Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General
(Main Series) 1861 – 1870
Roll 799 1870
Papers Relating to the Return of the Kickapoo and the Seminole (Negro) Indians
from Mexico to the United States, 1870 – 1885
Headquarters Fifth Military District
(State of Texas)
Office Assistant Adjutant General
Austin, Texas March 25, 1870
Captain J. C. DeGress
9th U. S. Cavalry
Commanding Post, Fort Duncan, Texas
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 17th instant in relation to the “Seminole” and Kickapoo Indians, reporting your action in granting permission to the Seminole tribe “to cross the Rio Grande River and camp on the reservation of Fort Duncan until their request to move to Arkansas, on the Reservation of the Seminoles can be considered and decided on by the Major General Commanding,” and to inform you that your action in the premises is approved.
I am, Sir, Very Respectfully,
Your Obedient Servant,
(signed) H. Clay Wood
Assistant Adjutant General
Headquarters Post of Fort Duncan
Fort Duncan, Texas, March 17, 1870
Mr. Albert Tuerpe
Deputy Sheriff, Maverick Co., Texas
Learning that the Kickapoo Indians are anxious to move back to their reservation in the United States, and are waiting for permission and protection to do so, you are hereby authorized to assure them that both will be extended to them, and further, invite them to a “Talk” at this Post or at the office of the U. S. Consul at Peidras Negros, Mexico, if they prefer it.
I am Sir,
Your Obt. Servant
“signed” J. C. D. Gress
Captain 9th U. S. Cavalry
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel U. S. A.
Headquarters Post of Fort Duncan
Fort Duncan, Texas March 17, 1870
Brevet Brigadier General H. Clay Wood,
Assistant Adjutant General
I have the honor to inform you that the Chief of the remaining Seminoles in Mexico, John Kibbett, came to this Post this morning for the purpose of getting permission to move to the Seminole Reservation in Arkansas, and to receive subsistence and forage for his people and horses while in transit. He states that his Tribe, consisting of about one hundred people, is poor, but willing to work.
They are mostly blacks and moved to Mexico under the Seminole Chief Wild Cat.
I have given the Chief a document of which the enclosed is a copy and have promised him rations and forage subject to the approval of the General Commanding while at this post.
This Chief informed me that the Kickapoo’s were anxious to move back to their Reservation and only waited for permission and protection to do so.
In view of this information, I will send the Deputy Sheriff of this County, Mr. Albert Tuerpe, who speaks the Kickapoo language, to Laota Rosa, Mexico, to invite their Chief, who is now at Santa Rosa, to come to this post for a “talk.”
I most respectfully ask the approval of the Major General Commanding of my action so far, and instructions as to what shall be done in case the Seminoles and Kickapoos, or either of them, come over agreeably to my promise.
The enclosed is a copy of letter of authority given Mr. Tuerpe. I have also instructed Mr. Tuerpe to pay special attention to whatever captives the Kickapoos may have, taking description of them if possible.
I am Sir,
Your Obt. Servant,
“signed” J. C. D. Gress
Captain 9th Cavalry
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, U. S. A.
War Dept. Oct. 26, 1871
Hon. Secretary of the Interior
Referring to the subject of the removal of certain roving bands of Kickapoo Indians now in Mexico to the territory of the United States, and particularly to your communication of the 17th inst., in relation thereto, I have the honor to say that the War Department cannot undertake to collect the Indians at Fort Duncan and then superintend their removal through Texas to the Indian Territory, but, adhering to the understanding previously had with the Dept. of the Interior, holds itself in readiness to furnish the necessary escort from Fort Duncan, when the Comdg. Officer of that Post shall have been duly notified that the Indians have been collected and are ready for removal, and to transport & subsist them from that point to their new homes, agreeably to previous arrangement.
Very Respy. Your Obedient Servant
Secty. of War
Brief of papers relative to the subsistence &c at Fort Duncan, Texas, of Seminole (Negro) Indians from Mexico, in anticipation of their removal by the Interior Department to a Reservation.
In March 1870, Captain J. C. DeGress, 9th Cavalry Commanding Fort Duncan, Texas, gave permission to a band of Seminole Negroes, which had been located in Mexico since the Florida War, to cross the Rio Grande and camp upon the Reservation at Fort Duncan, pending the consideration of a request made by them to be moved to the Seminole Reservation in the Indian Territory. Captain DeGress’ action was approved by the Department Commander, who forwarded the papers on the subject for the information of the Indian Bureau and for instructions on the subject.
