BY REX W. STRICKLAND
1825 was an inauspicious year for Miller County. The Choctaw Treaty, signed at Washington, January 20, deprived its settlers of almost the last vestige of hope that the federal government intended to leave them in peaceful possession of their lands. Even had the national authorities been disposed to exercise some leniency in the enforcements of the boundary terms of the pact, the outbreak against the commander at Ft. Towson, involving as it did a majority of the county's inhabitants, served surely to aggravate an already critical situation and destroy the final possibility of an advantageous denouement to the long-standing controversy. Moreover, the settlers living south of Red River were teetering between loyalty to the Territory of Arkansas and the Mexican Province of Texas. This cleavage of allegiance made the discharge of civic duties on the part of local officials both onerous and unpopular.
Many persons, who had previously resided on the north side of the river, now crossed to the south bank and joined with the inhabitants there in their refusal to pay taxes to the sheriff of Miller County. Of a list of fifty delinquents, for 1825, only two were reported insolvent; the remaining forty-eight were cited as "removed" from the jurisdiction. Yet of this group of tax evaders, fully one-fourth are definitely known to have crossed Red River in 1825 to reside at Pecan Point and Jonesborough.1
In spite of the unfavorable circumstances the settlers were determined not to be summarily dispossessed from their holdings without a final effort at bringing their grievances to the notice of the president of the United States. Thus they prepared a lengthy petition in which they set forth with judicial logic and exact phraseology their claim as citizens of the United States to the protection of law and order. To this document, a truly remarkable product of the time and place in which it was written, two hundred and seventy persons affixed their signatures; many of whom, be it noted, were then residing, or, were soon to move into, northeastern Texas. The petition in itself is a splendid resume of the settlement and progress of "Old" Miller County from 1816 to 1825.
It points out that the tract of country upon which the petitioners were living had been acquired by the United States from the Quapaw Indians in 1818 and was thenceforth regarded as part of
1"A List of Tax Delinquents for County Taxes, in the County of Miller, Territory of Arkansas, for the year 1825." The Arkansas Gazette, May 30, 1826. See appendix to this chapter for list.
the public domain. Again in 1818 the legislature of the Territory of Missouri (in which the area was then situated) had included the settlers within the jurisdiction of Hempstead County. A year later under the authority of the United States the area as far west as the Kiamichi had been surveyed into townships and sub-divided into sections. It was admitted, however, that, by an order of January 5, 1819, the settlers on Red River west of the Kiamichi and on the Arkansas west of the Poteau had been moved east of the two tributary streams. Thereafter there had been no prohibition of settlements to the east of the Kiamichi and the Poteau and, indeed, the federal government had seemed to give it tacit consent to settlement by ordering the survey of the lands in the area. Interpreting the surveys as an indication on the part of the government of its intention to facilitate the location of public lands, a considerable population had immediately immigrated into Miller County. True the settlers had been alarmed in 1820 by the provisions of the Treaty of Doak's Stand which ceded their lands to the Choctaws but subsequently they had been assured by President Monroe that it was not the intention of the government to remove any persons from the ceded territory and, if necessary, their improvements would be repurchased from the Indians. These assurances had been renewed from time to time by the territorial delegate in Congress.
Furthermore, the petitioners affirmed that from the time of the first settlement they had enjoyed the benefits of civil government and had established and maintained civil and criminal courts. Not only had they done this, but in 1824 they had taken advantage of the right of pre-emption under the authority of Congress to set aside a quarter section of land upon which to build a courthouse to serve as a permanent seat of justice and had actually begun the construction of public buildings. Under these guarantees and manifestations of civil government, a large number of settlers had continued to "enlarge their improvements, planting orchards, and increase their Stocks, & c." They felt, in light of the facts, that to abandon their plantations and remove their families and property would be ruinous and unthinkable.
Finally, they assert:
Your Petitioners are aware, that the General Government has heretofore removed from Indian Lands, Citizens of the United States, who settled upon lands owned at the time of such settlement by Indians, where the settlements at the beginning were upon Indian lands, but your present Petitioners respectfully deny having settled upon Indian lands. They settled upon the public lands of the United States, where settlement was not prohibited by any order, of the Government, where part of the public lands were surveyed into sections (a thing Never done for Indian purposes) and where, after the same country was first ceded to the Choctaws, the people have had assurances from the highest Authority, that the settled parts of the said country would be re-purchased, and your Petitioners afforded an opportunity of acquiring titles to their possessions, and in a way that the Settlers upon public lands have usually done, in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois,
Missouri, Alabama, & c. Yet, notwithstanding all the foregoing assurances and circumstances, Your Petitioners are now informed that the lands that they now occupy, are ceded and confirmed to the said Choctaw Indians, and that Your Petitioners, are to be shortly removed from their farms, without payment or recompense for their improvement, to give place to Indians!! An Act that would have no example in any civilized Government, under the same circumstances, which these settlements were made. An improved Country of Citizens where they have had the protection of Civil Laws and Civil Government for more than six successive years, to be ceded by their Government to a Nation of Indians, has, it is believed, No Examples.
