In the mid-1700s, the Spanish invited the Ani-Tsalagi, known as Cherokees, to move into their frontier area. The Spaniards offered the red men land for their families. The Spanish wanted them located on the eastern frontier to be a buffer between them and the English Colonies to the east.
Many Cherokees leaders were concerned about the continued encroachment of English colonists into their area and were trying to outrun the disease of the whites and their great hunger for land. They were also looking for land they could hold without the English moving in and taking it away from them. Tribal leaders sent delegations to search out areas for possible settlement. Over the next fifty years, a few families and complete towns migrated west and entered Spanish Territory. They settled in what is now Arkansas and Missouri, which was under the control of the Spanish at the time.
In 1807, the Spanish requested a number of southeastern Indian tribes move into their colony called Tejas. That same year, a delegation from the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Shawnees, and Pascagoula Indian tribe, led by Chief Pinaye of the Pascagoula tribe, arrived in Nacogdoches, Tejas, Mexico. They requested land in East Tejas for their settlement. The Spanish honored their request, but there is no known settlement of any of the Indians at that time. Numbers of individuals and groups from these and other Indian tribes did drift back and forth between Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana for the next ten years.
Chief Diwali, "Bowl" also known in history as "Bowles," born around 1756 in the Cherokee town of Little Hiwasee, located in the western edge of what is now North Carolina, was interested in leaving tribal lands and moving to Spanish territory. His mother was Cherokee and his father is believed to be a Scottish Indian trader. Diwali was a follower of the great War Chief Dragging Canoe and had been a war chief among the Chicamaugas. When the Chicamauga towns were destroyed by the Americans in 1794, Diwali returned to his home in Little Hiwasee.
Around 1809, Chief Diwali and Chief Tsulawi, "Fox" with about seventy-five people migrated west. They crossed the Mississippi River and located near the old Spanish trading center of New Madrid. The people were given land and they proceeded to plant their crops and build homes. Other Cherokees joined them and the band grew in population. They were at peace with the Spanish.
In 1811, the largest earthquake in modern times hit near New Madrid. The disaster devastated Diwali and his people. They had arrived in a peaceful land and an act of Nature shook them. Their anidawehi, "religious leaders" told them Unequa, "Great Being or Spirit" wanted them to leave that place. They left their homes and fields behind and moved further west to join other Cherokees along the Saint Francis and White Rivers in the Arkansas Territory.
Unknown to Diwali and his people, the Americans had taken control of the land that they were now on in 1803 when they purchased the Louisiana Territory. This did not sit well with the red men when they learned of this. They knew it would not be long before the white man would come to this land.
The U. S. Government set up tribal land in Arkansas after the Louisiana Purchase. As more and more white settlers began to come into Arkansas Territory, the United States government demanded the Cherokees and other Indians move their towns and people north of the White River to new reservations. The reservations of small land would contain the Indians and give more land to the white settlers. Diwali held out as long as he could, but was intimidated by the whites to move his people. He finally left the Arkansas Territory, leaving behind his old friend Chief Tatsi, known as "Dutch" by the whites and his people. The two old warriors had combined forces to make war on the Osage Indians. So Much that it had upset American officials.
In 1819, Diwali moved his people south, across the Red River into Spanish Territory, to an area called Lost Prairie. This was the first known permanent settlement of a band of Cherokees in Texas. They lived there and planted and gathered two seasons of crops during the years of 1819-20. The Indians were forced to leave because of white settlers along the Red River. They moved to the forks of the Trinity River, which is that area of present day Dallas Texas. During their one year in that area, they received much trouble from the Taovaya Indians over hunting rights. The Cherokee were once again forced to leave their homes and crops to move further south into Spanish Territory. Diwali sought and was given the right by that government to settle fifty miles north of the old Stone Fort, located in Nacogdoches, Texas. The group arrived just before the planting season of 1822. Other Cherokee from the "Old Country" joined this group. A number of towns were set up in the East Texas area of what is now known as Cherokee, Smith, Rusk, Anderson, Van Zant, Greg, Upshire, Wood, Hopkins, and Rain Counties, to name a few.