The correspondence was transmitted to the Interior Department in War Department letter of April 19, 1870, and immediate attention invited thereto with request that such instructions concerning the removal of these Indians as might be deemed proper should be given.
Receipt of these papers was acknowledged by the Interior Department April 30, 1870, enclosing a report of April 26, 1870, from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (Gen. E. S. Parker), who after giving the history of these Seminole Indians in brief, as well as that of the Kickapoos associated with them in Mexico, stated that the removal of the latter had been suggested in the report of his predecessor in 1868-1869; that the Indian Department had not at its disposal the means to affect the removal of these Indians should they cross the Rio Grande to Fort Duncan, but that if the Military would arrange for their subsistence, and conduct them to the Indian Country, the Indian Bureau could then take charge of them and provide for their settlement among the people from whom they separated – Seminoles.
Copies of the Interior Dept. letter and General Parker’s report were furnished the Commanding General Department of Texas with remarks that under the circumstances the Secretary of War declined to give any order in the case of these Indians.
In September 1870, the question of the expense of removing the stock, effects &c of the Seminoles across the Rio Grande was brought to the attention of the Interior Department, and October 3, 1870 the Secretary of the Interior stated that there was an appropriation in the hands of his Dept. applicable to that purpose, of which the Department Commander was advised. These Seminoles continued to be subsisted at Fort Duncan, and in September 1872, the Commissary General of Subsistence recommended that the issue to them from Army supplies be not authorized and that the case be brought to the attention of the Indian Bureau.
By War Dept. letter of September 12, 1872 the attention of the Secretary of the Interior was called to the fact that the appropriation of the Dept. for Army subsistence was insufficient to meet the demands of the Army and supply rations to Indians, that the Seminole Negroes at Fort Duncan were now being subsisted from Army supplies notwithstanding, the expenses of feeding and moving them should be borne by the Interior Department under the arrangements made. The Interior Dept. was requested to take immediate measures for their future subsistence as the War Dept. must cease to furnish them with supplies.
In reply, the Secretary of the Interior transmitted a copy of report from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on the subject, and stated that he was of opinion that there were no funds at the disposal of the Interior Dept. that could be used for the subsistence of these Indians while they remained at Fort Duncan; that if they were in the Indian Territory, provision might be made for them, and asked that the Commanding Officer, Fort Duncan, be instructed to ascertain whether they would remove to the Indian Territory.
October 24, 1872, the C. O. Fort Duncan reported that the Seminole were willing, and had been expecting to move to the Indian Territory, that they had been waiting at Fort Duncan for more than 2 years, and had more than once manifested impatience at the delay. This was communicated to the Interior Department, and its receipt acknowledged December 26, 1872 by the Secretary of the Interior who enclosed copy of a communication from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs giving his views in regard to the matter and stating that as it appeared that these Negro Indians were not induced to return from Mexico by any competent authority, they should not be cared for by the Indian Dept.; also that the treaty of 1866 with the Creeks provided for the return of these Indians within one year from its ratification in order to entitle them to equal rights on the Reservation.
Copies of the Commissioner’s report and Interior Dept. letter having been referred to Genl. Sheridan were returned Jany. 29, 1873 with all the evidence in reference to the Seminole Negro Indians, which he was able to obtain, and with remarks that it appeared from the papers that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1868 strongly encouraged the return of the Negroes to the U. S. which had probably influenced the C. O. Fort Duncan in his action, that he was a little astonished at the pronounced and unequivocal denial of support for these poor Indians by the Indian Bureau as soon as it found itself not absolutely responsible for their presence at Fort Duncan; and General Sheridan recommended their location on a reservation on Elm Creek, and requested that in consideration of the many times that the Military have responded to the Indian Bureau in furnishing rations to Indians that its action be reconsidered.
By War Dept. letter of Feby. 21, 1873 the remarks of General Sheridan on the subject were communicated for the information of the Interior Dept. and attention invited to Commissioner Parker’s letter of April 26, 1870.
Feby. 21, 1874 the Commanding General Dept. of Texas enclosed a letter from the Headman of the Seminoles at Fort Duncan, asking for a continuation of the rations his people had been receiving up to January 1, 1874, with letter from the Commanding Officer Ft. Duncan giving an account of how these Indians came to Fort Duncan.
