Chief Bowles's Sword

The Texas Story Project. Inspired by Mirabeau B. Lamar's Shotgun.

Every July, the American Indian Cultural Society (AICS) holds an annual memorial for the 1839 Battle of Neches. The memorial of 2007 stands out in particular because that year the AICS was able to borrow the sword of Cherokee Chief John Bowles (Dawali), who died in a battle to keep land that was guaranteed by Sam Houston. The battlefield site borders the Neches River and is off Highway 64 in Van Zandt County Texas. It is private land, owned by AICS.

Chief Bowles (Dawali) represented 13 tribes in negotiations with Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar after Lamar had invalidated the treaties Sam Houston had established with the tribes, which guaranteed possession of 1.5 million acres of land in East Texas. On July 15, 1839, Lamar sent 500 militia men to remove the tribes from their land. The tribes rebelled and decided to take a stand. The following day the militia and warriors stood at the Delaware village on the western side of the Neches River. The warriors knew they were outnumbered. Chief Bowles, holding a sword given to him by Sam Houston, was shot off his horse. Turning his back to the militia, he was shot in the head and died along with over 100 members of the 13 tribes, including women and children. The survivors scattered. Chief Bowles’s sword was retrieved and eventually sent back to Sam Houston, who sent the sword to the Masonic Lodge in Tahlaquah, Oklahoma.

One hundred years after the battle, the state of Texas erected a monument commemorating the Battle of the Neches. Each year in July, the AICS conducts a memorial service honoring those who died in the battle. In 2007, Jean North and I arranged for the sword to be brought back to the land where Chief Bowles was killed 168 years earlier for the memorial. A member of that lodge brought the sword to us, but I was held responsible for holding it during the memorial. As I held the sword, I felt the presence of Chief Bowles and his appreciation of the respect we all were showing him.

It was special moment for me and others in AICS who oversee the caretaking of the sacred battlefield. Far too little of the true Texas Native American history is being preserved. We, as an organization, thrive to keep this history alive.

Sondra McAdams is a member of the board of the American Indian Cultural Society.

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