A thoroughly revised and expanded edition of the authoritative history of Spanish Texas, which presents important new discoveries about Indians and women in early Texas.
Series: Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Endowment, Number Fourteen
Modern Texas, like Mexico, traces its beginning to sixteenth-century encounters between Europeans and Indians who contested control over a vast land. Unlike Mexico, however, Texas eventually received the stamp of Anglo-American culture, so that Spanish contributions to present-day Texas tend to be obscured or even unknown. The first edition of Spanish Texas, 1519–1821 (1992) sought to emphasize the significance of the Spanish period in Texas history. Beginning with information on the land and its inhabitants before the arrival of Europeans, the original volume covered major people and events from early exploration to the end of the colonial era.
This new edition of Spanish Texas has been extensively revised and expanded to include a wealth of discoveries about Texas history since 1990. The opening chapter on Texas Indians reveals their high degree of independence from European influence and extended control over their own lives. Other chapters incorporate new information on La Salle's Garcitas Creek colony and French influences in Texas, the destruction of the San Sabá mission and the Spanish punitive expedition to the Red River in the late 1750s, and eighteenth-century Bourbon reforms in the Americas. Drawing on their own and others' research, the authors also provide more inclusive coverage of the role of women of various ethnicities in Spanish Texas and of the legal rights of women on the Texas frontier, demonstrating that whether European or Indian, elite or commoner, slave owner or slave, women enjoyed legal protections not heretofore fully appreciated.
- Introduction to the Second Edition
- 1. Texas: Geography and First People
- 2. Explorers and Conquistadors, 1519-1543
- 3. The Northward Advance toward Texas, 1543-1680
- 4. Río Grande Focus and the French Challenge in Texas, 1680-1689
- 5. International Rivalry and the East Texas Missions, 1689-1714
- 6. The Spanish Occupation of Texas, 1714-1722
- 7. Retrenchment, Islanders, and Indians, 1722-1746
- 8. Mission, Presidio, and Settlement Expansion, 1746-1762
- 9. The Changing International Scene and Life in Texas, 1762-1783
- 10. Anglo-American Encroachments and Texas at the Turn of a Century, 1783-1803
- 11. The Twilight of Spanish Texas, 1803-1821
- 12. The Legacies of Spanish Texas
- Appendix 1. Governors of Spanish Texas, 1691-1821
- Appendix 2. Commandants General of the Interior Provinces, 1776-1821
- Appendix 3. Viceroys of New Spain, 1535-1821
Spain's presence off the Texas Gulf Coast began in 1519 with the voyage of Alonso Álvarez de Pineda. Its direct influence over significant parts of the present Lone Star State, sporadic until 1716, lasted until 1821, when Texas became part of the newly independent Mexican nation. When the first edition of Spanish Texas, 1519-1821 was published in 1992, no adequate one-volume synthesis of the Spanish, Indian, and French experiences in Texas, or any consideration of their legacies lasting beyond 1821, existed in any language. The book helped challenge a misguided notion that the colonial period—aside from six restored missions, one reconstructed presidio, and a few other old buildings—is a colorful but largely irrelevant chapter in Texas's past.
Research for the first edition of Spanish Texas ended around 1990. Since then the history of colonial Texas has become much richer, thanks to the work of many historians, archeologists, and anthropologists. For example, approximately a dozen books on Texas Indians appeared between 1990 and 2008. Highlighting that scholarship was the appearance of David La Vere's The Texas Indians (2004), the first comprehensive overview of Texas's earliest human inhabitants since the publication of W. W. Newcomb Jr.'s book with an identical main title in 1961. Then, in 2007 Julianna Barr's Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands provided a capstone monograph that emphasized indisputable Indian dominance in Spanish Texas that continued into post-1821 Texas history. Several other important works from this era of scholarship are cited in the chapter notes.
As the target date drew near for submitting the second edition manuscript to the University of Texas Press, we received permission from Pekka Hämäläinen to use information from his manuscript “The Comanche Empire,” subsequently published by Yale (2008) while our own work was in press. Where possible, we have incorporated this "landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way."
Barr and Hämäläinen have challenged "top-down narratives that depict Indians as bit players in imperial struggles or tragic victims of colonial expansion." They are in the vanguard of many scholars who now portray Indians "as full-fledged historical actors who played a formative role in the making of early America." Both historians acknowledge the importance of Madrid, Mexico City, and Versailles in formulating colonial policies that flowed outward from such metropolitan centers, but present much more nuanced and balanced accounts of Euro-Indian relations.
Another recent focus in early Texas history is the increased attention given to the role of French men and women. French presence in the future Lone Star State began with the settlement established by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in 1685. There the first French-born women set foot on Texas soil, and there the first non-Indian child drew her initial breath in what would be a tragically short life. Aside from La Salle, French individuals who played important roles in Texas history included Henri Tonti, the children of Lucien and Isabelle Planteau Talon, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, Athanase de Mézières, and French expatriates at the short-lived Champ d'Asile.
With the exception of direct quotations, this book contains no reference to Texas Indians as "Native Americans" or "indigenous people," or to members of the Hasinai Confederation as the "Tejas Indians." We have borrowed the term "First People" from our Canadian neighbors to the north and used it as a synonym for early Homo sapiens in the Western Hemisphere. Every human being in the Americas, past and present, is either an immigrant or the descendant of one. In short, there were no Native Americans or indigenous people who were primal ancestors of modern man in the New World. It is also a common misnomer to use the word Tejas when referring to Hasinai people of that confederation, because in the Caddo language what the Spanish came to render as Tejas was actually a word spoken to them as a greeting or salutation. Although most Indians called themselves "The People" in their own language, they are commonly known by those words as heard by Europeans and then recorded in European languages. In other instances, Indians are identified by a variant of what other First People called them, whether friend or foe. The Lipan Apache called themselves Tindi, but their more commonly recognized tribal name likely derived from the Zuni word Apachu, meaning "enemy." The name Comanche probably came from the Ute word Komántcia—again meaning "enemy," or, perhaps literally, "anyone who wants to fight me all the time."
This edition of Spanish Texas has a co-author, marking the third collaborative effort of Donald E. Chipman and Harriett Denise Joseph. Denise Joseph has lived in Brownsville, Texas, on the border of the United States and Mexico, for more than thirty years, and has taught Texas history for more than twenty of those years at Texas Southmost College/the University of Texas at Brownsville. Somewhat ironically, Donald Chipman has never had the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course on Spanish Texas, a subject on which he has researched and published since the mid-1980s. As someone who has spent decades in the trenches, as academicians like to joke about those who stand and deliver lectures to large classes, Denise added an invaluable perspective to this book, as well as contributing her own words and a sharp editorial eye.
We believe readers of Spanish Texas will be rewarded by encountering a tightly written and sharply focused narrative. And there is much that is new in this second edition. The first chapter has been almost entirely restructured to include significantly more material on prehistoric Indians and First People at the dawn of European contact. We substantially revised large portions of the text to incorporate the latest scholarship on colonial Texas, and added five new illustrations.
