The Journey of Jehiel Brooks, Pt. 2

Part one, which covers his life from birth to 1830, is available here: Journey, Pt. 1

Caddo Village, ca. 1,000 CE. Painting by George Stephen Nelson, courtesy Institute of Texas Cultures

The Indian Agent

Caddo lands. Source: 8th Edition of The Archaeology, Bioarchaeology, Ethnography, Ethnohistory, and History of the Caddo Indian Peoples of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. Click to enlarge

Dehahuit, the Grand Caddo and Chief of the Kadohadacho tribe, was not happy with how things were going. Since around 1800, as the respected hereditary leader of the Caddo confederation, Dehahuit had skillfully managed affairs with first the French and then the Spanish on one side, and the Americans on the other. Because he was so influential, all sides wanted his cooperation, and were willing to provide annual presents (annuities) that the Caddo needed, such as horses, guns, food and clothing, as well as recognition of their territory in Mexican Texas and the United States.

But after the War of 1812 (where the Caddo supported the Americans) and the Adams-Onis treaty (that eased tensions with the Spanish), conditions were changing. The Caddo were no longer a necessity to the Americans, and their influence waned. Caddo hunters had to travel farther and farther to find buffalo and other game, and more and more White settlers were infringing on traditional Caddo land, often trading cheap alcohol for valuable skins and tools. His people were growing more impoverished by the day. Dehahuit was also wise enough to see that the thinking behind the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which moved eastern tribes west of the Mississippi, often forcefully, would soon affect his people as well.

Dr. John Sibley

Of the Indian Agents he had dealt with, some were helpful, some were not. The first, Dr. John Sibley, appointed by Thomas Jefferson in 1805, was an egalitarian who cared about the Caddo and worked for peaceful co-existence. In his “Report from Natchitoches” in 1807, he addressed a Grand Council of Native Americans saying White settlers were “…natives of the Same land that you are, in other words, white Indians, [who] therefore Should feel and live together like brothers and Good neighbors; we Should do no harm to One Another, but all the good in our power.” But by the time John Jamison was appointed Indian Agent in 1816, the American attitude had changed. Where the Caddo had once been friends, they were now viewed as an impediment to westward expansion. Dehahuit noticed; and Jamison warned his handlers of the chief’s “disaffection” toward Americans. The next Agent, George Gray, worked hard to expel interlopers, stop illicit trade, and restore relations with the Caddo, but was often stymied by instructions from the government. And now there was another new agent, Jehiel Brooks, who Dehahuit did not like at all. On May 28, 1831, he decided to write directly to President Andrew Jackson:

It is three years since I have received anything on account of my annuity. I want to know if Brooks, the present agent, does not receive it and keep it for himself. Myself and all the Indian tribes in my vicinity have lost all confidence in Brooks. We all want a new agent and a new interpreter of our own choice. The agent we have is no better than none…I pray the President to have the goodness to write to me and direct your letter to the care of Doctor John Sibley or Judge Carr of Natchitoches, that it may not come into the hands of Brooks, the Present agent.

Andrew Jackson by J.B. Longacre. Library of Congress.

Jehiel Brooks, along with new wife Ann and an enslaved servant, had arrived in July of 1830 to begin his work as Indian Agent. Ann immediately took to her sickbed in the excessively hot weather, then Jehiel also fell ill, causing a delay in beginning his duties. The books and accounts of the previous agent were a mess, and Brooks had to acknowledge that some of the annuities had not been paid to the Caddo. He met with some tribes to get a sense of the state of things, but his attention was mostly drawn to exploring the land. The previous Agency house had been on Caddo Prairie, which was regularly flooded, and Brooks went exploring for a new locale, using the opportunity to also scout sites that might become valuable if the Great Raft clogging the Red River was removed. In fact, four months before Dehahuit wrote his letter to Jackson, Brooks had written the President as well. Not about the Caddo, or encroaching settlers, or illegal traders, or difficulties with Mexican Texas, all aspects of the Indian Agent job with which he was expected to deal. He instead wrote a 5-page letter about clearing the Red River log jams and reclaiming the land.

