Texas-Indian Wars: Fort Parker and Mirabeau B. Lamar

Fort Parker Massacre

Fort Parker, site of the Fort Parker massacre from Native marauders. May 1836

In understanding the majority of Native conflicts with new American settlers and the US government, it is important to highlight the Texas-Indian wars as a case study of how relations with the natives fluxuated over time through different leaderships. Though, during some time when Texas was not formally a part of the United States, some of these battles were occurring, it is important to note their historical relevancy to many events within the settled United States in 1820-1850, as it was also the beginning “stomping grounds” of future American leaders.

The story of the Texas-Indian Wars begins with Fort Parker, a small fort near what is today, Grosebeck, Texas. This fort was used mainly for protection against native American fighters, as the expansion into the new Texas territory posed some initial threats to the Natives and made them feel taken advantage of. One of the problems the natives had with Fort Parker was that the inhabitants were allowing Texas Rangers – law enforcement of Texas – to stay within the fort. The inhabitants were unaware that the Texas Rangers were widely regarded as brutal murderers amongst many surrounding native American tribes. So, in housing those rangers in the fort for some time, the inhabitants were viewed as complicit, and or part of the actions that the Rangers were regularly taking against the surrounding native tribes. The inhabitants of Fort Parker had set out a series of peace treaties with the surrounding native tribes, however the tribes came to not follow those treaties once they assumed the inhabitants’ relations with the Texas Rangers.

Cynthia Ann Parker

Cynthia A Parker with her daughter she had with the Comanche Indian Chief, C. 1861 before she was recaptured by white soldiers

This is important to note. The native tribes assumed that the inhabitants were complicit with the Texas Rangers, and for that they mistakenly slaughtered many men women and children. This was something that happened often throughout the American Indian Wars of 1820-1850. This happened in many cases, as noted in A Review of a Savage Frontier, "Conflict born of such misunderstandings produced erroneous testimony about the nature of Indians along the trail and, in the most unfortunate cases, escalated to violence" (Cardenas). This could not be more true, as it these misunderstandings led to violence and endless wars and suffering!

On May 19th of 1836, Native American warriors from a variety of surrounding tribes banded together, rode to Fort Parker, scaled the walls of the entrenched fort and brutally murdered the inhabitants. Among those that were not spared were women and children, as the natives were relentlessly brutal in their killing of the inhabitants. Most of those in the fort at the time were able to disperse into the surrounding wilderness before the Native warriors arrived, however among those that survived also included Cynthia Ann Parker who was captured by the natives. She remained with the Comanche indians for over two decades until she was eventually re-captured by white fighters in a battle with the Comanche, that resulted in the massacre of many native women and children. Her experience and stories shaped a narrative for US history that would follow a similar pattern. Misconceptions, slaughters, vengeance, and revenge were simialarly repeated time and time again with the natives and Americans.

Mirabeau B. Lamar

Mirabeau B. Lamar, 2nd President of the Texas Republic

Lamar was the first Vice-President of the Republic of Texas, and than went on to become the 2nd President of the Republic of Texas. He is an important historical figure in the context of the Native American Indian wars because he began a stream of expulsion of the natives that subsequently led to years of expulsion led by a variety of other soon to be American leaders.

Just like many white Texans of the time, Lamar lamented the idea of Indians coinhabiting the land in Texas with white settlers. His sentiments, though not singularly unique to him, were carried out by him in more drastic ways than any of his predecessors like President Jackson with the Indian Removal Act. Lamar didn’t want to just move the Indians, as he knew that to wherever they were moved to would provide them some issue in the future. He saw a problem growing with the expansion of white settlers onto the western lands, and he knew the natives were only going to get in the way. So, very publicly and very pronouncedly he set out to expel all the natives from the land. He did not follow the ways of his old boss and the first President of Texas, Sam Houston, with negotiating and working with the Indians, he wanted to aggressively take on the Comanche tribe and other marauding Indians of Texas, and expel them from the territory. He took a "very different attitude towards Indians than did Sam Houston" (Texas State Library).