Since the first edition of this book appeared in 1992, during the Columbian Quincentenary, both of us have been engaged in ongoing scholarship. In 1992 we undertook a seven-year project that focused on Texas's colonial personalities. That cooperative effort was published in 1999 by the University of Texas Press under the title Notable Men and Women of Spanish Texas. During that time, Chipman continued to serve as an advisory editor and contributor to the six-volume New Handbook of Texas (1996), the largest publication project in the history of the Lone Star State. We then collaborated on a work for young readers, entitled Explorers and Settlers of Spanish Texas (2001), that is largely derivative of our first joint effort.
At the University of North Texas, Chipman directed doctoral dissertations on colonial Texas topics by Jeffrey D. Carlisle, Carol A. Lipscomb, and Jean A. Stuntz. All have contributed to a more complete understanding of Spanish Texas, and their work is cited in the chapter notes.
This second edition also places much greater emphasis than did the first on the role of women in Spanish Texas. Joseph's research in the Béxar Archives helped flesh out the status of women of varying ethnicity in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Texas history. Although this was a time of male dominance, women, aided by Spanish law and its enforcement by conscientious governors, experienced significant protection of their rights in frontier Texas. This topic has also received attention in the work of legal expert Joseph McKnight and historians Charles Cutter and Jean Stuntz.
The aforementioned book by Julianna Barr has added new information on and insights into the role of Indian women as peace emissaries in Texas. Barr posited that men were so identified as combatants that it hampered their efforts to resolve disputes with other First People and Europeans by means other than violence. She has likewise provided new insights into the latitude or "room" insisted on by Indians at San Antonio's five missions. Although not autonomous, neophytes managed their lives and affairs much more than has been suggested in earlier works. We addressed Barr's findings in Chapter 9.
Since the publication of this book's first edition, excavations by archeologists of the Texas Historical Commission at the site of La Salle's colony on Garcitas Creek, and the earlier discovery of the French explorer's sunken ship, the Belle, in Matagorda Bay have been the most dramatic events in early Texas history. The importance and significance of material culture recovered from both sites are discussed in Chapter 12.
The first author was privileged to visit the cofferdam that enclosed the Belle while recovery of its artifacts was under way; the laboratory and storage facility of the ship's contents at Palacios, Texas; the Texas Historical Commission's headquarters for excavations at Garcitas Creek in Victoria, Texas; the Texas A&M University Conservation Research Lab; and the site of La Salle's Texas colony and the Spanish presidio commonly known as La Bahía. One can read the contributions of other scholars who research and write on colonial Texas and one can pore over archival materials from Texas, Spanish, and Mexican collections, but there is nothing quite like touching French cannon buried for 307 years, seeing the incredible richness and variety of the Belle's artifacts, or viewing the skull of an unfortunate French colonist who went to a watery grave in Matagorda Bay. Those experiences lent immediacy and poignancy to Texas's past.
This second edition has also permitted us to correct errors that appeared in the first and in subsequent printings of Spanish Texas. Over the years, the book's reviewers, fellow teachers who have used the book in their classes on Texas history, and our students have made known to us inadvertent slips in dates and diacritical markings, as well as a few factual mistakes. If such shortcomings again escape our eyes and those of our editors, we nevertheless hope that a new and expanded edition of this book will receive some of the acclaim accorded the original work since 1992. We also take satisfaction in noting that Randolph Campbell made liberal use of Spanish Texas in writing the first chapters of his Gone to Texas (2003), the most comprehensive and accurate one-volume work on the Lone Star State.
It is common practice in an introduction to summarize the contents of chapters that follow, but we will depart from custom. The text is arranged chronologically, and after the era of La Salle in Texas, chapter topics receive coverage in segments of approximately twenty years.
Our rendering of Spanish names in the text, appendices, notes, and bibliography deserves mention. We have tried to use the most commonly recognized names in the English-speaking world. For example, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado was known to his associates as Francisco Vázquez, because the latter part of his name was patronymic. Accuracy aside, he is referred to in this book as Coronado. On the other hand, it is not acceptable to shorten Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca to Álvar Núñez, because he consistently referred to himself with the matrilineal name of Cabeza de Vaca. Similarly, we have used Fernando for the first name of Cortés, rather than Hernán or Hernando, because that is how he signed his name.
Throughout the book, we have made a conscious effort to be accurate but sensible in the placement of diacritical markings. Rio Grande commonly bears no accent in an English-language context. However, for reasons of consistency, such as in a sentence that would contain both Río Sabinas and Rio Grande, we have chosen to place an accent on the í on all occasions. We have used conventional spellings, without diacritics, for country names and major cities (Mexico, Mexico City) but retain the diacritics for political and geographic divisions at the subnational level (Yucatán, Michoacán).
Finally, we believe the history of Spanish Texas deserves far more attention that is traditionally accorded it. The few thousand subjects of Spanish monarchs who were associated with the province known as Tejas demonstrated extraordinary loyalty to their king, and they did so under often trying circumstances. Cabeza de Vaca, our favorite Spaniard in Texas, displayed remarkable growth of character during an incredible ordeal and adventure that spanned nearly eight years. He entered Texas in 1528 with the pride and arrogance of a Spanish don. He departed having leaned a fundamental truth. Stripped of his worldly trappings, traveling, in his words, as "naked as the day he was born," he came to accept the brotherhood of human beings.
Early Texas history has been enriched by Indian, Spanish, and French influences. We believe these pioneer men and women helped create an exciting colonial past that rivals or surpasses the history of any state in any nation, and our version of that past unfolds in the following pages.
Denton and Brownsville, Texas, March 2008
To walk the boundaries of modern Texas would require a trek of more than 3,800 miles, circumscribing a remarkably diverse land of 267,338 square miles. Within this vast area are rivers and mountains, deserts and woodlands, plains and basins. The physical dimensions of contemporary Texas have led scholars such as D. W. Meinig to use the word "imperial" in describing the size and importance of the Lone Star State. Even when writing about only the eastern two-thirds of Texas, where African-American slavery thrived in the antebellum period, Randolph B. Campbell called that region “an empire for slavery” in his book by the same name, for it equaled in size the combined states of Alabama and Mississippi.
By contrast, Hispanic Texas as a physical unit comprised far less than the totality of the present state of Texas, but the province—known to the Spanish as Tejas or the New Kingdom of the Philippines—was nevertheless imperial in size. It lay north of the Medina River and east of its headwaters, extending into present-day Louisiana. However, throughout the three centuries during which Spain laid claim to Texas, its soldiers, missionaries, settlers, and pathfinders traversed every major physiographic region of the modern state.
The authors of a recent book on Texas geography have chosen to emphasize the "formal plurality of Texas rather than its functional unity." They point out that the landscape of Texas decreases in elevation from north to south, while rainfall increases from west to east. The overall land configuration tilts gently to the southeast, as evidenced by the flow of all major rivers as they make their way to the Gulf of Mexico (see Figure 1). Aside from these broad observations, Texas requires analysis by particulars rather than generalizations.
