Editor’s note: The following story is reprinted from the Dec. 4 edition of The University of Texas at Tyler newspaper The Patriot Texan.

By Karla Clark

The Patriot Talon

Broken glass, plastic cups and beer cans litter the ground, pentagram symbols mark the pavement, the 120-year-old graves look disrupted, and vandals pushed the white obelisk marker to the ground, again.

Nobody takes care of the Killough monument anymore.

The Killough family tried to preserve the sight for years, but it became too costly and too difficult a job for one family to maintain.

“Hoodlums come and deface the property. They have pushed over the white marker several times. At first, we had a crane come out and set it upright, but the vandals just pushed it over again,” descendent John Killough said.

Although the state erected the monument during the Great Depression as a WPA project, the state no longer takes care of it.

“It’s just so out of the way, the Jacksonville police can only come by every now and again to have a look around,” Killough, the secretary of the Killough Reunion Association said.

Few people find the ill-marked historical site and even fewer know the tale of jealousy, broken promises and tragedy that led to the expulsion of the Cherokee nation from Texas, and shaped the land East Texans now call home.

“Most people are completely unaware of the local history of the Tyler area. All sorts of interesting historical events have taken place ... It’s hard to imagine that less than 200 years ago, there was a vastly different culture living throughout East Texas,” University research librarian Ricky Ashby said.

How it all began

The turmoil began soon after the Texas Revolution.

“There was a lot of bad blood in Texas at that time. A lot of Mexicans, and some black and white folks were still agitated after the war; particularly a man by the name of Vincente Cordova,” Killough said.

A prominent member of the Nacogdoches community, Cordova served as the Alcade of Nacogdoches (a role similar to that of mayor) prior to the Texas Revolution, but lost his job when Texas became independent, Killough said.

With the help of other Mexican officials in Texas, Cordova secretly orchestrated a plan to take back Texas for Mexico.

His plan involved inciting anger among the local American Indians toward the new white settlers of the East Texas countryside.

He wanted the American Indian uprisings to distract Texas troops while Mexican troops invaded Texas from the Rio Grande border, according to Jack Moore’s book, “The Killough Massacre.”

Cordova’s capability to win the allegiance of Chief Bowles of the Cherokee tribe would determine the success of his plan.

And he used the failure of the Houston-Bowles Treaty of 1836 to fuel the American Indian’s resentment against white settlers.

Sam Houston, the president of the Republic of Texas, negotiated the treaty in 1836 with his personal friend, Chief Bowles of the Cherokee tribe. The final draft ensured peace between the American Indians and new Texas immigrants, and assured the American Indians that white men would never confiscate their land.

But the Texas Congress refused to ratify the treaty, claiming Houston negotiated it on “false promises and false pretenses,” according to Moore.

The 30 Killough family members (which included extended family) moved from Alabama on Dec. 24, 1837, after purchasing a tract of land the failed treaty declared belonged to the American Indians, according to Moore.

They built cabins, cleared the land, and planted crops when spring arrived. But in the August of 1838, the family caught wind of an uprising among a band of Mexican and American Indian rebels in their territory.

Before abandoning their homes, crops and some of their livestock to seek shelter in the Nacadoches settlement, the Killoughs reportedly made an agreement with the East Texas Native Americans that would allow them to return unmolested to their land until the first white frost.

In early October, the Killough returned to their homes to harvest their crops.

For several days the group took their guns out to the fields for protection as they harvested their corn. But on Oct. 5, they neglected to take their guns since they had nearly completed harvesting the fields and the work would not take very long.

Before they reached the fields, a band of Mexicans, American Indians, a black man and a painted white man attacked them, and 18 of the family members were killed or captured.

Eight family members escaped, and three women and a baby were left on the scene.

The survivors of the massacre believed they recognized the white man in the band of attackers as a man named Hawkins. He had been at odds with the family while they lived in Alabama, and he was the first one to spread the word about the attack to their mutual acquaintances back home in Alabama, Killough said.

The three women and baby fled the scene of the massacre to seek shelter at Lacy’s Fort, 40 miles away. The women travelled by night and hid during the day; after three nights of hiking through the East Texas woods without food, a friendly Native Americans found them and helped them to Lacy’s Fort.

Nathaniel Killough, who fled the massacre on horseback with his wife and child, made his way safely to Lacy’s Fort.

Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar took office in the end of 1838 and did not believe white Texans could make peace with the American Indians, and ordered the Cherokees to leave Texas peacefully.

“Some people question the actual involvement of the American Indians in the massacre. It might have been mostly Mexicans that did it. But President Lamar wasn’t friendly towards the American Indians like Sam Houston. He basically blamed the American Indians for the attack, and put an end to the Cherokees in Texas,” Killough said.

Under the leadership of Chief Bowles, the Cherokees refused to flee their homeland, and met the Texans in battle on July 15, 1839 three miles north of present-day Chandler, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Eighteen American Indians were killed, and two Texans were killed in the battle.

The American Indians left the scene, but on the next morning, the Texans caught up with them in present Van Zandt County, and engaged them in the Battle of the Neches.

Chief Bowles and 100 American Indians were killed, marking the end of the Texas Cherokee nation.

The surviving Cherokee retreated beyond the Red River along with many other peaceful East Texas tribes that could not stand against the white man.

“Some people question the actual involvement of the American Indians in the massacre. It might have been mostly Mexicans that did it. But President Lamar wasn’t friendly towards the American Indians like Sam Houston. He basically blamed the American Indians for the attack, and put an end to the Cherokees in Texas,” Killough said.


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