James Barclay and the Alabama Indians

James Barclay and the Alabama Indians
from The Sunday Enterprise, Beaumont
December 15, 1935 ( shortened & submitted by TLBPope 1/1/1999)

Dr. W.W. Anderson of Kountze told the story of the Alabama Indians as his grandfather James Barclay told it to him. The story is told by Dr.W.W. Anderson of Kountze as told by his grandfather, James Barclay, who was among the first few white men in what is now Tyler County. James Barclay, veteran of San Jacinto and Indian agent for the Alabamas, and appointed by the Republic and Texas gave details to J.R. Bevil of Kountze before his death in the seventies. It sheds light on the Alabamas when they were seeking a permanent home. They settled in Polk County, were granted ownership by Texas. Today they number about 250.

One of the first white men to see the Alabamas in Texas was James Barclay. A young man, he came from Hoover’s Gap, Tennessee to seek a new home and got in the scrap with Mexico. He and his father were warm friends of Sam Houston in Tennessee Barclay found the Indians at Peach Tree Village. They became friends. Barclay followed the cause of the Texas Republic in 1836.

By 1837, the floodgates of immigration opened from the United States, and covered wagons poured in from Louisiana, for every part of Texas, but mostly along the Sabine, Neches, the Angelina and the Trinity. In 1837 the Alabamas moved from Peach Tree village. White men made it uncomfortable for them and they moved south and east to the forks of Big and Little Cypress Creeks in what became Tyler County. That location was home of the earliest Texas Indians on record, and camping place of the Cherokees.

Barclay himself had to do with the selection of the camp site, because the government of Texas appointed him Indian agent to the Alabamas. Barclay, who returned to Tennessee for his family, moved to the Cypress Creek forks with the Indians.He was regarded by the red men as their foremost white friend. While building his log cabin on the creek bank he lived with them.

Dr. Anderson did not know his famous grandfather. He was friends with so many men who knew him well that it seems as if he got the story from Barclay. The Kountze physician lived for a time in the log house which James Barclay built in 1847 above the Cypress forks. The house remains today in one of the most beautiful natural settings in all of east Texas..... the sturdy dwelling , one of the finest remaining relics, in the east Texas pines, is where some of Texas’ most famous figures visited.

One day while working at home, several braves approached Barclay. They were running, and excited. He picked up his rifle and followed while they told their story. A severe fever beset the tribe. Dr. Anderson believes it was malaria, which attacked the white man and Indian alike in the history of east Texas. Indians were dying. Malaria alone did not kill them as fast as their own methods of cures, however.

"Often", my grandfather told it, said Dr. Anderson, "the Alabamas, hot with fever, would submerge their entire bodies in the nearest stream, leaving only their noses out of water. They would leave the stream, and chill. Often pneumonia would follow".

 Charley Thompson, the chief who died in the tribal village on ‘Bear Creek" was probably the last man who could have given some of the original Alabama words. The Indians were highly excited, " he said. " In those days they wore feathers and put war paint on their faces." They were in full war regalia that day the group of bucks visited my grandfather. There was almost a state of civil war at the Indian village The divisions became hostile with each other. They went for Barclay. The Indians had not lived in teepees for years but in wooden huts. Superstition cost human life.

 The Alabamas did not occupy the Cypress Creek land more than five or six years. In 1852, they moved. Barclay had much to do with this. They marched into one of the densest parts of the piney woods, on the edge of the Big thicket. They became peaceful, and were not heard from again for five years. In 1859, when Texas had been a state about 14 years, the American government began its greatest push to remove Indians to the Indian territory. The tale is well known. They were promised the state to become Oklahoma. The Alabamas’ chief was Antone - one of the most stalwart figures in the Alabama story. Antone was against immigrating. Texas ordered Barclay to take representative members of the tribe to the territory to select a new home. In an overland march, James Barclay and Charles Bullock, later distinguished in the war between the state, Dave Lindsey, Tyler county’s first school teacher, Ben Ross and others went Chief Antone and one or two men from each of the principal families.  They set out horseback and were gone several weeks. The party returned. For sure the Alabamas would not go to Indian territory of their own volition. Dr. Anderson thinks the peaceful Alabamas were frightened of the Apaches, Comanches, Sioux and other warlike tribes there. They told Barclay and his friends, "No want to live here". Back they came.