Four physiographic regions of the United States are found in Texas: the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain, Interior Lowlands, Great Plains, and Basin and Range or Intermontane Plateaus (see Figure 2). One of the largest of them in Texas is the Gulf Coast Plain, wherein lay the heartland of the Hispanic settlement. It makes up the eastern and southern regions of the state, and until recent geologic epochs much of it was inundated by the Gulf of Mexico. The western and southern boundary of this huge land mass is the Balcones Escarpment, running roughly eastward from Val Verde County on the Río Grande to San Antonio and Austin, where it bends northward. Because the entire Texas coast has recently (in geologic times) been uplifted from the Gulf of Mexico, the shoreline is characterized by poorly drained marshlands, shallow bays, and offshore barrier islands, such as Galveston and Padre.
In colonial times the Río Grande, or Río del Norte, as Spaniards often called it, carried a formidable volume of water with swift and dangerous currents. Spaniards reported that at flood stage or high volume the river was navigable by shallow-draft vessels for a distance from the coast of more than 100 miles. But early settlements at San Antonio, La Bahía (after 1726), and Nacogdoches all had to be supplied by land. The general absence of navigable rivers leading into the interior, especially from Matagorda Bay, was a significant impediment to Spanish colonization of Texas.
The Interior Lowlands region extends southward from the Great Lakes, and the southern limits lie entirely within Texas. In North Texas this region is commonly called the North Central Plains. The western portion of this landform is defined by the Cap Rock Escarpment, which very roughly divides the Texas Panhandle along a north-south axis.
A third physiographic region of the United States also encompasses a sizable portion of the Lone Star State. Lying immediately east of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains region occupies the northern and western portions of the Texas Panhandle. Here it is also known as the High Plains, or Llano Estacado. Many Texans insist on "Staked Plain" as a translation for Llano Estacado, but it should be rendered as "Stockaded" or "Palisaded Plain." Spaniards first approached the Cap Rock from the west, and it gave the impression that it arose in the distance like a line of pales. The Cap Rock is one of the most striking landforms in all of Texas. Its spectacular canyons and sheer cliffs of colorful rocks, especially at Palo Duro Canyon in present-day Randall County, have been a source of amazement for viewers from early historic times to the present. By contrast, the High Plains themselves are noted for the absence of identifiable land features. This phenomenon was also a source of wonderment and anxiety for Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, who navigated an apparently endless sea of grass by magnetic compass. At times the Spanish captain logged distances traveled each day by making a poor foot soldier count every step taken by his horse!
The Great Plains region broadens like an anchor as it extends into southwestern Texas. Commonly known as the Edwards Plateau, this portion of the region as it protrudes into northern Mexico is bordered on the east by the Gulf Coast Plain and on the west by the Intermontane Plateaus. The Edwards Plateau itself ranges in elevation from about 850 feet along its eastern side to approximately 4,000 feet at the base of mountains to the west. Much of the plateau appears as level or gently rolling land, but its southern and eastern limits in the uplands of the Balcones fault zone are extremely rugged. Springs, creeks, and rivers have eroded and dissolved limestone strata, and the plateau loses its identity in the Hill Country of Central Texas. The Llano Basin, lying to the east of the Edwards Plateau and north of the Balcones Escarpment, has been eroded by the Colorado River and its tributaries. It is characterized by outcrops of ancient rock from the Paleozoic and pre-Cambrian eras, as well as hilly terrain in the southwestern portion.
West of the Edwards Plateau lies the Basin and Range Province. Situated west of the Pecos River, this physiographic unit contains the extreme southern portion of the Rocky Mountain System and constitutes the western extremity of Texas. Herein are found the true mountains and deserts of Texas. If one excludes this region from the Rocky Mountain complex, as some geomorphologists do, then Texas has the highest landform east of the Rocky Mountains. Rising to 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak is just one of the many mountain clusters found in the trans-Pecos region. The mountains there vary in geologic age from the Lower Paleozoic to the Permian and Cretaceous, but all of them share a common landscape feature: they are surrounded by extensive desert terrain that rises on mountain slopes to approximately 5,000 feet.
Of the four major physiographic regions of the United States found in Texas, the Basin and Range was least known to Spanish settlers. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions skirted part of its western extremities in the 1530s, and travelers to and from New Mexico followed the upper Pecos River into the Toyah Basin country, but overall this area did not attract Spanish settlements except in the environs of El Paso del Norte. Even today, with the exception of El Paso, the huge counties of extreme southwestern Texas—some of which are larger than either of the two smallest states in the United States—are among the least populated of the 254 political units that make up the Lone Star State.
With its immense physical size, Texas was a formidable challenge to Spanish colonization. It seems certain that nowhere on the North American continent did the king's subjects encounter a land with greater contrasts in soil, biota, climate, and human inhabitants. For example, soil surveys of Texas counties have identified more than 800 different compositions. Spanish settlers quickly recognized that they had entered a diverse and fertile land with great potential for agriculture, especially when compared to the northern regions of Mexico. In areas of Texas where annual rainfall and seasonal distribution were adequate, crops of corn, wheat, potatoes, and beans prospered. However, dependable farming at San Antonio required irrigation. But even in East Texas, where average precipitation exceeded forty inches and irrigation was unnecessary, farming did not develop to its fullest potential (see Figure 3). There, remoteness from other Spanish settlements, the lack of developed roads, and the general absence of trade with New Spain proper kept agriculture at a roughly subsistence level.
Texas geographers have noted that Spaniards and later Mexicans coped well with semiarid conditions in Texas—better, in fact, than Anglo-American and other European settlers did—but not so well in the pine woods of East Texas. There is merit to these observations, because Spaniards had long experience in dealing effectively with drought conditions. One sees little evidence in colonial records of Spaniards remarking on anything unusual about the landscape of northern Mexico, or even about the countryside near San Antonio. Both regions reminded them of Spain and did not evoke unfavorable comments, but quite the opposite was the case when they entered East Texas.
As the Spanish quickly discovered, the countryside near Nacogdoches "was a very different sort of place." It lay within the forests of East Texas with no open prairies within one hundred miles, which meant that ranching in the manner to which the Spanish were accustomed was not possible. Worse, the sandy soil in this heavily wooded area made profitable agriculture almost impossible. And because the bison range also lay well to the west, Indians at the early missions in the region were gone for days at a time during their hunts.
Ironically, early travelers had reported favorably on the landscape in East Texas. This apparent anomaly can probably be explained by remembering that these people were just passing through the region and did not intend to stay there. In diaries and letters from the seventeenth century, Hispanic observers commented on the dense and varied vegetation of East Texas. The profusion of trees left them pondering species, because they recognized so few of them. In 1690 Alonso de León also commented on the abundance of bison and other game in the area. It especially impressed him that the First People living there had fields containing bounteous crops of corn, beans, squash, watermelons, and cantaloupes.
