By Harriet V. Morrow
The region known as
Montague County, particularly the northwest portion along the Red
River was the home of the Tawehash Indians for over a century from
about 1719-1834. This tribe of Indians who were related to the
Wichitas played an important role in the diplomatic and trade
relations between France, Spain and England during that time. So
important did they become that their power was brought to the
attention of Charles III, King of Spain.
Early Spanish explorers had
found the Tawehash merged with the Wichita tribes in Kansas. The name
of the tribe sounded like Taovayas in Spanish so in all the documents
that have been preserved they are referred to by that name. The early
Spanish explorers who were accompanied by monks and friars had an
advantage. The monks were scribes, and meticulously recorded events,
people they encountered, modes of living, and much other valuable
data. American frontiersmen kept few records and left only a few
penciled notations if any at all.
When the Osage Indians were
driven westward they forced the peaceful Wichita tribes out of their
native haunts which they had occupied for centuries. Among them the
families of the Tawehash moved as far as the Red River, crossed it and
in a forest on the river banks built their grass huts. This was where
Spanish Fort now stands. The year was 1719.
A century or more before
members of their tribe had wandered as far south as the Gulf of
Mexico. Hidden behind the moss hung trees they had watched great white
"birds" (ships) come to shore. They watched strange looking
men ride odd four legged beasts off the ships and onto the beaches.
The men carried an iron stick. They thought at first when they heard
the explosion of a shell fired from the gun that it was the horse
belching. They learned quickly that the stick was a weapon far more
accurate and deadly than their bow and arrow. The horses fascinated
them. The Indians were determined to obtain both horses and guns. Many
times they salvaged the animals and guns from ships that were wrecked
in storms along the coast. More often they attacked and seized the
guns and horses from the Spanish explorers. The journey back was a
long one. So the Tawehash probably decided to move further south than
their relatives and have a better opportunity to obtain horses and
By the time Bernard Le
Harpe, a Frenchman from Natchitoches visited the Red River Indians in
1719 he found the warriors of the tribe riding beautiful horses with
saddles and bridles in the Spanish style. Following this visit the
Taovayas became attached to the French through trade and for almost a
century held a strategic position as middlemen in the commerce and
diplomacy of the French, Spanish and English governments as they
fought and struggled over the supremacy of the southern plains. From
the French traders they obtained guns, ammunition and vermillion in
exchange for their tobacco, buffalo hides and pelts, slaves and salt.
Beyond the village was a
high rolling prairie with rich soil which they cultivated. The women
and slaves raised the crops of maize, tobacco, pumpkin, beans, melons
and sweet potatoes. The men did the hunting and fighting, hunting
mostly with the bow and saving their ammunition for warfare. Their
pumpkin was dried and plaited into mats, their tobacco was fine cut
and stored in leather bags both of which they traded to the Comanches,
for buffalo rugs, horses and mules. They usually ate buffalo but
seldom venison, and the deer came about like domestic animals. They
were killed only for their skins. The women wore a loose robe, often
decorated with bear claws, and the men wore trousers of deer skin
supported with belts of buffalo hides from which they often hung
scalps for decoration.
The village of the Taovayas
grew until by the middle of the century they had 123 large grass huts
with room for from 10 to 12 beds or pallets in each. The women had a
voice in their government, which was democratic. Chiefs, who prided
themselves on owning nothing, did not hold office by heriditary right,
but were elected for their valor. The head chief was the Great Bear.
Their religion included "fire worship" and they believed in
a hereafter. They were a conservative people. They saved all the bones
of the animals they killed and used them as weapons and in making
tools and for ornaments. Traces of their bone pile remain today.
Several miles away over the
prairie on the opposite side of the tree covered buttes was a salt
lick where the deer and buffalo came. The Taovayas used it to season
and cure the buffalo and bear meat and for medicinal purposes. They
carried it back to the village in casks that they made from the clay
along the river bed. They used flints for fire and baked the clay that
they moulded into various types of bowls and pots.
The salt they found became
an important item of trade to the French. The Spaniards although they
had not solicited their trade resented this encroachment on their
property by the French. When a mercantile fair at Taos, New Mexico in
1749 two French traders appeared with a Comanche Indian guide they
were certain that the Taovagas had aided the traders through their
village and into the camp of the Comanches. The Spaniards had
attempted to make friends of the Apache Indians who were bitter
enemies of the Taovayas and Comanches. They had gone so far as to
establish a mission for the Apaches at San Saba. The Taovayas resented
this gesture of friendship and with the Comanches made an attack on
the mission in March of 1758. The mission was destroyed and the
commander Colonel Parrilla was deeply humiliated. King Charles III
approved an expedition to be led by Colonel in retaliation for the
destruction of San Saba. On October 7, 1759 Colonel Parrilla with some
five hundred members of the militia and missionary Indians and three
hundred Apaches, accompanied by a baggage train with two cannons,
arrived at the Taovayas village and engaged in battle. They had come
from San Antonio which they had left in August, had come northeast to
the Brazos where they had attacked and captured 149 Tonkawas; and
aided by the captive Tonkawas found the Taovagas by following the
eastern fringe of the Cross Timbers.
In the meantime the
Taovayas had had time to return to their village and fortify it
against an attack which their scouts had informed them was certain.
They had fortified it with intrenchments, stockades, and ditches. With
underground tunnels for possible escape for the noncombatants. Behind
the village was assembled four thousand Comanches. As Parrilla
approached he found Indians mounted on the stockade with muskets and
warriors on horseback with footmen to carry and load their extra guns.
Inside the stockade they had six thousand confederate Indians.