Diwali and his people were very traditional and had not accepted the liberal ways of the tribe they left at home in the "Old Country." They practiced Clan Law and the ancient religious beliefs and customs of their ancestors.
All positions of leadership were elected offices in the Cherokee tribe and everyone, including women, voted on their leaders. Diwali was elected the Ugu, or "Head Chief" of the Cherokee in Texas. At times he served as Head Chief and War Chief combined, and because of his great leadership he was always re-elected as Ugu. All town leaders of this new government were then elected. The warriors in each town elected their war chiefs. They now were set up as a national government in Texas and their leader was called the Ugu, as was the national leader of the tribe.
Over the next few years, other displaced Indian tribes from the United States moved into the area to clear old Caddo Indian fields, to plant crops and build permanent homes. Diwali was appointed by the Spanish to be the administrative head of all Indians in East Texas. When the Mexicans won their independence from Spain in 1823, the Mexican Government affirmed the rights of the Cherokee and other Indian tribes to live on their land in Texas. Peter Ellis Bean, a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican Army and hero of their fight for independence, was appointed as Indian Agent.
The Cherokee, like all American Indian tribes, were outstanding farmers. They were good hunters and fishermen. They gained the attention of businessman Frost Thorn of Nacogdoches, Texas and other white businessmen. The Cherokee were so good at farming and hunting that they were able to provide a continuous flow of farm products and animal hides and furs for export. Frost Thorn set up a trade system and reported in documents of the amount of farm produce and animal hides and furs he bought from the Cherokees. He also reported in his notes that he would not settle the area assigned him by the Spanish government with white people because the Indians were better farmers than the whites.
In early 1822, Richard Fields, a quarter Cherokee, left the land he had received in Arkansas Territory under his white heritage and joined Diwali and his people in Texas. Richard Fields Jr., was Fields' grandfather and his grandmother was a half-breed Cherokee. Fields' father and brother were located in Louisiana where they settled land as whites.
Richard Fields was a warrior and had fought in the Cherokee Regiment with General Jacks against the Creek Indian, "Red Sticks," during the War of 1812. He was elected the War Chief for the tribe. All diplomatic functions were done by the Red Society "War Society," and the War Chief conducted all foreign relations. Thus, War Chief Fields, with his ability to speak English, was to sue for land from the Spanish.
In November 1822, the council sent Richard Fields and twenty-two men to San Antonio to meet with Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Tejas, Jose Felix Trespalacios. On, 8 November 1822, Trespalacios provided the Cherokees an eight-part "Articles of Agreement" between the Indians and the Republic of Mexico providing the Cherokee land and directed them to help Mexico stem the tide of Yankee Anglos flooding into the frontiers of Mexico. Trespalacios sent Fields and eight other Cherokees on to Mexico City to seek an audience with Emperor Iturbide, who would be the approving authority of the agreement.
While the Cherokee were in Mexico, the imperial Mexican Government of Iturbide was overthrown and the Mexicans obtained their independence from Spain. In June 1823, the new government informed the Cherokees to return to Texas and that no more Cherokee would be allowed to migrate to Mexico until Mexican affairs were settled. To mollify the Indians, Chief Diwali was made a lieutenant colonel in the Mexican Army and appointed administrator for all of the American Indians in East Texas. It was at this time that Peter Ellis Bean was appointed by the Mexican Government to be Indian Agent for all of East Texas.
Upon Fields' return to Texas, he started making an alliance with all the Indian tribes in East Texas and urging others in the United States to join him. This excited the newly formed Mexican Government on the intentions ofthe Cherokees. The government tried to counter the Cherokee's influence with the other tribes. They also brought pressure upon Diwali to disavow Fields.
