May 10, 2012 - While the rest of the country didn't think or care much about Indian Territory -- present-day Oklahoma -- during the Civil War, the people of North Texas happened to think about it quite a lot because Indian Territory was all that lay between them and a Union invasion.
Indian Territory was part of the vast Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederacy. It included three territories (Indian, New Mexico and Arizona) and five states, including Texas. Maxey was assigned to defend the territory with members of five tribes that had been banished there: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaw and Seminoles.
The struggle to control Indian Territory had gone badly for the Confederacy in the early going. Union troops raided out of Kansas and took control of two forts in the northern portion of the territory. Their sights were now set on the Red River country and North Texas. Sam Bell Maxey was sent there to hold the line and, if possible recapture portions of the territory taken by the Union.
Maxey was a military veteran and a graduate of West Point, where he finished next-to-last in the Class of 1846, but he distinguished himself in the Mexican War. He resigned from the army to practice law with his father and in 1857 moved to Paris with his father and wife Marilda. The people of North Texas had elected him to the Texas Senate before the war; now they depended on him to keep the Yankees out of Texas.
At the outbreak of the war, Maxey formed the Lamar Rifles, which became part of the Ninth Texas Infantry. He served in Kentucky, Tennessee and in the Vicksburg campaign before taking over as commander in Indian Territory. Morale was low, the desertion rate was high and the rag tag army he commanded lacked for uniforms, guns, food and shelter. Using the diplomatic and oratorical skills he had honed as a lawyer and politician, Maxey reassured the Indians who were supposed to be fighting for the Confederacy that food, guns, and clothes would soon be on the way, as promised. They stuck with him even when this turned out to be not true.
Maxey took the assignment seriously. "Let the enemy once occupy the country to Red River and the Indians give way to despair," he wrote.
In an odd sort of way, Maxey was one of the most progressive officers, on matters of race, than any other Civil War commander. He declared that no consideration of color - between red and white, that is - be taken into account when promotions were issued. Largely through his recommendation, Cherokee warrior Stand Watie was promoted to General, the only member of any tribe to serve the Confederacy as a general.
Stand Waite was among those who went with Maxey to Arkansas, where Union forces threatened to break into Indian Territory. Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke and his troops captured a Union wagon train on this foray, and Maxey was sent to take over command from Marmaduke.
Maxey arrived on the scene and had the good sense to order Marmaduke to simply carry on while offering any assistance he could provide. Together, they put together a remarkable campaign and, if they didn't exactly turn the tide of battle, they at least gave the Confederate Indians something to celebrate for the first time in quite a while.
"The campaign has been shivered like a crushed vase," he told his soldiers. "Your action has been glorious. You have made yourselves a name in history."
Operating basically a guerilla campaign, the Confederate Indians took their victories where they could. Stand Watie and his Choctaw and Creek troops captured a Union steamboat, and Watie and General Richard Gano's troops captured and plundered a huge wagon train. These little victories were distracting enough to keep the Union troops out of Texas, at least until the war was over.
Maxey was eventually replaced by Douglas H. Cooper, who had long coveted Indian Territory command but who was passed over twice previously for the post. With the war winding down and Indian Territory at least held in check, Cooper finally got his command.
For his part, Maxey returned home to Paris, practiced law and, after receiving a presidential pardon for his service to the Confederacy, represented Texas in the U.S. Senate for 12 years. Today he is probably best known for the Sam Bell Maxey House in Paris, a state historical site. To the people he served in his lifetime he was respected as the man who kept the Yankees out of Texas during the war.