December 27, 2001

The Cherokee War of 1839


The Cherokee War of 1839 was the culmination of friction between the Cherokee, Kickapoo, and Shawnee Indians and the white settlers in Northeast Texas.

The Indians, who had obtained squatters’ rights to the land from Spanish authorities, were promised title to the land by the Consultation, and on February 23, 1836, a treaty made by Sam Houston and John Forbes, who represented the provisional government, gave title to the lands between the Angelina and Sabine rivers and northwest of the Old San Antonio Road to the Cherokees and their associated bands.

The treaty was tabled by the Texas Senate on December 29, 1836, and was declared null and void by that body on December 16, 1837, despite Houston’s insistence that it be ratified.

The Córdova Rebellion in August 1838 caused Thomas Jefferson Rusk to march on the Cherokees in an effort to intercept Vicente Córdova; but Córdova did not seek shelter among the Cherokees, and Rusk returned to the settlements.

On October 16, 1838, Rusk, with 230 troops,
pursued a band of Kickapoos, destroyed their village, and killed eleven warriors, including one renegade Cherokee.

There were sporadic raids by the Indians during the fall of 1838 and spring of 1839.

After the discovery, in May 1839, of a letter in the possession of Manuel Flores exposing plans by the Mexican government to enlist the Indians
against the Texas settlers, President Mirabeau B. Lamar, supported by popular opinion, determined to expel the East Texas Indians.

In July 1839, Kelsey H. Douglass was put in command of approximately 500 troops under
Edward Burleson, Willis H. Landrum and Rusk, and was ordered to remove the Indians to Arkansas Territory.

The army camped on Council Creek, six miles south of the principal Cherokee village of Chief Bowl and dispatched a commission on July 12 to negotiate for the Indians’ removal.

The Indians agreed to sign a treaty of removal that guaranteed to them the profit from their crops and the cost of the removal.

During the next two days they insisted they were willing to leave but refused to sign the treaty because of a clause that would give them an armed escort out of the republic.

On July 15 the commissioners told the Indians that the Texans would march on their village immediately and that those willing to accept the treaty should display a white flag.

Landrum was sent across the Neches to cut off possible reinforcements, and the remainder of the army marched on the village.

The battle of the Neches occurred a few miles west of Tyler, Texas, in what is now Henderson County.

By sundown three Texans had been killed and five wounded; the Indians had lost eighteen. The Indians fled, and Douglass made camp.

Pursuit was begun on the morning of July 16. A scouting party under James Carter engaged the Cherokees near the headwaters of the Neches River at a site now in Van Zandt County, Texas.

The Indians sought shelter in a hut and the surrounding cornfields but were forced to abandon them after Carter was reinforced by the arrival of Rusk and Burleson.

After thirty minutes of fighting the Indians were forced to the Neches bottom, where Chief Bowl was
killed and a number of warriors were lost.

After the last fighting near Grand Saline, Texas, it was estimated that more than 100 Indians had been killed or wounded in the engagements.

On July 21 the Texans marched toward the headwaters of the Sabine River along the route taken by the fleeing Indians. Numerous huts and fields were destroyed that afternoon, and several villages and more than 200 acres of
corn were burned on the morning of July 22.

The destruction continued during the pursuit of the Indians, which was not abandoned until July 24. Most of the Indians fled to Cherokee lands outside the republic.

During the winter a small group under Chief Egg and John Bowles, son of Chief Bowl, attempted to
reach Mexico by skirting the fringe of white settlements.

Burleson, on a campaign against the Plains Indians, intercepted the Cherokees and attacked them near the mouth of the San Saba River on December 25, 1839.

Egg and Bowles and several warriors were killed, and twenty-seven women and children were captured. This was the last important action against the Cherokees in Texas.


Dianna Everett, The Texas Cherokees: A People between Two Fires, 1819-1840
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990).

Cherokee Indians
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