Search

Chief Bowles and the Battle of the Neches

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

Don't forget to like and follow our brand new Facebook page for access to updates and news before anyone else.

Picture of Chief Bowles
Chief John Bowles, Leader of the Texas Cherokees
Picture from the book, Savage Frontier II, by Stephen L. Moore

...During this same time, the dissident Indians tribes of East Texas were uniting and growing stronger. In Nacogdoches Sam Houston tried to use his influence to calm the Cherokees and continued to work into 1837 on placating Chief Bowles, the leader of the more warlike Cherokees.

Bowles was the son of a Scotch-Irish father and a Cherokee mother. Born in 1756, he was said to have had red hair, was slightly freckled, and not as darkly tanned as some of his fellow braves. With sixty warriors and their families, he had moved into Spanish- owned Texas and settled along the Trinity River near present Dallas. Attacks on Bowles' own colony by hostile Indians forced his Cherokee band to migrate to a wooded section of East Texas north of the present town of Henderson.

Cherokee War of East Texas July 1839 Map

...President Houston went to Nacogdoches in February for peace talks with the Indians, who were becoming restless with the Congress of the Republic of Texas' refusal to recognize their 1836 treaty. In early 1838 Chief Bowles had moved his village from the spot north of present Henderson, Texas, to a location that was west of present Alto, Texas, in southwestern Smith County. Bowles began a prosperous business of selling salt from the Neches Saline farther north, and President Houston had appointed Martin Lacy as a trader to the Cherokees to supervise their saline business.

Lacy established a home at an elevated spot near present Alto along the King's Highway that would later be known as Lacy's Fort or Fort Lacy. Despite the fact that the Neches Saline was within the boundaries of territory that had been accorded to the Cherokees by Houston's 1836 treaty, this commodity would not be left exclusively to the Indians' use.

The Senate of the Republic of Texas had appointed a three-man committee in May 1837 to study the Indian situation, and their report was presented in October of the same year. Much attention was paid to the large band of Cherokees, whom they found were led by their war chief, Bowles, and their civil or diplomatic chief, Big Mush (called "Gatunwali" in his native tongue). In a cruel twist for the Cherokees, the committee found that this tribe had no rights given to them by either the Mexican government or Sam Houston's treaty, and they were deemed "the most savage and ruthless" of frontier enemies.

Map of the Cherokee War of East Texas June - July 1839
This map is from the book, The Savage Frontier II, by Stephen L. Moore

The Senate then took moves to ratify a treaty with the Anadarkos and Ionis, moving to isolate two tribes which had long been considered "associates" of the Cherokees. As related, the Senate in December 1837 had officially nullified the Houston Treaty with the Cherokees. Once the land offices reopened, hundreds of new titles were issued to settlers for land that was once considered to be Cherokee territory. The land of William T. Sadler and his fellow Fort Houston settlers was part of the Cherokees' 1833 claim against Mexico.

Secretary of War Barnard E. Bee and Colonel George W. Hockley managed to sign a treaty of peace with the Tonkawas at Houston on April 11, but it soon became clear that the Cherokee issues were far from over. Chief Bowles became increasingly displeased with the futile efforts of Houston, to whom he had given a daughter in marriage and whom he had made an honorary chief in the Cherokee nation. After a visit by Bowles to see him in Houston, a disgruntled President Houston reported to the Texas Senate in May 1838 that ignorant Texas settlers were invading the Cherokees' properties and "goading the Indians to desperation."

After this meeting, Bowles complained that Houston was no longer a chief of the Cherokees but rather the "Great Father" of the white people. His tribe hosted a council of Indian chiefs on June 14, with chiefs from the Delawares, Kickapoos and Coushattas present. All were disappointed that Sam Houston's promises to them were going unfulfilled. The groundwork had thus been laid for the Indian resistance that would soon be felt by the white settlers.

Rusk Raises a New Army

...By standards established in 1835, militia members were between sixteen and fifty years of age and were generally in companies of fifty-six men. The early militia companies used their home towns as an organizational hub and elected a captain to lead the unit. If the population was great enough to form three full companies, a major was elected to command all three companies. Towns capable of composing four militia companies could elect a lieutenant colonel, and a five-company town elected a brigadier general.

Against Sam Houston's wishes, the Congress of Texas had passed a bill that took command of the militia away from the chief executive. Although Tom Rusk became the effective commander of the militia, an adjutant general with the rank of colonel actually presided over the actions of the Texas Militia The first such chief militia officer had been Warren D. C. Hall, who was appointed on October 11, 1835. Five others followed Hall until Rusk's friend Hugh McLeod was appointed on October 24, 1837. McLeod would be Adjutant General of the Texas Militia until October 1, 1841.

...The first outbreak of violence from Cordova's rebellion occurred on August 4, 1838, when a party of Texans out recovering stolen horses from a Mexican settlement in Nacogdoches County was fired upon on its return trip. One man was killed, and the incident led to a search party's discovering over one-hundred Mexicans, headed by Cordova and Norris, encamped on the Angelina. Another early August attack by Cordova's forces resulted in the murder of two brothers, Matthew and Charles Roberts, and their relative, William Finley.

...While the rebels were deserting the Indians, Rusk's force turned and marched back to Nacogdoches. Most of the militia companies were disbanded in Nacogdoches as of August 18, under the orders of President Houston. In a letter to Rusk, Houston wrote, "The brave men who have so promptly rallied to their country's defense, it is hoped, will soon be discharged, and return to their homes." Houston admitted that the enemy, although dispersed, " may again unite at some point, so as to annoy a portion of our population."

