Surrounded By Ten Mounted Indians
Bonham Daily Favorite, April 3, 1994
Although representatives of the Republic of Texas government made several attempts to negotiate treaties with the warring Indian tribes in those early days of Fannin County, the attempts were futile except for some brief truces negotiated by persons like Holland Coffee, noted Indian trader in the Red River valley.
A more concerted effort was made in 1842 after nearly four years of continuous bloody warfare. In an effort to learn in detail all the variety of depredations committed by the Indian marauders, a number of prominent settlers of the area were asked to give depositions of their knowledge of the Indian affairs. Prominent among these was Mark R. Roberts, patriarch of one of the first ten families who came to Fannin County under the auspices of Dr. Daniel Rowlett. Roberts, it may be remembered also commanded several area militia units during these times.
Roberts' deposition, presented here in abbreviated form recounts many of the massacres that have been discussed over the past several weeks, but he also provided additional information that was probably not available to earlier chroniclers of the Indian wars.
The deposition is dated May 7, 1842. "Sometime in the winter of 1840 Col. William G. Cooke, commanding, received information that a party of hostile Indians said to be Cherokee were about leaving the Chickasaw Nation for Texas, in an invading manner, and that they were possessed of large quantities of ammunition to supply the frontier Indians of Texas to carry on the war. He immediately started with a party of 40 volunteers, for the sole purpose of intercepting them and cutting off these supplies.
He crossed the Red River at Washita, and marched up said river 150 miles without overtaking them, continuing close to the river at all times. During the expedition they met various friendly Indians and molested none. This was the party complained of as having crossed Red River into Chickasaw Nation numbered at roughly 100 men.
As to the charge made against Texians of having crossed into the Chickasaw Nation - These are the facts. We received information from the friendly Quapaw who live on Red River. . . that a party of Coushatta who had frequently made descents upon the people of Texas, and engaged in murdering families and stealing horses - were preparing to make a descent on Texas. A party of men led by Joseph Sowell consisting of four or five crossed Red River. . . came on some Indians in their camp and did fire at them but did not know whether any were killed . . . Captain Sowell has since been killed by Indians at his own home in the town of Warren.
Eight days ago a Mr. David Alberty 20 miles above Warren, was surrounded by ten mounted Indians and killed and scalped and mangled. James Saymore being on horseback made his escape. I went out with a party immediately and found the body and brought him in.
These Indians were tracked to the U.S. line to the mouth of Mineral (note: Mineral Creek in present day Grayson County) and are supposed to be Cherokee . . . Before yesterday 12 miles from Warren a party of Indians was found encamped, consisting of 17 men with a spy out - their previous camp had been found where they had been making bows and arrows. They are supposed to be part of the same Indians who killed Alberty."
John G. Jouett, who served as the first Chief Justice (County Judge) of Fannin County filed an affidavit on the same day as that filed by Mark Roberts: "Depredations are continually being made by Indians upon the property of our citizens, and not infrequently are the citizens themselves murdered, and in almost every instance have these marauding parties been tracked across red River, among the United States Indians. In one instance we have followed them as far as the Cherokee Nation upon the Arkansas River.
Last March a year ago a Choctaw Indian from the United States broke into my store and stole about three hundred and fifty dollars worth of goods which fact can be established by the testimony of several of the Choctaw.
A short time since a Coushatta well known as Coushatta Bill and belonging to the United States was killed in an attempt to steal horses from the stable of D. Dugan, of this county, about an hour previous the party of Indians to which he belonged had broken open the house of said Dugan and killed one man and wounded another.
A short time since a Texian started to Missouri who camped about seven miles north of Red River in the Choctaw Nation who was there killed and supposed to be by a Choctaw. One man was killed within the last week by Indians who were tracked to where they crossed Red River into the United States. Indeed for the last four years there has been an almost constant succession of such scenes."
Other depositions were taken from Fannin County citizens. Most of them merely repeated the incidents that have been cited here. Dr.Daniel Rowlett wrote that in May 1840 he, as requested by General E.H. Tarrant, informed all Coushatta Indians living in or near Fannin County, that they should assemble on the banks of Red River. At such time they were to indicate their willingness to be placed in a reservation on the Trinity River. According to Rowlett about thirty Indians were found and all requested to be permitted to return to the reservation by a passage through the wilderness. Tarrant objected to the request and the Indians crossed Red River into the Chickasaw Nation.
Fannin County District Attorney Jesse Benton, Jr. was responsible for collecting these depositions and in forwarding them to Secretary of State Anson Jones he wrote a letter in which he castigated the authorities of the United States for their actions and threats toward the citizens of Texas.
"You will find by reference that in every invasion of the country of the United States, our citizens have been justified by the most imperious necessity. The Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, if they have not been actually engaged in the depredations , now being continually carried on upon our frontier citizens, are constantly affording an asylum to those Indians who are the actual perpetrators of these outrages.
If we sought for other justification for the conduct of our citizens towards those Indians than that which a plain statement of the facts afford we could find a most ample one in the conduct of the United States in the campaign against the Seminole under the command of General Andrew Jackson. The conduct of our exposed and injured frontier citizens has fallen far short of this and our sister to the north will certainly not censure us for pursuing the same course which she has pursued in a like emergency.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas