Today in Texas History – September 14

From the Annals of the Assassins –  In 1859, Indian Agent Robert Simpson Neighbors was assassinated by Edward Cornett. As a Federal Indian Agent for the Comanches, he employed the “field system” which involved actually visiting the Indians in their homes, and learning their language and culture. This was unique for its time and likely criticized by white settlers as Neighbors spent much time far beyond the then frontier.  However, in the opinion of many historians, Neighbors exercised greater influence over the Indians in Texas than any other white man of his generation.  As with Sam Houston he was one of the few white men to bother to learn Indian languages and almost uniquely would travel to the heart of the feared Comancheria.  Despite many relocations of the tribes, white settlers and renegade bands were still in conflict.  Neighbors was dedicated to protecting the “surrendered” tribes from attacks by the settlers.  As a result, Neighbors had become hated among white Texans because of his support for the tribes.

The events leading to his death concerned the Penateka Comanches who were settled on the Comanche Indian Reservation on the  Clear Fork of the Brazos River near present day Throckmorton.  Neighbors alleged that the Army officers from Fort Belknap and Camp Cooper near the reservations, failed to give adequate support to him and his resident agents, and adequate protection to the Indians and settlers alike.  With some justification, the Army and settlers believed the reservation Indians were committing continuing raids on white settlements.

John R. Baylor, the former Comanche agent, led the opposition to Neighbors and the reservation policy.  Baylor blamed Neighbors for his dismissal and resented him bitterly.  With the aid of federal troops, Neighbors managed to protect the Indians on the reservations, successfully thwarting an attack in May of 1859 by Baylor and 250 marauders.  The raid convinced Neighbors that the Comanches would never be safe in Texas and in August he succeeded in moving 1420 Indians, without loss of life, to a new reservation in the Indian Territory.  Attacked while returning to Texas, Neighbor’s party headed for Fort Belknap.  Neighbors proceeded to the nearby village of Belknap the next morning to “wind up his accounts as superintendent of Indian affairs”, where while speaking with two men, he was shot in the back by Edward Cornett.

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