These settlements, not having been commenced on the lands of the Choctaw Indians, but upon the public Lands of the United States, then surveyed for market, still claim the same protection of the same laws and Government, under the faith of which they commenced their settlements. To be forced and driven by our Government from the farms and improvements that we have labored for years to make, for the support of our families, in order to give place to Indians, would under all the circumstances and assurances before mentioned, appear so unjust and unprecidented (sic) and to the Settler so ruinous, that its enforcement would produce the greatest possible excitement. Your Petitioners therefore respectfully ask of your Excellency to suspend the survey of the eastern boundary of Territory, lately ceded to said Choctaw Indians, and to suspend the time of giving said Indians possession of said Territory, and cause to be re-purchased from them, parts of said Territory settled and improved by Citizens of the United States, as aforesaid east of the Kia-Miche on red River, and of Poto on Arkansas, where the settlements by citizens has never been prohibited, but approbated and encouraged as before mentioned. As your Petitioners in duty bound will ever pray.2
That the number of inhabitants of Miller County and the extent of their possessions are not exaggerated in the petition is attested by a census drawn up by Sheriff Claiborne Wright and inclosed with the document. In 1825 the county had a population of 2,500 persons, who owned, in the aggregate, 8,500 horses, 10,000 hogs and 55,000 cattle. The combined farms and plantations in cultivation totalled 5,000 acres, of which 500 acres were planted in cotton. There was one cotton gin in the county that had been in operation a number of years and two more were in the process of construction. In addition to a number of small horse mills for grinding flour and meal, there were two large water mills in constant use; one of these, on Clear Creek, had been operated since 1818.3
In the meanwhile, Henry Conway, territorial delegate in Congress from Arkansas, strove diligently to obtain some promise of a delay in the enforcement of the time limit of the Choctaw Treaty.
2"The Petition of the Inhabitants of that Part of Miller County, in the Territory of Arkansas, ceded and confirmed to the Choctaw Nations of Indians, by Treaty made with them at Washington City in the Present Year to the President of the United States" in the Bureau of Rolls, Office of the Secretary of State. I am indebted to Dr. Grant Foreman for the use of his transcript of the petition. An accompanying document shows that the petition was drawn up July 10-18, 1825.
3"A Census of Miller County, Arkansas, July 10, 1825," in the Bureau of Rolls, Office of the Secretary of State (photostat) Grant Foreman's copy.
March 15, 1825, he wrote James Barbour, the newly appointed Secretary of War, asking a suspension of the treaty until the first of January of the following year in order that the settlers might plant and gather a crop. Barbour replied that none of the population would be evicted from the ceded area until the boundaries could be determined and he was certain the projected surveys could not be completed until autumn. But, he warned Conway, the settlers need expect no indulgence thereafter; the treaty would be carried fully into effect.4
In the face of impending dispossession, the citizens of Miller County engaged in a particularly acrimonious political campaign in the summer of 1825. The voters seem to have alligned themselves into the "military" and "anti-military" party: i.e., those persons who condoned, and, those who did not condone Major Cummings' action in the spring riot. William Bradford, post sutler at Fort Towson, and Claiborne Wright, county sheriff, were the candidates for the seat in the Territorial Council. Aaron Hanscom of Pecan Point was choice of the "military" faction for the House of Representatives against the notorious Jesse Cheek and James Hanks of the "anti-military" group; William Shannon ran as an independent, representing the settlers south of Red River. In the election, held August 1, Bradford apparently defeated Wright by a vote of 107 to 102; the results of the election for a member of the lower house were Hanscom, 90 votes; Cheek, 43; Shannon, 38; and Hanks, 35.5
The General Assembly of the Territory met October 4, 1825. Hanscom presented his credentials to the House and was seated as the duly elected member from Miller County. Wright, however, presented himself to the Council and asked to be seated instead of Bradford, who he claimed had been fraudulently returned as member of the body.6 His petition was referred to the Committee on Elections, Daniel Witter, Hempstead County, chairman. The committee reported that in reality Wright had obtained a majority of three votes over Bradford; the discrepancy between the true vote and the returns from the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Miller County had been caused by the rejection of the votes of Sevier Township for alleged illegality in the returns; the judges and clerks of the election in the disputed township had been selected and sworn in proper form; and Bradford had produced no evidence to the contrary. Wright, therefore, was the duly elected member of the Council and was seated as such.7
4Henry W. Conway to James Barbour, March 15, 1825; James Barbour to Henry W. Conway, March 16, 1825, in The Arkansas Gazette, April 19, 1825.
6"Journal of the General Assembly of the Territory of Arkansas" in The Arkansas Gazette, October 4, 1825.
7"Journal of the General Assembly of the Territory of Arkansas" in The Arkansas Gazette, October 11, 1825.
