion on the Indian's domain or it may be as many suggested that these raids were generally the work of Indians outside the control of their tribes, renegades as they were called.

Even with their sense of justice, as in the cases where depredations were committed against the Indian, the white settlers also harbored understandable animosity toward specific groups of Indians and they exacted their retribution. Perhaps the most telling of the vengeful acts can be found in the account of the attack on the Kitchen's family farm near Fort Warren.

John Kitchen's brought his family to northeast Texas in 1835 and over months were subjected to various harrassments by Indians. One particularly dark night a band of Indians staged a raid on the compound. Young William Kitchens was killed in the fight. At morning, the body of an Indian was found in the front yard. Two sisters of Kitchens, in an act of revenge decapitated the body and placed the head on a pike by the front gate.