By removing the obstructions out of the channel of the river…you establish a navigation at once, which by the laws of nature must constantly improve, till the rafted portion becomes the same as any other. Again by restoring the original action of the current the tendency will be also to bring back those vagrant waters, which are now coursing madly over this fertile valley, to their legitimate bounds and primitive elevation – reclaiming the better part of it from “the vasty deep.”

Jackson did not respond directly to either Dehahuit or Brooks, but very shortly afterward Captain Henry M. Shreve was hired to clear the Great Raft. Shreve was a steamboat captain and inventor who had already made a name for himself clearing obstructions on the Mississippi, Ohio, and Arkansas Rivers. He was named Superintendent of Western River Improvement in 1827, and then designed what he called a “snag boat,” a twin-hulled steamboat that could ram embedded snags to break up jams, then hoist the logs up from the riverbed and cut or move them.

A Henry Shreve designed snag boat at work. Sometimes called “Uncle Sam’s Tooth Pullers,” the boats were very effective in clearing jams on numerous American rivers. Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, November 2, 1889. Library of Congress.

Brooks was already acquainted with Shreve, and they corresponded a number of times about some of Shreve’s legal issues in Washington. Brooks also questioned him about land that might be reclaimed after the Great Raft was removed. Shreve’s response:

I have not time now to enter into a calculation in relation to the quantity of land which will probably be redeemed by the removal of the raft, but am quite sure you are below the amount when you calculate it at one million of acres.

Brooks began pressuring the Caddo to sell their land to the American government, presenting it as the only reasonable alternative to their increasingly poor condition. At the same time, he attempted to fulfill his Agent duties, which were numerous. You can read a lot into his reports and letters; his frustration at a lack of communication with his superiors at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, uncertainty about courses of action, loneliness, anger. Here are a few examples:

Early in 1831, Brooks wrote to John Eaton, the Secretary of War, about some difficulties with other tribes moving onto Caddo land. The capitalization and underlining are from the original.

I beg leave also to inform you two tribes of Texas Indians (Anadaco [Anadarko] and Ieni [Hainai]) have taken up their abode upon the Caddo lands and below in the district of the Bayou Pierre, contrary to my reiterated injunctions against it. They are killing the cattle and hogs of the whites on the Bayou Pierre and have eaten everything the Caddo had raised for their winter sustenance while their hunters are absent in the Buffalo ranges. They now chiefly subsist, together with many of the old Caddo men and women and children, by begging and stealing from the adjacent whites who are the less able to bear it this winter on account of the drought having destroyed the Corn crop throughout this frontier. The whites come to me with their complaints under the expectation that I can apply a remedy. But, since the commanding Officer on this frontier has not only refused to afford me military aid when I conceived the exigency of Indian affairs under my jurisdiction demanded it; but by his verbal remarks addressed to me afterwards implied an interference with his prerogatives by having so done, I have no other alternative left me under any state of grievance but to report to the government.

The above is the last paragraph of Brooks’ letter, along with a little postscript under his signature: “I write you this in the woods on my knees.” The response from Elbert Herring (soon to be Commissioner of Indian Affairs) tried to assuage Brooks’ anger, but also made it clear he should not overstep:

I regret extremely that your requisitions for military aid should at any time have been treated with disrespect. They ought not however to be resorted to unless in cases of the most urgent necessity. To employ troops on occasions of little moment weakens that fear, which their presence should excite, and lessens that official respect in which the Indians should hold their agent.

Clearly, given the letter Dehahuit had written to President Jackson, the Caddo did not have much “official respect” for Jehiel Brooks. He may have gotten a whiff of the letter, given a report he sent just a few weeks later with a distinctly defensive tone. Trade with Native Americans was only allowed at official trading posts (factories), or with traders licensed by the local Indian Agent. Illegal trading was the ostensible topic of this report:

At last, after a severe struggle, I am succeeding in my exertions to arrest the progress of the illicit trade which has been for three years past carried on throughout the Indian country to a very great extent. And my present location will enable me I think in a short time to put a stop to it altogether. By my exertions I have made many enemies – the lives of myself and family have been threatened – mean and contemptible falsehoods told the Indians to make them my enemies; but through all I am proud to say I feel assured of having gained rapidly in the esteem of all the Indians with whom I hold intercourse. If any communication has reached the Department on this subject prejudicial to me I am only to be informed to be able at once to refute it.