The Department Commander stated that about 20 of the men were enlisted and served as Scouts at Fort Duncan, and about the same number at Fort Clark, that of course these men received their pay, rations &c but that this was not sufficient to support the infirm and old, and the women and children of the band; called attention to their sad story and stated that either these people must be cared for by the Government at Fort Duncan, or removed to the Seminole Reservation, or that in sheer desperation to prevent starving they would be forced to resort to stealing and preying on white settlers.
The Department Commander remarked that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs (General Walker) appears to have quoted from the wrong Treaty in stating that there was a limitation to the time this class of persons could return to their Reservation; that the Treaty of 1866 with the “Creeks” (see Stat. at Large Vol. 14, p. 86) does contain such provision, but that the Treaty with the “Seminoles” (see Stat. at Large Vol. 14, p. 756) appeared to him to contain no limitation as to the time these Indians may return to their Reservation, and that there could be no doubt as to their right to return – he stated he did not doubt but that he could spare transportation during the Summer to move such of them as desired to go to their Reservation – the only expense necessary being the hire of a few teamsters and the subsistence of the Indians on their way; but that provision should be made for subsisting them for a limited time after reaching their location.
The papers were forwarded by Lieut. General Sheridan, inviting attention to his previous endorsements on the subject and especially that portion of the letter of the Commanding Genl. Dept. Texas pointing out the error of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs as to requirements of the Treaty. The Acting Commissary General of Subsistence stated that it appears from the records of his office that the issues of rations to the Seminole Negroes at Fort Duncan continued until January 10, 1874, no February return having been received – and he remarked that the appropriation for the subsistence of the Army could not legally be applied to the feeding of these Negroes and recommended that if they were to be fed by this Department an appropriation be made for the purpose, asking if it would not be more appropriate that they should be supplied by the Indian Bureau.
April 9, 1874 the Secretary of War forwarded to the Interior Department a copy of the communication from the Commanding General Department of Texas relative to the destitute condition of the Negro Seminole Indians at Fort Duncan, together with a brief giving a full history of the case up to that time, and requested that provision for the subsistence of these people and their removal to the Indian Territory be made by the Interior Department.
In July 1874, the C. O. Fort Duncan reported that he had ordered the issue of rations for that month to 10 Seminole Indians, and requested instructions as to whether the issue would be approved for the future, and asked information as to the disposition to be made of the Indians.
The Secretary of War authorized the issue to these Indians for July and August 1874, but decided its discontinuance thereafter, and by W. D. letter of August 7, 1874, the Interior Department was so advised.
Augt. 15, 1874 the Interior Department, referring to War Dept. letter of April 9, 1874, forwarded a copy of a report from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, from which it appeared that the matter of the Seminole Negroes was then in the hands of Special Commissioners Atkinson and Williams for report, and stated that the War Department would be advised so soon as the report of those gentlemen was received.
August 21, 1874, the Interior Department stated there were no funds at the disposal of that Department that could be used for the subsistence of the Seminole Negroes while they remained in Texas.
May 8, 1875, the Secretary of War disapproved an order of General Ord Commanding Dept. of Texas directing – subject to the approval of the Secretary of War – an issue of subsistence stores to prevent suffering among the helpless Seminole Negroes at Fort Duncan.
Note: The subsequent correspondence on file in the office of the Adjutant General shows the repeated effort to effect the removal of these Seminole Negroes from Texas to the Indian Territory, with the result shown in the endorsement of the Adjutant General of September 5, 1884, in letter from the Commanding Officer Fort Clark, herewith.
Department of the Interior
Washington D. C. April 26, 186—-
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the letter of the Hon. Secretary of War, dated 19th instant, referred here by you on the 23rd, inviting your attention to the correspondence (which he encloses) between Bvt. Col. J. D. DeGress, Commanding at Fort Duncan, Texas, and the commanding General of the Department of Texas, relative to a party of Seminole and Kickapoo Indians residing in Mexico who are anxious to return to the United States. An invitation has been sent to them by Col. DeGress to visit his post to have a talk upon the subject, and the question is put by him as to what shall be done in case they should come.
