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Historic Native Peoples of Texas

Historic Native Peoples of Texas
Foreword by Alston V. Thoms

The most complete, up-to-date portrait of Texas's Native peoples since W. W. Newcomb's 1961 book The Indians of Texas.

March 2008
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
366 pages | 6 x 9 | 1 line drawing, 10 maps |

Several hundred tribes of Native Americans were living within or hunting and trading across the present-day borders of Texas when Cabeza de Vaca and his shipwrecked companions washed up on a Gulf Coast beach in 1528. Over the next two centuries, as Spanish and French expeditions explored the state, they recorded detailed information about the locations and lifeways of Texas's Native peoples. Using recent translations of these expedition diaries and journals, along with discoveries from ongoing archaeological investigations, William C. Foster here assembles the most complete account ever published of Texas's Native peoples during the early historic period (AD 1528 to 1722).

Foster describes the historic Native peoples of Texas by geographic regions. His chronological narrative records the interactions of Native groups with European explorers and with Native trading partners across a wide network that extended into Louisiana, the Great Plains, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. Foster provides extensive ethnohistorical information about Texas's Native peoples, as well as data on the various regions' animals, plants, and climate. Accompanying each regional account is an annotated list of named Indian tribes in that region and maps that show tribal territories and European expedition routes.

This authoritative overview of Texas's historic Native peoples reveals that these groups were far more cosmopolitan than previously known. Functioning as the central link in the continent-wide circulation of trade goods and cultural elements such as religion, architecture, and lithic technology, Texas's historic Native peoples played a crucial role in connecting the Native peoples of North America from the Pacific Coast to the Southeast woodlands.

  • Foreword by Alston V. Thoms
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Between the Lower Brazos and the Lower Colorado Rivers
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area I
  • Chapter 2. Between the Lower Colorado and the San Antonio Rivers
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area II
  • Chapter 3. The Central Texas Coast
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area III
  • Chapter 4. South Texas
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area IV
  • Chapter 5. The Texas Trans-Pecos
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area V
  • Chapter 6. The Texas Southern Plains
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area VI
  • Chapter 7. Northeast Texas
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area VII
  • Chapter 8. The Upper Texas Coast
  • Chapter Supplement: Study Area VIII
  • Chapter 9. Conclusions
  • Appendix 1. Selected Animals Reported on Spanish and French Expeditions into Texas, 1528-1722
  • Appendix 2. Selected Trees and Other Plants Reported on Spanish and French Expeditions into Texas, 1528-1722
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

An award-winning historian and fellow of the Texas State Historical Association, William C. Foster is the author of Spanish Expeditions into Texas, 1689-1768 and editor of Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 1630-1690 by Juan Bautista Chapa.


There is today no consensus among scientists as to precisely when modern Homo sapiens first arrived in North and South America. Most archeologists, however, agree that the initial arrival occurred more than 12,000 years ago and that early settlers probably came in multiple waves, and perhaps by sea as well as overland. Anthropologists also agree that early human immigrants to the Americas brought with them their sophisticated lithic and hunting technologies, their spiritual world view, and other core cultural traits. To give an anthropological and archeological perspective to the study of the historic Native peoples of Texas, we will review briefly how these cultural traits persisted or changed from the first hunter-gatherers in North America to the historic Native peoples of Texas.

The contemporary American anthropologist Thomas D. Dillehay describes the cultural traits that were brought to the Americas by modern H. sapiens. Dillehay writes that "We must view the settlement of the Americas as an integral part of a worldwide human social and cognitive explosion that first took off some 40,000 years ago." Dillehay adds that "these people explored new continents and brought with them the basic cultural foundation of early American culture."

Paul Ehrlich, Richard Klein, and Ian Tattersall identify several specific cultural traits that the first settlers brought to the New World. Klein writes that modern H. sapiens hunters fashioned a spear or dart thrower (an atlatl) that substantially increased the accuracy, range, and force of the projectile. Modern H. sapiens hunters had domesticated dogs and fashioned grooved net sinkers and blades struck from cylindrical flint cores. They were also the first mariners to cross the open ocean.

Significantly, modern H. sapiens crafted 30,000 years ago not only bone spear and dart points but also bone musical instruments. In their assessment of the new cultural life of modern H. sapiens, Tattersall and Schwartz reference a site in the French Pyrenees dated to ca. 32,000 years ago from which a set of bone flutes was recovered. They were perhaps the first musicians, although the Neanderthal may have devised an earlier form of music on their own.

Another cultural feature initiated by the new H. sapiens is found in their artistic work and expressions. Beginning in about 30,000 BP, modern humans began painting black and red images of prehistoric animals and abstract forms on recessed walls of rock shelters in Europe and on the walls of deep caves and caverns. One of the most impressive displays of modern H. sapiens art is found at the cave of Chauvet in southern France. Dated to ca. 35,000 years ago, the images include a wealth of skillfully drawn figurative and nonfigurative subjects—mammoth, leopards, owls, plus abstract geometric sequences of red dots.