A further reprecussion of the election was an effort on the part of disgruntled settlers, led by Jesse Cheek, to discredit Aaron Hanscam by charging him with having exculpated the officers at Fort Towson from blame in the conflict between citizens and soldiers. Hanscom answered their petition with a statement in the Arkansas Gazette that he had not expressed his opinion about the affair; indeed he was not in the county at the time of the riot and had so told the Court of Inquiry; he, it was true, had not joined the clamour against Major Cummings. As for the eighty-nine names affixed to the petition, he believed most of them were written by the same hand and he was confident the hand of the forger was that of Jesse Cheek.8
During the fall session of 1825 the General Assembly adopted two measures of interest to Miller County. It memorialized Congress to rescind its action in regard to the Choctaw Treaty, at least, to re-purchase from the Indians the portion of the cession occupied by white settlers.9 It also legalized the further use of Claiborne Wright's house as the seat of justice of Miller County until the Choctaw Treaty line should be definitely fixed.10
Despite Barbour's statement to Henry Conway (made in March, 1825) that the inhabitants of Miller County could expect no concessions after January 1, 1826, another year of grace was granted to them through the magnanimity of the Choctaw commissioners. In February, 1926, the Gazette reported:
We are happy to state, and we do it on authority which may be relied upon, that an arrangement has been entered into between the Commissioners of the Choctaw Nations, who accompanied Mr. James S. Conway in his late survey of the eastern boundary of the lands ceded to them, and the citizens residing west of the line, by which the latter will remain in possession of their improvements for one year longer. This arrangement has been sanctioned by the authorities at Washington, provided the Commissioners should give assent to it, in behalf of their nation...which consent has been obtained.11
Politically, 1826 was an uneventful year. Many of the settlers, secure in their improvement for another year, continued their farming, animated, no doubt, by the belief, despite the statements of the federal government to the contrary, that in the end they would be confirmed in the ownership of their possessions. Not a few, less sturdy or less optimistic, left for other areas.12 By the summer of
9"Memorial of the General Assembly of the Territory of Arkansas to the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America" in The Arkansas Gazette, November 15, 1825.
10"An Act to establish the place of holding Circuit Court in Miller County," approved October 26, 1825, in The Arkansas Gazette, December 13, 1825.
12"List of Delinquents and Insolvents owing County Taxes to the County of Miller, in the Territory of Arkansas for the year 1826" in The Arkansas Gazette, July 24, 1827. For list see the appendix at end of chapter.
1827, a population that had been estimated at 2,500 souls two years before had dwindled to 751.13
In the autumn of 1826 the General Assembly addressed a second memorial to Congress asking whether "some provision either in money or lands should not be made for the relief of those few of their distressed fellow-citizens who had made improvements....east of the Poto and Kiamiche, and west of the Choctaw eastern boundry line as established by the treaty of January 20, 1825. "14 The gravamen of this petition was denied and the slender thread of hope to which the settlers had clung was broken on February 27, 1827, by an unfavorable report of the Committee on Public Lands of the House of Representatives. The committee expressed the belief that there were extenuating circumstances so far as bona fide settlers were concerned, but refused to assume that they had located upon the public lands north of Red River in ignorance of the repeated statements of the federal government that the lands were within the unsurveyed public domain. The purchase of the improvements, the committee furthermore declared, would be in contravention of the Treaty of Washington.15 In October, 1827, the General Assembly recognized in the Choctaw Treaty a fait accompli by enacting that the courthouse of Miller County was to remain at the residence of Claiborne Wright only until the boundary line of the cession should be definitely ascertained; thereafter the seat of justice was to be moved by the Judge of the Circuit Court to a place selected by him to the east of the treaty line.16
The days of "Old" Miller County were now indeed numbered. October 17, 1828, the General Assembly abolished the county of Miller north of Red River and west of the Choctaw Treaty Line. Out of the residue of the county plus a portion of the western part
16"An Act to provide for the temporary location of the seat of justice of Miller County," approved October 31, 1827, in The Arkansas Gazette, December 25, 1827.
of Hempstead County it proceeded to form Sevier County. The boundaries of the new area were defined as beginning at a point where the Choctaw line struck Red River, thence due south to the Louisiana or Mexican line, as the case might be, thence east to the western boundary of Lafayette (approximately the Texas-Arkansas boundary at present), thence north to Red River and thence down that stream (i. e., eastward) to a point opposite the mouth of the Saline, thence north to the mouth of the Saline, thence up that stream to the mouth of Mine Creek, thence up said creek to a point where the line between ranges 27 and 28 crossed said creek, thence north with that line to the north boundry of Clark County, thence due west to the Choctaw boundary and thence south to the point of beginning.17 Five days after the approval of the act establishing Sevier County, a second measure was adopted increasing the extent of the area of the new jurisdiction south of Red River. The point of beginning of its western boundary was moved up the river from the intersection of the Choctaw line to the mouth of Mill Creek, and ran thence up the creek to its source and thence due south to the southern boundary of the territory.18
Despite the fact that all of Miller County north of Red River had either been ceded to the Choctaws or had been incorporated in Sevier County, the Assembly tacitly acknowledged its existence south of the river by providing that the seat of justice should be moved from the residence of Claiborne Wright to the home of Gabriel N. Martin on the south bank.19 Thus after October 20, 1828, Miller County, Arkansas Territory, lay entirely within the limits of the present state of Texas, as indeed did a good half of Sevier County. The boundaries of the county were not immediately delimited but it is safe to say that the population of the amorphous area lived along Red River between Pecan Point and Upper Pine Creek. The county site was roughly half way between Pecan Point and Jonesborough near the mouth of Bason Creek.20
The last gesture of disgust on the part of the inhabitants of Miller County who resided north of the river was the destruction of the courthouse by fire, November 5, 1828. The act of incendiarism destroyed all of the county's records accumulated since 1821.21 The
17"An Act to erect and establish the County of Sevier," approved October 17, 1828, in The Arkansas Gazette, November 11, 1828.