A new player, a white man named John Hunter Dunn, also known as John Dunn Hunter, entered the picture. He is reported as being raised by the Cherokee in the "Old Country" and had a number of children by Cherokee women. Because he was known by the Cherokee in Texas, he was readily accepted in the tribe. He is also reported to have married a woman of the tribe. Dunn allied himself with Fields. Both men seemed to have glorious designs of setting up a new Indian power alliance in a weakened Mexico left over by the turmoil of its revolution. Diwali and Peace Chief Gvdawali, "Big Mush" ordered the two men to stop treating with the other tribes in the U. S. In 1826, Fields and Dunn made an alliance with a group of Anglo settlers from the U. S. who caused the Fredonian Revolution in 1827. The rebellion failed. Fields and Dunn had again gone against the approval of the Tribal Council. Because of their breech of Tribal Law, and to prove to the Mexican Government that the Cherokees were loyal and had not allied themselves with the two men and the Anglo settlers, the Council put out an execution warrant on the two men. Cherokee Tribal Law required death for any violation of law, and punishment by death was final. A team of enforcers was organized to carry out the execution.
Fields tried to escape to Louisiana and join his father and brother, but he was caught just short of the border and killed. Being caught on the Texas side brought no weight on the execution of Fields, for the warriors would have just as willingly crossed over to the United States to accomplish their mission. Hunter escaped west to an Anadarko Indian town, where he was tracked down and killed by Cherokee warriors. No person in the Anadarko town lifted a hand to save Dunn. They were also people ruled by traditional laws and customs. The Mexican Government thanked Chief Diwali and Big Mush for their quick response to a problem that could have split their friendship.
Cherokee Chief Tatsi, the "Dutch" crossed the Red River and into Texas in 1827 to visit his old friends. Tatsi and his warriors lived for fighting, anyone, but preferred fighting the Osage Indians. They would have to forgo their war making while in Texas, unless they ran onto Comanche or Kiowa Indians. His visit was short, and some think he left because it was too calm in East Texas.
After the change of governments, the Cherokee and other tribes in East Texas, continued working in their fields and trading with the Anglos in Nacogdoches. The Mexican Government was also well aware of the benefit of having friendly American Indians living on their northeastern frontier.
When the Anglo settlers declared their intentions of breaking away from Mexican rule, they knew that they needed the Indians in East Texas on their side or their neutrality if they were to succeed. The Cherokees feared the power of the Mexican government, but primarily they didn't want to get involved in white man's business. The red man always lost, no matter what side they chose. The Anglos decided to neutralize the Indians by promising them land.
On 13 November 1835, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas signed a decree to appoint commissioners to treat with the "Cherokee Indians, and their associate twelve tribes in number," to boundaries of land claimed by the Indians, which was "land is as follows, to wit; Lying North of San Antonio road and the Neches and west of the Angelina and Sabine Rivers." The decree was signed by provisional President B. T. Archer and fifty-four members of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas. The promised land was smaller than that offered by the Mexican government, which was smaller than that of the Spanish.
On 23 February 1836, on behalf of and at the direction of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas, Commissioners Sam Houston, John Forbes, Henry Millard, A. Horton, Joseph Durst, Matthias A. Bingham, Geo. W. Case, and G. W. Beckley, serving as Secretary of the Commission, signed a treaty with the Cherokees and the twelve allied bands; Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, Quopaws, Choctaws, Bolupies (Biloxi), Jawnaies (Ioni), Alabamas, Cohaties (Coushattas), Neches Caddo, Tahovcattokes (Tachocullake), and Unatuquouous (Matauo). The treaty was signed, or their X given, only by Cherokee leaders, Colonel Bowl "Chief Diwali," Gadvwali "Big Mush," Utsitsata "Corn Tassel," Vwetsi "The Egg," John Bowl (Diwali's son), and Tunnette (no translation). The treaty was signed at one of the Cherokee towns near present day Alto, Texas. There were on representatives from any other tribe, the Anglos accepting Diwali and his leaders to agree for all Indians. Over two and one half million acres of land was provided for the Indians.
One member of the commission was Sam "Raven" Houston, an officer with Jackson during the War of 1812 when a regiment of Cherokees assisted the Americans to win their war over the Creek Indian "Red Sticks" and their allies. Houston had married a Cherokee woman when he was less than 19 years old, had lived among the Cherokee for a number of years and was the son-in-law of Chief Ahuludegi "He throws away the drum," and known to the whites as John Jolly. On 21 October 1827, because of his former services to the Cherokee and their "confidence in his integrity and talents," he became a member of the Cherokee Nation, as long as he observed Cherokee law. He knew the Cherokee language and customs as well as any white man. He dealt honestly with his old friends and wanted to assure them that they would have their own land in Texas.