Meanwhile, Brooks was also worried about family matters. Their first child, Eleanor, was born in July of 1831, but lived only seven months. They would have two more children in the next two years, who would both survive. Life at the Agency house in Caddo territory was a difficult existence. Supplies could often be delayed by obstinate river navigation or flooded roads. During the summers, the heat could be unbearable. Jehiel often had to take lengthy trips to Natchitoches or New Orleans, traveling either by pirogue (a heavy canoe) on the river or overland on horseback. Ann often suffered from fevers and flu, as did Jehiel. In fact, Jehiel regularly wrote to his superiors about his illnesses, usually as justifications for why he was unable to fulfill various duties. This letter from September, 1832, explains why he was late sending his accounts:

I herewith enclose my accounts to the 30th June 1832. The causes which have produced this delay are as follow: viz: I arrived here on the first day of last month and found nothing provided for my subsistence but Bacon. Not a single Garden Vegetable nor spear of corn was growing – nor any corn for sale nearer than 10 miles through a wilderness without a road. The first ten days were spent therefore in obtaining provisions. I then commenced collecting vouchers and by the 16th had everything nearly prepared for their departure when I was taken ill and confined two weeks and since been afflicted with painful ulcers on my limbs from which I am not yet entirely well.

And this, from 1834:

Ann Margaret Brooks

I have to report that early in June last Mrs. Brooks was taken sick, and for a long time I had despaired of her life. She partially recovered and early in July had a relapse, which threatened her existence more than the first; but, through the interposition of divine Providence, she is again slowly recovering though still quite low. During Mrs. B’s last illness, our only child [Emily] was severely attacked with fever. In the latter part of July, worn down by constant watching and anxiety, with these and other patients, who had been entirely dependent on me, I was prostrated with the fever myself, from which I narrowly escaped with life, and I am yet only able to sit up a part of the day. While I was down my servants fell one after another, in rapid succession, till they were not, well, to take care of the sick – having myself to prescribe medicine for all, and often in a state of partial derangement…but now the disease is slowly abating.

One of the major issues with which Brooks had to deal was alcohol and its spread among the Native American population. Acting Secretary of War John Robb sent this note to Brooks in 1832.

An act of Congress, passed at the last Session, prohibits the introduction of ardent Spirits into the Indian Country, under any pretence. In carrying into effect this provision, you are directed to seize this article, wherever found, and to deposit it in some safe place, until the farther order of the Department, which you will regularly apprize of your proceedings. The Department requires of you constant efforts and watchfulness, to suppress entirely a traffic, of which the evil consequences and the disgrace are shared, in almost equal degree, by the white and the red man. 

However, carrying out that law would prove next to impossible for Brooks, who as Indian Agent had no enforcement mechanism at his disposal other than calling on the Army, for which he had already been chastised. The way the laws were written also made it difficult to prosecute, something Brooks recognized in his response:

…heretofore, from the commencement of my public transactions to the present, I have used unremitting exertions, and shall continue to do so, in the adoption of every measure which appears best calculated to suppress the introduction of Spiritous liquors among the Indians; and to wean their appetites, as much as practicable, from the unceasing, enduring and insatiate voracity with which they seize upon and devour this scourge of their race. But the Department must be fully aware of the obstacles which surround all the legislative enactments on this subject, till the rules of evidence, touching these prohibitions, shall be so organized as to give action to them.

This was not the only time Brooks felt powerless. His initial instructions included this phrase: “In the execution of your duties generally, you will be governed by the act of Intercourse of 1802, and the other existing laws related to Indians.” The Indian Intercourse Acts were designed to regulate commerce between Native Americans and White settlers. They covered the boundaries of native land, the erection of trading posts (factories), and the prohibition on the sale of any Indian lands without U.S. government approval through treaties. Once again it was prohibited trade and the lack of military support that prompted this anguished report from Jehiel Brooks in 1833:

I have done all in my power heretofore, Sir, to have the intercourse laws respected & observed. I have advised, warned, threatened and am taunted & threatened in return for my pains while my exertions seem only to render hostility more hostile! I am therefore reluctantly to state and with feelings of mortification too, that my experience has fully proven that it is worse than useless for me to make any further show of authority which is only based upon an intangible power.