18"An Act to further define the boundary of Sevier County," approved October 22, 1828, in The Arkansas Gazette, November 18, 1828.
19"An Act to change the location of the seat of justice in the County of Miller," approved October 20, 1828, in The Arkansas Gazette, November 11, 1828.
20Martin's head right fronted Red River just above the mouth of Bason Creek. Incidentally Gabriel Martin was Claiborne Wright's son-in-law, having married Henrietta Martin in 1825. Martin was killed by Indians in 1834 and his widow later married Dr. George Bason. The water course takes its name from Dr. Bason, not from Pierre Besson, commandant of the French post of St. Louis de Cadodacho, as Henderson Yoakum erroneously infers in his History of Texas, I, 125.
loss of the archives accounts in part for the scarcity of source material concerning " Old" Miller County and forces the historian to rely upon the files of the Arkansas Gazette to a greater extent than he would wish ordinarily. Fortunately, William Woodruff, its editor, depended very little upon hearsay for news but printed verbatim letters from representative citizens of the county, many official papers and the correspondence of the civil and military authorities of the territory.
Now that we have traced the political history of "Old" Miller County to its dissolution, it is necessary to retrace our steps and portray the course of domestic events from 1825 to 1828. This review will logically include two significant aspects: first, the constant struggle against Indian depredations, and secondly, the intrigue of the settlers south of Red River with the Mexican authorities of Coahuila and Texas.
Life on the frontier was always complicated by the fear of Indians spoliation. In a large measure the settlers of Miller County, especially those who lived in the Pecan Point and Jonesborough neighborhoods, were fortunate in having, during the formative years when they were most exposed to such inroads, the assistance of friendly immigrant Indians. Particularly serviceable as a bulwark against predatory raids of the nomadic tribes were the Choctaws, Delewares and Shawnees.22 In 1822, however, a band of sixty Choctaws located on the south side of the river and began a series of raids against the Osages who lived on the Arkansas. These Choctaws, outlaws from their own tribe east of the Mississippi, acted also as intermediaries in the traffic in stolen horses which was carried on over Trammel's Trace from the White River section to Nacogdoches. In consequence of their depredations the powerful Osages retaliated not only upon the renegade Choctaws but upon the white settlers likewise.23 In addition, white hunters were regularly entering the region west of the Kiamichi in violation of an act of Congress which forbade such practices without the consent of the commandant at Fort Towson.24 As a result isolated hunting parties were attacked by the Osages and the frontier kept in a continual state of apprehension lest the Indians in revenge should carry their forays into the heart of these settlements.
In April, 1826, Adam Lawrence and his son, John, and his nephews, Henry and Adam Lawrence, in company with a hunter named Dewall were engaged in capturing wild mustangs on the
22"Reminiscences of George Wright," Sam Bell Maxey Papers, Paris, Texas, in possession of Mrs. S. B. Long.
23R. Wash to Colonel M. Arbuckle, October 31, 1823, in Grant Foreman's transcripts, Adjutant Generals Office, Old Files Division, 10 S 24.
24Alexander Cummings to Sam C. Roane, November 24, 1824, copy inclosed in Cummings to Gen. N. Atkinson, April 8, 1825, in Grant Foreman's transcripts, AGO, OFD, 30 C 25.
Washita. The elder Lawrence, his son, and young Adam were attacked by a large band of Indians, supposed to be Osages, and pursued several miles on horseback before they were overtaken and the father and son killed. Young Adam made his escape although his hunting shirt was shot full of holes. At the same time Dewall and Henry Lawrence were set upon, while in another direction, and Lawrence was murdered. Dewall owed his life to the superior speed of his mount. Other hunters in the vicinity the same day, April 17, while chased by the Indians were able to outride their assailants. The men who got off without harm brought the news back to the settlements from whence scouting parties were sent out at once to bury the dead.25 Although Dewall and young Adam Lawrence believed their attackers to have been Osages, the party who went out to inter the dead men found near the bodies a cup with a French inscription, which led some to suspect the Pawnees.26 This judgment was later confirmed by Wallace, an Indian trader, who returned in the autumn of 1826 from an expedition up Red River. He had visited the Pawnee village and there had seen various articles that he recognized as having belonged to the Lawrences. It was the Pawnees' boast, Wallace reported, that they had killed eight white men recently and announced their further intention of raiding the Red River frontier in the next few months. Moreover, they tried to assassinate Wallace but he was saved by the intervention of the Comanches, with whom he was friendly.27
If the Osages were guiltless of the murder of the Lawrences they were sufficiently culpable in other cases to warrant the suspicion that fell upon them. On the last day of July, 1826, Richard Poston and his six hunting companions were attacked by Mad Buffalo's band of Osages in the vicinity of the Caddo Hills. Five of the men escaped without harm; but John Hall and a man named Porter fell into their hands. The two were severely beaten, especially Porter, and then stripped entirely naked and forced to walk home bare-foot across the prairies. Hall, the less hardy of the two, suffered terribly from sun-burns; although Porter did not escape their effects. Mad Buffalo and his band then invaded the settlements and on August 4 stole a number of horses from the immediate neighborhood of Fort Towson. The Indian chief was seen at John Stiles' place within four miles of the fort, wearing Porter's hat. Among the horses stolen was Major Cummings' private charger. In reprisal, a party of 100 volunteers left Fort Towson August 16, with the avowed intention of seeking out and destroying Mad Buffalo's village but further silence of the record leads us to believe that the expedition accomplished nothing of
25A letter from Pecan Point to William Woodruff, April 29, 1826, in The Arkansas Gazette, May 28, 1826.
