Alabama-Coushatta to the Rescue: Aid to the Refugees During the Runaway Scrape (1836)
by Victor Vergara
After learning of the defeat at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, General Sam Houston dispatched a message for the retreat of his troops and advised settlers to follow. As Santa Anna’s army quickly approached east, waves of families fled leaving their homes and properties behind. Throughout the escape, refugees endured an overwhelming low morale due to disease, starvation, and inadequate shelter that reduced them in numbers. While the settlers continued to flee east (reaching as far as Louisiana), the Alabama and Coushatta tribes aided the runaways in their escape to safety from the powerful Mexican army. Thus, the participation of these tribes during the events of the Texas Revolution earned them privileges and rights that were denied to other groups of Native Americans in the new republic. In gratitude of their generous and hospitable deeds, the tribes earned state recognition both under the provisional governments of Sam Houston and successor Mirabeau B. Lamar. Throughout an extensive period, the peaceful Alabama-Coushatta tribes experienced sporadic relocation, beginning with the occupation of British soldiers before the American Revolution. Progressively, they traveled further from what is now present-day Alabama, reaching parts of Louisiana and East Texas. Once arriving within the Spanish and French-American borders, the tribes were prone to the inevitable wages of Spanish-Franco conflict, the Mexican War for Independence, and later the Texas Revolution. Although the tribes remained separate, their common upbringings allowed the two tribes to cooperate and eventually settle together. Through their efforts in the Runaway Scrape, the Alabama-Coushatta determine their significance in the shaping of Texas history, thus creating opportunity for them to appeal to land.
Seeking new refuge, the Coushatta tribe sought to follow their neighboring Alabama allies to the southwestern territories of Louisiana and Texas where the groups hoped to make their new home. Upon the arrival of the Coushatta, the Spanish gladly opened their borders to the tribe. The Coushatta were then able to cooperate as a line of defense alongside the Eastern Texas border. By doing so, the Spanish were able to strengthen their borders and watch for any invaders that were constantly seen smuggling and wandering. Interestingly, Coushatta loyalties would later shift. Texas still under Spanish rule, the tribe engaged their efforts in the fight for Mexican Independence. On March 29, 1813, under the command of Samuel Kemper, thirteen hundred men stood in awe of the sight of twenty-five Coushatta charging towards the Spanish line before the signal was given. The Battle of Rosalis ended in a victory for the Mexican supporters as Spanish troops retreated back to San Antonio. The Coushatta would thus develop a record of faithful service to Texas that would never be fully repaid.
After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Alabama-Coushatta again experienced the consequences of western expansion and again, the tribes were forced to relocate further west, where they settled in the Trinity and Neches Rivers. Under Chief Colita, the Coushatta erected three different villages along the Trinity where they remained until their relocation in 1845 after Texas became the 28th state of the United States. Once Texas was opened to American settlers, conflict between the Mexican government and the Americans ensued. Loyalties would again be tested despite the call for neutrality. In the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, fear of retaliation and possible alliance with the Mexican forces, led General Sam Houston to ensure the neutrality of the Alabama-Coushatta and surrounding tribes:
“The parties declare, that there shall be a firm and lasting peace forever, and that a friendly intercourse shall be pursued, by the people belonging to both parties.”
In order to ensure peaceful relations, Houston appoints a representative (agent) to each tribe whose job it was to oversee governmental affairs and see that relations with neighboring Anglo settlers do not cause an outbreak, or rather see that no “injustice” is done to the members of the villages. By establishing a friendly Indian policy, he became a favorable government figure for many tribes, including the Alabama-Coushatta, whom in 1859 appraised his role as Texas Governor, describing him as a “great and good man, a friend to the Indians”. Though he had previously asked the tribes to remain neutral, their support and loyalty to the cause managed to serve him and the Anglo settlers well during the Texas Revolution.
Upon receiving the news of the defeat at the Alamo, Houston then demands for settlers to evacuate their properties and flee to the eastern borders. In an account written by historian Henderson Yoakum, he describes the ill conditions the refugees experienced in the run for their lives during the Runaway Scrape:
"On every road leading eastward into Texas, were found men, women and children, moving through the country over swollen streams and muddy roads, strewing the way with their property, crying for aid, and exposed to the fierce northers and rains of the spring. The scene was distressing indeed: and being witnessed by the small but faithful army of Texas, whose families and wives they were, thus exposed and suffering, nerved their arms and hearts for the contest then not distant."
