top of page

Chief Di’Wali Bowles: Cherokees in Texas

Chief Bowles

On the surface, it appears that Chief Di’Wali Bowles spent his life running from something trying to find peace. He left his home in Running Water Town on the Tennessee river after the Muscle Shoals Massacre fearing retribution from his tribe (He was later completely exonerated). He left Missouri after a massive earthquake was determined to be a sign from the Great Spirit. He left Arkansas after the Louisiana Purchase expanded the jurisdiction of the United States. He twice relocated in Tejas (first a part of Spain, then Mexico). In his early seventies, he thought he had possibly found peace in Texas until the white Texans revolted against the Mexicans.

D. L. Utsidihi Hicks writes, “When the Anglo settlers [in Texas] 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, … 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.

Sam Houston

“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 … 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.” But, the Senate refused to ratify the treaty. Once again, the whites had their eyes on Indian land.

Mirabeau Lamar

Again from Hicks, “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.”

When the Cherokee got word that the Texans intended to remove them, a council meeting was called. Everyone but Chief Di’Wali and his friend Big Mush wanted to fight for their rights. Bowles, resigned to their wishes, ended by saying, “If I fight, the whites will kill me. If I refuse to fight, my own people will kill me. I have led my people for a long time and I feel that it is my duty to stand by them regardless of what fate might befall me.”

Continuing Hicks’ report, “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.

John H. Regan

“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.”

Another account of the battle was given in “A Biography of Duwa’li (Chief Bowles)”, researched by Sibyl Creasey & Betty Miller, “July 16, 1839 is the date of the last battle fought between the Texas Cavalry and Cherokee in Texas. The battle began on July 15. On July 16, Chief Bowles signaled retreat, few were left to flee. Chief Bowles was shot in the leg and his horse was wounded. The Chief climbed down from his horse and started to walk from the battlefield. He was shot in the back. The 83 year old chief sat down crossing his arms and legs facing the company of militia. The captain of the militia walked to where the Chief sat, placed a pistol to his head and killed him. Cavalry members took strips of skin from his arms as souvenirs. His body was left where it lay. No burial ever took place. No funeral service was held for Chief Duwa’li Bowles until some 156 years after his death. On Sunday, July 16, 1995 descendents of the tribes and their friends met to honor Chief Duwa’li Bowles with a funeral service, and to remember the others whose lives were also lost in this battle. This funeral was held on the site of the Battle of the Neches in Van Zandt County, Texas.

“On November 25, 1997, the American Indian Heritage Center of Texas, Inc., a Texas nonprofit organization purchased the land where the Battle of the Neches was fought in Van Zandt County, Texas near the community of Redland.”

The massacre in Texas coincided with the forced removal of the Cherokee from their traditional homeland in the east. Because of the many deaths and hardships suffered during this tragic removal, it came to be known as “The Trail of Tears.”

Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page