27A Letter to the Editor from Miller Courthouse, A. T., October 13, 1826, in The Arkansas Gazette, December 5, 1826.
consequence.28 Incidentally, Hall and Porter recovered from the effects of their ordeal under the expert ministrations of Dr. John Thurston, post surgeon at Fort Towson.
Not satisfied with attacks upon hunting parties, in April, 1827, the Osages invaded Miller County and killed two members of the Roberts family on Upper Pine Creek, a mile or two from Red River in present day Lamar County, Texas. Tradition asserts, for there is no contemporary account of the murders, that the victims were Luke and John Roberts, brothers and heads of families, who were killed during the absence of their sons.29 To avenge the death of their kinsmen the sons and nephews of the victims, three in number, accompanied by two Indian allies, invaded the Osage country and killed and scalped a Christian Osage at the Union Mission on Grand River. The Osages, aroused by this hostile incursion, pursued, killed and scalped the entire party.30 Concerning the entire episode, Thomas Ragsdale, a neighbor of the Robertses, said in later years:
The Roberds [Roberts] and Masons were very likely killed by Osage Indians. The Indians came in about 1825 or '7 and murdered two of these families in the absence of the young men. Three of the young men—two Roberds and one Mason—followed them to their village and secreted themselves in a sink hole. At daylight they attacked the village and fought them all day, and would have made their escape, but one of them had got his thigh broken and the others would not leave him. During the night their ammunition gave out and they were taken prisoners, and their heads cut off.31
28A Letter from Miller Courthouse, August 3, 1826, in The Arkansas Gazette, August 19, 1826, for the mistreatment of Hall and Porter. Further particulars concerning the attack and the theft of the horses will be found in a letter written August 15, which appears in the Gazette, August 29, 1826.
29Fragmentary evidence shows that Luke and John Roberts, senior (?), each had a number of sons, but, at present it is not possible to differentiate one group from the other. Butler, W. P., and Luke Roberts signed the Miller County petition; Reading and James Roberts were cited for assault to murder Thomas Scott in 1824 (vide Chronicles of Oklahoma, XVIII, 161); James Roberts helped John Bowman to kill a friendly Cherokee in Texas, March, 1827, Foreman, Indians and Pioneers, 248. John Roberts, junior (?), lived in the vicinity of Jonesborough in 1834. "Order for a road from M. C. to Sulphur Fork, July 24, 1834" in George Travis Wright Papers. In an article published in the Clarksville Northern Standard, August 25, 1882, the name of one of the victims was recalled as W. P. Roberts. Despite the comparative lateness of the date of this article, it carries almost the weight of contemporary evidence since it was compiled by Charles DeMorse from the recollections of men and women whose memories went back to the earliest days of the settlements on Red River.
31Lamar Papars, III, 276. Thomas Ragsdale was a brother-in-law of one of the younger Robertses—probably John Roberts, junior (?); thus his recollection is more than just that of a man who listened to current rumors. It is known furthermore that Mansel Mason married one of Ragsdale's sisters; therefore, he, too, was a brother-in-law of John Roberts, junior (?). In the Arkansas Gazette, October 8, 1828, it is said the avenging party was made up of one white man and two half breeds. The white man must have been Mason, possibly an elder brother of Mansel Mason. It appears then one of the elder Roberts had married an Indian.
Despite the confusion of the sources, two things seem certain: First, certain older members of the Roberts family were killed by an invasion of the Osages, and secondly, efforts at retaliation by younger members resulted in their death at the hands of the aborigines.32
Early in April, 1828, Governor George Izard of Arkansas received a petition from a great number of the citizens of Miller County setting forth that bands of Shawnees and Delawares had congregated at Pecan Point and were threatening the security of the community. This news was confirmed by a sworn statement from the grand jury of the county, prepared at the March term of the court, and by a letter from Major J. W. G. Pierson, the commander of the county's militia.33 In response to the appeal Izard sent Colonel William Rector, Adjutant General of the Arkansas Militia, to Pecan Point. Rector applied to Captain Hyde at Fort Towson for assistance to remove the unruly Indians but was told the garrison was too weak to spare a contingent for the service. Rector then called upon the citizens of Miller County and sixty-three volunteers responded to the summons. He marched to the village with the intention of using force, if necessary, to remove the intruders. The Indians, however, sued for peace; their request for twenty days time in which to remove from the limits of the territory was deemed reasonable and the request granted.34 Rector returned to Little Rock, May 5, and reported the success of his mission to Izard. The governor commended Rector's action in the matter and showed his appreciation of the alacrity with which the citizens had responded to his call by issuing commissions to Pierson and his subordinates and by asking for a muster roll of the volunteers, so that he could issue pay to them for their services.35
In the fall of 1828, the inhabitants of the Jonesborough and Pecan Point settlements, alarmed by the rumors of an Indian invasion, deserted their homes and crossed to the north bank of the river. With them went friendly Delawares and Shawnees, who, for some reason, had escaped expulsion with their kinsmen in the spring. On the whole there seems to have been no real occasion for apprehension,
32The stone erected by the Texas Centennial Commission near the traditional site of the Roberts massacre carried two erroneous statements. First, it states that the family of J. W. G. Pierson was among the victims and secondly that the killings occurred in 1821. Pierson, we know, did not come to the Red River area until 1824; he was already married to Isaac Pennington's daughter by whom he had three children. Two of these were alive much later than April, 1827, the true date of the murders. If Mrs. Pierson and the other child had been killed by Indians, the fact would have surely been recorded in Pierson's biographical sketch in Lone Star State: Central Texas, 612. Pierson left Miller County after the break-up in 1828 for south Texas, participated in the revolt against Mexico, took part in the Mier Expedition of 1842, was imprisoned in Mexico until 1844, from whence he returned to his home in Robertson County, Texas, where he died April 9, 1849.