Rusk wrote Vice President Lamar that this "timely demonstration of force" through Indian country stirred up fear in the Indians. Colonel Hugh McLeod endorsed Rusk's action and criticized President Houston for hindering Rusk's work "in every way with his orders." The buildup to war stalled for a time as Houston pacified the Cherokees by having General Rusk take steps to have the Cherokee's boundary surveyed, despite having rejected the treaty a year earlier. The Cherokees came under intense study by Texas over the next month.

Two days after Rusk had disbanded his militia, documentary evidence was obtained that proved the Mexican agents had been making proposals to the Indian leaders. On August 20, the chief Mexican agent Captain Pedro Julian Miracle was killed on the River. Instructions from General Vicente Filisola were found on his body which instructed him to visit with the leaders of the Indians of Texas. The letter also revealed that Miracle had paid recent visits to the Cherokee and Kickapoo villages. It also detailed a meeting between Chief Bowles, Cordova, and rebels from Nacogdoches. Miracle had also visited the Chickasaws, Caddos, Kichais and Shawnees while attempting to arrange meetings with the Wacos and Tonkawas.

The emergence of these papers caused a wave of outrage that could not be ignored by President Houston. The Texas Militia under Thomas Rusk was not directly supervised by the President of the Republic, and the two leaders had significantly different views toward the treatment of the Cordova Rebellion insurgents.

Picture of David G. Burnet
Vice-President David G. Burnet

The 1838 general election for President of the Republic of Texas would have a profound effect upon how the Indians were dealt with in the future. Running for office were Mirabeau B. Lamar, James Collinsworth, Peter W. Grayson and Robert Wilson. After a bitter campaign of mudslinging, Grayson shot and killed himself. Collinsworth leaped from a steamer into Galveston Bay the day before election and drowned himself. Lamar easily defeated Wilson in the general voting on September 3, 1838. Before he and Vice President David G. Burnet could be inaugurated on December 9, however, their republic would see considerable bloodshed.

Letter from Fort Houston, dated August 25, 1838:

...our property has been stolen, our houses and farms infested and surrounded, our families alarmed and ourselves compelled to desert our homes on account of depredations committed by our Indian neighbors. We would further beg leave to suggest as our settled conviction that from our isolated situation and sparseness of our population, this settlement will be compelled to desert our property and protect our women and children from the tomahawk and scalping, or more cruel horror of Indian captivity. This subject is most respectfully submitted to the consideration of the Executive and some protection earnestly but strongly solicited in our truly unpleasant and distressing situation. The Indians who are doing mischief in this neighborhood are supposed to be principally the Kickapoos.

...Operating south of Fort Houston's settlement was the volunteer ranger company of Captain Sadler, which continued to grow in size as the Indian hostilities increased. Although independence had been obtained, the very deadly presence of the Indians still had to be dealt with before peace on the prairies could be obtained.

Just south of Sadler's property line near what is the present Anderson-Houston County line rises a high, rounded hill known as Houston Mound. As one of the highest eminences in the area, this hill was said to have been used when the militia and local citizens needed to gather in emergencies. Signal torches were lighted on Houston Mound (west of present Mound City) and on another high point north of present Grapeland, Texas.

Sadler's informal company operated loosely in the area from Box's Fort, a private structure built by Roland Box and his family in 1835 about one and a half miles east of the Neches River, to Brown's Fort near the present town of Grapeland.

Major Elisha Clapp responds to General Rusk requests for volunteers:

With the approach of cooler weather, Major General Rusk decided it was time to take to the field again to quell Cordova's Rebellion. From Nacogdoches he sent a letter to the citizens of Houston County on October 1, 1838, to authorize the raising of two to three-hundred volunteers "to defend the country and chastise the Indians."

Rusk also wrote to Major Elisha Clapp, who had been the third senior officer on his staff during the previous summer campaign, in San Augustine on October 1, authorizing him to raise 150 volunteers for protection of the frontier and to go out against the Indians. After rounding up volunteers, Clapp was instructed to join General Kelsey Douglass and his volunteers at Fort Houston on Monday, October 15.

Clapp found no shortages of volunteers to engage the Indians and wrote to Rusk from San Augustine on the evening of October 5.

On this day we had a meeting of the neighborhood & out of forty men, thirty six turned out as volunteers.

I have not heard from Fort Houston since you received express from Maj. Mabbitt. I have no doubt but that the Indians and Mexicans are embodied near Kickapoo village and in all probability we can get a fight near home. We are in the need of ammunition & cannot effect a campaign without
it I would like to hear of Maj. Douglass' success in raising volunteers. It may be that we need all that we can get I would go against them myself but I do not think it would be a prudent measure unless I have a larger force. Your order to raise men for our protection I must inform you met with universal hallelujahs & hurrahs, it being the first legal order of the kind ever sent forth officially to our country

Elisha Clapp

Killough Massacre

...As Major Clapp, Captain Sadler and other Texan leaders were assembling their volunteer outfits, the Indians continued on their warpath through October. On October 5, an attack was made on the Killough family which lived on a creek just inside the Cherokee claim just south of the Neches Saline. Aware of the presence of Cordova's forces in the area, Isaac Killough Sr., his four sons and their families went to their fields to harvest their crops before winter. An unarmed group of the family was ambushed and killed en route to the fields. The rest of the Killoughs and their neighboring families fled for their lives as the Indians descended and began slaughtering the families.

Isaac Killough Sr. died in his yard with eighteen bullet wounds, and the entire George Wood family had been killed when the massacre ended. Between the Wood, Barakias Williams and Killough families, eighteen family members were murdered or captured on October 5. More than half the family members managed to escape and find horses for the long ride to safety with their wives and children.