He started a pattern, especially in but not limited to the Republic of Texas, of "othering" the native tribes in the region. He believed that with their expulsion, the white settlers would have less issue with settling, growing, and conquering more land and territory as they moved westward. These sentiments carried into the United States and the leaders that would soon come to lead the US into a new era of expellig natives, moving westward, and not honoring treaties made with the natives. Though many of these were just slanderings of the natives, and it convinced many other Americans to think and work against the natives. In Savage Frontier, it says, "Unfortunately, emigrants conditioned by guidebooks, rumors, and other sources to fear and distrust Indians sometimes interpreted what were really overtures of assistance, trade, or hospitality as aggression" (Cardenas). 

Mirabeau B Lamar Presidential Speech, Texas

Mirabeau B. Lamar Papers #948, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Lamar believed that "the Indians had no integrity; thus, there was no possibility of peaceful negotiation or co-existence" (Texas State Library). Lamar can be quoted as informing the natives of the region, and in particular the Cherokees that if they did not leave, they would face unmeriful military action (Texas State Library). Lamar deployed thousands of Texas soldiers and militia to East Texas to drive out the Cherokees. Killing hundreds of native warriors, women and children, Lamar ordered the subsequent burning of the villages in East Texas. With the elimination of the stronger Cherokee indian warriors, some smaller tribes had to leave the land in fear of their own deaths. Savage Frontier asserts that "President Lamar was engaged in genocide and “ethnic cleansing” that gave no quarter" (Cardenas), as he went about his time as President. Unrelenting killing.

Lamar Speech, No Compromise!

MB Lamar speech on Native American expulsion, declaring hard line policy against Native American integration and or negotiations. NO COMPROMISE!

To be fair, Lamar originally wanted to remove them by peaceful means. Of course, this was still removal of the natives from their homeland, but he didn't want to use militaristic means. However, in sending negotiators to the Cherokee leadership, accompanied by nearly 900 soldiers, it sparked a slight miscommunication. Lamar wanted to negotiate, however the natives figured they were coming to attack them... they had 900 soliders so it surely would seem like it! The natives retreated to some rear entrenchments they had made, and on July 15th 1839, Cherokee Chief Bowles attacked. "In the initial battle, the Indians were defeated, losing eighteen men to the Texans' three. The next day, the Texans pursued the retreating Indians and inflicted more than 100 casualties, Chief Bowl among them" (Texas State Library). Chief Bowles, unfortunately was one of the friends of past Texas President Sam Houston. Some may regard these actions as not from Lamar himself, but he himself was the one ordering these killings. In a tragic move, Savage Frontier commented that, "The Texans on the field took their lead from the president. When Texans killed Cherokee Chief Bowles, they left his mutilated body on the battlefield for years, and some Texans used their knives to cut away pieces of his body for personal charms and souvenirs" (Cardenas). Being that Sam Houston and Chief Bowles were friends, it is easy to see how just one change in leadership can have drastically detrmintal effects on relationships on the frontier, especially.

Lamar Orders the Cherokee Removal, 1839

Lamar Orders the Cherokee Removal, 1839. After failed negotiations with the Natives, Lamar decided to scrap all negotiations and relations to subsequently remove them all from the Texas territory.

They had negotiated in the past and were friendly. This is important to note, as relations amongst the natives and settlers greatly depended on who was in power. Following these battles, a full scale relocation and expulsion program ensued in Texas. By 1841, most of the Texas territory was rid of the previous native inhabitants. Lamar was unrelenting, as he had heard the natives had killed wome and children, he sought to do the same. Savage frontier notes this quote of Lamar, "We should spare neither age, sect nor condition, for they do not. I know it will be said this is barbarous and too much like the savage. And it is harsh, but it is the only means in my view that will put them down and as such should be resorted to" (Cardenas) which is important because he publicly asserts this. This may not have been the case if Sam Houston were to remain in power in 1839. This is the issue that comes up with changing leadership. Native relations greatly depended on the leadership, not all white settlers were bent on removing natives. Savage Frontier notes that "most people found cooperation and curiosity" (Cardenas) with the natives. This just goes to show that the Texas-Indian wars, as did many upcoming wars between the Americans and the Natives, depended in large part on the leadership of the time. One leader, one leader like Lamar, could change the course for a whole region and for thousands of people, in particular the Texas region, and in particular the native tribes that lived there. Assumptions, rumors and other misinformation led to the eventual destruction of many native nations and white settlements.

1. Cardenas, Alfredo E. “Review of Savage Frontier, Vol. II, 1838-1839: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas.” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 110, no. 4 (2007)

2. Texas State Library and Archives Commission

3. Newton Greshamn Library, Sam Houston State University