33"Proclamation of Governor George Izard," issued May 8, 1828, in The Arkansas Gazette, May 14, 1828.
although, it is true, that, earlier in the summer, either the Pawnees or Osages had killed two soldiers within a few miles of Fort Towson. J.W.G. Pierson wrote to Governor Izard on October 2 that he had been out the frontier but had been unable to find evidence of Indians other than the party which had attacked the soldiers. Of the hostile party, seven of its eleven members were killed by the soldiers during the fight and subsequently two more were killed by friendly Cherokees. This stanch reception, Pierson believed, would discourage any further attempt on the part of the hostiles to invade the settlement.36
The continual fear of Indian depredations lent itself in 1827 to the machinations of various leaders, living south of Red River, who felt, justly perhaps, that the government of the United States had made no vigorous effort to protect their settlements against predatory raids. Using this state of affairs as a basis to rationalize their actions, Nathaniel Robbins and Charles Burkham, among others, opened negotiations with Jose Antonio Saucedo, political chief of the province of Texas, with the view of establishing an ayuntamiento at Pecan Point. The intrigue grew up in part as a reaction against the efforts of the leaders of the ill-advised, abortive Fredonian Rebellion to attach the settlers at Pecan Point to their cause. For in December, 1826, Benjamin W. Edwards and H. B. Mayo had written the Red River settlers a particularly inflammatory letter, calling upon them in the name of Americans to resist the instruments of tyranny as exemplified by the Mexican government. 37 Apparently the results obtained were directly the opposite to those desired. The men of Pecan Point were not interested in a republic built upon an alliance with the Cherokees; on the other hand they eagerly accepted the opportunity to protest their loyalty to the Mexican government, and, at the same time, to give vent to their smoldering opposition to the real and fancied wrongs they had suffered at the hands of the officials of the Arkansas Territory. To that end, on February 20, 1827, they drew up a memorial to Jose Antonio Saucedo, political chief of the department of Texas, pointing out that they were ready to cast off the anomalous relationship which they had with the United States and to assume their proper place in the Republic of Mexico. Nathaniel Robbins and Doctor Lewis B. Dayton conveyed the petition to San Felipe de Austin and presented it to Saucedo. The political chief's reply to the overture was reflected in a proclamation, addressed by Charles Burkham to the inhabitants of Lost Prairie, June 12, 1827, in which he said:
I have the honor to inform you, that I have completed by business with the Mexican government, to go against any hostile Indians in the Government. The men will keep all the property they take from the enemy and it is believed, the officers of the Mexican Government will allow them
37B.W. Edwards and H. B. Mayo to the Inhabitants of Pecan Point, December 25, 1826, in E. C. Barker (ed.), The Austin Papers, II, 1542; Annual Report of the American Historical Association, Second Part, 1919.
a handsome compensation for their services. Any man or men wishing to engage in the service, will be thankfully received, at any place, above the Spanish Bluffs, on the south side of Red River, as it is unknown where the boundary line between the two governments will fall, and I do not wish to get into any difficulty whatever. The men must furnish themselves with a horse and gun, ammunition and 35 days' provisions. They will rendezvous at Pecan Point, the 20th day of July next, and elect their officers, and march to the Pawnees or Comanches. The Government of the Province of Texas has sent a letter to the inhabitants of Pecan Point, a copy of which I will send you at the first opportunity.38
The letter to which Burkham refers here is undoubtedly the one written by Jose Antonio Saucedo to the inhabitants of Pecan Point, April 19, 1827, from San Felipe de Austin. Two copies are available; one found in the Austin Papers and the other in the Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of the Arkansas Territory. The copies do not differ materially; the one quoted here is that found in the committee's report, to which is appended "Orders to Dayton and Robbins," missing in the Austin Papers:39
I have received, from Messrs. Nathaniel Robbins and Doct. Lewis B. Dayton, the representations which you directed to me, under the date of 20th February, of the present year, in which you complain, that officers of the U. S. of America, exact from you taxes and other contributions, which, in your opinion, you ought not to pay, on account of your being established on the lands of the Republic of Mexico; at the time petitioning assistance and protection from this government, as well as to avoid those exactions, as for your defense against incursions of hostile Indians. On which particulars I have to state to you, it is not in the bounds of my faculties to remedy the evils which afflict you, not knowing the place where the division line of the two Republics will fall. You must, therefore, bear with patience the disgust of such treatment, with the understanding that, under this date, I forward your representations to His Excellency the Governor of this state, asking of him the necessary auxillaries for that part of the frontier, of which you will undoubtedly reap the benefit, should your fate decide, that you are within the Mexican territory. And, in the meantime, until the resolution of the Supreme Government is made known, I see no objections to prevent the inhabitants who are in the Mexican territory in that quarter, from forming a provisional organization, for the administration of government for yourselves, regulated by the laws and customs with which you are acquainted, provided that such regulations shall not be contrary to the constitution of the country which you wish to adopt.
