Battle of the Neches

The Battle of the Neches, the main engagement of the Cherokee War of 1838–1839 (part of the Texas-Indian Wars), took place on 15–16 July in 1839 in what is now the Redland community (between Tyler and Ben Wheeler, Texas). It resulted from the Córdova Rebellion and Texas President Lamar's determination to remove the Cherokee people from Texas. Many had migrated there from the American Southeast to avoid being forced to Indian Territory in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma.

Battle of the Neches
Part of the Texas-Indian Wars
DateJuly 15 & 16, 1839
West of modern Tyler, Texas
Result Texan Victory
Republic of Texas
Tonkawa Indians[1]
Cherokee Nation
Delaware Nation
Commanders and leaders
Gen. Kelsey Douglass
Gen. Thomas Rusk
Col. Edward Burleson
Chief Plácido
The Bowl
Big Mush†
Approx. 500 600–700
Casualties and losses
8 killed
29 wounded,
incl. Vice President Burnet
More than 100 killed


During Sam Houston's first term as President of Texas, while maintaining the Rangers to police rogue Indians, Houston used diplomacy and presents to keep the peace on the frontier with the Comanche and Kiowa, and treated with his allies, the Cherokee. Houston had lived with the Cherokee, and had earned his reputation among Native Americans for fairness and decency due to his relations with the Cherokee.[2] The Cherokee were unhappy that the promises to give them title to their lands, which he had made them[3] to secure their neutrality during the Texas Revolution, had not been fulfilled. Houston negotiated a settlement with them in February 1836, though he was unable to get the Legislature to ratify the portion of the treaty confirming the Cherokee's land titles. This was neither the first nor last time the legislature refused to ratify agreements Houston made with the Indians.[2]

In 1838, word arrived from several sources that Mexico was seeking an arrangement with the Cherokee which would give them title to their land in exchange for assistance in joining a war of extermination against the Texians. Nacogdochians looking for a stolen horse found a camp of around one hundred armed Tejanos. Rather than allow the local militia to act, Houston (who was in Nacogdoches at the time) prohibited both sides from assembly or carrying of weapons. Local alcalde Vicente Córdova and eighteen other leaders of the revolt issued a proclamation with a number of demands to be met before their surrender. After being joined by around three hundred Indian warriors, they moved towards the Cherokee settlements. Despite Houston's orders he should not cross the Angelina to interfere, General Rusk sent on a party of 150 men under Major Henry Augustine, who defeated the rebels near Seguin, Texas. Despite the involvement of the Cherokee and the discovery of documents directly implicating The Bowl on two separate Mexican agents over the next six months, Houston professed to believe the chief's denials and refused to order them arrested. In his several letters of reassurance to The Bowl during the unrest, Houston again promised them title to their land on the Neches.[4] Warriors believing their lands to be violated by the legal settlers then perpetrated the Killough Massacre, killing eighteen.[5]

In the wake of this and the publication of Rachel Plummer's narrative of her captivity among the Comanche, Texas's second president, Mirabeau B. Lamar, was less sympathetic toward the tribe and convinced that the Cherokees could not be allowed to stay in Texas. Stating that "the white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together," as "Nature forbids it," Lamar instructed his subordinates to communicate to the Cherokees:[6]

that unless they consent at once to receive a fair Compensation for their improvements and other property, and remove out of this Country, nothing short of the entire distruction [sic] of all they possess, and the extermination of their Tribe will appease the indignation of the white people against them.

Should the Cherokee refuse compensation for their removal and resist, Lamar's orders were:

to push a rigorous war against them; pursuing them to their hiding places without mitigation or compassion, until they shall be made to feel that flight from our borders without hope of return, is preferable to the scourges of war.

The removal of the Cherokee was one of the first acts of his presidency.[7]

The Battle of the Neches

Lamar demanded that the Cherokee, who had never possessed legal title to their lands, accept a payment in cash and goods for the land and its improvements and move beyond the Red River into the U.S. Indian Territory.[6] Houston protested, but in vain.[4] Gen. Kelsey Douglass was charged with ensuring the removal and camped with about 500 Texan soldiers six miles south of the principal Cherokee settlement.[8] On July 12, 1839, he sent a peace commission to negotiate for the Indians' removal. The Cherokee initially agreed to sign a treaty of removal guaranteeing them the profit from their crops and the cost of the removal, but delayed for two days over a clause requiring them to be escorted from Texas under armed guard.[4] On the third day, the commissioners told the Indians the Texians were marching on their village immediately and those willing to leave peacefully should fly a white flag.

On 15 July 1839, the Texan army advanced up Battle Creek, with Capt. Willis Landrum crossing the Neches to cut off possible reinforcement and intercept any Indians fleeing northward from the battle. The Cherokees were waiting on high ground and attacked[9] The Indians were driven back and retreated into a nearby ravine. Landrum failed to block them, having been misled by his guide.[10] The battle then continued sporadically through the day, at the end of which three Texans had been killed and five wounded against eighteen Cherokee.[9]

The Cherokee retreated several miles overnight before Col. James Carter's spy company discovered them near the Neches headwaters in modern Van Zandt County. The Cherokee attacked after the company had been joined by Col. Edward Burleson's company and Gen. Rusk's soon joined them on the left. The Texians charged the Indian position across open terrain, then pursued their retreat into the Neches bottom. The Texian losses were two killed and 27 wounded (3 fatally) to an estimated hundred dead Cherokee and Delaware.[11]

Among the Texian injured were serving Vice President David G. Burnet and Secretary of War Albert Sidney Johnston, both cited in the commander's report "for active exertions on the field" and "having behaved in such a manner as reflects great credit upon themselves." Gen. Hugh McLeod and Maj. David Kaufman were also wounded, and John Reagan was also a participant.[10] The Bowl was shot from his horse still carrying a sword given to him by Sam Houston. McLeod later presented his hat as a gift to Houston.

After the battle, the Cherokee made one last attempt to reach Mexico by skirting the north of the Texian settlements, before being removed to Indian Territory, modern Oklahoma.[9]

See also


  1. Moore, Stephen L. Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, 1838–1839.
  2. "SAMUEL HOUSTON." The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 7 Sept 2007.
  3. "CHEROKEE INDIANS". The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.
  4. "CÓRDOVA REBELLION." The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.
  5. "KILLOUGH MASSACRE." The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 19 Feb 2010.
  6. Lamar, Mirabeau. Letter to David G. Burnet & al. 27 Jun 1839. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.]
  7. Dial, Steve. "Die Is Cast." Texas Beyond History. 2005. Retrieved 7 Sept 2007.
  8. "CHEROKEE WAR." The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.
  9. Wilbarger, J.W. Indian Depredations in Texas. Op.cit. "Cherokee War & Battle of the Neches." Fort Tours website. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.
  10. "BATTLE OF THE NECHES." The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.
  11. Douglass, Kelsey. Letter to Secretary of War Johnston. 17 Jul 1839. Retrieved 18 Feb 2010.

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