Remembering the Battle of the Neches Cherokee Chief Bowles, Other Victims


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Down some winding backroads that push into remote country is a place that goes by many names to many different people.  Stories are told of a mysterious air that lingers, the presence of others, and even the hum of hand-beaten drums. This land is where the Battle of the Neches took place between the Texas militia and American Indian tribes — the last stand of the Texas Cherokees. It is located off Highway 64 between Edom and Tyler. Locals simply refer to it as the Chief Bowles Memorial, named after the Cherokee Indian leader that died there. Visitors to the land report a definite “we’re not alone” feeling and a bit of the supernatural loiters there.

Texas Cherokees and 12 associated tribal bands under the leadership of Chief John ‘Duwa’li’ Bowles, Chief Big Mush, and six other tribal chiefs were slain July 16, 1839. The massacre by the Republic of Texas Army, under the direction of President Mirabeau Lamar, took the lives of many innocent men, women and children along with the burning of a Delaware village. The associated Indian tribal bands were Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, Kickapoo, Quapaw, Choctaw, Biloxi, Ioni, Alabama, Coushatta, Caddo of the Neches, Tahocullake, Mataquo and possibly other groups.

In 1936, the State of Texas erected a marker to honor Chief Bowles on the land. It is believed that Bowles died 20 feet in proximity to the marker. When visiting the land, there is a definite feeling of peace, the mystical, and the sacred. The initial path leads down to a clearing meant for gatherings. One will begin to notice large stones placed along the path. Each stone is marked with the name of one of the tribes that were involved in the Battle of the Neches. These simple, large stones represent an all-inclusive marker for the souls lost on July 16, 1839. On the other side of the clearing, another path lined with more representative stones leads back to another clearing, endearingly called “The Sacred Circle.” This is where Bowles’ marker stands and also where he was believed to be killed. At the foot of Bowles marker, visitors have placed trinkets of various kinds that they thought Bowles would appreciate and find comforting. Further past this clearing are meandering paths cleared of brush that lead all the way to the Neches River.

The American Indian Cultural Society (AICS) has assumed responsibility for preserving and maintaining this ground to honor and respect the ancient culture of traditions, customs, and beliefs of all American Indian people.

Sondra McAdams, a 72-year-old member of the society residing in Eustace, advocates and encourages people to visit. She says, “I love this land. I want its holiness, spirituality, and knowledge to live on.”

Sondra insists there are two customs that must always occur for newcomers — take a walk and bless the stones. The ritual of blessing the stones involves taking cornmeal — corn of course being a staple of the Indian people, and scattering it upon each representative stone and giving a small prayer.

The land is occasionally used for special events.

“We do a rite of passage ceremony for the Boy Scouts on occasion,” Sondra said, “and when that happens, you are overwhelmed with the happiness that the spirits feel.”

There is no end to the joy and insightfulness the land brings to people, especially members of AICS. They are a group of people that live and breath for this land and what it represents individually as well as perpetually. Besides maintaining the land and organizing events to be held there, they also gather donations to be given to The Nation, such as food, clothing, blankets, school supplies and other such things.

The most important event they hold on the land each year is the Battle of the Neches memorial ceremony held this year on July 14. The event begins at 2:30 p.m. and the ceremony at 6:15 p.m. Admission is free; food and crafts are available to raise funds to maintain the land and fund community service programs. Food includes fry bread, tacos, chips, popcorn, and hot dogs along with drinks.

At Redland, turn north off Highway 64 onto CR 4923 and watch for the signs.

For more information email 2feathers2@msn.com, call 903.425.8581 and check out the AICS website at www.aics1839.com.

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