Texas Indian Reservations

The Texas Legislature reluctantly agreed to allow the United States establishment of two reservations on the Brazos. Their concerns stemmed from the knowledge that most of their constituents on the frontier strongly preferred to exterminate or drive out the remaining Indians. Their acceptance of the reservation proposal was based, at least partially, on the fact that the land they donated was far west of the settlements. Within five years, Texas ranches completely surrounded the agencies. Raiders from Indian territory and the Plains increased the frequency and viciousness of their attacks on the new settlers and racial hatred increased proportionately among the Whites.

Rip Ford was authorized to form a Ranger batallion to protect the frontier and the reservation Indians when the U. S. Second Cavalry was relocated to Utah. White settlers poured onto the frontier and soon the reservations were surrounded by ranches. Sul Ross organized the reservation Indians into a militia which fought with Ross and Van Dorn in major battles in Indian Territory.

The Kiowa and Comanche warriors took every opportunity to make false trails leading to the Texas reservations. Desire for a fight was mutual, it seems the Whites learned a few things from the Comanches when it came to making false trails. Ford had recently taken command of the Rangers at Belknap and was discussing with his junior officers the pile of complaints concerning reservation Indians involved in stealing and murder. Ford suggested sending patrols around the reservations and one officer remarked that if a trail could be found leading from an attack back to the reservation, it would prove the complaints were true. Lt. Allison Nelson added that a trail could be made. Ford lifted Nelson by his collar and emphatically stated, "No, Sir, that will not do, I am responsible to the state, and to public opinion, and I will take no step in the matter, unless I am backed by the facts, and of such a character as to justify me before the public. I am willing to punish the [reserve] Comanches, if they are found guilty; but I am not disposed to do so unjustly and improperly."

Robert S. Neighbors, Indian Agent Quote

    It appears… that they think that the general government employs me to herd the horses of the citizens generally, when the fact is that I have not a single soldier under my control, and am not charged with the defense of the frontier against Indian depredations…. I can only act as a civil magistrate to execute the Indians Laws and Treaties. WPW

Nelson allied himself with John R. Baylor, whom Reservation Superintendent Neighbors had fired as Comanche agent. Allison wanted Neighbor's job and the two did all they could to arouse the anger of the white settlers. Several incidents of innocent Indians being attacked and murdered by local residents brought pressure on Ford to arrest the guilty parties but he refused though it was the Ranger's duty to protect Superintendent Neighbors and his Indians. Neighbors was forced to relocate the Indians. The relocation devastated the already impoverished Indians. Many of the Caddo and Tonkawas had fought with the Whites in Texas and were understandably afraid in their new home. Neighbors wrote to his wife the night he arrived at the Wichita Agency, near where Fort Sill is today.

    "I have this day crossed all the Indians out of the heathen land of Texas and am now out of the land of the Philistines.

    If you want a full description of our Exodus... read the "Bible" where the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea. We have had about the same show, only our enemies did not follow us.

Agent Shapley Ross remained in Belknap after his friend, Neighbors, was murdered in the town's main street upon his return from Indian territory. Ross, and men of like minds, who had at least some sympathy for the plight of the Texas Reservation Indian made up a very small minority on the North Texas frontier. Ross had brought his wife and infant son, Sul, to Texas from Iowa around 1840. There was at least one occasion when Shapley had to scoop his son up under a shower of arrows and take cover in his cabin and he once had to ransom his son from the Comanches. The Rangers were in a tough spot on the frontier during this time. Though they had been responsible for the Indian's welfare, they could hardly move against the overwhelming majority of settlers. On the other hand, the Rangers admired and respected Neighbors and men like him, proof being that they privately saw to it that Neighbor's assasins met justice. The respect for the United States' officers on the frontier dulled their desire to get involved in the Civil War.


John R. Baylor

The following story is from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.

    For some time the attention of the entire southwest had been focused on the Indian reserves. The Governor of Texas had issued a proclamation in an effort to establish peace. The officers in command of Fort Belknap and Camp Cooper had been on the alert for any emergency. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington, issued his several orders. But still the surging conflict between the citizens on the one hand, and the reservation Indians and agents on the other, continued to ebb and flow with an increasing momentum, and the exasperated citizens brought the question to a final climax, when men from Montague, Denton, Cooke, Collin, Wise, Parker, Jack, Palo Pinto, Erath, Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, and other counties rendezvoused near the lines of Young, Jack, and Palo Pinto Counties, for the purpose of attacking the reserves. The entire command was placed under John R. Baylor. For a short time these men were drilled on a branch, which has since been known as Filibuster Branch, because Col. John R. Baylor and his men were referred to as filibusters.