The Killough family's surviving members implicated the Cherokees, but the slaughter might actually have been conducted by a combined force of Shawnees and Biloxis. The Killough massacre occurred about six miles east from the Kickapoo Village in the extreme north of what is now Anderson County. Many of the survivors made their way to Lacy's Fort about forty miles away. This was the largest and bloodiest depredation in early East Texas history, surpassing even the Parker's Fort attack. One early Texas historian attributed these slayings to Cordova's Mexicans and Indians. The resulting excitement caused General Rusk to call for volunteers to gather at Lacy's Fort. Two of the surviving Killough brothers, Allen and Nathaniel, would quickly become involved in the East Texas campaign.

Fort Lacy was located along the Old San Antonio Road on the southern boundary of Cherokee land on the outskirts of present Alto on Highway 21. The structure itself was the former home of Martin Lacy who, as a private in Captain Costley's company, had helped to build Fort Houston during late 1836. The local Kickapoo and Biloxi Indians became increasingly hostile in 1838 as he was operating a trading house, so Lacy built the fortifications around his farmhouse. More

Henderson Surveying Team Fight

William Fenner Henderson

...On October 8. William F. Henderson's twenty-five-man surveying party was working on land claims far beyond the white settlements on Richland Creek in present Navarro County when they were attacked by an estimated three-hundNative Americans. Early estimates claimed these to be Kickapoos. In a long and bloody afternoon gunfight about sixteen Texans were killed, plus some of the Indians. One of the five Texan survivors of this action was Walter P. Lane, a San Jacinto veteran, who was shot in the leg. More

Picture of Walter Paye Lane
Walter Paye Lane
Mabbitt's Skirmish Near Fort Duty

...While General Rusk's troops marched toward Fort Houston, the four companies at Fort Houston under Major Mabbitt were well aware that Cordova's rebel forces were preparing to make a stand at Kickapoo Springs in the Neches area. Rusk had directed Mabbitt to meet him at Fort Duty, four miles west of the Neches River and about ten miles from Fort Houston.

Fort Duty was on the league and labor of Richard Duty, who had built a two-story log cabin in 1837 which measured twenty-four feet square. Earlier settlers had built homes here near the Snake and Stills Creeks but had been driven back to Nacogdoches in 1836 by the Indian harassment. Duty lived on the second floor of the home, while on the first floor as many as forty local settlers would sleep during Indian danger. Richard Duty himself was later shot by Indians during an attack and died in his fort.

Mabbitt started on his way to Fort Duty, leading the formation with his two companies commanded by captains Bradshaw and Snively. Following him was the volunteer company of Captain Sadler, and bringing up the rear of the procession was the large ranging company of Captain Squire Brown. The trail leading toward the Neches and Fort Duty did not allow widespread groups of horses, so the companies generally filed along behind each other. Unbeknownst to these Texans, there were watchful eyes in the thickets around them who intended to use the forest's cover to their best advantage.

At a point about six miles east from Fort Houston on October 12, the trailing forces of Texans in Major Mabbitt's force were ambushed by a group of Indians and by Mexicans of Cordova's forces led by Juan Flores and Juan Cruz. The last Texans were marching a mile or more behind Mabbitt's leading forces when they were attacked. Caught completely off guard by a flurry of gunfire, these men were said to have "displayed great gallantry" in this ambush, but they did suffer casualties.

The brunt of the assault fell upon Captain Brown's rearmost company. Four of his men were killed during the fighting: Julius Bullock, John W. Carpenter, Thomas M. Scott and John Wilson. Carpenter had fought with Captain Sadler at San Jacinto and had only recently been among the signers of Fort Houston's appeal for help to Sam Houston. A survey of the battlefield later showed that Carpenter and a Caddo chief likely exchanged lethal shots with each other simultaneously from about thirty yards. Carpenter may have pursued the chief for some distance, because their bodies were found approximately half a mile from the area of the main skirmish.

The main fighting occurred on the path where Mabbitt's forces were ambushed, but firing continued on into the woods nearby as the Texans rallied to drive off their attackers.

...Mabbitts forces were credited with killing five Indians, including the chief. Some of the Indian bodies were dragged from the battlefield for ceremonial burials.

Battle of Kickapoo

Battle of Kickapoo Map\

Site of the Kickapoo Battlefield Historical Marker

Marker Title: Site of the Kickapoo Battlefield
City: Frankston
County: Anderson
Year Marker Erected: 1936
Marker Location: about 2 mi. SE of Frankston on FM 19 - just before CR.
Marker Text: Here General Thomas J. Rusk with 200 Texans on October 16, 1838, attacked a band of hostile Indians and allied Mexicans, molesters of frontier settlements, and routed them.

...Some accounts say that Rusk had up to seven-hundred men with him, but Rusk's own count of his men on October 14 was that "my force amounted to about 200 men." By best count, it would appear that Rusk and McLeod actually had just over 260 men at their discretion as of this date. Records from Captain Box's company show that the volunteer privates on this Indian expedition were paid $25 per month, the first sergeant $40 per month and the militia captain $60 per month.

General Rusk did not disguise the fact that he expected a confrontation with the Indians and Mexican rebels. He used some of his last hours at Fort Houston on October 14 to write to his brother in Nacogdoches of the action he would soon be faced with. Postmarked from Fort Houston, Rusk's letter stated:

I am just about taking up the line of march from this place to the place where the Indians are said to be encamped, which is about 25 miles from here. Their numbers are variously estimated at from 150 to 600 warriors. My effective forces will be under 200 men - I know well that should I succeed no one will find fault, but should I fail I shall be abused for imprudence.

