The Native Americans of the Texas Edwards Plateau, 1582-1799

[ Regional/Texas ]

The Native Americans of the Texas Edwards Plateau, 1582-1799

By Maria F. Wade

Foreword by Thomas R. Hester

Maps by Don E. Wade

The first comprehensive ethnohistory of the Native groups that inhabited the Texas Edwards Plateau and surrounding areas during most of the Spanish colonial era.

Texas Archaeology and Ethnohistory Series



33% website discount price


7 x 10 | 319 pp. | 13 maps, 0 illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-292-79156-5


33% website discount price

This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.


7 x 10 | 319 pp. | 13 maps, 0 illustrated

ISBN: 978-0-292-79157-2

The region that now encompasses Central Texas and northern Coahuila, Mexico, was once inhabited by numerous Native hunter-gather groups whose identities and lifeways we are only now learning through archaeological discoveries and painstaking research into Spanish and French colonial records. From these key sources, Maria F. Wade has compiled this first comprehensive ethnohistory of the Native groups that inhabited the Texas Edwards Plateau and surrounding areas during most of the Spanish colonial era.

Much of the book deals with events that took place late in the seventeenth century, when Native groups and Europeans began to have their first sustained contact in the region. Wade identifies twenty-one Native groups, including the Jumano, who inhabited the Edwards Plateau at that time. She offers evidence that the groups had sophisticated social and cultural mechanisms, including extensive information networks, ladino cultural brokers, broad-based coalitions, and individuals with dual-ethnic status. She also tracks the eastern movement of Spanish colonizers into the Edwards Plateau region, explores the relationships among Native groups and between those groups and European colonizers, and develops a timeline that places isolated events and singular individuals within broad historical processes.

  • Foreword by Thomas R. Hester
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Note to the Reader
  • Chapter 1. A Move to Settle
  • Chapter 2. The Bosque-Larios Expedition
  • Chapter 3. A Move to Revolt
  • Chapter 4. The Mendoza-Lopez Expedition, 1683-1684
  • Chapter 5. A New Frontier: Tierra adentro, tierra afuera
  • Chapter 6. Hard Choices: The Apache, the Spaniard, and the Local Native Groups, 1700-1755
  • Chapter 7. The Price of Peace: Friends, Foes, and Frontiers
  • Chapter 8. Ethnohistory and Archaeology
  • Chapter 9. Conclusions: Weaving the Threads
  • Appendix. Translation of Documents
  • Notes
  • References Cited
  • Index

The Objective

Ethnohistory, as a field of study, has the singular position of being at the intersection of the disciplines of anthropology, history, and archaeology, taken in their broadest sense. Ethnohistory came of age because of a blind spot in the practices of anthropology and history. It emerged to fill the void that existed between anthropological and historical studies because of their failure to document the changes in Native life that occurred during the colonial encounter.

The archival text is the material base of ethnohistoric studies, but these texts were produced by the colonizing nations and present a biased view of historical events. Because ethnohistorians have to base their interpretations of history on the colonizer's documents, it is easy to slide into a perspective that subsumes Native history to European history.

The guiding objective of this work was to study the Native American groups that, between 1582 and 1799, lived in and utilized the physiographic region called the Edwards Plateau and related geographic areas. The evidence was obtained mainly from primary archival documents mostly generated by colonial Spain, but a few French documents were also used. Although the work is based on European recorded history, it attempts to reverse the usual perspective: it uses the role the Spanish and French played in Native history as a catalyst to analyze events in the history of Native Americans in Texas and Coahuila.

In disentangling the threads of Native American history from the fabric of colonial history, a great deal of primary archival research was necessary. In the process many documents were found that fill lacunae and clear misunderstandings about the early Franciscan work south and north of the Rio Grande. The letters of Fr. Larios and his companions are unique and invaluable sources on the Native groups and the environment. Among the documents found are a few pages of a diary of the Bosque-Larios expedition that appear to have been written not by Fernando del Bosque, but by Fr. Juan Larios.

