Robert Neighbors

Robert Neighbors

Robert Simpson Neighbors (c. 1815 - 1859) was an Indian agent and Texas state legislator. Known as a fair and determined protector of Indian interests as guaranteed by treaty, he was murdered for his beliefs by Texas citizens who disagreed with giving any rights to the Comanches.cite encyclopedia|url=|title=NEIGHBORS, ROBERT SIMPSON|encyclopedia=Handbook of Texas Online|last=Richardson|first=Rupert N.|publisher=Texas State Historical Association|date=2008-01-18|accessdate=2008-01-29]

Early life

Robert Simpson Neighbors was born in Charlotte County, Virginia, on November 3, 1815. He was the sole son of William and Elizabeth (Elam) Neighbours. In later life he chose to drop the u from his last name. He was orphaned at a mere four months old, when both parents evidently died from disease, probably smallpox, which was epidemic in those years. He was later educated by private tutors, who were retained by his guardian, Samuel Hamner, a Virginia planter.

Immigration to Texas

Neighbors left Virginia at the age of nineteen, and while he stayed briefly in New Orleans, his intention was always to immigrate to Texas, which he did in the early spring of 1836. He promptly joined the army of the Republic of Texas, where he served for a number of years. In 1839, with the rank of lieutenant and later of captain, he was assistant quartermaster and acting quartermaster of the Texas army. He continued in this post until 1841, when he was reassigned to a line unit.

Capture by General Adrian Woll

On September 11, 1842, as a member of Captain John C. Hays's company of volunteers, Neighbors was in San Antonio attending court, when General Adrian Woll made his invasion of Texas and captured the city. Along with approximately forty other individuals, including the officers of the court, he was forcibly marched to Mexico, where he was subsequently imprisoned.

Indian Agent and the field system

Neighbors was released on March 24, 1844 and returned to Texas. At this point Neighbors ended his army service, and early the next year he began his service as an Indian Agent for the Republic of Texas. As Indian Agent for the Lipan Apaches and Tonkawas, he invented the field system of Indian control; instead of remaining at the agency headquarters and waiting for the Indians to pay him a visit, as was the common practice, Neighbors dealt with them directly in their homelands.

Later, when he was Federal Indian Agent for the Comanches, he continued what was then a most unusual practice, that of actually visiting the Indians in their homes, and learning their language and culture. Called the "field system" it was unique for its time. The ultimate result was that he spent much time far beyond the then frontier and in the opinion of historians exercised greater influence over the Indians in Texas than any other white man of his generation. Indeed, other than Sam Houston he probably was one of the few white men to bother to learn their language and culture, let alone travel to the heart of the Comancheria.

After the annexation of the Republic of Texas by the United States, he received a federal appointment as special Indian agent, on March 20, 1847. He was then party to numerous councils, including one between commissioners of the United States and the Texas Comanches near the site of Waco in 1846 and one between the Comanche and the German colonists on the San Saba River in March 1847, which resulted in the so-called Meusebach-Comanche Treaty.

Adoption by the Comanche

In his early days as an Indian Agent, Robert Neighbors recorded one of the best known meetings with the Comanche, and their Chief Old Owl. While he was beginning as a Texas Indian Agent, for the Republic, in 1845, Major Neighbors was at a Tonkawa camp. Chief Old Owl arrived with 40 warriors, and in a manner the Major called “most insolent,” demanded that the Tonkawa feed the war party and their horses, and provide for them entertainment. The Tonkawas, in fear of their lives, provided 40 women, food, and shelter, and cared for the horses at once. Neighbors, known as a fearless man, took this opportunity to be introduced to the Comanches. Neighbors, who was the Indian Agent for all Texas Indians, told the bemused Comanches he wanted to give them the benefits of civilization. Old Owl, introduced to Neighbors, first complimented him on his fine blue coat. Neighbors, understanding the meaning of this compliment, presented the Chief with the coat immediately. Other warriors admired his pants, boots, and other clothing, and soon Neighbors was standing only in a nightshirt. [ ]

