Conflict was inevitable as land-hungry settlers, lured by the state's promises of cheap land, began pushing onto the Texas plains shortly after Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845. The push became a tidal wave of "nesters" after the end of the Mexican War in 1848.
But the plains on which the newcomers intended to live were not empty. They were occupied by earlier immigrants from the north: Comanches, Wichitas, Tawakonis, Anadarkos, Caddos and others. Most Plains Indians were nomadic; free access to the land was basic to their culture. They had no understanding of the concept of individual ownership of land, which was the very dream that had drawn the white newcomers to the area.
In the early 1850s, the meager number of U.S. Army troops assigned to Texas could not adequately defend the state's 1,200-mile-long frontier against Indian raids and aggression. And the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that marked the end of the Mexican War greatly increased those troops' responsibilities by providing that the U.S. Army also defend northern Mexico from marauding bands of Plains Indians. Attempting to defuse the culture clash between settlers and Indians, the federal government negotiated treaties with various Plains Indian tribes. It also appointed Indian agents to handle problems between Indians and settlers and to dole out regular consignments of beef, blankets and other goods to their charges. Despite these efforts, relations between the Indians and whites continued to be punctuated by violence.
The Reservation Experiment
On Feb. 6, 1854, the Texas Legislature authorized the establishment of two Indian reservations, each four square leagues of land (18,576 acres) in size, in Northwest Texas. The Comanche Indian Reservation was established on the Clear Fork of the Brazos in south centrral Throckmorton County. The Brazos Indian Reservation, for the Caddos, Wacos and other, more sedentary, tribes, was located 12 miles south of Fort Belknap, also on the Brazos River.
Indian agents persuaded about 2,000 Indians to move onto the Brazos Reservation, to be monitored by troops from Fort Belknap. Nearly 450 Comanches warily moved onto the Comanche Reservation.
To keep watch on the Comanches, Camp Cooper was established in January 1856 by Lt. Col. Albert Sidney Johnston. Cooper became the headquarters for four companies of the famed 2nd U.S. Cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee. Lee served at Camp Cooper for about 19 months, though he was often absent, serving in courts-martial at other posts.
Camp Cooper was beset by severe weather, wolves, rattlesnakes, irregular supply trains and plagues of grasshoppers.
Doomed to Fail
The reservation experiment limped along for several years, but it was doomed to fail. The reservation dwellers attempted to farm, but because of the arid conditions, they were unable to raise enough crops to feed themselves.
Indians living off the reservations continued to raid white settlements. Many settlers blamed all Indian raids on reservation Indians and retaliated accordingly.
Fearing for the Indians' lives, Maj. Robert S. Neighbors, Indian agent for the Comanches, finally, and with great sadness, recommended abandoning the two reservations and moving the Indians to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). On Sept. 1, 1859, Major Neighbors delivered the former residents of both reservations to the Wichita Indian agency in the Washita Valley.
Camp Cooper's usefulness came to an end by the start of the Civil War, and the post was officially abandoned on Feb. 21, 1861. Union forces also left Belknap in early 1861, and during the Civil War, it was occupied occasionally by the Frontier regiment. Briefly reoccupied by the 6th U.S. Cavalry in April 1867, Belknap was shut down five months later.
— written by Mary G. Ramos, editor emerita, for the Texas Almanac 2004–2005.