But probably the biggest archival surprise was the material uncovered while researching the Mendoza-Lopez expedition. Apart from the confirmation, by a Native American, of contacts in Texas (1650) among the Spanish, the Jumano, and the Tejas, a new and very different version of the diary of the Mendoza-Lopez expedition was found. When compared with the other known versions of the diary, this version, which I assume to have been penned by Mendoza, raises fundamental questions about all other previous interpretations and introduces a great deal of historical uncertainty about the events surrounding the expedition. The archival material that relates to this expedition should impress upon the reader the ephemeral quality of historical interpretation and the absolute need for continued research.

As a result of the methodology practiced, this work reveals information about the ethnic identities of the Native groups that lived in and used the Edwards Plateau and related areas, their physical environment, and their sociocultural behavior.


The history of the Spanish colonization of Texas in the seventeenth century is intimately connected with the events that took place in other areas of northern New Spain, particularly in Coahuila and even in New Mexico. After Cabeza de Vaca, Coronado, and the De Soto-Moscoso penetrations in the sixteenth century, no concrete effort to conquer or contact Native populations was undertaken within the territory that would become modern Texas.

In the seventeenth century, the first Spanish entradas into west-central Texas resulted primarily from the efforts of Native groups on both sides of the Rio Grande to establish autonomous settlements and evade Spanish control over their lives. The early Christianizing endeavors of the Franciscan friars from Coahuila stemmed from those Native moves to settle, which began in Saltillo in 1658. Likewise, the first contacts (1630-1654) between New Mexico Franciscans and the Jumano groups in central Texas were the consequence of invitations by the Jumano to the Spanish to visit their lands and were grafted onto long-term trade relationships between Natives and Spanish.

The entradas from Coahuila and from New Mexico eventually resulted in conquest expeditions, respectively the 1675 Bosque-Larios expedition and the 1683-1684 Mendoza-Lopez expedition. These Spanish expeditions proved inconsequential to later full-fledged Spanish conquest endeavors in Texas, but they caused misgivings and disappointments among the Native populations contacted, and they soured future relations between Natives and Spanish.

The Franciscan mission-settlements established during the last two decades of the seventeenth century for Native groups that lived south and north of the Rio Grande were worthy religious efforts that produced a very mixed record. In times of conflict or economic stress, most Native groups accepted the refuge and help those enclaves provided, but few remained long enough to satisfy the Church and justify the Crown's investment. The conflicts among the various Franciscan provinces, the civilians, the military, and the Native groups, particularly over the control of the Native labor force and the usufruct of lands, did little to improve the mission record.

This book provides a timeline that spans the period between 1686 and 1750. The timeline has two functions: (1) it establishes historical context and highlights events that affected the Native groups studied, and (2) it is designed to reflect the importance of the actions of singular individuals within the long-term perspective of the sequence of events.

The arrival of the Apache in the seventeenth century preceded the actual establishment of Spanish settlements in Texas and proved to be the essential element in changing the Native human landscape in the territory. The two newcomers, Apache and Spaniard, wrestled for the bodies and souls of local Native groups, forcing them into submission or mission life: either way, the Native groups made alliances that compromised their ethnic and cultural identities.

We are far from deciphering the history of the Apache groups in Texas, and this book makes only a minor incision into a problem festering with assumptions. The Spanish political and military decisions made during the last four decades of the eighteenth century make the colonial history of the Apache east of the Medina River (Texas) and west of the Medina River (Coahuila) considerably different. The policy of Native mutual destruction advocated and practiced by Spanish officials, together with the private economic interests of individuals who supplied weaponry and gifts that fueled the wars among Apache, Comanche, and Norteños, created a collusion of interests that strangled the Apache. But the die had been cast: it would be up to the Comanche and the Norteños to impress upon the Spanish the dangers of unholy alliances.

The completed research permits the identification of twenty-one Native groups that occupied the Edwards Plateau region between 1673 and 1700. It is beyond the scope of this work to identify all the groups that lived in the Edwards Plateau after the onset of the eighteenth century.