If Gen. Houston and some others had been guided by feelings of patriotism and not by low and selfish purposes, I should have had in the field at least 500 men; but let success or misfortune attend my efforts. I have the consolation of knowing that all my efforts have been directed to my country's good. If the Indians are not routed, the frontier will be laid in ruins and if that is done the people of Texas will have to fight two-thirds of the Indians on the U.S. frontier...

...Rusk wrote that Caddos, Coushattas, Biloxies, one Cherokee and two Mexicans were found among the dead. The Texans later heard that the Indian force lost about thirty killed. Rusk felt that the blood trails his men found indicated that at least seventy Indians besides the eleven found had been wounded or killed. Most of the Indians fell within forty or fifty feet of the Texas lines. Afterwards, the enemy had fled in all directions in the dense forest.

McLeod also wrote that "Among the dead and the nearest to our camp was a Cherokee named Tail. Bowles says he was a bad Indian that he never could manage him and that he was well killed."

Records of the Texan forces show that they suffered twelve men wounded and about thirty-five horses killed. Among the wounded was Daniel Crist of Fort Houston who was wounded in the hip and hand on October 16. The rifle balls were cut out by Dr. William Perry. Private James Hall from Captain Bradshaw's company was badly wounded, but the camp surgeon felt that he would pull through. W.B. Killough, survivor of the Killough Massacre, later wrote that his uncle Nathaniel was shot through the shoulder during the Kickapoo battle.

This battle was later commonly referred to among Texans as the "Kickapoo War." Today, a Centennial Marker located along Highway 19 south of the town of Frankston in northeastern Anderson County stands in testament of the 1838 battle. The actual battlefield along Kickapoo Creek is believed to be located on the farm behind this sign. Once the Texans had Cordova's rebels on the move, the battle actually carried on over some distance in the vicinity of the old Indian village, Kickapoo Creek and the Neches River. Residents along a rural farmroad that follows the creek for some distance claim to still find arrowheads and other evidence of the early battle.

McLeod's Letter
Picture of Colonel Hugh McLeod
Colonel Hugh McLeod
Picture from the book, Savage Frontier II, by Stephen L. Moore

...In perhaps the first after-action account of the impending engagement, Colonel Hugh McLeod wrote to President-Elect Mirabeau B. Lamar on October 22 of Rusk's strategy.

The General resolved to move on at once after the enemy, seeing that a victory was necessary to give the people breathing time and confidence. He did not march direct to the Saline, as he feared they would perceive his approach and retire before him. He marched first to Fort Houston, laid in what supplies he could procure, and marched then across towards the Saline.

The Kickapoo village was located approximately thirty miles to the northeast of Fort Houston and about 2.5 miles south-southeast of the present town of Frankston. En route on the afternoon of October 15, Mabbitt's men spotted a few Indian braves passing the abandoned Kickapoo village. They were believed to be carrying meat to Cordova's forces. Rusk's troops marched northeast until shortly before sundown, at which time it was decided to set up camp for the night for mutual protection.

The men pitched camp for the night of October 15-16 at the old Kickapoo Village in the extreme northern corner of Anderson County. The village was perhaps a half mile northwest of the Neches River on a horseshoe bend of Kickapoo Creek, a small tributary of the Neches. The camp's spot was chosen in a defensive area that they believed could prevent a surprise attack.

Cordova's rebels had been tracking the movements of Rusk's troops, and they soon announced their presence. Rusk recorded that at 10:00 p.m., the "enemy attempted to fire the woods around us, but failed." Probably using gunpowder, the Indians tried unsuccessfully to trap the crowded Texans in a deadly forest fire.

...Knowing that most of the able-bodied white men had gone off to fight, the blood-thirsty Indians descended upon the little Edens home on the cold, frosty night of Thursday, October 18, 1838. Various early sources that discuss this attack give credit (or blame) for this event to the Cherokees, the Anadarkos or the Caddos. This little settlement was fairly surrounded by Indian tribes, ranging from the nearby peaceful Ionis on Sadler's land to more warlike bands of Anadarkos, Coushattas and Alabamas, who lived nearby on the Trinity River.

The tribe most likely to have committed this attack was the Kickapoos, known to have been stirred up by the recent rebellion. In support of this are the statements of Elias Vansickle before the county court of Nacogdoches on January 25, 1839. He had been captured by Cordova's rebels on October 1, 1838, at the Neches Saline and was held hostage by these Mexicans and Indians for nearly three months. Vansickle stated, that while a prisoner in their camp,

Some Kickapoos, a large number, came in and stated that they had killed the families of Eden and others, near Mustang Prairie, Houston County.

Speculation persisted that infuriated Indians escaping the Kickapoo battlefield struck the settlers on San Pedro creek or that the massacre occurred because the Edens-Madden family had settled on what the Indians considered to be sacred land.

San Pedro Creek resident David H. Campbell wrote newly-elected Texas President Lamar on October 22nd, 1838:

It is with pain and regret that I inform you, that on Thursday night last, the 18th Inst. one of the most shocking and barbarous massacres took place in this immediate vicinity, that has happened on this continent since that of Wyoming during the Revolutionary War in the United States - the particulars of which were detailed to me by Major Elisha Clapp on yesterday.

On Tuesday the 16th Inst. Genl. Rusk with a detachment of the Militia had a meeting with the combined Mexican and Indian enemy and had with him the most of the men from the immediate frontier on which they were. The relatives and several of the neighbors, with their wives and children, congregated at the house of John Edens, when on the night of the 18th, whilst preparing for repose, the house was broken into (it being a double one) where the women and children were, and the four men who were there were in the other end of the house, and barred the doors against the women and children as well as savages - whilst the blood hounds went on with their cruelties, too great for language to depict.