The courier who bore Saucedo's letter to the inhabitants of Pecan Point brought also a memorandum from the political chief detailing the steps which he believed expedient for the formation of a municipality of the Mexican province of Texas on Red River. This advice was incorporated in the "Orders to Dayton and Robbins," as follows:
I, Jose Antonio Saucedo, Chief of the Department of the Province of Texas, do make known, to Doctor Lewis B. Dayton and Colonel Nathaniel
38Inclosure in the "Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of the Arkansas Territory", October 19, 1827, in The Arkansas Gazette, November 6, 1827.
39The letter carried by Robbins and Dayton to Saucedo is not to be found in the Bexar Archives; but J. A. S(aucedo) to "Avitantes" at "Puenta Pecana", April 19, 1827, is in the collection.
Robbins, the lawful Representatives of the inhabitants of Pecan Point; on the south bank of the Red River, within the Province of Texas, and the Government of Mexico, that the said inhabitants are authorized to organize a provisional Government, if they think proper, provided that the said provisional organization is not repugnant to the Government of Mexico, and that protection is promised the said inhabitants while they remain in the Province of Texas.
Article 1st. The inhabitants are to elect a suitable number of representatives to form such civil laws, and military laws as they are entitled to live under.
Art. 2nd. Two Commissioners to be elected, to make reports to the government, and to receive orders from the government.
Art. 3d. The inhabitants are to elect a suitable number of alcaldes and commandants.
Art. 4th The inhabitants are to elect militia officers.
Art. 5th. Alcaldes and commandants are to hold their offices for one year.
Art. 6th. The inhabitants to report the number of improvements occupied by them, and their names to be signed to the reports, and delivered to the commissioners, and the government will appoint a commissioner to make titles to their lands; and the Empresario has nothing to do with the improvements of old settlers.
Art. 7th. The commissioners are to receive reports from the inhabitants and alcaldes, relative to the elections and all affairs of the provisional government, and to make reports yearly to the governor of the state.
Art. 8th. The old settlers are to pay the surveyors' fees and office fees for their lands. One league of land will be allowed to each family; to a single man, one quarter of a league of land.
Art. 9th. The alcaldes to give notice to the officers of adjoining counties in the U. S., as soon as they are elected; all persons refusing to serve in the aforesaid offices, when elected, shall forfeit and pay to the government five hundred dollars; the commissioners will report them to the government.
The above orders and directions were given to the commissioners elect in behalf of the citizens of Pecan Point by Samuel Williams, translator for his excellency the governor, at Austin's Colony, in the province of Texas, the 19th of April, 1827.
The receipt of Saucedo's letter and the dissemination of its contents threw the frontier into a fever of rumors and restlessness. The uncertainty of the inhabitants of the area south of Red River concerning the exact location of the boundry line made many fearful that their land claims rested upon precarious foundations. Other adventurous persons were willing to cast off the allegiance to the United States which entailed their conformance to law and the payment of taxes without, at the same time, assuming the obligation of citizens to the Republic of Mexico. The heartless manner in which a majority of these men had been dispossessed from their improvements north of the river in favor of the Choctaws now bore fruit. They were
quite ready to listen to the promises of the distant political chief (who it must be said acted with discretion and diplomacy) rather than to the emissaries of a government that had once removed them from their holdings with too scant compunction. Not all of the citizens of Pecan Point were disaffected, of course; as a matter of fact, apparently the first intimation of the incipient emeute to be conveyed to the Arkansas territorial authorities was contained in a letter written by "a respectable gentleman in Miller County" to Editor Woodruff of The Arkansas Gazette, June 21, 1827. The gentleman (in all probability Aaron Hanscom of Pecan Point) wrote that Nathaniel Robbins had recently received documents from Mexican authorities preparatory to granting lands to the settlers south of Red River.40
In turn Major Alexander Cummings, commandant at Fort Towson, took steps to ascertain the credibility of the rumors current along the river, sending Lieut. William S. Colquhoun to Pecan Point to talk to the settlers concerning their intentions. The young officer completed his survey about the first of July and upon his return to Fort Towson incorporated his findings in the following letter to Cummings:
Sir—In obedience to your order, on my arrival at Pecan Point, I demanded of Mr. Nathaniel Robbins (one of the Commissioners named in the communications of Mr. Saucedo, the Chief of the Department of Texas), by what authority he and others had acted in opposition to the government of the United States, by holding meetings and making projects of civil and military associations, in violation of the established law. After having repeatedly assured me that nothing farther would be attempted, until the boundary line is run; and that their principal object is to acquire titles to their lands, from the Mexican Government, under whose jurisdiction they feel assured of coming, as soon as the division line between the two countries is known, Mr. Robbins exhibited to me a letter addressed to the inhabitants of Pecan Point, from Jose Antonio Saucedo, Chief of the Department of Texas, and also a project of rules and regulations intermediately to be adopted, between the period of running the line and the arrival of proper instructions from the Mexican Government, (copies of which papers are herewith inclosed).