Statements by the Jumano captain, Juan Sabeata, confirm that Jumano groups occupied the lands east of the Pecos and immediately west of the Colorado River, certainly from 1650 through 1684, and very probably from 1630 through the end of the 1690s. The evidence from the ethnohistorical record places Jumano groups within the geographic area normally considered as the heart of the archaeological Toyah culture during some of the time when the Toyah cultural manifestations are thought to have flourished. This fact does not necessarily mean that Jumano groups were associated with the Toyah archaeological manifestations, but their presence in the area raises the question of their association with the Toyah culture.

The Geographic Area of Study

All recorded contacts between Native populations and the Spanish within Texas between 1630 and 1684 took place in the general area of the Edwards Plateau. The physiographic region of the Edwards Plateau is a section of the Great Plains Physiographic Province as defined by Carr (1967). The definition of the physiographic area follows closely the geologic definition of the Edwards Plateau by Sellards, Adkins, and Plummer (1954).

Despite the fact that the Spanish entradas and expeditions traveled through a large portion of the Edwards Plateau, the historical conjunctures that connect those events were rooted in other areas of New Spain. Thus, in cultural terms the Edwards Plateau links Texas to territories closely connected with its history, such as New Mexico and the Mexican territories of Coahuila, Nueva Vizcaya, and Nuevo León. The historical connections between the Plateau and the regions to the north and southwest are clearly confirmed by the fact that those were the entry points of the early Spanish colonial expeditions.

For most of the time span covered in this work, Texas did not exist as a political entity. The events that took place within the modern Texas territory have to be addressed by freeing the landscape from its modern political boundaries.

Methodology and Conventions

Methods and Archives

The history of Native Americans in Texas usually has been treated as incidental to the history of the European colonial powers that occupied the Native lands. Such an approach, facilitated by the very nature of the historical records, has primarily produced a broad-stroke picture of the groups that occupied Texas and easternmost Coahuila in the early historic period. The production of a seamless history is appealing, but detrimental to research. Researchers and students alike often assume that the history of Texas and its people has already been unraveled and thus desist from further inquiry. That perception could not be further from the truth, particularly as it regards Texas Native groups.

The Native groups discussed in this work fall under the cultural assignation of hunters and gatherers, and their social structures and cultural achievements were (and often still are) viewed as simplistic. The archival information about these groups is fragmentary, disjointed, and reflective of the lack of value attributed by Europeans to the social and cultural practices of these groups. It is therefore argued that in order to study, analyze, and understand the behavior of the Native populations, the focus of research has to be the micro- or subtle event that is often taken for granted. The micro-event is often no more than an isolated document, a sentence, a word, or even the absence of a word. Once these singular and subtle pieces of evidence are considered for their potential importance, the researcher attempts to locate corroborating evidence to build and support an ethnohistoric interpretation.

The majority of historical documents that include information about Native American groups do not deal with Native issues. The documents only mention Native groups in passing, and the information transmitted is framed by the contextual knowledge possessed and assumed by the historical recorder and his contemporaries. Each document is a deliberate link in a chain of continuous events, experiences, and discussions that the modern ethnohistorian often cannot reconstruct. It is by piecing together information scattered throughout the documentary record, and placing it in context, that a mosaic can be constructed and a pattern discerned. Often there is not enough evidence to anchor a pattern, and the best that can be achieved is a delineation of possibilities with assumptions grafted onto the slim evidence.

The archival text should be treated by the researcher as a historical fact in itself. The life history of a document should be considered in the assessment of the historical evidence it contains. Letters between individuals produce a series of historical moments and relationships. The interpretation of these moments is made not only out of the various interrelated texts, but also out of the ambiguities created in the texts by marginal notations, corrections, and opinions.

Textual Interpretation

The Spain that colonized the Americas was an empire composed of many countries, which later became independent nations. The presence in New Spain of Castilians, Catalans, Basques, and Galicians as well as Italians, Portuguese, French, and Greeks—just to name a few—introduced many languages and dialects in the colonies under the linguistic umbrella of Spanish.