Modern humans in Europe and western Asia dressed up wearing carefully designed, nonutilitarian objects such as microdrilled tubular ivory beads and zoomorphic pendants for personal adornment. A triple human burial in modern Russia dated to ca. 29,000 years ago includes beads sewn into the clothes of the deceased. The one adult had 3,000 beads fashioned of mammoth ivory; the boy's clothing had over 5,000 beads, and the girl's had even more.

Modern H. sapiens buried their dead with elaborate grave goods, which some anthropologists interpret as a belief in a spiritual world and in life after death. In an apparent attempt to preserve the human remains, modern H. sapiens spread red ocher (an impure reddish iron ore) over the body. The European archeologist Juan Luis Arsuaga points out that red ochre has excellent antibacterial qualities, and thus it may have been used by modern H. sapiens and earlier by Neanderthal and Homo Erectus to protect the integrity of the body.

During the Last Glacial Maximum (the coldest period of the last Ice Age), which occurred ca. 18,000 to 20,000 years ago, the Arctic ice sheet in North America covered most of Canada and the Great Lakes region and glaciers expanded throughout the Rockies. Scientists project that this climatically forced accumulation of water, held in the form of ice and snow in higher latitudes and higher elevations, reduced global sea levels by 400 feet or more below present levels. After the Last Glacial Maximum, glaciers in North America (and Europe) receded and the Arctic ice sheet began to melt and retreat.

12,000 BC

Before the beginning of the relatively warmer Archaic period, early settlers had dispersed throughout North and South America. Early modern H. sapiens, called Paleo-Indians or Clovis people, first appeared in Texas as big and small game hunters and gatherers of plant food. The projected date for the arrival of Clovis people in Texas is based in part on artifacts recovered by archeologists in the 1920s and 1930s at sites in West Texas and New Mexico where Clovis spear points were found associated with the remains of megafauna such as mammoth and now-extinct large bison (Bison antiqus).

During the early Holocene, the natural environment in North America changed dramatically from that known during the late Pleistocene. On the Great Plains the conifer forests gave way to grassy prairies. Yet other species of trees and cacti, including pine, cedar, oak, pecan, cypress, mesquite, and prickly pear, thrived 10,000 years ago in parts of East and Central Texas.

Many species of the largest mammals in North America became extinct during the early Archaic period. Between ca. 10,000 and 8,000 BC, the heavily hunted mammoth and mastodon disappeared from the landscape, probably because of the abrupt warming climatic change and perhaps as a result of the sudden threat of a previously unknown predator, the modern H. sapiens hunter. Although the demise of the American mastodon and mammoth was important, the extinction of the North American horse and camel during the same warming period was perhaps of greater importance. The horse and camel were domesticated in the Middle East and Europe with significant cultural and survival consequences for the human population in the Old World. But in North America no comparable large animals were domesticated.

Bison also changed during the warming period of the early Holocene years. The bulky long-horned and long-haired Bison antiqus became extinct while the smaller Bison bison survived with a lighter and slimmer frame and shorter horns and hair. Likewise, the large dire wolf expired and the smaller gray wolf was the replacement. The lion-sized saber-toothed tiger also became extinct, and the range of the smaller modern-day jaguar expanded. Large versions of several other large mammals, including the archaic bighorn sheep, the oversized javelina (peccary), and the large armadillo, downsized to the lighter and smaller versions known today.

According to a recent study of the wildlife population in Texas and the Southwest during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, several smaller species of wildlife known today were present in Texas 10,000 or more years ago. These include deer, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit, small cottontail rabbit, wild turkey, vultures, and the roadrunner, all of which survived in about their present size from the late Pleistocene into historic times.

Tim Flannery gives special attention to the spectacular array of the cat species (Felid) that roamed the North American continent at the end of the last Ice Age. The researcher identifies the felids as the jaguar, cougar, ocelot, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, and margay. Flannery writes that "this spectacular array of felids [in North America], 13,000 years ago, exceeds anything seen elsewhere in the world." Noting the continuity, current-day zoologists report that the same seven species of large cats that were in North America during the close of the last Ice Age are still found today in parts of South Texas, the Trans-Pecos, and northern Mexico. Climatic and other environmental changes over the past ten millennia have apparently altered the range and population density of the cats, but several species have found niches in which to survive.

7000 BC

As global warming continued, modern H. sapiens made another major break from the lifeways of previous hominid. Until about 7000 BC, all species of humans had survived in the same basic manner, as mobile hunters, fishermen, and foragers. Other large mammal species had survived and still survive in a similar manner, primarily as either carnivores or grazing (or browsing) herbivores.