After permanent Spanish reoccupation of East Texas in the 1720s, a diarist entering the area from Coahuila also set down his impressions of the region. Prior to his arrival at a mission site, the observer's remarks about the environment centered on being attacked by "an intolerable plague of mosquitoes of enormous numbers" as he passed puddles of water north of the Río Grande. On reaching his destination in East Texas, however, he marveled at the variety of trees, of which he could identify only oaks, pines, and persimmons. In addition to large numbers of bison and deer, there were bears, much valued by the Indians for their fat, as well as rats the size of young rabbits that were regarded as food. The profusion of birds likewise drew the chronicler's attention, and he recorded hearing a "nocturnal bird"—probably a screech owl—with a cry so mournful that it produced melancholia. Finally, the diarist wrote about rivers and creeks teeming with fishes of unfamiliar species.
Reports of unusual fauna encountered in northern Mexico and Texas would intrigue King Charles III (1759-1788), who was renowned for his wide range of interests. In the late 1770s, one of his most capable officials in America, Teodoro de Croix, tried on at least two occasions to send bison to Spain at Charles's request and expense. A male and female, apparently calves, died in transit in 1778. The following year Croix tried again with two other bison, each about six months old, that were captured in Texas and sent south toward Mexico City. Croix also had deer from New Mexico sent to officials in the capital. Whether these animals reached Spain is uncertain, but they are good examples of unique New World species intended for the king's pleasure.
Although interesting to the king and explorers, soil conditions, unfamiliar biota, and the varying climate had only limited influence on Spanish settlements in Texas, because all were planned by the king and his agents, usually with the intent of achieving specific military, political, and spiritual objectives. This is not to suggest that squatters and itinerant drifters were absent from Spanish Texas. Persons of that nature were more common than uncommon in East Texas, and they were even present in small numbers at San Antonio. For the most part, however, Spanish entries into Texas were carried out under royal license or with the formal approval of officials in New Spain. Those restrictions applied to early land expeditions led by Alonso de León, Domingo Ramón, Martín de Alarcón, and the marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, as well as to sea expeditions captained by Andrés de Pez and Martín de Rivas. Even the formation of the first official civilian government at San Antonio was the product of crown planning. With few exceptions, Spanish subjects went where they were directed to go. They could also be told where not to live, as evidenced by the forced evacuation of civilians from East Texas in the 1770s. Thus, perceptions of land, flora, fauna, and climate figured far less importantly in the Spanish experience than imperial directives.
In Hispanic Texas, climate likewise seems not to have had a major influence on settlement patterns, although Spaniards were not so stoic that weather conditions escaped their attention. Average temperatures, significantly cooler in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than today, occasioned many comments. For example, Cabeza de Vaca remarked on the bitter cold of the Galveston Bay area during the winter of 1528-1529. He was the first person to record a "norther" in Texas, a weather phenomenon known from present-day Dalhart to Brownsville. These cold fronts sweep down in winter from western Canada and the northern plains, often bringing sharp drops in temperature and freezing precipitation in their wake. During Cabeza de Vaca's attempts to reach New Spain in the 1530s, he saved his life during a siege of cold weather in South Texas by finding embers—probably caused by a lightning strike—and stoking them to a fire. Similarly, the Coronado expedition, while camped in the Cap Rock canyons of West Texas, experienced a hailstorm with stones "as big as bowls and even bigger and as thick as raindrops." Weather phenomena such as this are still common in Texas.
Despite the extremes of weather noted by Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado, the Spaniards generally perceived much of Texas as having a climate similar to Spain’s. One observer in 1730 saw little difference between the two lands except in the southern part of Texas, where the climate was almost subtropical. There, in the words of Francisco Álvarez de Barriero, when the sun reached its apex, "the heat is insupportable," especially along the coast, where physical discomfort was greatly worsened by plagues of mosquitoes. To be sure, Spaniards on occasion complained of drought, heat, cold, flies, ticks, mosquitoes, wind, rain, hail, and snow. Texans today express similar complaints, but at least they have greater control over their environment and where they live than the king's subjects did. The remoteness of settlements in Spanish Texas, the nature of soil and terrain, the biological makeup of a region, and the extremes of climate all affected the quality of life. But the sum total of these circumstances, even under the most adverse conditions, paled in significance when compared with the actual and perceived dangers of occupying a land already claimed by First People, and contesting them for its control.
In carrying out land and sea explorations, military campaigns, and missionary enterprises, Spaniards encountered people who had hunted and farmed the land, fished the creeks, rivers, and shorelines, and gathered the fruits of nature for thousands of years. The Indian cultures of Texas, many of which no longer existed by the time Europeans permanently settled the province, were perhaps as varied as the landscape itself.
The first arrivals on the North American continent were immigrants, like the millions of others who have followed. As mentioned in the introduction, there are no "Native Americans," if those words mean that the dawn of human presence in America began in America. Instead, there is much evidence that this distinction belongs to East Africa. From those primitive beginnings millions of year ago there eventually came the species Homo sapiens.
The earliest Americans possessed the physical form and intellectual capabilities of modern men and women, but scholars do not agree "on where and how these first peoples arrived in this hemisphere." One of the best-known theories contends that they emigrated from Siberia to Alaska some 18,000 to 20,000 years ago. At that time, in the Pleistocene geologic epoch, great quantities of the world's oceans were locked up in ice sheets that in some places may have been more than two miles thick. Accordingly, sea levels probably dropped more than 300three hundred feet below present levels. As a result, a land bridge estimated to have been fifty-five miles long and a thousand miles wide surfaced from East Asia to Alaska at the Bering Strait. The first arrivals in North America almost certainly walked across this land bridge, called Beringia. In all likelihood, the first Americans had no idea they had entered a new continent. They simply followed and killed wild game such as reindeer or caribou for sustenance as they moved southward.
These initial migrants began a wave of migration that continued to cross Beringia for several millennia. After the first crossing, it took perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 years for these early Americans to reach the southern Great Plains and enter present-day Texas. Those first humans arrived approximately 12,000 years ago, and it took them until 7,000 to 8,000 years before the present to occupy much of the modern-day state. These ancient Indians, called Paleo-Indians by archeologists, were the first true Texans.
When these first Texans entered the Panhandle, they depended on big game for their livelihood. The region then looked quite different from the present. Rainfall was heavier, summers were cooler, and winters were warmer. Savannas of tall grass attracted grazing animals such as mammoths and giant bison. Nonetheless, "killing a mammoth, the prehistoric elephant whose name became synonymous with 'huge,' was an awesome challenge for early big game hunters on the Texas plains." The hunters were advantaged by having learned to flake flint rock into beautiful, fluted projectile points. These spearheads were then lashed onto a shaft whose length was extended by adding a carved wooden or stone spear thrower called an atlatl. Using an atlatl had the effect of lengthening the throwing arm of a hunter, allowing one to launch a spear with tremendous force into the vital organs of a mammoth. Even so, these animals were so large and dangerous that hunters probably preferred to target injured or young animals.