President Lamar Responds

...fifty-six-man local ranger companies were authorized for the frontier counties of Bastrop, Gonzales, Goliad, Milam, Refugio, Robertson and San Patricio. Terms of these companies were from three to six months, enlistments were volunteer, and each man was bound to supply his own horse, arms and other equipment.

....For 1839, the Third Congress appropriated a budget of $1,520,455. Of the military appropriation, the amount of $1,140,000 earmarked for support of the army exceeded the Texas government's total expenditures of fiscal year 1838, which had amounted to $831,401.

The new Frontier Regiment of Lamar and his Third Congress became known as the "First Regiment of Infantry"; the designations "Frontier Regiment" or "Texas Army" were rarely used. The First Regiment was placed under command of Colonel Edward "Ned" Burleson, a popular leader who had commanded the First Militia Brigade during 1838 and the the First Regiment of Texas Volunteers at SanJacinto. Headquarters for the First Regiment became Bastrop, near the home of Burleson. A former San Jacinto captain and later a Secretary of War, William S. Fisher was appointed his lieutenant colonel and Peyton S. Wyatt as major. Command of the cavalry for the new army passed to Colonel Lysander Wells, who had previously served as commander of mounted forces on the southwestern frontier.

With Ned Burleson's heading the army, the other senior Texas military officer during 1839 was Hugh McLeod, a New York-born Georgian who had been graduated last in the 1835 class at West Point and who had previously served in the U.S. Army.

Campbell Massacre

January 23rd, 1839... Charles C. Campbell and his family had settled near Fort Houston in 1837 on Town Creek, three miles east of present Palestine. He built a home and worked his fields with his wife, five children and two African slaves. Charles Campbell had passed away the previous week, and at about 10:00 p.m. on a bright moonlight night his home was attacked by approximately fifteen Indians. The neighing of the horses alerted the family that intruders were approaching. Mrs. Campbell and several of the others attempted to hold the wooden door closed while the Indians began chopping into it with tomahawks.

Malathiel Campbell, twenty, tried to defend his family with an old rifle but found that it had a defective flint lock. His mother managed to pull up two of the puncheon boards from the floor and ordered her seventeen-year-old daughter Pamelia to crawl under the house with her four-year-old brother George. As these two children made their escape, one of the Indians forced open the door far enough to nearly sever Mrs. Campbell's arm with a tomahawk. The Indians then burst into the room and tomahawked to death Mrs. Campbell and two of her children, fourteen-year-old Hulda and eleven-year-old Fountain.

Malathiel escaped into the yard with a knife in his hand but was shot down by those outside. The African servants were allowed to escape unharmed. That evening, the African man ran to Fort Houston where he "alarmed the citizens by giving a relation as near as he could relate of the massacre.'" Pamelia Campbell and her young brother George crawled out from under the house and slipped away unnoticed but, as she was entering a nearby thicket, one of the Indians shot an arrow which glanced across her forehead without penetrating her skull. Bleeding heavily from the arrow wound which would leave a scar for the rest of her life, Pamelia and her brother also managed to reach Fort Houston to report the slaughter of their family.

The Indians ransacked the Campbell house, ripping open six feather beds and scattering the feathers, and stealing a keg of gunpowder, a trunk containing four-hundred dollars in silver, some clothing, bedding and some paper money. An armed pursuit party was hastily organized at Fort Houston, set out after the Indians, and found the Campbell's trunk, paper money and the empty keg discarded about a mile from the home. The men followed the trail of the Indians eight miles to the Trinity River, where the small band had to give up the chase because the lands on the west side of the river were filled with hostile Indians.

From Fort Houston, postmaster William S. McDonald wrote a letter to the care of Captain Sadler at Fort Brown, addressing it to the citizens of Houston County. It was written during the late hours of January 23 after the survivors of the Campbell Massacre had arrived at the fort. McDonald acknowledged that the volunteer companies were still in the field and might see action but added the following plea: "We think our situation is quite critical, and would like to get as much assistance as can be afforded us." Before he mailed this letter the following morning, McDonald apparently visited the Campbell home to find the bodies of the victims.   "I saw them myself," he wrote Sadler, "and such a scene I never saw before."

Battle of the Neches

The following is from the book, Taming Texas, by Stephen L. Moore:

July 15: The Evening Engagement

From camp, General Kelsey Douglass wrote a report to Secretary of War Johnston of the ensuing action, stating, "Under your orders the whole force was put in motions towards the encampment of Bowles on the Neches-Col. Landrum crossed on the west side of the Neches and up the river.

The Texas troops had orders to proceed to the Cherokee village but, however, not to fire upon the Indians until the warriors had been summoned for a chance to accept the terms of the government. Upon discovery that Bowles' warriors had deserted their village, the Texan troops moved out shortly after 1:00 p.m. from Camp Johnson and advanced quickly over the sixteen mile distance toward the Delaware village, where it was believed that the Cherokees had retreated only hours before.

Colonel Landrum's Third Regiment was dispatched to the west side of the Neches with "orders to reunite with the main body as soon as he could ascertain that the Indians had not crossed over." This left General Douglass with nearly nine-hundred men, including his staff, his and Rusk's volunteer regiments and the regulars under Ned Burleson. Finding the trail of the enemy's horses and cattle easy to track, these troops pushed forward toward the Delaware village.

It was about 5:00 p.m. when the Texas spies under Captain James Carter discovered the position of the Indians and were fired upon by the enemy's advance guard. The remainder of Captain Jack Todd's company, from which Carter's spies were largely pulled, of Rusk's regiment was ordered to move forward rapidly to support the spy company.