Language differences in the European countries that provided most of the documents considered in this study were, and continue to be, marked, politicized, and culturally very important. These language differences, and the particular cultural and environmental backgrounds that went along with them, affected what people heard and recorded, how they perceived the landscape, and what comparative models and cognitive maps they brought to bear on their descriptions of peoples and landscapes in the New World.

Regional differences within continental Spain were, and are, considerable. Vowels and consonants had, and have, different values; words present different spellings; and nouns and verbs for daily objects and activities are often quite dissimilar. Recorders and official scribes inscribed their social and linguistic background on the text. Most important, the mother language of the recorder affected the way he heard and recorded the names of Native groups.

Language differences are important when translating and interpreting archival documents, but they are probably easier to detect than differences in background. When and where individuals grew up could have considerable repercussions for their perception of the physical landscape. This becomes a serious problem when trying to relate the observer's descriptions to the environment of today, especially when dealing with such features as hills, creeks, rivers, and springs. The change in the environment, coupled with personal perceptions and cultural reference terms, leads to many conditional statements.

Documents were copied several times for different reasons and by different scribes, often with very different backgrounds. In some cases, when a document bearing the signature of the writer of the document is not available, it is difficult to tell which copy was the first one to be made from the original. Whatever errors appear in the first copy will persist. It is easy for a scribe to skip words, lines, or paragraphs, or change spellings, because the script was hard to read or because the spellings were considered incorrect at a later time. In this case, the corrected copies are said to be "castigated," from the Latin root meaning "to cut" (Jed 1989: 8, 12). Often these copies are certified to have been corrected and to be like the original. This, however, does not guarantee that the information in the document is pristine, and the certified copy may actually have been "castigated" and therefore not a faithful rendition of its original.

Some of the documents consulted were originals written on paper, while others were in microfilm form, photocopies of the original documents, or typed transcripts. All these types of documents, except typed transcripts, pose similar problems in terms of textual treatment. Typed transcripts are one step farther removed from the original, especially because it is often quite clear the transcriber was not familiar with the historical material and was thus prone to making errors.


It seems premature and unwise to place the Native groups that dwelled in northeasternmost Coahuila and modern Texas under the umbrella of "bands" or "tribes." Individually, these anthropological concepts carry specific sociocultural implications that may be inadequate to describe the social organization of the groups dealt with in this study (e.g., Firth 1958; Service 1958). The concept of group—two or more individuals who view themselves as constituting an aggregate—has the conceptual and anthropologic plasticity to allow researchers to designate such socially related aggregates as groups, and thus facilitate research for additional information about the nature of their social structure. The concept of group is both sufficient for the purpose of research and necessary in order to avoid misconceptions (e.g., Lee 1985: 54-57).

The concept of group encompasses two other dimensions that are particularly relevant for ethnohistorians, anthropologists, and archaeologists. There is a crucial conceptual difference between the group that is felt (the aggregate of individuals who see themselves as members of the group) and the group that is observed (the entity perceived by the observer, be it in the historic document, the ethnographic field setting, or the archaeological site). For this reason, among others, information obtained from Native American sources is always privileged over information provided by Europeans whose sources are not identified.

The concept of ethnicity has both singular and plural dimensions. At these two levels it articulates the individual to the community, and the community to the individual, through a sense of belonging expressed socially, culturally, and spiritually. The ethnic name is a synthetic and communal expression of real and perceived social ties, as well as accepted rights and duties. In reality, ethnicity is a cognitive map of belonging.

The word Native appears capitalized throughout the text because it is used with the same grammatical and lexical value as Portuguese or English. It denotes citizenship not in a country, but in a continent—the Americas. The word Indian is shunned because it results from a historical and geographic error committed by Columbus.

Native Names

Group names that appear in the body of the text are transcribed as they appear in the original documents. Variation in the spelling of Native names is not a mistake, but reflects the variation that appears in the historical documents. All Native group names are shown in the singular, except for a few Native groups that have been consistently known by their Spanish appellatives (for example, the Manos Prietas). The word Tejas (with a j) refers to the Caddo groups of east Texas; all references to the Texas territory use the word Texas (with an x). Exceptions to this rule are found in translations and quotations. Whenever possible, the word nation has been replaced by the word group.

