Chief Duwa'li Bowles played a prominent part in the history of Van Zandt County, Texas. Duwa'li was born in 1756. He was the son of a Scotch-Irish father and a Cherokee Indian mother. He had red hair, was slightly freckled and his skin possessed a slight coat of tan.
In 1794, when Duwa'li was Chief of Running Water, Tennessee the American government had begun to give the Indians annuities and supplies. Chief Duwa'li and a small group of Indians went to the government post to pick up their allotments. On their way home they met some white traders with their families. The white men traded the Indians some whiskey and the Indians got drunk. The traders then proceeded to trade for all the supplies, giving very little in return. After becoming sober the Indians realized what had happened and asked the white traders to return their supplies but they refused. A battle ensued in which all the white traders were killed. However, the Indians took the white women and children to safety. Later they decided they should leave that country for fear of reprisal.
Duwa'li and his people then settled in the southern part of what is now Missouri where they remained for 18 years. During their stay their numbers increased and the entire area became known as the Cherokee Nation West.
In 1811 and 1812 Missouri was shaken by terrible tremors known later as the New Madrid Earthquake. The Indians believed a curse had been placed on the land so Duwa'li led his people into Arkansas where they remained unmolested until 1817.
At this time the government designated the territory between the White and Arkansas Rivers for the Indians and all Indians were ordered to move to that area.
Duwa'li took 60 warriors and their families into Spanish-owned Texas. They settled along the three forks of the Trinity River, around Dallas. They soon learned that they had made a mistake. The wild Plains Indians made daring raids and within a short time Duwa'li had lost one-third of his warriors.
They then migrated to the wooded hills section of East Texas and settled north of Henderson. The Mexican government agreed to give them titles to the land, but the titles were not clear. The Cherokees shortly organized about 12 of the weaker tribes into an organization that was later known as The Cherokees and Their Associate Bands. The Cherokees soon grew in numbers mostly from the eastern refugee Indians and spread into Cherokee and Smith Counties.
The Cherokee were different from the wild Indians in that they lived in log cabins, farmed the land and raised livestock. They sold corn to the people in Nacogdoches. They also used guns and were good marksmen.
The Cherokee weren't feared until the Texas Revolution against Mexico began. At that time, Sam Houston and several other Texans made a treaty with the Cherokees which gave them an area north of the Old San Antonio Road and with the Neches River on the west and the Angelina River on the east as the boundary line. The lines extended to the Sabine River. The twelve associated tribes had been promised 1.5 million acres for their home by Texas President Sam Houston. However, after the war, the Republic of Texas Congress refused to ratify that treaty and declared it null and void. Sam Houston always maintained that the treaty was binding.
Shortly after the Republic of Texas was set up, the Indians became concerned about the titles to their lands. In the 2 years of the first term of President Sam Houston, he was able to keep the Indians pacified. However, when Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar became President of the republic of Texas; he had a different attitude toward the Cherokees. President Lamar announced that he was reclaiming this land.
After the Killough Massacre, President Lamar ordered two companies of soldiers to occupy the Neches Saline to keep an eye on the Cherokees. Chief Duwa'li made the mistake of forcing them to withdraw.
A Mexican emissary named Flores was killed in a skirmish. He was carrying a letter to Chief Bowles that was interpreted from it's contents to mean that Boles was in league with Mexican officials. Sam Houston was not convinced that this was true.
President Lamar and his advisers decided that the Cherokees should be removed from Texas. General Albert Sidney Johnston was sent to arrange for their removal, peaceably, it was hoped.
Martin Lacy, the Indian agent was sent to confer with Chief Bowles, who lived about 2.5 miles northwest of what is now Alto.
Lacy arrived at Bowles' village with John H. Reagan, Dr. W. G. W. Jowers, and an interpreter named Cordra. Bowles received them politely and seated them on a log a short distance from his cabin near a spring. Lacy accused the Indians of stealing, committing certain murders and of cooperating with Mexican rebels. He also stated that Texans would pay the Indians for the relocating move and for their improvements but nothing for the land.
Duwa'li denied the allegations, said the murders were committed by wild Indians. Bowles further stated that he could not give an answer until he had called a council of the Indians. Lacy granted him a week or ten days to give his answer.
When Lacy returned for Bowles' reply, the old chief was very grave. The entire council, with the exception of Big Mush and himself, wanted to fight for their rights. The 83 year old chief said that in the course of nature he probably had few years to live, and he was concerned about his three wives and children. Bowles ended by saying, "If I fight, the whites will kill me. If I refuse to fight, my own people will kill me. I have led my people for a long time and I feel that it is my duty to stand by them regardless of what fate might befall me."
July 16, 1839 is the date of the last battle fought between the Texas Cavalry and Cherokee in Texas. The battle began on July 15. On July 16, Chief Bowles signaled retreat, few were left to flee. Chief Bowles was shot in the leg and his horse was wounded. The Chief climbed down from his horse and started to walk from the battlefield. He was shot in the back. The 83 year old chief sat down crossing his arms and legs facing the company of militia. The captain of the militia walked to where the Chief sat, placed a pistol to his head and killed him. Cavalry members took strips of skin from his arms as souvenirs. His body was left where it lay. No burial ever took place. No funeral service was held for Chief Duwa'li Bowles until some 156 years after his death. On Sunday, July 16, 1995 descendents of the tribes and their friends met to honor Chief Duwa'li Bowles with a funeral service, and to remember the others whose lives were also lost in this battle. This funeral was held on the site of the Battle of the Neches in Van Zandt County, Texas.
On November 25, 1997, the American Indian Heritage Center of Texas, Inc., a Texas nonprofit organization purchased the land where the Battle of the Neches was fought in Van Zandt County, Texas near the community of Redland.