Dr. Anderson gave account of how the Alabamas come into legal possession of their tribal lands. Houston had long been Barclay’s friend from Tennessee, before Houston was governor there. After his arrival in Texas, Houston visited Barclay. Through visits which followed, Houston, always a friend of the Indian, came to know the Alabamas. Through Houston’s influence, the state gave the Indians their land. The bill was introduced in the Texas legislature, in either 1858 or 1859 by James Barclay. He had been elected to the legislature, but retained his Indian agency--as the white father of the Alabamas. "It was passed by a substantial majority" and the Alabamas remained in east Texas. Their name means "‘Here We Rest."

A startling statement of Dr. Anderson was the Alabamas may have been among the Indians first seen by Christopher Columbus in the West Indies in 1492. James Barclay, as he told and retold it, said Chief Antone told him how the Indians came to the United State from "Somewhere in the West Indies. It is a version of their migration probably not before brought to light, but Barclay believed it, and accepted it as fact. They fought with Jackson, Chief Antone said, in the Seminole wars. The tribe was split in half near New Orleans. Its wanderings are left to meager notes, and the story as told. It is certain they lived in Alabama. Some of them from Mississippi, driven westward, settled in Louisiana, known as the Coushattas--a remnant which has not retained its Indian bloodlines. The Alabamas are virtually pure. Chief Antone died in Texas followed by Chief john Scott, whose grave is in the cemetery of the Alabamas on Bear creek. Chief Antone lived to be 108, and John Scott was104 when he died. Two Indians ruled the Alabamas for almost two centuries.

The story of James Barclay grows in the folklore tale of east Texas. He fathered the Alabamas, and it is difficult to imagine what they would have done without his generous and friendly aid. Barclay was laid to rest in 1873...... Enoch Rowe was appointed the Alabama agent, and then James Dendy, serving until the eighties. After that no one in particular watched over the Alabamas. They became servants of the settler, were mistreated and their livestock stolen. When the Rev and Mr. C. W. Chambers. Charmers, Presbyterian missionaries, came in 1900, these practices ceased. As a boy Dr. Anderson recalls them well. The old Alabama story is a mystery. Even the names and how they got them-MCConnico, Battise, Thompson, Pancho, Scott.

East Texas should give thanks that the Alabamas are part of its story - they fit into many chapters of the rich east Texas lore. They fought under Captain Bullock of "Band Luck Creek’ fame, in the War Between the States. They were half wild, however, and General Churchill sent them home from Arkansas Post on the Arkansas river. Fascinating again is the picture of James Barclay stumbling across the Alabamas at Peach Tree village in the early days of 1835. Few white men had penetrated east Texas. He was accompanied on his lonesome westward trek by Josiah and John Wheat, prominent figures in pioneer Tyler county. At Peach tree village the trio met a Mr. Hanks, who settled near Emilee on the Neches below Rockland. Numerous men and women still living saw the Alabamas in Woodville trading. They camped at Village Mills at Holland after Barclay’s death. They were first to discover petroleum at Saratoga. Fletcher Cotton, who said the Alabamas brought tar to the Holland camp, back tracked them one day and found where they got it. The Saratoga oil field was developed sixty years later. After Spindletop in Jefferson County.

*James Walter Barclay was born in 1816 and married Virginia Foster. They had 12 children. Following are the names of 8 of 12:
Avarilla Barclay, Mary L. Barclay, Jane Elizabeth Barclay,  J. Walter Barclay, N.B. Barclay, Phoebe A. Barclay, William F. Barclay, & Charles Bullock Barclay.
Photo of the descendants of James & Virginia Barclay circa 1910-1916


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