The Anglo settlers won independence from Mexico. All Indians in East Texas remained loyal to their word and remained neutral during the Texas Revolution. The treaty of Texas with the American Indians in East Texas and their rights to the land they lived on was secure when Sam Houston was elected president of the Republic of Texas. The Texas Government followed suit of the Spanish and Mexican Governments and appointed Diwali to be the administrator for all Indians in East Texas.
In 1837, President Houston asked the Republic of Texas Attorney General John Birdsall for a legal opinion on the 1836 treaty. On 19 November 1837, Houston reported to the Senate that Birdsall ruled that the Cherokee Indians were entitled to lands as read in the Treaty of 1836. The Senate refused to ratify the treaty. The whites had their eyes on Indian land.
In the winter of 1838-1839, the United States Government forced the Cherokees to remove from their old homelands in Eastern United States to Indian Territory, which included present day Arkansas and Oklahoma. They moved, at great cost of life to the Indians, in what became known as Nvnadaultsvyi, "Trail Where They Cried," or "Trail of Tears."
Mirabeau Bounaparte Lamar, former private secretary to the Cherokee hating Governor George Troup of Georgia, became president of the Republic of Texas in 1839. Lamar had one Indian policy and that was to remove all Indians out of Texas, either by death or forced withdrawal. His removal policy started in full swing in the summer of 1839. Sam Houston went back to Tennessee for a visit and was on one of his famous "Big Drunks." By order of Lamar, Texas commissioners and army was sent to inform the American Indians that they were to depart or suffer removal under force. Diwali asked the white men to honor their word and treaty of 1836. There was silence from the whites. Diwali then requested they be able to remain long enough to harvest their crops. The request was denied.
On 14 July 1839, the Texas Army moved into the territory of the Cherokees. On 15 July, a force under the command of Generals Burleson and Rusk attacked the Cherokee people. The attacking units was led by General Kelsy H. Douglas. His forces destroyed their towns and attacked Diwali and his warriors and pushed the Indians into what is now Van Zant County. The Cherokee dug in their defenses in an area where Warrior Creek runs into Kickapoo Creek, where they remained for the night.
On the morning of 16 July, the Texas Army attacked Diwali's dug in warriors, with the Indians' families gathered to the rear. The Cherokees had only a small amount of ammunition left, but they were able to repel two savage attacks by the Texas Army. On the third attack, the Indians were forced to withdraw. Diwali ordered the women and children in the rear to withdraw to the north toward Indian Territory.
Diwali, an old war chief and warrior of many years, was a great tactician, but he was out of ammunition and didn't have a re-supply capability. The eighty-three year old chief rode to the rear of his troops and ordered them to retreat north. He sat on his horse wearing the military hat and sword that his friend Sam Houston had given him. (The sword is now in the Masonic Lodge located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.) The warriors passed him and he sat his horse, facing the advancing Texans.
The Texas Army put a stream of heavy fire on the retreating Indians. Diwali and his horse went down, both hit by bullets. The horse lay mortally wounded with seven bullets in his body. Diwali got to his feet and tried to move in the direction of the retreating warriors. He limped along until shot in the back. The old man rolled over to a sitting position facing the oncoming enemy. While the old chief sat on the ground singing his war song and offering no physical resistance, Captain Robert W. Smith rode up, stepped off his horse and strode to where Diwali sat. A young John H. Reagan yelled for the captain not to shoot. Smith shot the old man in the head with his pistol.
The army stopped to rest their horses and gather their scattered men. The Texas Army followed the retreating Indians towards Indian Territory, but they learned that not even mounted white men could not keep up with Indian women and children when they were on foot. The Texas Army announced a victory. Diwali's body was left on the battlefield where his bones lay unburied for a number of years.
The Cherokees scattered. Some went into Indian Territory where they were denied settlement or passage by the Choctaw Indian. They made their way to the camp of chief Tatsi, "Dutch," where they took refuge. Only a few made it to Tahlequah, where they were believed to be "savage" Indians because they were not Christian and did not follow the white man's way.