In the vicinity of the Delaware village near a small creek, the Indians were spotted on the point of a hill at the head of a prairie. According to battle participants James D. Long and Jeff Wallace, the Indians had broken their camp on July 15 and retreated west across the Neches at a spot about one-hundred yards south of where Indian Creek empties into the river. The principal fight this day occurred along Battle Creek about 3.5 miles northwest of present Chandler, in Henderson County.

Chief Bowles had sent the women and children ahead of the battle area while leaving the braves behind to fight. Rusk motioned toward the enemy to come into action while the Texan forces advanced. The Indians were well entrenched behind a high creek bank. Behind them lay thick woods which would provide them a safe retreat or a good secondary line of defense. On the other hand, Douglass' troops had before them an open prairie with only a thicket of gum bushes, to their right, which paralleled the creek from which to advance. The Indian warriors clearly had an advantage in terms of positioning.

The firing which commenced upon Carter's company was taken as a signal to action by the anxious volunteer Texans. An account of the action on July 15 printed in the Telegraph on August 7 related:

Great impatience was manifested by our troops and orders loosely given were not clearly understood and but imperfectly obeyed. The hideous yells of the savages, instead of startling our soldiers, excited their spirit for the combat, and they rushed to it pell-mell, determined to drive the enemy from the cover of the timber and brushwood.

General Rusk ordered his companies to advance across the field. Carter's spy company and a twenty-five-man detachment of Captain Todd's company charged the Indians in front. The second portion of Burleson's army regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Woodlief leading Captain Samuel Jordan's regulars and Captain Mark Lewis' Harrisburg volunteers, also charged toward the enemy in the ravine. The Indians taking shelter in the ravine were instantly charged and flanked on the left by Colonel Burleson and the first portion of his regiment, which included the companies of George Howard, James Ownby and Chief Placido.

The Indians commenced firing on the troops of Douglass, Rusk and Burleson as they advanced across the prairie. "As we advanced, the lines were immediately formed and the action became general," wrote Douglass. Aside from captains Todd and Carter's companies, the rest of Tom Rusk's troops and Captain Sadler's Company A took a position on a point of a hill to the right and drove a party of Indians which attempted to flank General Douglass' main body of troops on the field from that quarter. By thus splitting their troops, the Texans were able to drive the Indian forces from their ravine and thicket. This action occurred about half an hour before sundown and was quite lively for many.

Private John Reagan, from Bob Smith's seventy-five-man Nacogdoches company, and Major Davis S. Kaufman charged on their horses toward an Indian who fired upon them and then sought refuge in the creek. The two were quickly ambushed by the fire of other Indians in the creekbed and forced to ride through a gauntlet of enemy fire before escaping to the open prairie. Both men managed somehow to emerge uninjured, rejoining a portion of their regiment that included Chief Placido's Tonkawa company and several of Captain Smith's company: Smith, First Sergeant Andrew Caddell, his sons John and Jeremiah Caddell, Ambrose H. Crain, Martin Lacy and David Rusk of Captain Carter's company.

As the Texans advanced, the enemy's firing was intense. Dr. Henry M. Rogers from Captain Tipps' forty-six-man company was shot three times and fell dead. John Crane from Captain Greenberry Horras Harrison's mounted gunmen was shot through the body as his horse reared up, and he also fell mortally wounded to the battlefield. (Captain Harrison had moved to Houston County in late 1835 and later served in the Texas Congress.) From General Douglass' command, Private Solomon Allbright of Captain Ben Vansickle's fifty-one-man company was wounded. Also wounded in the action was George T. Slaughter of Captain Box's command.

Both sides suffered casualties during the firing that continued in the failing sunlight. Many of the Texans dismounted their horses and proceeded on foot while driving the Cherokees from their defensive positions. The Indians soon fled the battlefield under cover of darkness, carrying off their fallen warriors as usual as witnessed by many of the Texan troops.

Despite many Indians' being removed from the field, eighteen Cherokees were left. From Douglass' command, three men were killed, one man was wounded mortally and ten men were wounded in some fashion. Dr. Albert Woldert, author of a detailed 1920s article on the Cherokee War, had large iron pins placed in the ground where Dr. Rogers and John Crane were buried about two-hundred yards due west of a bend in Battle Creek.

July 16: Finale at the Delaware Village

...The two regiments under Burleson and Rusk broke camp at 10:00 a.m. on July 16 and renewed their march against the enemy. With those detached to frontier settlements or to DeBard's, the Texan forces had dwindled considerably. In his official report, General Douglass wrote,

The effective force of the two regiments this morning amounted to about 500, an escort having been sent with the wounded to Debards (now Fort Lamar), and many other upon detached service. Col. Landrum not having reached Headquarters the evening previous, orders now dispatched to him to continue his march up the east side of the Neches, which it was understood he had crossed, and joined the main body on its march in the direction of Harris.'

The Delaware village of Chief Harris, located on a hill above the Neches River in the extreme southeastern corner of present Van Zandt County just west of present Tyler, occupied an eminence in a scattered group of post oaks. A heavily-timbered bottom land of the Neches stretched out below this village. According to Major William Jones of the Texas Army, it had become "apparent that the reinforcements looked for by Bowles had not reached him and that he was falling back to meet them."

