the biographical sketches
"Site of the last home of Bowles, great chief of the Cherokee Nation. Here he received President Lamar's decree of expulsion from Texas, of the Cherokees and associate tribes, in June, 1839. Chief Bowles was killed in decisive battle in Van Zandt County on July 16, 1839 and the tribes were expelled."
Chief Bowles or Duwa'li, was born in North Carolina circa 1756. He had auburn hair, blue eyes, and was a half-blood Scotch-Cherokee. It is said that settlers from North Carolina killed his father when he was fourteen years old. It is also said that the boy killed the murderers of his father. Bowles became the chief of the town of Running Water, Tennessee when he was thirty two. In June 1794, some boats were sailing down the Tennessee River. William Scott and a man named Stewart wanted to do some business. They invited Bowles and some others on board their boat and gave them whiskey. The Cherokees bought things for very high prices until their money was gone. After they were sober, they realized that they had been cheated. Bowles then returned all of the merchandise and tried to get the money back. He was sent ashore. He took two warriors with him and tried again. He warned the traders that they must fight or return the money. Stewart and Scott killed one warrior. Bowles escaped, but returned and killed all the white men on the boat. Bowles was afraid because the Cherokees had a treaty with the Americans. Bowles and his warriors sailed down the Tennessee River, the Ohio River, and the Mississippi River in the captured boat. Then they sailed up the Saint Francis River to Missouri. The Cherokees in Tennessee told the American government that they would help to find and to arrest Bowles. When Bowles learned of this, he decided to stay in Missouri. Many more Cherokees came to live with him. After the American government investigated, they said that Bowles was justified in what he did. Chief Bowles and his people lived in the valley of the Saint Francis River until 1811, when a violent earthquake happened. The people thought that the Great Spirit was warning them to move.
Many of them moved to Arkansas. One third of the Eastern Cherokees were living west of the Mississippi River by 1813. Chief Bowles and his followers travelled south into Mexican territory. Many other people had also left their homelands to escape the European invasion. Alabama, Biloxi, Caddo, Choctaw, Cushatta, Delaware, Ioni, Kichia, Kickapoo, Mataquo, Shawnee, Tahocullake, Taovaya, Tawakoni, Quapaw, and Waco people formed an alliance with the Cherokees. Bowles and six other chiefs obtained a grant to 1.5 million acres of land from the Mexican government. Some European settlers wanted to lead a revolution and make a new republic out of this northern part of Mexico. They asked the Cherokees for help. The Cherokee warriors fought the Apaches and the Comanches to the west. This enabled the revolutionaries to fight the Mexican Army in the south. The revolution was a success and the Republic of Texas was born. In return for their help, the Cherokee land was guaranteed by Sam Houston. The future President of the Republic of Texas. He promised that a new land title would be made. The document sat on his desk for a year and it was never ratified. When Mirabeau B. Lamar became the second president of the Republic, he refused to honor Houston's agreement. He tore up the paper. Lamar then sent a decree of expulsion to the chiefs. He had used the same tactics in Georgia when he was Governor there. Chief Bowles asked his people if they wanted to fight to hold their land. They decided to fight. Secretary of War of Texas, Albert Sydney Johnston, and General Thomas J. Rusk were sent to enforce the decree. The Battle of the Neches began on July 15. The Texas Militia burned a Delaware village and then attacked the other people. Approximately eight hundred men, women, and children were slaughtered. On July 16, Chief Bowles was shot in the leg and his horse was wounded. The Chief began to walk on the battle field. He was shot in the back.
The chief sat down and faced the Texas Militia. He began to sing a death chant. The captain of the militia approached, placed a pistol to his head and killed him. Bowles was 83 years old. Some people cut long pieces of skin from his corpse. These were used to make souvenir reins. His body was left unburied. On July 16th 1839, a dream of cultural and religious freedom ended in a bloody massacre. President Lamar made a speech before the Texas Legislature and declared that "eastern Texas is now free of all Indians." European settlers were encouraged to move onto the vacant farms. The survivors scattered. Some went to Mexico, some went to Oklahoma, and others hid in the forests of eastern Texas. Those who remained in Texas had to conceal their heritage, to escape persecution and death. A marker stands at the site of the battleground. On July 16 1995, in Cherokee County, Texas, near the town of Tyler, descendants of those tribes and their friends, had a funeral service for Chief Bowles. 156 years after his death. Also to remember the other lives that were lost in the battle. The site was purchased in 1997 by the American Indian Heritage Center of Texas. The place of the massacre is sacred. Blood and tear-drops have stained the soil. The spirits of the vanquished linger.
Pitter's Cherokee Trails
Pat L. Talley
Edited by Michael Hawes