John Bowl, Diwali's son, was not allowed to enter Indian Territory and was forced back into Texas. He and his group decided to go to Mexico. His group was sighted by a unit of Texas Rangers and Texas Army and they attacked the small band. John Bowl was killed. When the Texans learned they were Cherokee, the battle ceased and the Indians were given food and released to go on their way.
Some of the Texas Cherokee went to Arkansas and Louisiana. The main group scattered and went to the woods of East Texas to hid out. After the trouble ended, many went back to their cabins and fields where they started living as "white" people so they could keep their land. Others who had been driven out of Texas returned to take up where they left off. These Indians also became "white" so they could survive in the white world surrounding them. They learned that after 1836 a person could be black or white, but not red. Many of the dark skinned people became "Black Dutch." Many families didn't desire to have people know they had "heathen" blood lines and dropped their red heritage from their family history. Others kept the bonds of their Indian heritage tight and strong. There were always members in the family who kept accurate records of the family's red blood lines. These people have now come into great demand by other family members in these past few years as more and more people of American Indian heritage wish to make links with their ancestors. Many members of the family and friends joined the Cherokee in Texas between the years of 1819 and the Civil War.
Sam Houston was again elected President of the Republic of Texas. Attorney General G. W. Terrel gave a legal opinion for Houston that the Cherokees were entitled to the land granted them under the 1836 treaty. The opinion was brought before the Texas congress and again they refused to ratify the treaty. Anglo people were on the land and the whites were not going to honor their word or the treaty.
Over the years no person or group of people were able to re-establish the Texas Cherokee or set up a tribal government because it was not allowed by white citizens or the government of the State of Texas. Things began to change in the 1970s.
On 14 August 1993, in Troup, Texas, four men, D. L. Utsidihi Hicks, A. J. Bucktail Jessie, Douglas Wasini Watson, and David Adastiyali Hicks Jr., met to re-instate the Tsalagiyi Nvdagai (TN), "Cherokees in Texas," which had been inactive in public as a tribe since they were forced by gun and knife to leave their homes and planted fields on 16 July 1839. The Tsalagiyi Nvdagi was reconstituted to represent all Texas Cherokee and their brother tribesmen throughout the United States.
It was decided that a provisional government would be formed to write a constitution, appoint leaders, who would later be elected, and decide on the many subjects and concerns that must be addressed when forming a new government. Utsidihi Hicks was elected Ugu, "Head Chief," while A. B. Jessie, Doug Watson, and Dave Hicks Jr. were appointed by the chief to form the nucleus of the Tribal Council. Three more council members were appointed by Chief Hicks until the chief and council members could stand for election by the general membership of the tribe.
A Constitutional Convention was called to write a Tribal Constitution. The Constitution called for three divisions of government: an Executive, lead by an Ugu and a Deputy Chief; a Legislative, to be called the Council, made up of seven members; a Judicial, with elected judges. The Tribal Seal is to be kept within the old treaty area the tribe received from the Republic of Texas no matter who becomes Ugu.
It is not the purpose of the Tsalagiyi Nvdagi to try to get the old treaty land back from the State of Texas. That has long passed.
The tribe does seek donations to purchase land in northern Cherokee County or southern Smith County. The tribe plans to build an early 1800s Texas Cherokee living village for tourist and economic development, and to keep our history. A library, museum, tribal headquarters, and teaching facilities are to be built. TN plans to incorporate the old Gadusideli, "Overhills," dialect into the tribe as our tribal language, and teach our language to keep it from dying out. Both the Sequoyah Syllabary of the Cherokee language and the English language will be used to teach our language. Sequoyah's alphabet is the only one in the history of mankind to be invented by one person for his own people's language. The Cherokee tribe cannot let it die. TN wishes to see that as much of the Cherokee culture is preserved as possible before the "old ones" start dying off and it's lost forever.
"We are here, for we never left."
For information or applications for membership, please write or call:
Chief D. L. Utsidihi Hicks
P. O. Box 492
Troup, TX 75789