The problems of Jehiel Brooks were minor compared to the plight of the Caddo Nation. In 1833, Dehahuit died. The Caddo were suddenly leaderless and unsure of how to proceed. Dehahuit was a hereditary leader, and no immediate heir was named. Tarshar became Chief of the Kadohadacho, Dehahuit’s tribe, but he had nowhere near the power and influence of his predecessor. At first they declined to even speak with Brooks, but the pressure was still on to concede their land. A letter Brooks wrote to Judge William Smith, former senator of South Carolina, reveals what was really on his mind:

Judge William Smith. University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies

As you have become a citizen of Red river and express an interest in its welfare, I venture to solicit your cooperation in effecting a purchase of the Caddo lands, bordering on the river, if no more, as suggested by me in our late conversation on the subject. I question whether the Caddos could be persuaded to sell all their country at once, without first discontinuing the agency, which the Government ought to do. But at all events as matters now stand we might buy the river lands, with a strip perhaps, of contiguous upland sufficient for summer residences and the rearing of stock. This purchase should be effected if possible within the present year, before the removal of the raft (which is now advanced above the Indian south boundary) shall open the eyes of the Caddos as to the intrinsic value of the country to the whites, and before the Indians are exposed to the pernicious counsels of the many, vicious persons who live upon them and who are sure to oppose every measure tending to remove the Indians out of the country.

We don’t know if Judge Smith ever went in with Brooks on a land deal, but he makes clear buying newly-available Caddo land was high on his priority list, hopefully before the “eyes of the Caddo” are opened. Precisely as Brooks had urged, the Government closed the Red River Agency in October of 1834, ending his tenure as Indian Agent, and increasing the pressure on the tribes to sell their land. The Caddo realized they had reached the end of the road in the United States. As the year concluded, they decided to send a memorial to President Jackson. A memorial is a formal request, usually from a state legislature, for action to be taken on a given issue. The Caddo leaders wrote:

. . . our traditions inform us that our Villages have been established where they now stand ever since the first Caddo was created. Before the Americans owned Louisiana; the French, and afterwards the Spaniards, always treated us as friends and brothers. No white man ever settled on our lands, and we were assured they never should. We were told the same things by the Americans in our first council at Natchitoches, and that we could not sell our lands to any body but our Great Father the President. Our last two agents, Capt Gray and Col Brooks, have driven a great many bad white people off from our lands, but now our last named Agent tells us that he is no longer our Agent, and that we no longer have a Gunsmith nor Blacksmith, and says he does not know what will be done with us or for us.

This heavy news has put us in great trouble. We have held a great Council and finally come to the sorrowful resolution of offering all our Lands to you which lie within the boundary of the United States for sale at such price as we can agree on in Council one with the other.

Final page of the Caddo Memorial to President Jackson, including the signature of Jehiel Brooks and the mark of Tarshar. Letters received by the Office of Indian Affairs, Caddo Agency 1824-1842. National Archives and Records Administration.

What Jehiel Brooks and the government had been pushing for had come to pass – the Caddo would negotiate a treaty to cede their land to the Americans. Once the wheels were set in motion, things proceeded quickly. First off, the President would need to appoint a commissioner to treat with the Caddo. Jehiel Brooks raised his hand. That’s the next part of the story.


Brooks-Queen Family Collection. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives. The Catholic University of America. Washington.

LaVere, David, The Caddo Chiefdoms: Caddo Economics and Politics 700-1835, University of Nebraska Press, 1998

Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880, Caddo Agency, Record Group 75, National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C.

Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880, Red River Agency, Record Group 75, National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C.

O’Neall, John Belton, Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina, S.G.Courtenay, Charleston, 1859

Perttula, Timothy K., Dayna Bowker Lee, and Robert Cast, First People of the Red River,, 2008

Records of the Adjutant Generals Office, Letters Received, 1805-1889, Record Group 94, National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, D.C.

Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Letters Sent, 1824-1886, Record Group 75, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.

Sibley, John, and Penny S. Brandt, A Letter of Dr. John Sibley, Indian Agent, Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 29, No. 4 1988

Swanton, John R., Source Material on the History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians, Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, 1942

Tiller, Jim, Jehiel Brooks and the Grappe Reservation: The Archival Record, Sam Houston State University, 2014

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