Douglass' forces moved toward the Delaware village with Burleson's regiment on the right and Rusk's to the left. At about 11:00 a.m., after moving about five miles from Camp Carter, they were met by William Nobbitt, a spy from Captain Carter's company who had been dispatched with the intelligence that Carter's men had discovered the enemy's spies a short distance ahead. In the event the enemy made a stand, Colonel Burleson with one battalion was ordered to move forward and sustain the spy company. If the enemy was engaged, Rusk was to rush forward with one battalion of his regiment to support both Burleson and Carter's men, while the balance of the Texans forces marched forward.

Ned Burleson quickly moved forward with the regular companies of captains George Howard and Samuel Jordan plus his steadfast Tonkawa braves under Chief Placido. Over the hill and beyond the vacant Delaware village, Captain Carter's spies had actually discovered the main body of Chief Bowles' forces which had taken up a defensive position in a ravine on the lower side of the hill that descended down toward the river bottom. As Burleson's battalion rode to the brow of the hill and prepared to dismount, the cracking of rifle fire could be heard as Carter's men were taken under fire by the warriors.

As the Texans scrambled to dismount their horses, the Indians at the forefront managed to shoot seven horses and fatally wound one of Burleson's men, Private Martin Tutts of Captain Jordan's Company C. Carter and Burleson's forces soon repulsed the Indian attack and drove them back into the ravine with the main enemy forces for better shelter.

Just behind at the Delaware village, General Rusk quickly formed up his regiment to the front of the troops and led the companies of captains Tipps and Todd to the aid of the men under Carter and Burleson. "The position the enemy occupied was a very favorable one for defense," according to the report of Douglass, "they occupying a ravine and thicket, and our troops having to advance upon them through open woods and down a considerable hill."

As the Texas troops moved forward, they burned the Delaware village. Amidst the terrific noonday July heat, the smoke swirled in black clouds. The Indians below the village were occupying a dry creek bed that ran from the north to the south downhill before turning to the east and heading for the Neches bottom. Just above this bend was a prairie, about half a mile long, located to the east of the part of the creek that ran south. Near the lower end of the prairie and running north, parallel to the creek, was a thicket of hackberry bushes and rattan vines of about three-hundred yards in length.

The Texan forces quickly formed near the Delaware village. The decision was made to leave behind every sixth man of the remaining troops to hold and guard the horses while the rest of the soldiers advanced on foot. Rusk and his lead battalion quickly occupied the point of the hill on both sides of the road leading toward the ravine where the enemy's heavy fire was concentrated. Moving in quickly on the ground next was Lieutenant Colonel James Smith with the First Battalion of Rusk's regiment, consisting of Captain Bob Smith Nacogdoches company on the right and Captain Madison Smith's company on the left side. General Douglass' lively report continues.

Col. Burleson in the meantime having obliqued to the left and engaged the extreme right of the Indians; Lt. Col. Woodlief, with the two volunteer companies under Captains Lewis and Ownby had been ordered to deploy and form upon the extreme right, which order was promptly obeyed. The men were brought up in good order, and formed directly on the right. Rusk occupying the center, in which a brisk fire was kept up for about an hour and a half and returned with spirit and animation by our men, who continued to advance upon the enemy.

David Rusk of Carter's company was slightly wounded early in this action. Captain Jordan of Burleson's command was also wounded yet bravely continued to command his men while lying on the ground. From Captain Bob Smith's company, young John Reagan passed over the top of the ridge and spotted the enemy warriors entrenched in the ravine below him. His friend David Kaufman was struck in the face and knocked down by a rifle ball. Despite heavy bleeding Kaufman was not mortally wounded, and Reagan soon continued with the battle.

The rest of Colonel Rusk's regiment, including Captain Sadler's regulars, advanced down from the burning Delaware village and took positions to fire upon the Indian forces barricaded in the ravine below. General Douglass was later convinced that the enemy his men were facing numbered "not less than" seven to eight-hundred warriors. These braves were known to have included those of Chief Bowles and Big Mush plus a number of Delawares, Shawnees and Kickapoos.

The weather was extremely hot and the men ignored their thirst to continue advancing upon the Indian positions. The Texans charged the Cherokees several times but had to withdraw back up the slope or into the nearby woods each time under heavy counter-fire. Bowles and his men stood firmly. The only course of action became a combined charge by the Texan forces, which was ordered by General Douglass. In this charge, the Indian forces were finally overrun and forced to retreat toward the river bottom back toward their main body. Their entire force was "terrorized and fell back in great disorder upon the cornfields, then in full bearing, and the dense timber of the river bottom. It was here that Bowles evinced the most desperate intrepidity and made several unavailing attempts to rally his trusted warriors." Private Reagan later recorded, "Len Williams and Ben A. Vansickle, who were with us, and who understood and could speak the Cherokee language, told us that at that time they could hear Bowles, who was urging his warriors to charge, and telling them that the whites were whipped if they would charge."

During this advance, Captain Madison Smith was badly wounded and turned command of his sixty-seven man company over to First Lieutenant Albert G. Corbin. The enemy was driven for half a mile and took refuge in a swamp in the Neches bottom. They were again charged with Woodlief leading the right, Rusk the center and Burleson the left. This time the enemy offered no resistance by broke and ran in every direction away from their assailants.

According to Private Reagan, "Chief Bowles displayed great courage in these battles," remaining on the field on horseback during the second engagement. Bowles wore a military hat, silk vest, and a handsome sword and sash which had been given to him by Sam Houston. "He was a magnificent picture of barbaric manhood and was very conspicuous during the whole battle, being the last to leave the field when the Indians retreated."

After the Texan charge had scattered his forces toward the open plain and cornfields, Chief Bowles tried valiantly to rally his forces. He remained on horseback on the battlefield, conspicuously exposed to Texas fire. His horse, with a blazed face and four white feet, was eventually shot seven times, and he was shot in the hip before his forces began retiring.