As principal chief of the Texas Coushattas, Colita was an instrumental figure in maintaining peaceful relations between the tribe and their Anglo counterparts. Evidently, in the events of the Runaway Scrape, he and the Coushatta assisted the fleeing settlers by providing them food and shelter, and personally helping them cross the Trinity River. Through their efforts in the Runaway Scrape, the Coushatta once again showed where their loyalty stood. Their participation in the Texas affairs thus prompts the tribes to appeal for land grants in the 1850's through their respective agent, James Barclay.
Native American ownership of black slaves came about as a way for Native Americans to illustrate their societal sophistication to white settlers.
How would slave ownership prove civilization? In capitalism-crazed America, slaves became tokens of economic success. The more slaves you owned, the more serious a businessperson you were, and the more serious a businessperson you were, the fitter you were to join the ranks of “civilized society.”
#BlackHistory #RealHistory DAY 11
HOW NATIVE AMERICAN SLAVEHOLDERS COMPLICATE THE TRAIL OF TEARS NARRATVE
"When you think of the Trail of Tears, you likely imagine a long procession of suffering Cherokee Indians forced westward by a villainous Andrew Jackson. Perhaps you envision unscrupulous white slaveholders, whose interest in growing a plantation economy underlay the decision to expel the Cherokee, flooding in to take their place east of the Mississippi River.
What you probably don’t picture are Cherokee slaveholders, foremost among them Cherokee chief John Ross. What you probably don’t picture are the numerous African-American slaves, Cherokee-owned, who made the brutal march themselves, or else were shipped en masse to what is now Oklahoma aboard cramped boats by their wealthy Indian masters. And what you may not know is that the federal policy of Indian removal, which ranged far beyond the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee, was not simply the vindictive scheme of Andrew Jackson, but rather a popularly endorsed, congressionally sanctioned campaign spanning the administrations of nine separate presidents.
These uncomfortable complications in the narrative were brought to the forefront at a recent event held at the National Museum of the American Indian. Titled “Finding Common Ground,” the symposium offered a deep dive into intersectional African-American and Native American history.
For museum curator Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), who has overseen the design and opening of the widely lauded “Americans” exhibition now on view on the museum’s third floor, it is imperative to provide the museum-going public with an unflinching history, even when doing so is painful.
“I used to like history,” Smith told the crowd ruefully. “And sometimes, I still do. But not most of the time. Most of the time, history and I are frenemies at best.” In the case of the Trail of Tears and the enslavement of blacks by prominent members of all five so-called “Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole), Smith went one step further, likening the ugly truth of history to a “mangy, snarling dog standing between you and a crowd-pleasing narrative.”
“Obviously,” Smith said, “the story should be, needs to be, that the enslaved black people and soon-to-be-exiled red people would join forces and defeat their oppressor.” But such was not the case—far from it. “The Five Civilized Tribes were deeply committed to slavery, established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”
In other words, the truth is about as far a cry from a “crowd-pleasing narrative” as you could possibly get. “Do you want to hear that?” Smith asked the audience. “I don’t think so. Nobody does.” And yet, Smith is firm in his belief that it is a museum’s duty to embrace and elucidate ambiguity, not sweep it under the rug in the pursuit of some cleaner fiction.
Tiya Miles, an African-American historian at the University of Michigan, agrees. At the “Finding Common Ground” event, she meticulously laid out primary-source evidence to paint a picture of Indian/African-American relations in the years leading up to the Civil War.
Native Americans, she said, had themselves been enslaved, even before African-Americans, and the two groups “were enslaved for approximately 150 years in tandem.” It wasn’t until the mid 18th-century that the bondage of Native Americans began to wane as Africans were imported in greater and greater numbers. Increasingly, where white colonists viewed Africans as little more than mindless beasts of burden, they saw Native Americans as something more: “noble savages,” unrefined but courageous and fierce.
Perversely, Native American ownership of black slaves came about as a way for Native Americans to illustrate their societal sophistication to white settlers. “They were working hard to comply with government dictates that told native people that in order to be protected and secure in their land base, they had to prove their level of ‘civilization,’” Miles explained.
