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Chief Bowles

(Battle of The Neches)

West of Tyler, Texas, near the Neches River is the site of the Battle of The Neches. On
this site the Cherokee Chief Bowles was killed on July 16, 1839 while leading 800
Indians of various tribes in battle against 500 Texans. The last engagement between
Cherokees and Whites in Texas.

The American Indian Cultural Society, Inc. has purchased 68 acres of land around this
site and erected a granite marker as a memorial to those who lost their lives in that battle.
The area is considered sacred by the Indians.

A lane takes you to a parking area near where the marker is located. The last quarter
mile or so is traversed by foot as no motorized vehicles are allowed in the area of
the marker.

The marker located at site of the battle.

Chief Bowles and the Battle of Neches
(History of Chief Bowles)

By: John Watson

On a little Plain above the Neches River some 12 miles west of Tyler, Texas, a lone
monument stands like a forgotten sentinel. The inscription reads: “On this site the Cherokee
Chief Bowles was killed on July 16, 1839, while leading 800 Indians of various tribes
against 500 Texans – the last engagement between Cherokees and whites in Texas.”

Nothing else marks the site – just this singular shaft, a grassy field and a distant wood. The
memorial seems austere, a grudging acknowledgement by the state of Texas of a
troublesome enemy.

What destiny brought John Bowles (the Cherokees called him Diwali) from the fog-shrouded
mountains of Nantahala, North Carolina, to this solitary field in Texas?

Diwali was born in Cherokee County, North Carolina in 1756, the son of a Scottish trader
and a full-blood Cherokee mother. Bowles’ dad was killed by white settlers when he was
14. Within two years Bowles had tracked down the two men who had killed his father and
avenged his death. He then left North Carolina and went to Tennessee.

After spending some time in Tennessee he then moved on to Missouri and later to Arkansas.
About 1820 Bowles moved on over into Texas. While here, Chief Bowles became friends
with Sam Houston and at the time of his death he was carrying an engraved sword given to
him by President Houston. His treasured sword survived and ended up in the Masonic
Lodge in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

After trying several times to get recognition for his tribe - called the Texas Cherokee – from
the government in Mexico City and failing each time, he remained neutral during the Texas
battle for independence, due mainly to his friendship with Sam Houston. Houston assured
him that when the war was over, he would personally move to see that the Texas Cherokees
received official recognition by the Texas Republic. In fact, Houston had the Cherokee land
surveyed as proof that full rights were forthcoming.

However, Houston did not foresee the extensive resistance he would get to such an act.
When Houston’s successor, Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar, took office in 1838, he
immediately announced his intention of ridding Texas of the Cherokee menace. Lamar had
been a major factor in the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia and was known to have a
long-abiding dislike for Indians. Despite Houston’s vigorous attempts to protect Bowles and
his people, the tragedy seemed predestined. Lamar found all previous petitions and
commitments to the Cherokees null and void. He ordered the Cherokees out of Texas and
sent armed forces to expedite the order.

Chief Bowles made one request; that his people be allowed to stay until they had harvested
the crops they had planted. When this request was denied, Chief Bowles decided to stand
and fight for the land that had been promised to him by his friend Sam Houston, rather than
be led away under armed guard.

On a hot July morning in 1839, Chief Bowles mounted his sorrel horse for the last time.
After refusing to accept the conditions of the removal of his tribe (to be escorted by an
armed guard and with the gunlocks removed from their rifles), the 83-year-old chief arrayed
himself for battle. He held a cherished sword given to him by Sam Houston, and an ancient
black military hat was on his head. As he rode to the field, he saw 500 armed Texan militia

This is the end as recorded by Mary Whatley Clarke, quoting an eyewitness: Throughout the
battle, his voice could be heard urging his warriors on. He was a magnificent specimen of
barbaric manhood. His horse was shot several times, fell to the ground, throwing off his
rider. The chief slowly rose to his feet and as he walked away he was shot in the back by
Henry Conner. Bowles took several steps and fell, then rose to a sitting position. He was
approached by Captain Smith. I said, “Captain Smith, don’t shoot him,” but as I spoke, he
fired, shooting the chief in the head. Bowles body was mutilated by the Texans. He was
scalped, and several soldiers cut strips of flesh from his back for horses’ reins. His unburied
body lay for several years on the spot where he fell, his bones bleaching in the sun.

This land is now considered sacred by the Indians as the resting place of their ancestors. The
land was in private hands for many years but several years ago Eagle Douglas, CEO
American Indian Cultural Society, Inc. got a chance to purchase the land. He had made
payments on the land up until last December when the final payment was made. The 68
acres owned by the Society includes the battleground and land on down to the Neches River.

Each year on the Saturday on or nearest the 16th of July the American Indian Cultural
Society holds a Memorial Service on the land. The year I attended the Memorial
Service the 16th fell on a Saturday, which marked the 166th anniversary of the battle.

The Master of Ceremonies for this year’s Memorial Service was Eagle Douglas I,
American Indian Cultural Society, Inc. Chairman. Danny Hair, NAICAT Chairman
and honorary AICS member, was the Ceremonial Leader.

The special Guest of Honor was the Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Joe
Grayson, Jr., a full-blooded Cherokee, has been involved in Community Service
serving on different committees such as American Legion Post #50, Cherokee
United Way, Masonic Lodge #10 Cherokee Lodge, Tahlequah Schools Indian Parent
Committee, Co-Chair Cherokee National Holiday Committee, Member of the
Cherokee National Historical Society, and former member of the Cherokee Nation
Tax Commission.

Deputy Chief Grayson said it is important to remember the battle and honor the
spirits, so nothing similar happens again.

"I think you can only rape and plunder the earth for so long and the earth retaliates
and the most precious resource the earth has are people," he said. "We must live
together, respect each other, put aside racism and be friends."

He said remembering what has happened helps people understand where they came
from and that they are all born of the same Earth.

"If you go outside and look up at the sky, it's the same sky our ancestors looked at,"
he said. "The world hasn't changed ... as the old people would say, 'The coyote and
wolf still sing the old songs,' so they keep us grounded."

Danny Hair, president of the North American Indian Cultural Association of Texas,
said the spirits of the American Indians who died could be heard in the wildlife in
the forest. He smiled as the owls hooted from the depths of the woods, and said their
calls were the sounds of his ancestors.

"The owls you are hearing now are just welcoming us back to our home," he said.

After the presentation, hundreds of attendees stood in line to be cleansed by Hair with
a traditional smudging ceremony. Hair waved eagle feathers over the sweet-smelling
smoky medicines burned in a shell, and recited a chant over the people to offer good
health, prosperity and good luck.

(Just a note here; I participated in the smudging ceremony but cannot say that it
brought me good luck. After leaving the service about 11:00 pm I got lost and drove
around on those dirt back roads of the piney woods of East Texas for over an hour. It
only took about 15 minutes to get to the site from the main highway. I was
beginning to think that I was going to run out of gas before I finally found a paved
highway and stopped at the first Service station I found open and filled up with gas
before proceeding home.)

Grayson said he hoped attendees left the site with a feeling of reverence for the
American Indians who died and a desire to be kinder to one another.

You may contact the American Indian Cultural Society, Inc. at P.O. Box 1884,
DeSoto, Texas 75123

Trail leading to the clearing where the marker is located.

Click here for
Chief Bowles Ancestry


Over The Back Fence
With the Old Codger

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Texas Tales