Montague County, Texas

The County's Oldest Settlers


The County's Oldest Settlers

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 guns.

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 Printers, 1958


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