How would slave ownership prove civilization? The answer, Miles contends, is that in capitalism-crazed America, slaves became tokens of economic success. The more slaves you owned, the more serious a businessperson you were, and the more serious a businessperson you were, the fitter you were to join the ranks of “civilized society.” It’s worth remembering, as Paul Chaat Smith says, that while most Native Americans did not own slaves, neither did most Mississippi whites. Slave ownership was a serious status symbol.
Smith and Miles agree that much of early American history is explained poorly by modern morality but effectively by simple economics and power dynamics. “The Cherokee owned slaves for the same reasons their white neighbors did. They knew exactly what they were doing. In truth,” Smith said, the Cherokee and other “Civilized Tribes were not that complicated. They were willful and determined oppressors of blacks they owned, enthusiastic participants in a global economy driven by cotton, and believers in the idea that they were equal to whites and superior to blacks.”
None of this lessens the very real hardship endured by Cherokees and other Native Americans compelled to abandon their homelands as a result of the Indian Removal Act. Signed into law in the spring of 1830, the bill had been rigorously debated in the Senate (where it was endorsed with a 28-19 vote) that April and in the House of Representatives (where it prevailed 102-97) that May. Despite a sustained, courageous campaign on the part of John Ross to preserve his people’s property rights, including multiple White House visits with Jackson, in the end the influx of white settlers and economic incentives made the bill’s momentum insuperable. All told, the process of removal claimed more than 11,000 Indian lives—2,000-4,000 of them Cherokee.
What the slaveholding of Ross and other Civilized Nations leaders does mean, however, is that our assumptions regarding clearly differentiated heroes and villains are worth pushing back on.
“I don’t know why our brains make it so hard to compute that Jackson had a terrible Indian policy and radically expanded American democracy,” Smith said, “or that John Ross was a skillful leader for the Cherokee nation who fought the criminal policy of removal with every ounce of strength, but also a man who deeply believed in and practiced the enslavement of black people.”
As Paul Chaat Smith said to conclude his remarks, the best maxim to take to heart when confronting this sort of history may be a quote from African anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral: “Tell no lies, and claim no easy victories.”
On March 27, 1689, Spanish Governor Alonso de León, with a force of 114 men, including future San Antonio “founding father” friar Damián Massanet, soldiers, servants, and muleteers left Coahuila on his fourth and final Entrada (Expedition) into northern uncharted New Spain. Ten days later, the expeditionary group ran smack into a large village of native Americans and the two completely different cultures came face-to-face. And, the natives did something that the Spaniards weren’t expecting.
The natives welcomed them with their "legendary hospitality greeting"; a cry or a cheer. The leader of the Native Americans advance party that day greeted the Spanish with one word, just one word. The word he yelled was "tayshas". Tayshas translates to friends or allies in their language.
According to the friar, the Native Americans that they encountered that day were friendly, accommodating, attractive people with a beautiful countenance. And what De León saw and experienced upon entering the village for the first time — was, in his-own-words, impressive.
These people had sophisticated agricultural skills, commenting on their well-tended fields of corn, beans, squash and watermelons. He noted their many villages with permanent dwellings, their cleanliness, and organization. Who were these beautiful people who greeted newcomers and strangers to their village as friends?
History remembers them as the Caddo Hasinai.
The Caddos migrated into East Texas from the Mississippi Valley around 800 A.D. Their territory included parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and East Texas. At the height of their mound-building culture around 1200 A.D. the Caddos numbered 250,000 people. The Hasinai Confederacy was a large confederation of Caddo-speaking Native Americans, who occupied territory between the Sabine and Trinity rivers in eastern Texas.
When the Spanish and the French encountered the Hasinai in the 1680s, they found a centrally organized chiefdom under the control of a religious leader, known as the Grand Xinesi. This leader lived in a secluded house and met with a council of elders. The chieftainship consisted of several subdivisions, which have been designated cantonments. Each was under the control of a Caddi. There were also men designated as Canahas and Chayas, who helped the Caddi run the system.
The Caddos were the most advanced Native American culture in Texas. They lived in tall, grass-covered houses in large settlements with highly structured social, religious and political systems.
The Hasinai were also the largest confederation of Caddos in Deep East Texas. They lived along the Neches and Angelina rivers, with one of their most powerful settlements being in the present Caddo Mounds area west of Alto. The Nacogdoches tribe is included among these Hasinai Caddos.