Old Owl however, took a liking to the fearless Neighbors. He told him though most whites irritated him, he liked Neighbors, and invited him to accompany the war party, and he proposed instead of Neighbors making a civilized man of him, that he would make a fine horse thief out of Neighbors, and adopt him into the tribe. Neighbors, feeling this was an opportunity few men would ever receive, accepted at once. The war party went to Mexico, where Neighbors attempted to buy beef on credit to feed the warriors. When the Mexicans declined to sell beef to a Republic of Texas official on credit, Old Owl told them two beeves were to be forthcoming immediately, or the hacienda would be burned down and every living being killed. This proved highly effective, and the food was immediately forthcoming. [ ]

Neighbors, having left an indelible impression on Old Owl as the first (and only) Republic of Texas official to ever ride with a Comanche War Party, took his leave of them with thanks, and went home. [ ]

Neighbors Expedition

Early in the spring of 1849, Major General William J. Worth, of the United States Army, who was in command of the Eighth Military Department, which included the former Republic of Texas, determined to send an expedition to map a dependable road between San Antonio and El Paso. The General, headquartered in San Antonio, selected Neighbors to lead the expedition to establish the so-called "upper route" to El Paso. His reasoning was that Neighbors was perhaps the only man in Texas who could safely ride into the Comancheria. [ [ Handbook of Texas Online - NEIGHBORS EXPEDITION ] ]

Neighbors led a combined military-Ranger force that included his personal friend "Rip" Ford and did in fact map a route that not only became the route used by the Overland Stage Company, but is the same route taken by the highway today. Indeed, Neighbors reported 598 miles between Austin (as the state capital) and El Paso – the exact same milege listed today between the two cities. In addition to Ford on the expedition, Neighbors was able to convince Buffalo Hump to lead it. Though the chief later left the party, it remained under his protection, and another Comanche Chief led the party the remainder of the distance from the Colorado River to El Paso. Neighbors ability to communicate with the Comanche, and his relationship with them, made the expedition possible. [ [ Handbook of Texas Online - NEIGHBORS EXPEDITION ] ]

Return as an Indian Agent

In those days, appointments for such posts as federal Indian Agent were determined in great part by the political party in power, and the political affiliation of the agent. Neighbors was a Democrat, so his services as Indian agent were terminated by the the elections and subsequent national Whig administration in September 1849. Neighbors stayed in public life however. Appointed as a Texas commissioner, he was sent by Governor Peter Hansborough Bell, to organize El Paso County in February and March 1850. He then attempted, without success, to organize counties in New Mexico as a part of Texas.

As a member of the Fourth Texas Legislature under the United States sitting from 1851 to 1853, he was able to convince his fellow legislators to establish reservations for Indians, and he then successfully sponsored a law that opened the way for establishing those Indian reservations. He became a presidential elector in 1852, and shortly following the election of Franklin Pierce he was again appointed a federal Indian agent. In 1853 he was made Supervising Federal Agent for the Texas Indians. The following year in 1854 he joined Capt. Randolph B. Marcy and a unit of the United States Army to travel to Northwest Texas in search of recommended sites for Indian reservations. The Penateka Comanches were located on a reservation in what is now Throckmorton County, and the other Texas tribes, the Caddo, Lenape, and Tonkawa, at a second site now in Young County.


It was during this period, when settlers began to attack the Indians, that Neighbors became hated among white Texans. Neighbors alleged that the United States Army officers located at the posts of 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. The military’s attitude was shared by the settlers, who believed the reservation Indians were committing continuing raids on white settlements. In spite of continuous threats against his life, Neighbors never faltered in his determination to protect the Indians.

With the aid of federal troops, who he finally shamed and politically forced to assist him, he managed to protect the Indians on the reservations. Convinced however that the Indians, especially the Comanche, due to the continuing raids of those bands still resisting white settlement of the Comancheria, would never be safe in Texas, he determined to move them to safety in the Indian territories. In August 1859 he succeeded in moving the Indians without loss of life to a new reservation in Indian Territory. Forced to return to Texas on business, he stopped at the village near Fort Belknap. On September 14, 1859, while he was speaking with one settler, a man named Edward Cornett shot him in the back. Historians believe this assassination was a direct result of Neighbors' actions protecting the Comanche. He was buried in the civilian cemetery at Fort Belknap. [ [ Comanche-Part Three ] ]

Personal life

Robert Simpson Neighbors was a Methodist, a Mason, and a leader in the temperance movement. He had married Elizabeth Ann Mays in Seguin, Texas, on July 15, 1851, and their home was in San Antonio, Texas. Two sons survived childhood.


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