Early hunters in Texas soon found it easier to kill ancient bison than mammoths. Those prehistoric animals were different in appearance and a bit larger than their modern counterparts. They had huge skulls and long, straight horns. Prehistoric bison were nonetheless much smaller than the elephant-like mammoth. And there was an even greater advantage in hunting bison, because they were much more numerous than mammoths and ranged well south of the Panhandle into other parts of Texas. Remains of bison with clear evidence that they were killed by First People have been found near modern-day Waco, Austin, Kerrville, and even as far removed from the Panhandle as Uvalde. It seems likely that men, physically stronger than women, did the stalking and killing of big game animals, but women probably helped with the butchering of carcasses and curing of hides.
For reasons that remain unclear, such megafauna as mammoths, long-horned bison, camels, giant sloths, and direwolves were destined to die out. Possible explanations for their demise include hotter and drier weather that reduced lush savannas, resulting in insufficient food to remain healthy and reproduce. There is also an intriguing theory that the larger an animal, the longer its gestation period. For example, the mammoth had an estimated gestation of two and one-half years—much too long to ensure their numbers when faced with diminished food sources and hunters capable of killing them.
Early Texans faced with changes in climate and diminished food supply had to make changes or die, and so adapt they did. They continued to hunt smaller animals like deer and rabbits, but men and women also gathered food items such as edible plants, berries, and nuts. Around 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, people in Texas entered a new stage, called the Archaic by archeologists, and started down the road toward historic times. The Archaic era would last about 6,000 years and end some 2,500 years before the present.
By studying fossilized feces (coprolites) at Hinds Cave in present-day Valverde County, archeologists have found convincing evidence of First People mixing hunting and gathering for sustenance. Some 6,000 years ago, occupants of the cave ate at least twenty-three animals and twenty-two plants. Meat came from deer, rabbits, raccoons, coyotes, snakes, birds, lizards, rats, and mice. Vegetable fare included hackberries, persimmons, grapes, wild onions, grass seeds, and the fruit of prickly pear cactus (tunas). Since the bow and arrow were still unknown to them, smaller animals were probably clubbed to death by hunters.
These prefarming cultures began to add material possessions that improved their quality of life. For example, gatherers needed containers for collecting and transporting berries and nuts, and they solved this problem by making baskets from leaves and fibers of yucca and sotol plants. Cordage was also woven into snares and netting, used to catch fish and birds. Perhaps most important of all were crude sandals that protected the feet of foragers and hunters, who often had to cross rough terrain and jagged rocks.
The most difficult time for these prehistoric Texans undoubtedly came in winter, when they were forced to live on meat alone or starve. Like all humans, they probably called on supernatural forces to aid them in their time of need. The interpreters and solicitors of supernatural intercession were shamans. These shamans, probably influenced by hallucinogenic drugs such as mescal beans or peyote, professed visions of successful hunts. This is dramatically illustrated by rock art that depicts impaled animals, as well as humans pierced by spears—the latter most likely reflecting victory in warfare. However, the most spectacular example of Texas rock art is a panther, fifteen feet long from the tip of its tail to its nose, found on a wall of Panther Cave in Val Verde Country (see Figure 4).
For early Texans, hunting and gathering remained the mode of acquiring food for more than 5,000 years. Unobserved in the short life span of First People was a gradual warming and drying of the climate that began about 7,000 years ago. This resulted in the rise of sea levels by more than 300 feet as the polar ice caps melted and released water into the oceans. Eventually Beringia, the path between East Asia and Alaska, slipped beneath the ocean, thereby ending foot traffic between the two continental land masses.
Approximately 1,500 years prior to the present, a revolution in agriculture began. Agriculture would be of unparalleled importance from that time forward. As anthropologist Richard MacNeish has observed, agriculture was the "decisive step [that] freed people from the quest for food and released energy for other pursuits." In a land as large as Texas, quite naturally not all First People took up farming, for a variety of reasons. For bison hunters on the Southern Great Plains, tilling the soil was an alien lifestyle. Likewise, farming was not feasible for coastal Indians, because saltwater intrusions killed most plant life and made agriculture impossible. Nonetheless, where farming did develop, food supplies beyond the dietary needs of those tending and harvesting crops permitted the rise of creative talents such as basket weaving and pottery making. Also, some creative genius with time to think and experiment invented the bow and arrow around A.D. 1000, or perhaps a bit earlier.
The Caddos in present-day East Texas were the first Texas Indians to adopt an essentially agricultural way of life. Their name, Caddo, came from the French abbreviation for Kadohadacho, meaning "real chief" in their dialect. These First People and their forbears would be undisturbed by Europeans for at least 3,500 years. Direct influences that would eventually change the hunting and gathering lifestyle of Caddos began with "the introduction of horticulture into the Mississippi Valley from Mesoamerica sometime around 500 B.C." During the next millennium, a culture known as the Mississippian dominated the eastern part of North America, with the Caddos positioned at its westernmost extent. Like their Mississippian progenitors, the Caddos came to depend on crops of corn, sunflowers, beans, squash, and pumpkins.
The transition from hunting and gathering to more reliance on crops of corn and several varieties of beans was a slow process, and one in which women were at the forefront of the workforce. Caddo men probably helped clear fields for planting but were reluctant to give up their bows and arrows and the excitement of the hunt to take up digging sticks. Over time, since women planted seeds, watered the shoots, pulled weeds, frightened away crows and deer, and collected the harvest, their importance in Caddo society increased significantly.
Assessing the increased role of women in Caddo society should be approached with caution. Men primarily wielded political power and leadership, although a few women became chiefs. However, as in most First People societies, when males were away on hunting, raiding, or warring expeditions, women assumed increased authority over daily affairs. Caddo women, as in many other Texas Indian groups, decided whether captives were set free, enslaved, or tortured and killed. Since the Caddos were a matrilineal society, with the family name passed on by the mother and not the father, this too reflects the importance of women.
The more sedentary lifestyle of the Caddos allowed them to build well-constructed houses made of grass and plant fibers that resembled a huge beehive or stack of hay. And although the size of dwellings reflected one's rank in society, on average they were still impressive. Many of them soared to forty or fifty feet in height, with a width of around sixty feet. Included along the interior walls were canopied beds positioned a few feet above dirt floors that contained mats or rugs of woven materials. In the center of each residence burned a perpetual flame, probably because it was easier to feed a fire than start a new one. The overall cleanliness of Caddo dwellings would evoke favorable comments from Alonso de León, who first described them in 1690.
Caddoan religious and political organization was in the hands of leaders with hereditary rights of succession. The Caddo's supreme religious leader was the xinesi, who served as the earth-bound interpreter of their supreme god, the Caddi Ayo. Political power rested with a caddi, who made important decisions locally and decided matters related to war and peace in consultation with his advisers, called canahas. Only men could serve as xinesi and caddi.