Bowles, suffering from his wound, finally dismounted his dying horse and was reportedly walking away when he was shot again. According to Major Jones, he was hit in the back near by the spine by one of Captain Henry M. Smith's privates, Henry Conner, with "a musket ball and three buckshot." He breathed a short while only after his fall.

Second Sergeant Charles N. Bell of Captain Tipps' Nacogdoches company later wrote that he and Captain Bob Smith found Bowles "sitting in the edge of a little prairie on the Neches River." The chief had a bowie knife, a sword and a holster of pistols but, according to Bell "asked for no quarter. Under the circumstances the captain was compelled to shoot him." Bell then witnessed Smith put his pistol to Bowles' head and shoot him dead before taking his sword.

By John Reagan's account, he and his men came upon Chief Bowles as he was shot in the back while walking away. As the eighty-three-year-old chief sat up with his face toward the approaching Texas soldiers, Reagan started toward him to secure his surrender. He wrote:

As I approached him from one direction, my captain, Robert Smith, approached him from another, with his pistol drawn. As we got to him, I said, "Captain, don't shoot him," but as I spoke he fired, shooting the chief in the head, which caused instant death. It ought to be said for Captain Smith that he had known of the many murders and thefts by the Indians, and possibly did, in the heat of battle, what, under other circumstances, he would not have done, for he was esteemed as a most worthy man and citizen.

The account by Reagan of Captain Smith's delivering the fatal head shot to Chief Bowles is generally accepted by most historians. Beyond this, it has not been definitely established as to who shot the Cherokee leader from his horse. As related to his children, Captain Sadler was among those who fired a musket shot which struck the old chief. In a historical sketch of him, an East Texas newspaper stated, "There is evidence that Sadler fought with great bravery, (and) he may have fired the shot that killed Chief Bowles."

Early Texas historian John Henry Brown, who knew many of the men who fought in the Neches battles, wrote, "I well remember in those days, however, that the names of half a dozen men were paraded as the champions, who, under as many different circumstances, had killed Bowles." That Bob Smith finished off Bowles and removed his sword is not disputed. Sadler, who had lost family to the Indians, who have been less interested in collecting war souvenirs than in exacting revenge. Due to his reserved nature, he would not have been likely to boast of such a feat.

After the fall of their leader, the Indians retreated in squads into the thickets around the Neches River. Although Bowles had claimed his Indians were short of arms and ammunition, they held off two charges by the Texans before being overrun. In addition to the death of Chief Bowles, Chief Big Mush and about one-hundred other Indians were killed on the Neches battlefield.

General Douglass halted his men and ordered them to collect the wounded and form on high ground. The Texan forces lost four men mortally wounded: John Ewing, George F. Martin, John S. Thompson and Martin Tutts. In addition, at least twenty other men were listed as wounded on battle reports for July 16. Among the Texans wounded on the battlefield were Vice President Burnet, General Johnston and Adjutant General McLeod, although none was seriously wounded. Henry Augustine, who had been a major of General Rusk's field staff during a previous 1838 Indian campaign, suffered an arrow through the leg which necessitated an amputation at the knee. The Republic of Texas rewarded him with a special wooden leg.

...After the death of Chief Bowles and Big Mush, the surviving Cherokees fled to the old camp of Bowles. At dusk the survivors returned to recover the bodies of the wounded and the slain. Throughout the night, the sounds of mourning among the defeated Indians could be heard. By dawn's first light on July 17, however, the sounds had ceased and the Indian camp was deserted. The Indians had started their journey toward present Oklahoma in the United States territory.

Advocates for the Cherokee, such as Sam Houston, were appalled and openly critical of Rusk and others for the Cherokee War campaign. However, this battle largely ended the Indian depredations in East Texas that had terrorized the early settlers, and it gave the Republic of Texas all of the former Indian land. The Battle of the Neches has been described as second only to San Jacinto as the most important conflict fought on Texas soil.

...Arriving about a week after the battle with Captain Jacob E. Hamilton's company, which had been created on July 22, was San Jacinto veteran Walter Lane who noted that some Texans were collecting grisly battlefield souvenirs. He encountered a "festive cuss" who proudly displayed a strip of skin he had cut from Bowles' back to use as a razor strip and good luck charm. Lane doubted the value of such a charm; he felt that the skin's original owner "had remarkably bud luck."

First of Colonel Landrum's companies to return to the Neches battleground had been that of Captain Kimbro from Chief Linney's Shawnee village. Lieutenant Joseph Burleson stated that he "saw Judge Alfred Polk dismount to scalp a dead Indian." After Burleson "told him not to do it as it seemed barbarious and uncivilized, he refused to do it and took my advice." Another member of Kimbro's company, Private John "Rip" Ford, gazed silently with several others of his company at the unburied body of Chief Bowles. "It was not difficult to accord to him the deed of bravery and to believe he sacrificed himself to save many of his people," Ford later wrote. "Under other circumstances history would have classed him among heroes and martyrs."

Many Texans, particularly those such as Sadler who had experienced Indian depredations in the past years, did not share young Ford's awe of the fallen Cherokee leader. Pieces of his body were cut away for charms or souvenirs, and a September 1, 1841 article in the Telegraph and Texas Register reported that "Some rude chaps scalped the poor chief after his death." The body of Chief Bowles was left on the Neches battlefield, and one early settler recalled that his skull and skeleton were visible in this spot for many years thereafter. It was believed that his body was left on the battlefield by a tribal custom which said that braves who had been scalped were not given funeral honors.

Join the discussion

Further reading