The Caddos were travelers and traders, men of business, and they greeted everyone they met in their travels with the cry of tayshas!
History remembers that because of that greeting, the Spanish then called and identified the Caddo's nation as – Los (The) Tejas. The Spanish Church even built a mission in east Texas for the exclusive conversion of the Caddo Hasinai that was named, San Francisco de los Tejas. Many years later, Spanish land east of the Trinity became known as the Province of Tejas, which later gave its name to all of Texas.
And just like that, the Caddo word tayshas morphed into the word — Texas.
The Caddo lived in tall cone shaped grass huts. To build a hut, they made a wood frame and covered it with cut cane and long grasses. These huts were nicely furnished inside with furniture and were quite comfortable. One of the reasons the Spanish seemed to like the Caddo was because they had beds and chairs inside these huts. This reminded the Spanish of their-own beds and chairs. They would use buffalo skins with the hair on them as blankets to keep warm in the winter. These huts could be very large. The inside of the huts had woven grass and split cane mats on the floors. These same mats were hung up as partitions inside the hut. Often several families would live in one hut.
The Caddo were great and skilled farmers. They planted crops in large clearings in the woods. They raised corn, beans and squash. They also hunted the deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels and other animals in the pine-woods around them. The women would gather wild plant food like acorns, black berries, persimmons, roots and many other plants and fruits. But, farming corn, beans, and squash provided the main source of food.
Hunting parties of men would be formed to travel west onto the Southern Plains were there were many buffalo at certain times of the year. This was a long trip that could take several weeks. The men would dry the buffalo meat to preserve it so they could carry it home. They also saved the valuable buffalo skins to tan and use as robes. Buffalo skins with the hair on them are very soft and warm.
Early European explorers reported finding the woods cleared like a European park. This means the grass was short and the undergrowth was cleared away. The Indians did not have tractors or lawn mowers to do this. They would set fires in the woods to burn away the old taller grass and small shrubs and bushes without hurting the old trees with thick bark. If this is done every year or so, the fire keeps the undergrowth out. The Indians would do this in the fall and winter. In the spring new green grass would get more sun and grow better on the burned areas than in undergrowth. This tender green grass would attract deer and animals to hunt. These fires also made it easier to find acorns and nuts on the ground.
The Caddo society was communal, an integrated whole woven together and tightly bound by kinship, custom, and expectation. Each Caddo lived life according to the expectations and traditions of her/his community. Age, sex, and kin group defined the roles of men and women, girls and boys. Group solidarity was reinforced by shared activities — building houses, planting and harvesting crops, feasts, dances, and rituals.
It is estimated that in 1520, the people who would become the Hasinai, the Kadohadacho and the Natchitoches, numbered about 250,000. Over the next 250 years, the population of these Caddoan-speaking peoples was severely reduced by epidemics of endemic diseases carried by Spanish and French colonists and spread through indigenous trading networks. It is thought that the first epidemics of Old World diseases, to which New World peoples had no immunity, spread widely and cruelly across the densely settled Eastern Woodlands before Europeans ever visited most areas.
During the succeeding centuries of European colonization, wave after wave of Old World diseases swept across native North America. It has been estimated that Caddo population may have fallen by as much as 95% between 1691 and 1816, a catastrophic change few human societies have survived.
Today, Texas is known around the world for its hospitality and friendliness, as a matter of fact, the Texas State motto is one word: Friendship.
I’d like to believe that the authors of our Texas-Style hospitality trait were the beautiful people that history remembers as the Caddo Hasinai.
This post is dedicated to all Caddo Hasinai descendants living today in Texas and around the world that continue to carry the torch handed down to them by the Caddo Hasinai of our past. And, Thank you to all Caddo Hasinai for your warm, heartfelt, friendly greeting and hospitality –— an example that many Texans still practice today.
HASINAI INDIANS by Russell M. Magnaghi TSHA Texas State Historical Association
TEXAS, ORIGIN OF NAME TSHA Texas State Historical Association
Pic Credit: Caddo Grand Xinesi from Painting by Reeda Peel, based on descriptions by Spanish explorers in the late 1600s. Website: https://catchlightartgallery.com/reeda-peel