Learning that a Mr. Burkham, who lives twenty miles below Pecan Point, had been commissioned a Captain in the Mexican service, and intended raising under the flag of that nation, a body of men, to make war on the Comanche Indians, I felt authorized, for his government as well as others who might join him, to warn him that the band would be treated as public enemies, and promptly put down by the authorities. I also stated, in a notice I left with A. Hanscom, Esq., at Pecan Point, that the authority said to have been given to establish a provisional government, could not exist, from the very tenor of the letter of Mr. Saucedo, the Chief of Texas.
In conclusion, I have to report, that, in riding through the country, I discovered no disposition on the part of the inhabitants to join any party; but all seemed anxious for the boundary line to be run, so that they may obtain titles to their lands.
40"Respectable Gentleman in Miller County to the Editor", June 21, 1827, in The Arkansas Gazette, July 24, 1827.
The result of Colquhoun's warning was not immediately apparent. A "respectable citizen of Miller County" (internal evidence shows it to have been Aaron Hanscom, mentioned in Colquhoun's letter to Major Cummings) wrote to Cummings from Pecan Point, July 6, describing the officer's visit and its effect. He said:
Dear Sir—I am truly sorry to inform you, that I believe Messrs. Burkham and Robbins are really making efforts to get up a military expedition, for the purpose of going against the Comanches. It is reported, that they are to rendezvous at Mill Creek, on the 20th inst., and that written notices to that effect have been circulated, but I have not seen any of them. I saw and conversed yesterday, with young Mr. Burkham, a son of the Commander in Chief, who says that he himself41 is one of the party that is going. He informed me, that his father and Col. Robbins were determined to start by the 20th of August, if they should collect but twenty men, though they hoped to be able to collect a hundred. Some efforts have doubtless been made, on this side of the river for the purpose of getting them to join the expedition. This intelligence I have had from the Shawnees and Delawares.
P. S. I sent the paper which Lt. Colquhoun left here to Mr. Burkham, by his son; though he informed me, that his father and Col. Robbins were apprised of its contents, and also your endeavors to prevent their proceedings.42
Subsequent developments proved that the citizens of the Pecan Point area were not as hostile toward the government of the United States as it had been thought. Burkham's proclamation met with a rather cold reception. Not enough volunteers presented themselves to form a sufficiently strong band to make the foray into the Comanche country. Moreover the inhabitants manifested a willingness to conform to the law of the United States until the demarcation of the boundary line should definitely determine the exact jurisdiction to which they should give allegiance. The mountain of discontent had labored and brought forth a mouse of grumbling but no defined resistance.
Of the three persons most intimately connected with the abortive attempt to set up a new government, two, Nathaniel Robbins and Charles Burkham, had been connected with the Miller County's history for a number of years. Doctor Lewis B. Dayton remains an enigmatical figure. He had been a citizen of Miller County earlier but in the winter of 1825-26 he had emigrated to south Texas43 where
41James Burkham was about 21 years of age in 1827. He was the eldest son of Charles Burkham. Milam's Registro.
42Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of the Arkansas Territory, in The Arkansas Gazette, November 6, 1827. All of the documents and letters quoted were inclosed in a letter from Major Alexander Cummings to Governor George Izard, July 24, 1827, The Arkansas Gazette, July 31, 1827, and November 6, 1827. See also George Izard to Secretary of War of the United States, July 31, I 1827, in "Correspondence of Governor Izard," Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, I, 451.
43"Recollections of Captain Gibson Kuykendall" in the Texas Historical Association Quarterly, VII, 49.
he made his home with William Robbins, a kinsman of Nathaniel Robbins (son?). In 1827, he was boarding at the home of Mrs. J. C. Peyton at San Felipe; early in September he was seized by a mob and tarred and feathered for his opposition to Stephen F. Austin.44 On the whole he seems to have been a constant agitator whose presence was less to be desired than his absence.
So far as we are able to determine, Robbins, Burkham and their associates made no effort to organize a political subdivision of Mexican Texas at Pecan Point. In fact, within a year, the men who had been leaders in the negotiations with Saucedo were among the first to be elected as officials in the "Second" Miller County, which lay, as will be seen, entirely within the boundaries of Texas. From their protestations of loyalty to Mexico they turned with amazing facility to the actuality of allegiance to the United States, and this in spite of the fact that by so doing they were obliged to set up a county of Arkansas on the soil of a foreign country.
A LIST OF DELINQUENTS
For County Taxes, in the County of Miller, Territory of Arkansas, for the year 1825
44Papers of Mirabeau B. Lamar, IV (Part 1), 254; H. H. League to Austin, August 28, September 10, 1827, Austin Papers, II, 1677, 1680.
I, Clayborn Wright, Sheriff of Miller County, do certify the foregoing to true list of delinquents of said county, for year 1825
Miller County, Apr. 29, 1826
The Arkansas Gazette, May 30, 1826