Many Spanish proper names and nouns vary widely in spelling and in the use of diacritic marks. Because modern linguistic conventions did not apply to the documents consulted, this work reproduces the variation that exists in the archival documentation.

Maps and Routes

The maps (figures) that accompany the text include most of the places mentioned, except for those that could not be located or could not be accommodated due to limitations of space. To maintain clarity and legibility, places mentioned and included in maps in earlier chapters often are excluded from the maps of later chapters.

The translation, tracing, plotting, and mapping of the routes of the Spanish expeditions researched for this work (Espejo, Castaño de Sosa, Fr. Manuel, Bosque-Larios, and Mendoza-Lopez) followed specific guidelines and assumptions. The first guideline considers that distance and direction of travel constitute objective information, while description is subjective and generally depends on the perceptions and cultural background of the recorder. An exception to this is the presence of major, perennial landmarks or unique landscape features. Unique landmarks or features were used as anchor points in plotting the routes; otherwise, distance and direction of travel overrode physical features. Routes were adjusted if recorded landmarks had a high probability of being recognized; routes were not adjusted for environmental information that was not unique or perennial.

The second guideline considers that when the recorder used cardinal points (north, east, west, and south), the route taken could be within 45 degrees on either side of that cardinal point. If the recorder provided intermediate cardinal points (northeast, etc.), the direction of travel could vary 22.5 degrees on either side of the direction recorded. If the recorder discriminated further on the direction of travel (north-northeast, etc.), the actual direction could be 11.25 degrees on either side of that provided.

It has been assumed that prior to the widespread availability of horses, the primary constraint on the best and shortest routes for foot travelers was the availability of water sources. Most expeditions, if not all, used Native guides. These guides would be familiar with the location of water sources, but their water requirements for travel would be far less stringent than those of Spanish expeditions traveling on horseback. Horseback travel would require not only a different type of water source, but also the availability of adequate pasture. Native guides adjusted their routes to these constraints, as Sabeata made clear (Appendix). The routes used by travelers riding horses would be somewhat different from those used by foot travelers. In general, shorter, flatter, and less forested routes would be preferred. Once these routes were established, they would tend to be followed in later times by other expeditions and as stagecoach and railroad routes.

The problem of the determination of the value of the Spanish league through time is a thorny one (e.g., Anderson 1925; Chardon 1980; Haggard 1941: 78-79). However, after the seventeenth century the legal league (legua legal) was generally used throughout colonial Spain (Chardon 1980: 138, 144 Table 1). The "old" Spanish league is equivalent to 2.63 English statute miles, while the later Spanish league is equivalent to 2.59 English statute miles. Thus, like most authors, I have used the value of 2.6 miles to the Spanish league. For clarity and consistency, miles and leagues are expressed in numerals throughout.


To translate archival documents is to translate between cultures and across time, and the danger of misreading or misinterpretation is ever present. This danger increases exponentially when the documents report Native statements that are already the result of multilingual translations. Awareness of the danger does not diminish the potential pitfalls, nor should it preclude translation. Except when noted, all translations are my responsibility. It is not a responsibility that I took lightly nor one that I could evade: that's the nature of a commitment. It is my hope that this book serves the community of researchers on Native American history and aids in their work. Also, it is my sincere wish that the facts uncovered during this project will make Native Americans—and all Americans—proud.

Note to the Reader

The documents translated, paraphrased, and summarized in this book span almost 150 years. The Spanish (and French) texts produced during this period reflect deep changes in colonial paradigms, personal worldviews, and cultural and linguistic backgrounds as well as phonetic and lexical variations exhibited by a language searching for uniformity and standards. Add to these difficulties the physical condition of the documents, particularly the faded and almost illegible copies, and it becomes easy to understand why most scholars and translators choose to file away textual edges and produce a cohesive and seamless text, leading the reader to assume a textual clarity and transparency of meaning that are frequently illusory. These problems are most evident in the translations of source material published during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, because that was a period of frenetic efforts to make known a history hereto unknown or disregarded. Scholars (and their translators) such as Bancroft, Bolton, and Castañeda (not to single out anyone but to name just the most prominent) provided historians, anthropologists, and ethonohistorians not just with translated texts but also with intellectual leadership. Later, few scholars revisited or questioned the original translations and so reproduced, indefinitely, whatever errors, omissions, and misconceptions were present in the earlier works. Also, the clarity of the original texts, their immediacy, and the correctness of interpretation made by earlier scholars were (and are) taken for granted. Eugene Bolton would certainly be the first to question such research practices.