The history of these Indians is briefly and in substance this; about 1849, Co-ah-coo-che, or Wild Cat, a Seminole Chief of notoriety and influence, having become very much dissatisfied with the arrangements made by the Government in regard to his people upon their removal from Florida, with a few followers left the country of the Creeks, upon which the Seminoles were to reside, and went to Texas with the intentions, as he asserted, to settle there.
In 1850 he returned to the Nation and sought to induce all the Seminoles to join him in Texas, but succeeded only in prevailing upon about 100 together with some slaves, to accompany him. With these he returned in that year and eventually settled in Mexico across the Rio Grande. From that time he and his followers ceased to be regarded by the Department as a part of the Seminole Nation, and they have been almost wholly lost sight of for many years past. Wild Cat it is believed is now dead.
These Kickapoos are those who many years ago separated from their Nation residing in the Country which afterward became Kansas Territory, and went down among the Creeks and other Indians, locating upon or about the Washita River, and who became associated with the Seminoles under Wild Cat, and crossed over the Rio Grande with them into Mexico. At one time the Chief said he had with him 1,600 Kickapoos and at another, 600. They were joined in 1864 by a party of 100 from the Kickapoo Reservation in Kansas, a part of whom subsequently returned to Kansas.
The number of Seminoles and Kickapoo now in Mexico cannot be stated with certainty by this office. I think it is likely that of the former there may be as many (100) as stated by the Chief John Kibbett to Col. DeGress; and of the latter there may be probably from 600 to 800. A report respecting the removal of the Kickapoos back to the United States was made to the Hon. Secretary of the Interior by this office on the 14th of July 1868, and an estimate submitted of the sum that would be required for the purpose. The subject is referred to in the annual report for that year of my predecessor, pages 20 and 87, and also in my report for 1869 pages 8 and 451. I there suggested that steps be taken as early as practicable to have them brought back and placed somewhere in the Indian Territory and that appropriate legislation be had by Congress in the matter. I will now further remark that this office has not at its disposal the mans to effect the removal of these Indians should they cross the Rio Grande and come to the Military Post at Fort Duncan with that object in view. If the Military will arrange for their subsistence and conduct them to the Indian Country, this office can then take charge of them and provide for their settlement in some suitable locality in the Indian Country; the Seminoles, perhaps, among their people from whom they separated, and the Kickapoos upon some part of the leased District, or among the Wichitas and affiliated bands in that District.
Should the War Department consent to such an arrangement, it will be necessary that this office be advised thereof, and before the removal commences, in order that communication may be had with the Seminole Nation to ascertain if they will receive these Seminoles and acknowledge them to be a part of the Nation, and that a home may be selected for the Kickapoos and Congress be asked for an appropriation to subsist and properly care for them.
I return herewith the letter of the Secretary of War and its enclosures.
Your Obdt. Servt.
E. S. Parker
Hon J. D. Cox
Secretary of the Interior
Headquarters Post of Fort Clark, Texas
April 1st, 1870
Brevet Col. H. Clay Wood,
Asst. Adjt. Genl. Fifth Mil. Dist.
I have the honor to state for Commanding General that two Americans just from Mexico state that the tribe of Indians known as Kickapoos are very anxious to treat with our authorities and obtain permission to go upon a Reservation. If such could be accomplished, it would do much to secure the people of this frontier against this tribe’s invasions. When on a Reservation they would doubtless steal and commit depredations, but they would no longer have the impossible barrier of the Rio Grande for retreat and behind which to secure their plunder. If desirable I think I have means by which I can meet some of these Indians somewhere on the Rio Grande and ascertain what they are willing to do.
Your Obt. Servant
“signed” H. C. Corbin
Captain 24th Infantry,
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, U. S. A.
Headquarters Department of Texas
(Texas and Louisiana)
Office Assistant Adjutant General
Austin, Texas July 20th, 1870
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Fenas. R. Bliss
Major 25th U. S. Infantry
Commanding Fort Duncan, Texas
Referring to your communication of the 4th (?14th) instant making report relative to the Seminole Negroes, etc. at Fort Duncan, you are authorized to enlist twenty (20), or such number shall be found fit for service as Scouts who will receive the pay and allowance of Cavalry Soldiers. Kibbett, or the Headman, will receive pay of Sargeant.
They will be mustered into service for six (6) months unless sooner discharged. The required muster rolls will be prepared and forwarded. The Indian and English names will both appear upon the Muster-in rolls.
You will please detail an energetic and discreet commissioned officer who will have charge and command this party when enlisted.