Much of the success of the Caddos may be attributed to their discipline and organization. Women, for example, soon discerned that some kernels of corn produced larger stalks and ears than others. Those ears were carefully shelled and set aside as seed corn, a concept familiar to farmers today. This amounted to early scientific farming. The Caddos then placed in reserve enough seed corn for two successive spring plantings, thereby helping ensure that a devastating drought in one year would not leave them without kernels for planting in the next.
When first contacted by the Spanish, the Caddos were much admired by these outsiders. They commented that both women and men were fond of adornments such as shells, bones, feathers, and colorful stones worn as necklaces, wristlets, and armlets. Caddo women were singled out for being particularly skilled at dressing deerskin used for moccasins, shirts, leggings, and breechclouts. Dress-up clothing for both sexes included adornments of shiny seeds and decorative paintings.
Caddo marriage customs, on the other hand, absolutely scandalized Spanish Franciscan priests. On the slightest pretext, a couple could divorce and seek new partners. Indeed, marital relations between Caddo men and women could perhaps best be described as serial monogamy. Nonetheless, Caddos, especially when compared with other Texas Indians by Europeans, brought forth "impressions of great power, beauty, and wealth."
By around 1500, the Caddos were organized into three affiliated kinship-based groupings, often referred to as confederacies. The Natchitoches were centered in northwestern Louisiana, the Kadohadacho in the Red River region of extreme northeastern Texas, and the Hasinai in East Texas along the Sabine, Angelina, and Neches Rivers. The total population of the three confederacies may have numbered about 200,000. All were so culturally advanced as to be regarded as the "Romans of Texas" by one historian. Like other First People in the Americas, the Caddos tragically lacked immunity to lethal European diseases, especially smallpox, measles, and cholera. Within two centuries after initial contact with the Spanish and French, their numbers had fallen to around 15,000, a loss of more than 90 percent.
When Spaniards first contacted the Caddos in 1689, they may have been greeted by members of the nation with the word techas, meaning "friend" in Caddoan speech. In any event, techas entered Spanish records as "Tejas." Those familiar with the Spanish language are aware that j and x have identical sounds in words, and the change in spelling of Tejas to Texas was an easy transition. No Texas Indian group called themselves the Tejas, but the name was often mistakenly used by Europeans interchangeably with Hasinai Confederacy.
David La Vere, author of a brilliant general history of Texas Indians, has presented an extensive treatment of the Hasinai Confederacy, as well as a kind of "satellite view" of the First People in Texas in 1500—just twenty-eight years prior to the arrival of Spaniards on the Texas coast near Galveston Bay. La Vere's reference point by necessity has been expanded a bit, because some ethnographic information comes from early Spanish contacts with Texas Indians in the first decades after 1500. If imitation is the sincerest form of a compliment (a slight misquotation), then no apologies are due a fellow scholar for what follows here.
A few hundred miles south of the woodland Caddos and along the Louisiana-Texas coastline to the environs of Galveston Bay lived three to five Indian groups known as Atakapas. Farther inland, subgroups such as the Bidais and Deodoses may have planted small gardens, but overall, the Atakapas lived by hunting and gathering. There is scant evidence of Atakapas practicing cannibalism, but their name in Choctaw meant "eaters of men." There is, however, a substantial difference between ritualistic cannibalism practiced by a number of Texas Indians and the consumption of human flesh for sustenance. The former served as a means of inflicting the ultimate punishment on an enemy, or perhaps was carried out with the intent of taking on some essence of the deceased, such as the courage of a brave warrior who had died honorably in battle. Examples of eating human flesh as a source of food in extreme cases of hunger can be documented among Spaniards themselves in the late 1520s, and it likely occurred among First People under similar circumstances. But no group of Texas Indians practiced cannibalism on the scale of the Aztec elite in New Spain, for whom the arms and thighs of sacrificial victims were regarded as such desired fare that commoners could not partake of it.
Southwest of the Atakapas, along the Texas coast from the mouth of the Colorado River to the mouth of the Nueces River, lived the Karankawas. Unusually tall in stature for First People, the Karankawas used dugout canoes to fish the gulf waters and the numerous bays that lie inland from barrier islands off the central Texas coast. It appears that "Karankawa" meant lovers or keepers of dogs, and among their prized possessions were half-wild dogs described as coyote-like. The Karakawas also hunted deer and other animals on the coastal prairies that lay short distances inland from the Gulf Coast. The women supplemented the group's food needs by gathering berries and nuts and digging for edible roots. Collectively, the Karankawas appear to have had no centralized organization other than various chieftains who exercised authority as elders over small bands of kinspeople. In winter the Karankawas were able to kindle fires for warmth, and in warmer seasons they slathered their bodies with alligator and shark oil to ward off swarms of mosquitoes.
Recent archeological investigations at sites along the central Texas coast have revealed that at least some Karankawas of the late prehistoric era were more sedentary and had a more varied material culture than is generally believed. The large amount of animal bone and shell middens in their encampments suggest that Karakawas were also very adaptive to their environment. From these animal remains they fashioned tools such as scrapers, adzes, hammers, and awls. The Karankawas also made coiled clay pottery, including bowls and pots that were decorated with incised lines and asphaltum paint. At least four distinctive styles of their ceramics are reflected in potsherds—black-on-gray, incised, crenelated, and black-on-gray II.
From excavated middens, the most common foods of the Karankawas included several fish varieties, such as black drum, redfish, trout, and marine catfish, as well as shellfish. Although these Indians did not range inland more than about twenty-five miles from the coast, they nevertheless supplemented their diet with white-tailed deer, bison, bobcats, and cottontail rabbits. Ducks and great horned owls were also consumed.
As for the Atakapas, there is a popular assertion that the Karankawas practiced cannibalism, and a bit of eyewitness evidence attesting to this practice was recorded by Europeans in the late 1600s. It is nonetheless interesting that the Karankawas were shocked and repulsed on learning that Spaniards, stranded and in desperate straits during the winter of 1528-1529, had eaten the flesh of fellow countrymen. To the Indians, this reflected disrespect for one's own dead, and it underscores that Karankawas commonly regarded cannibalism as a gesture of revenge against their enemies, not as a source of food.
Southwest of the Karankawas lived widely scattered bands of Indians known collectively as Coahuiltecans. Nearly all early ethnographic information on the Coahuiltecans comes from Cabeza de Vaca, who encountered them on the Texas Gulf Coast in the early 1530s. The two "giants" among Texas's anthropologists are W. W. Newcomb Jr. and Thomas N. Campbell. Newcomb credited Cabeza de Vaca with knowing more about the hunting and gathering coastal Indians "than any other European or American ever did afterward." Similarly, Campbell noted that Cabeza de Vaca "looms large as an ethnographer," and that the cultural information in his Relación (Account) is superior to that in all other sources combined.
