Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Caddo Removal

The early European explorers found Caddo villages in what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas, but by the time of the Louisiana Purchase, the tribe seems to have been centered near the Red River about 120 miles northwest of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Caddo hunters, however, ranged widely throughout the area, including the lands north of the river, soon to become Indian Territory. Once the Indian Removal Act (1830) was put into effect, they were compelled to give up their lands in Louisiana. The Treaty with the Caddo (1835) called for the tribe to move beyond the borders of the United States within two years; to compensate them, the government offered $40,000 in goods, horses, and annuities to be paid over five years. The Caddo people now found themselves homeless.

The tribe split into three groups: some bands went to Texas to be near relatives, others briefly migrated to Mexico, and still others went to Indian Territory, where they settled on land on the Red River near the Wichita Mountains. This last contingent, however, had settled on land claimed by the Choctaw, who regarded them as "foreign" Indians. The Caddo who went to Mexico were struck with smallpox, which killed a great number of them. The survivors joined the Texas and Indian Territory groups.

In Texas, life did not go well for the Caddo. Texans and Mexicans were engaged in a struggle in which the Natives became embroiled, mainly because each side sought to involve them against the other. The result was that both the Texans and the Mexicans regarded Native Americans as hostile and treated them as enemies. In January 1837, for example, Capt. George Erath, commanding 14 Texas Rangers, encountered more than 100 Caddo at Elm Creek west of the Brazos River. Texas Rangers were an irregular body first authorized in 1835 to protect the frontier, primarily from Natives, while the regular army and the militia carried on the revolution. Erath's Rangers were defeated, but this was only one such skirmish in a long-running, smoldering war. At one point, the Caddo were forced to take refuge on an island in the Red River, where they gazed warily at the Texas shore for marauding Texan war parties. After Texas's independence, the republic's official policy was annihilation of Indigenous peoples. In time, however, cooler heads prevailed, and Sam Houston, among others, pursued a peace policy toward the tribes.

After the Mexican-American War, the Caddo and other tribes, including the Wichita and the Comanche, were gathered together on land set aside for them on the Brazos River Reserve. Although the Natives lived peacefully, following several years of back-and-forth raids of settlers and Natives, resentment among the whites was still high. Texans, especially those who lived close to the Brazos Reserve and a similar reserve at Clear Fork, called for the removal of all Indigenous people from the state. And actions against hostile Natives in Texas and elsewhere fed the settlers' fears, in spite of the fact that many of the Brazos Reserve Natives served as scouts for U.S. and Texas troops fighting the Comanche. In 1859, whites attacked camps on the Brazos, killing and scalping several Native Americans. Following this, J. R. Baylor led a force of 250 whites in an attack on the reserve, intending to kill all the inhabitants and then move on to Clear Fork and do the same. This time, however, the Natives rose up against the whites and forced Baylor and his men into a position from which they were rescued by the U.S. Army.

Responding to the situation, Texas and federal officials created a new reserve in Indian Territory in the area known as the Leased District, west of the 98th meridian and of the Choctaw and Chickasaw lands. In the summer of 1859, as the time approached for removal to the new reserve, officials received word that the whites had set a date to attack the Brazos encampments and were intent on slaughtering all who lived there. The departure was moved up, and the Natives left for Indian Territory on August 1, without military protection. A new reserve was set up just north of the Washita River called the Wichita Agency, and it was here that the Caddo settled. Fort Cobb was constructed near the Wichita Agency to protect Natives from attack from both the Comanche and the Texans, who were still very much feared.

James W. Parins

Further Reading
“Caddos.“ The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture. At; Carter, Cecile Elkins. Caddo Indians: Where We Come From. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995; LaVere, David. Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000; Wright, Muriel. Indian Tribes of Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.

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