Your recommendation as to locating the Seminole Negroes on Elm Creek, where they can live and cultivate land is approved, and you will carry out your plan.
The entire party of Indians will be under the control and protection of the Military Authorities at Fort Duncan.
By Command of Brevet Major General Reynolds:
(signed) H. Clay Wood
Assistant Adjutant General
Headquarters Post of Fort Duncan
Fort Duncan, Texas, July 14, 1870
Brevet Colonel H. Clay Wood
Asst. Adjt. Genl. Dept. of Texas
In compliance with instructions from Headquarters, Department of Texas, dated Austin, Texas, June 23, 1870, I have the honor to report that I have had frequent conversations with John Kibbett, Chief of the parties of Seminole Negroes, and he states in substance that he belonged to Wild Cat’s band of Seminoles, and left the U. S. Reservation and went to Mexico with him and Gopher John, and lived on the Mexican Reservation near Santa Rosa; that Wild Cat died in Mexico. In 1858 a nephew of Wild Cat, who remained in Arkansas, went to Mexico by permission of the U. S. authorities, and brought back to the U. S. Reservation several Seminole families; and during the rebellion all the Seminole Indians in Mexico left and went to Arkansas with a son of Wild Cat.
Gopher John, the principal Chief of the Seminole Negroes, and Kibbett, with their parties, remained in Mexico, being afraid to return on account of Slavery which then existed.
About one year ago, “Bob,” a son of Kibbett, was on the Seminole Reservation, and they stated to him that they were very anxious to have the Seminole Negroes come over and join them, and in consideration of this wish, as expressed by the Seminoles, and the initiation of the Post Commander at Fort Duncan, he crossed to Texas, and wishes to go to the Seminole Reservation, whose land given him in Texas which he may cultivate without molestation.
Gopher John is living about two hundred miles Southwest of Santa Rosa, Mexico, and has with him about 150 Negroes; there are also a party of these Negroes near Matamoras, but how many Kibbett does not know, as he has not seen them in a long time.
Gopher John told Kibbett that he would join him, if possible, at Santa Rosa and come here with him, but in case he did not arrive in time, Kibbett was to come over and the others would join him here. Gopher John and his party have not yet arrived, but Kibbett states that he will come soon, or if he will go after him he will go at once.
The Kickapoos are not on any Reservation now, but are out in the hills in Mexico, though still at peace with the Mexicans. Kibbett who is apparently a very smart and reliable Negro, states that he had a talk with the Chief of the Kickapoos, and that he stated he would not come in to “talk” with the Commanding Officer of Fort Duncan, as the Mexicans told him the troops here would kill him if he did; also that all the stock the Kickapoos own were stolen from Texas, and they fear, should they cross, they will lo(o)se their stock and be punished by the Texans for stealing it. Kibbett is of opinion that neither promises nor treaties will induce the Kickapoos to come in.
There are at present no Lepans in Mexico.
Kibbett’s men will not enlist in the Army, but are willing and anxious to be employed as Scouts. They know nothing about the country in Texas; neither do they know at what points of the river the Indians cross to make forays on the frontier of Texas, consequently they cannot act in the capacity of guides to water, posses, foods &c, but are good trailers and understand the habits of Indians perfectly, and would make excellent Scouts. Kibbett and his party are very anxious to get work of some kind, and are perfectly content to remain here on the Reservation, provided they can have land to cultivate, with permission to hunt and labor in the vicinity, and act as Scouts when required by the proper authorities.
Elm Creek – five miles above this Post on the Military Reservation of Fort Duncan is the place he has selected to live on. There is good arable land on the creek.
Kibbett asks for compensation for his men and himself while actually employed in the field, will accept the pay of a soldier for each of his men, with ($25.00) twenty five dollars per month for himself. I could not state positively to him what pay would be allowed him; he now states he is willing to accept the same pay as now allowed the Ton-ka-was. There are about 20 men fit for Scouts in the party now here, and they could be advantageously used at this Post.
I would therefore respectfully recommend that they be given as much ground as they can cultivate on the U. S. Military reservation on Elm Creek; that they have permission to work in the vicinity of the Post and to hunt within certain limits, to be prescribed by the Commanding Officer of the Post.
Your Obdt. Servant
(sgd) F. R. Bliss
Major 25th Infantry
Brevet Lieutenant Colonel U. S. Army