Cabeza de Vaca named seventeen Indian groups that were apparently located from the lower Guadalupe River southwestward to the Río Grande. Four of the seventeen, the Guaycones, Quitoles, Camoles, and Fig People, were shoreline First People located between the Guadalupe River and San Antonio Bay. Inland from the lower Guadalupe and the lower Nueces were an additional eleven groups. Arranged roughly in order of their locations along a northeast-southwest axis, they were the Mariames, Yguazes, Atayos, Acubados, Avavares, Anegados, Cutalchuches, Maliacones, Susolas, Comos, and Coayos. The remaining two groups mentioned by Cabeza de Vaca, the Arbados and Cuchendados, appear to have lived west of the sand plain of present-day Brooks and Kenedy Counties.
The overall roughness and bareness of Coahuiltecan home lands forced the people occupying them to scramble constantly for almost anything edible. Cabeza de Vaca claimed that these Indians ate virtually everything alive—ants, worms, salamanders, spiders, lizards, and venomous snakes—as well as some things that were not, such as rotten wood and deer dung. Finally, he asserted that all Coahuiltecans consumed things that were so repugnant that he had to "refrain from mentioning [them], and . . . that if in that land were stones they would eat them." The coastal Indians consumed more appealing foods when these were available, including mesquite beans, seeds, nuts, and berries. Like other hunting and gathering groups, the Coahuiltecan Indians did not eat balanced meals, but they did have balanced diets because they received nutrients on a seasonal basis.
Cabeza de Vaca recorded that Coahuiltecan men had incredible physical endurance, allowing them to actually run down deer on foot by following the animal until it became exhausted and was easy to kill. The ability of First People to survive on the lower Texas coast is a credit to their ingenuity, cooperation, and persistence as hunters and gatherers.
As anthropologists remind us, all present populations are the descendants of hunters and gatherers. However, Cabeza de Vaca and other Spaniards who first contacted Indians in Texas, especially along the southern Gulf Coast, had no previous experience with people who depended on hunting and gathering, for that mode of livelihood had long disappeared from Europe. Their firsthand accounts often reflected disdain for Indians who appeared to live like animals on the land. Until more recent times, that notion has served to disparage these societies "and by implication to deny its people their essential humanity." Contemporary scholars striving for more impartial assessments face the enormous task of "loosening the cold, dead grasp that ignorance and misinterpretation have frozen on the image of those [people]."
Situated up the Río Grande, far northwest of the Coahuiltecans, lived the Jumanos. These Indians were perhaps Pueblo people who had migrated southeast by the early 1500s, but their true linguistic and ethnic ties remain uncertain. Jumanos depended on farming with small fields of corn, beans, and squash, and they lived in fixed houses—a rarity among Texas Indians shared almost exclusively with the Caddos and Kadohadachos. The Jumanos were also skilled hunters of bison. Their permanent villages lay dotted along the Río Grande from its confluence with the Río Conchos to the location of modern-day El Paso. The meaning of the word Jumano in its Hispanicized form is unknown. Spaniards created additional confusion by being unable to settle on a standardized rendering of their name, using variant forms such as "Xumana," "Humana," or "Sumana." Even worse was a tendency to label as Jumano any Indian group that practiced body painting. Since this was a common practice of Texas Indians, at times the older accounts seem to suggest that the Jumanos were ubiquitous. Whether Jumanos were at one time widespread in Texas, which is most unlikely, these First People were destined to fade from the historical record by the very early 1770s. By then they had been absorbed by Plains Indians.
Spanish contact with early pre-horse Plains Indians first came with the Coronado expedition, which crossed part of the Texas Panhandle in 1540. There the Spanish captain contacted Querechos, who were members of the Eastern Apaches. These Indians were of the Athapaskan language group, which included Jicarillas, Lipans, Mescaleros, and Kiowa Apaches. The Athapaskans had migrated south from Canada along the western flank of the Great Plains. Some of these Indians would move more westerly and become known as Navajos, others would continue farther south and become known as Western Apaches, and still others would drift eastward on the southern Great Plains in Texas to become Eastern or Lipan Apaches. The Kiowa Apaches, however, did not arrive in Texas until much later.
The Querechos, first described by Coronado, had encampment locations that were partially determined by the slow movement of bison herds. When obliged to relocate, they transported their meager possessions by travois pulled by large domesticated but half-wild dogs. In spring and early summer, the Querechos lived in small rancherías, where the women scratched out gardens and small fields. They remained sedentary long enough to harvest corn before bison arrived at the start of their fall migrations to the South Plains.
Coronado also encountered a second group of Indians, whom the Spanish called Teyas, in the canyon country of the Llano Estacado. Some scholars maintain that the Teyas were Apaches or Wichitas, while others place them as relatives of the Caddos. Still others, on very shaky grounds, have suggested that the word Texas should be attributed to the Teyas. This is almost certainly incorrect, as explained in our discussion of Indians of the Hasinai Confederacy, whose word for friend as heard by Spaniards was Tejas.
Far north of the Jumanos and east of the Querechos and Teyas lived the Wichitas—Indians of great importance in Spanish colonial Texas. These First People at one time or another occupied lands toward the headwaters of the Colorado, Brazos, Red, and Trinity Rivers. They also had villages as far north as the Arkansas River in present-day Oklahoma and Kansas. The Wichitas were another Texas Indian group that lived in permanent villages. They grew corn on large plots of land, but they also relied heavily on hunting bison on the plains. In the early 1500s the Kansas and Oklahoma Wichitas had not yet moved south toward Texas, nor would they until nearly 200 years later.
At the southwestern extremity of the Wichitas were the Yscanis who occupied part of the Texas Panhandle. These Indians lived in much smaller villages than their Wichita counterparts to the east and northeast. On the flat lands of the Panhandle, the Yscanis were earlier known as the aforementioned and controversial Teyas. They were also bison hunters and depended less on corn than their more numerous Wichita cousins. The Coronado expedition reached the latter's villages in the summer of 1541, apparently somewhat east of the great bend of the Arkansas River in present-day central Kansas.
Almost simultaneous with Coronado's introduction to the Querechos, Teyas, and Wichita proper, members of a Spanish expedition approached Texas from the east. Initially, approximately 600 Spaniards under the command of Hernando de Soto had landed in Florida in May 1539. Over the course of the next three years, Soto and his men explored portions of perhaps nine southeastern states of the present United States. Shortly before his death in May 1542 on the banks of the Mississippi River, Soto released his command to Luis de Moscoso Alvarado. The following month Moscoso set out at the head of an army in search of an overland route to New Spain. In late summer, he contacted Caddos along the course of the Angelina and Neches Rivers. The Caddoan language stock was common to the central and southern Great Plains, and only minor dialectic variances separated all Caddo groups in East Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Finally, beyond the lens of La Vere's snapshot are First People who later became extremely important on the Texas Indian scene. Comanches, Kiowas, the Kiowa Apaches mentioned earlier, and Wichitas (Taovayas) had not yet made their way into the future Lone Star State by 1500. It appears that the same can now be said of the Tonkawas. These Indians were long regarded as among Texas's earliest inhabitants. Recent research, however, suggests that Tonkawas, like the groups just mentioned, were also relative latecomers to Texas. About 200 years would pass before these First People would enter the Southern Plains of Texas. All make their appearance in this book, with special emphasis on the powerful Comanches and Taovayas who would clash with their enemies, the Lipan Apaches. Comanches and Taovayas would also present a serious challenge to Spaniards in Texas, leaving the final outcome in doubt for some time.