The ensueing battle which
lasted four hours ended disastrously for Colonel Parrilla. He was
forced to retreat leaving behind all of the baggage train and two
cannon. The memory of the event remained for thirty years as a
disgrace to Spanish arms. The Apache allies had fled early during the
battle taking with them the Spanish horses as well as their own. The
Taovayas and their allies had the advantage of numbers as well as
steadier fighting qualities. The warriors were described as men of
great valor riding fine horses and wearing shields of white buckskin
and helmets of the same with plumes of red horsehair.
This success of the
Taovayas encouraged them to continued their raids far southward on the
Apaches and Spaniards alike. On one of these escapades they captured a
Spanish soldier named Tremino. He was wounded but he had fought so
bravely the chief took him back to the village and had him cared for.
He lived with them for three years and although he was treated royally
he longed to return to his own people and he was finally returned to
the Spanish garrison at Nacogdoches. The head chief of the Taovayas at
that time was Chief Eyasiquiche and he personally led the escort. At
Nacogdoches he was made "a Spanish Official and sent home with
presents of a cane, a dress coat, and three horses." This was
Montague County's outstanding citizen in 1765.
By 1763 the importance of
the French trade had declined since now the Taovayas had the English
for neighbors to the east. A priest Fray Calahorra visited the village
and started to lay the ground work for a mission among the northern
Indians. By 1770 one De Mezieres was sent by the Spanish to the
Taovayas to cultivate their friendship. On October 27, 1771 he
negotiated a treaty with them which was signed with crosses and a
ceremony of burying the hatchet was staged. De Mezieres named the two
villages, on the Red River, the one on the south side of the Taovayas,
San Teodore and the other of the Wichitas, San Bernardo. He also
persuaded them to return Parrilla's cannon. He was so enthusiastic
about the location of the Taovayas village that he wrote: "It is
certain that if this place comes to be settled it will be one of the
most important, both at present, and in the future, because it is the
masterkey of the north." That was Montague County in 1778.
As a result of DeMeziere's
association resident Spanish traders were established at the village.
From then on there are numerous references to the villages as the
country began to fill up with traders and settlers. Some describe the
pleasant reception they received and describe the number of huts in
the villages. The chief glory and importance of the Taovayas and their
kinsmen the Wichitas seems to have ended by the nineteenth century. By
the time the United States bought Louisiana in 1803 various exploring
parties were being sent out to obtain information about the land they
had acquired. Existing settlements such as the Taovayas occupied were
sought out. Descriptions of their living conditions and habits were
recorded. Although there were fish in the river it is said they did
not eat them but used them for fertilizer. References are made to
their trade and their salt.
Their love for horses which
had prompted their ancestors to seek the Spaniard's horses continued.
Although they were considered being among the friendly tribes they
were seldom trusted. They did ally themselves against the Apaches with
the Spaniards however, and in 1813 they aided the revolutionists
against the royal arms. As a tribe they never subjected to mission
influence. As the changes in government took place, from Spanish
jurisdiction to Mexican, then to Texas Independence, more and more
white men came into the territory. The Taovayas who survived the
scourges of small pox which took a toll among many Indians early in
the century, withdrew across the river into Indian Territory where
they could have the benefit of protection and assistance from the
Federal government. In 1834 a regiment of the United States Dragoons
visited the villages and reported that they were scantily supplied and
that they, the soldiers, had to barter everything they had, even the
buttons from their clothes, to obtain anything to eat.
Montague County had its
artist even in 1834. The noted artist George Catlin, accompanied the
troops and leaves a two volume book of pictures of natives they
visited. In describing the Taovayas Indians he said the men were
clumsy and ordinary looking but improved when mounted on horseback.
That the women were exceedingly pretty and their dresses were
ornamented with fur or with shells. Their garments were often
garnished with elk teeth, their most highly prized ornament.
In 1835-36 the northern
Indians became an important factor as potential Mexican allies. Near
the Cross Timbers a Mexican agent bearing a message from General
Filisola to the Indians at San Teodore was killed. Sam Houston's skill
in dealing with Indians saved a general uprising among them in the
north as the Mexicans were defeated. By 1840 the Taovayas, their
numbers greatly reduced, their geographical location no longer of
strategic importance, in trade or diplomacy, and suffering from
depredations themselves, became completely submerged into the Wichita
tribe. The village, San Bernardo on the north side of the Red River
was occupied by members of the Comanche tribe until the Civil War
started. Many of the Indians at that time retreated to Kansas. The
Wichita tribe together with the remnants of the Taovayas now live at
Indian City at Andarko, Oklahoma. Though the Wichitas accepted their
Taovayas kinsmen, they were never able to prevent them from invading
the white settlements and stealing horses, and were as unsuccessful in
reforming them as the white man had been. Their familiarity with the
region made their raids on the white settlers in Montague County
simple for them. In addition to their love for horses they were
undoubtedly prompted in these raids because of resentment against the
invasion of the white man into the land they had once adopted for
their own and loved.
Grateful acknowledgement is
hereby given the following persons who aided me in obtaining material
for this narrative: Congressman Frank Ikard, Washington, D. C; Mrs.
Robbie Edsell, Wichita Falls, Texas; Mrs. Gertrude Phillips, Norman,
Oklahoma; State Representative, Anthony Fenoglio, Nocona, Texas.
Source material used:
Llerena Friend, Old Spanish Fort, West Texas Historical Ass'n.
Yearbook October 1940; Elizabeth Ann Harper, The Taovayas Indians
in Trade and Diplomacy, Chronicles of Oklahoma, 1953; Research
Service, Encyclopedia, Brittannica.
Published in 100 years
in Montague County, Texas Saint Jo, Tex.: Printed by IPTA
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