On December 16, 1811, a series of intense interplate earthquakes shook the area around New Madrid, Missouri. They are, to this day, the most powerful earthquakes to hit the contiguous United States east of the Rocky Mountains. The quakes were felt strongly over roughly 50,000 square miles. Compare this to the 1906 San Francisco quake felt over roughly 6,200 square miles. Chief Di’Wali Bowles interpreted these quakes as a sign from the Great Spirit that they were not to live there. They left their homes and moved to Arkansas, still hoping to be far enough west to “outrun the disease of the white man and their great hunger for land.”
From the “History of the Tsalagiyi Nvdagi” by D. L. Utsidihi Hicks: “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.
“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.”
From “Chief Bowles of the Texas Cherokee” by Dorman H. Winfrey, “Chief Bowles was about sixty-six years old when he led his small group of Cherokee into Eastern Texas. Evidently he lost the chiefship of his tribe; for seven years after arrival in Texas, Richard Fields, a half-breed Cherokee who fought as a soldier with American troops in the War of 1812, figured as the principal chief of the Cherokee.
“Under the leadership of Richard Fields the Cherokee of Texas increased. They united with other refugee Indians from the United States, forming together a loose confederacy later known as “the Cherokee and their associated bands … Field’s first concern was to get a written approval from the Mexican government for Cherokee title to the East Texas lands. On November 8, 1822, Jose Felix Trespalacios, governor of the province of Texas, entered into an agreement with the Cherokee [until the approval of the Supreme Government is obtained] at Bexar.”
Chief Fields accompanied by Di’Wali went to Mexico City to get that approval, but their timing was unfortunate. There was a revolution going on and the administration was changing. Lucas Alaman was the minister of relations at the time and gave them a statement that “the agreement made on 8th November, 1822, between Richard Fields and Colonel Felix Tespalacios, Governer of Texas, remains provisionally in force …”.
Again from D. L. Utsidihi Hicks, “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.”
Winfrey writes, “For the few years following the Fredonian Rebellion, Chief Bowles and the Cherokee were befriended by both Mexicans and loyal Texans. Stephen F. Austin and numerous Mexican officials praised the role Chief Bowles had played in keeping the Cherokee loyal to Mexico. The Mexican government was appreciative of the role the Cherokee had played; on July 13, 1827, Lt. Nicolas Flores was sent to Cherokee Village to deliver to Chief Bowles the commission of lieutenant-colonel in the Mexican army.
“During the early 1830’s Chief Bowles and the Cherokee made repeated efforts to secure from the Mexican government a written guarantee for the land the Cherokee were occupying. After numerous failures with the Mexicans, Bowles decided to join his forces with the Texans who were in the first stages of a revolt against Mexico.”
[next week the rest of the story]