What then can be said as an overview of Texas Indians and their lifestyles? As a broad generalization, Texas's First People can be divided on the basis of those who essentially lived by farming and those who primarily lived by hunting and gathering. Those who farmed resided in fixed houses of varying quality and construction, depending on available building materials, and remained in one place for long periods. Hunters and gatherers of necessity moved about and followed food sources, and they lived in camps with movable shelters, usually made of dressed bison hides.
Agricultural groups were more populous and powerful, because their production of food surpluses allowed some leisure to develop creative talents that enhanced their lives and made food procurement much more reliable than hunter or gatherer dependence on seasonal berries and nuts or migrating animals. European diseases hit settled populations harder because of their density, while migrating people living in smaller units had a better chance of avoiding lethal pathogens.
Texas Indians who depended more heavily on hunting than gathering placed a premium on the strength of men and their ability to bring down animals. To be sure, women aided in the skinning and dressing of hides and the butchering, but men did the killing. In these societies, men learned the terrain, the location of watering holes, and the habits of game animals. And it made sense that many of these groups of Texas Indians (but not all of them) would develop patrilineal societies, with spouses recruited from outside bands. In farming societies, quite the opposite occurred. Wives developed special skills in growing crops and preparing meals. They also had talents such as sewing and dressing hides. Women in farming groups had greater responsibility in child-rearing, because the men were occasionally off on hunting or warring expeditions. Here again, the circumstances of everyday life for farming groups tended to tip the balance scales toward a matrilineal society, but not in every instance. In these arrangements it was the men who had to seek wives outside the core group. Children in these societies stayed in their mother's clan, and in some individual families a man was essentially an invited "guest" in a household controlled by a matriarch, who might ask him to leave at any time.
Regardless of the descent system used by Texas Indians, it was common for more than one generation to live together, whether in a tepee or a house. In some matrilineal societies, the mother's brother—of the same clan as she, as opposed to the father of the children, who was not—was a person of great influence. He could dispense discipline, or more commonly spoil children with too much leniency. Clan cousins were so important they were often referred to as siblings. Similarly, in patrilineal groupings, the mother's sisters, although technically aunts, were more like second or third mothers. As La Vere has commented, "While this sounds complicated, children knew who their parents were and quickly learned the proper conduct among people older and younger than themselves."
The role of women among Texas Indians, whether in agriculture-based or hunting and gathering societies, had many constants. A woman's duties and “her world revolved around hearth and home." In early Texas Indians groups, women foraged for edible plants and fruits, such as berries, roots, tunas, seeds, or nuts, depending on what was in season. Women also collected firewood and clay for making pottery or fibers for weaving into baskets. In more advanced agricultural societies women did most of the work in the fields, pulling weeds and using digging sticks to stir the soil for seedlings. They also stood guard against crows and deer, which were as eager to consume the crops as the Indians themselves. In such groupings women spent a lot of time grinding corn, whether with mano and metate or mortar and pestle. In all seasons cooking was their responsibility, as well as rendering fat from bear carcasses to use as cooking oil or body lotion.
It appears that skinning and dressing the hides of bison, deer, and bears were almost exclusively the responsibility of women. Hides were stretched and probably pegged to the ground to hold them securely in place, while women cut away bits of remaining flesh. Once cured, the hides could be turned into robes or moccasins, or they could be used as the walls of tepees.
Men's activities centered on hunting, warfare, and games. They especially liked to hunt bears, deer, squirrels, or raccoons, but bison were the most prized of all game animals because they were the source of so much meat. Bison by-products were also very important: hides were used as blankets, horns as decorative headdresses, large bones as clubs, and scapulas as hoes. Beyond this, as one Indian boy later proclaimed, "to us, the buffalo was more than an animal. It was the stuff of life . . . [because] no animal gave so much to the people." Aside from larger animals, men also hunted birds with bow and smaller flint projectiles. In coastal areas, men caught fish, netted crabs, or dug clams for food.
Kinship was very important to Texas Indians, whether in matrilineal or patrilineal societies. It was an iron-clad rule that one did not marry or have sex with one's kin. This, of course, included immediate and extended family members. People today usually do not keep track of relatives much beyond second or third cousins, but in many Texas Indian societies everyone in a clan, no matter how distant, was considered kin, and sex with them was taboo. Not all of Texas's First People had clans, but clans were commonplace among the Caddos of East Texas. Clan arrangements are also evident in hunting and gathering groups of the lower Texas coast, as revealed in accounts of them penned by Cabeza de Vaca.
Every Texas Indian group, no matter how sophisticated or primitive, had a religious belief system. Animals had spirits, and physical things like mountains, forests, and rivers had an “essence." Texas's First People assigned special significance to the moon, sun, stars, and weather phenomena such as thunder, lightning, and rain. They had extensive beliefs in an underworld of spirits that included ghosts, monsters, witches, and a generic "Bad Thing."
Texas's First People logically had belief systems that were consistent with their way of making a living. Farming Indians revered a deity such as a Corn Mother, while hunter-gatherers paid homage to the Great Wolf, a supernatural god of the Tonkawas. Most Indians venerated a creator god and a host of spirits. And they attributed tremendous significance to dreams that held messages or directives to be carried out. Although his point is a bit overstated, David La Vere argued that the "religions practiced by Texas Indians could be just as vast and complex as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam."
Regardless of where they were located in the future Lone Star State, the world of Texas Indians changed when Spaniards stepped into to it in the first decades of the sixteenth century. Europeans and Texas's First People began three centuries of sporadic and at times intense cooperation and conflict. The outcome on a day-by-day or year-by-year basis was not always clear-cut. This was not a contest between right or wrong or between heroic Christians and pagan Indians. It was instead a story of people struggling for survival and the pursuit of a better life as each defined it on a distant frontier of New Spain. What seems certain is that throughout the colonial era of Texas history (1519-1821), Indians remained dominant. The Spanish controlled San Antonio, La Bahía, Laredo, and Nacogdoches and areas in close proximity to them, but Texas was too vast and too thinly settled by Europeans to be considered other than an essentially Indian domain.
Despite the varied human tapestry that was pre-Spanish Texas, the Indians were eventually doomed. They succumbed because of lost lands, fatal diseases, limited numbers, destruction of bison, and superior European technology. The record is inexorable, for not one Indian group in existence at the beginning of the sixteenth century or the plains and farming First People who came later remain within the present-day state. To make an appalling record complete, even the Hasinai Caddos who gave Texas its name were banished to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma in the 1850s. That chapter in Texas history lies beyond the scope of this book, but it is succinctly captured in the main title of F. Todd Smith's book, From Dominance to Disappearance.