Unlike other scholars I chose to treat the archival documents in this book by keeping as close to the actual text as possible, and to maintain the language "flavor" and textual idiosyncrasies of each writer. This effort extends to phonetic, lexical, and grammatical choices. This practice results in texts whose structure feels awkward and foreign (as it should). Texts that I have paraphrased or summarized will, as far as possible, keep close to the word choice of the original writer, particularly if the words relate to cultural information (i.e., tejado dwellings versus zacate huts) or controversial issues (such as Fr. Manuel's trip to Texas).

As for the documents that I translated for the first time, or that I re-translated (specifically the travel diaries), I elected to translate the text by retelling it as an outside observer (participant-observer). This device allowed me to reorder the sentences and contextualize the subject being discussed without changing the information provided. This strategy also let me interject the travel diaries and hopefully produced a more fluid narrative without smoothing the incongruencies of the original text. To give the reader a concise idea of problems and the strategies I adopted, below is an example of the Mendoza-Lopez diary transcribed from the transcription available in the Center for American History:

== En veinte dias del dho mes y hano llegamos a heste paraxe que por nombre se le puso nra. Sra del transito ques en el rio del norte q [corrected in ink and replaced with the word que] con su lomeria hase un potrero y las hegas [corrected in ink and replaced with the words sus begas] habundantes de pasto y leña dista del paraxe de nra. Sra de la soledad hocho leguas poco mas oy meno parte [corrected in ink and replaced with the words o menos y en partes] tiera doblada y en medio ahi un ohjo Caliente y ase el dho ojo el dho rio hes la tierra yntratable poblada de halgunas rancherias el habrebadero es bueno en lo alto de una loma yse colocar una Sta crus y para que mexor corte [corrected in ink and replaced with the word coxte] lo firme ante mi con los testigos de mi asistencia en dho dia mes y haño. == (Mendoza 1684 p.40)

My translation, which omits the closing formula of most diary entries (y para que mexor . . . mes y haño), is as follows:

The party traveled southward and reached a spot they named Nuestra Señora del Transito, about 8 leagues (20.8 miles) distant from N.S. de la Soledad. The place was on the Rio Grande. A range of hills framed or defined the pastureland, with abundant low-lying pastures and plenty of wood. In some areas the land was rough (doblada). Between [the two named places or the range of hills?] there was a hot spring that made the river [actually the water of the spring ran into the Rio Grande, since the spring did not make the Rio Grande]. The water source (habrevadero) was good. The land was intractable. There were some rancherías of settled people. Mendoza had a cross placed on top of a hill.

There are language discrepancies between the diary entry in Províncias Internas (transcribed above) and the copy in Historia v. 298 that I followed. Some of these discrepancies reflect changes in spelling (hace, intractable, conste, año), and cases of interchangeable consonants such as b and v and g and x (parage, vegas, abrevadero).

To some this attention to detail may seem unwarranted, but it is through such practices that the researcher comes to know the writer and can detect statements that appear out of character. That is how I knew it was unlikely that version L had been written by Juan Dominguez Mendoza.


By Maria F. Wade

Maria F. Wade is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.

"This is truly an exceptional work.... It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Native people of Texas by introducing new information from previously unused sources and fresh English translations of known documents."

—William C. Foster, author of Spanish Expeditions into Texas, 1689-1768

2003 Texas Old Missions and Forts Restoration Association Book Award
Texas Catholic Historical Society

2004 Finalist: Friends of the Dallas Public Library Award for Book Making the Most Significant Contribution to Knowledge
Texas Institute of Letters