    During the morning of May 23rd, 1859, Colonel Baylor and his command left their camp on Filibuster Branch, which was about four miles east of the Lower Reservation, and started toward the Brazos Agency. The movement of the citizens, however, was not known to the Indians, their agents, and the soldiers at Fort Belknap. In fact, for several days an attack had been expected. Ample fortifications and breastworks had been built, and soldiers from Fort Belknap under the command of Capt. J. B. Plummer, of the United States Army, were stationed on the reservation for any emergency. Colonel Baylor drew his command in a line of battle between the Waco village and Agency buildings, and they were within six hundred yards of the latter point. Captain Plummer dispatched Captain Gilbert with his company to meet Colonel Baylor and demand of him for what purpose he had entered upon the reservation with an armed body of men. Colonel Baylor replied that he had come to assault certain Indians of this reserve, but not to attack any whites. But should the troops or citizens fire upon his men, he intended to attack them also. After receiving this reply, Captain Plummer sent Lieutenant Burnet to Colonel Baylor with instructions to the effect that the soldiers were there to protect the Indians on the reserves from attacks of armed bands of citizens, that they would do so to the best of their ability, and that in the name of the Government of the United States, Captain Plummer warned Colonel Baylor to leave the reserve. Colonel Baylor then replied that this last message did not alter his determination to attack the Indians on the reserves, but that he would attend to this matter himself, and further that he regretted the necessity of coming in collision with the United States troops, but that he had determined to destroy the Indians on both reserves, if it cost the life of every man in his command.

    About the first bloodshed that occurred, if reports be true, Colonel Baylor’s men killed an elderly Indian man, who was away from his comrades and looking after a pony; and an elderly woman, working in her little garden. But since they were operating from a distance, they no doubt, did not know that the latter was a woman. This occurred on Salt Creek, near the crossing, and only a short distance from the Agency buildings, and it was here the fight began. Only a few Indians were engaged at first; a running fight occurred toward the home of Wm. Marlin, where a stand was made by the citizens. By this time, a large number of Indians were engaged in the fighting; but as a rule, the two factions were firing at each other from a considerable distance. The thickest of fighting occurred around the home of Wm. Marlin, and it began about four o’ clock in the evening. At all times the soldiers were in readiness, but they never entered the conflict. Late in the evening, when the firing ceased, about one additional Indian was killed, and five others wounded.

    A Mr. Washburn and possibly one or two of the Texans were also killed. Captain W. C. McAdams, and Dan Gage were wounded.

    Along about this same time, some minor attacks were made upon the Comanche reservation, but the major fighting occurred on the evening of the 23rd of May, 1859, at the home of Wm. Marlin.

The following story is Captain R. B. Barry's first hand account of his Ranger duties from the book, Indian Depredations in Texas, by J. W. Wilbarger.

    On one occasion Captain Peter Garland, who was following an Indian trail, came near a camp of the lower reservation Indians, and mistaking them for Caddoes, a fight was the consequence, in which Stephens and Barnes, two of his men, were killed and ten of the Indians. As this fight took place among the wigwams, some of the squaws and children were killed in the melee.

    This was the beginning of the reservation war. The citizens flocked to the protection of those living above, near the reservation; and in a few days there were embodied together seven hundred men, besides some small parties scattered about at different points. Captain Allison Nelson was elected to the command, and it was resolved to make an attack upon the upper reservation, as it was believed our worst enemies were there. Four hundred men were ordered to proceed up the Clear fork of the Brazos, under Colonel John R. Baylor.

    While passing up by the lower reservation, Colonel Baylor's men killed and captured some straggling Indians. This brought on a fight with the Indians of the lower reservation. The fight lasted several hours, and war carried on in regular savage style by both parties, each putting to death all the prisoners taken. Many were killed and wounded on both sides, but the Indians having the United States forces under Captain Parmer to fall back upon, there was but one alternative left us-either to draw off or attack Captain Parmer's command.

    It is very certain that on this occasion some white men fought against us, but no doubt they were mainly the "dead heads" and hangers on about the reservation, as no United States soldiers were seen in the fight.

    During a consultation between Colonels Baylor and Nelson, the Indians of both reservations were thrown together, and, with the United States soldiers protecting them, they left the State of Texas and established their reservation at Fort Cobb, on the upper Wichita, in the Chickasaw nation.

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