Suddenly (in geologic time) and globally, modern H. sapiens altered this million-year-old hominid pattern of living as hunter-gatherers and, for the first time, began to collect and cultivate preferred seed of useful plants and to harvest, process, and store edible plant products. This revolutionary change to the domestication of plants by modern H. sapiens occurred almost simultaneously (within a period of three millennia) in areas around the globe—in the Middle East, southern China, and Mesoamerica. The domestication of draft animals followed soon thereafter, but not in North America.

The agricultural revolution expanded during the rapidly warming Altithermal period between ca. 5000 and 2000 BC and led eventually to new, more complex sedentary human lifestyles with heavily populated agricultural communities, monumental architecture, social stratification, and dramatically new social institutions. As on other continents, the new sedentary agricultural centers were concentrated first in the warmer tropical zone of North America. The domestication of crops together with the construction of earthen mounds first appeared in North America ca. 2500 BC on the Yucatan Peninsula, in south-central Mexico, and in Huasteca, an area only 150 miles south of the lower Rio Grande.

While advanced agricultural production emerged in Mesoamerica during the Middle Archaic period, significant cultural changes were also occurring at the same time in the Temperate Zone of North American. During this warming period, sedentary or semisedentary Native people in northern Louisiana constructed a dozen or more multiple mound complexes, some with connecting elevated terraces around large open plazas as large as three football fields across. Archeologists project that the subsistence base of the Middle Archaic Louisiana mound builders rested not on agriculture (as in Mexico) but rather on the abundant local aquatic and riverine resources along an ancient course of the Arkansas River.

Louisiana mound builders were also collectors of useful plants including goosefoot (Chenopodium) and other cultigens that were domesticated later during the Woodland period in the Southeast. These early mound builders in Louisiana and Mississippi also fashioned beautifully sculptured plummets for fishing or hunting, and they crafted microdrilled cylindrical chert and red jasper zoomorphic beads. In the recently discovered mound works of these Middle Archaic engineers, artists, and emergent horticulturists we find some of the earliest evidence of the vibrant culture that emerged later in the Eastern Woodlands and on the lower Mississippi.

During the Late Archaic in the American Southwest, sedentary or semisedentary horticultural settlements arose. Recent studies indicate that domesticated maize and amaranth were cultivated in northwest Chihuahua, a short distance (ca. fifty miles) south of the New Mexico border. The introduction of the bow and arrow and ceramics across much of Texas in ca. AD 600 to 800 marks the end of the Archaic period and the beginning of the Prehistoric period.

But the major agricultural revolution with accompanying large sedentary cultural centers, monumental architecture, long-distance trade patterns, and tropical cultigens did not spread broadly northward into Texas and across the Temperate Zone of the American Southwest and Southeast until the early Medieval Warm period beginning in ca. AD 900.

AD 900

Between ca. AD 900 and 1200, the population of the Native peoples in North America increased rapidly, and for the first time numerous large and small horticultural settlements emerged or greatly intensified in parts of the lower Temperate Zone across the American Southwest and Southeast. Small villages or towns with populations of less than 2,000 and two larger metropolitan areas with populations that may have exceeded 30,000 became established as regional agricultural, ceremonial, and political centers. These small and large politically and religiously stratified population centers were located near or on the floodplain of major rivers, and their economic viability depended partly on favorable climatic conditions that permitted the annual production and storage of substantial surpluses of maize, beans, squash, and local domesticates.

During this classic period of Native North American culture, highly skilled Native architects, engineers, and artisans constructed monumental public earthworks and massive stoneworks, and Native artists painted delicately figured polychrome ceramic artwork. For example, construction workers at Cahokia, a large metropolitan area on the middle Mississippi River, built the largest earthen mound in North America, which exceeded one hundred feet in height. At Chaco Canyon in northeastern New Mexico, workers constructed extensive stone storehouses and other structure up to four stories high. The massive stone masonry structure at Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon had over 600 rooms.

At Paquimé on the Río Casas Grandes about eighty miles below the New Mexico-Chihuahua border, Native workers built adobe brick apartments and other structures up to seven stories high. The water system that provided flowing fresh underground spring water to the apartment complex at Paquimé and also river water to adjacent fields was the most sophisticated in Mesoamerica. In the Mimbres Valley about 120 miles north of Paquimé in southwestern New Mexico, Mimbreno artists painted spectacular and imaginative geometric and figurative forms on ceramic pieces that touch and delight us today.

At Cahokia, Chaco Canyon, Casas Grandes, and the Davis site in East Texas, skilled Native astronomers, engineers, and craftsmen built sophisticated facilities designed to conduct astronomical observations. These facilities permitted the scientific measurement of the movement of the sun, moon, and stars. Readings from the facilities were interpreted by Indian astronomers to mark the turn of the seasons. But perhaps more importantly, the astronomical readings gave confidence to the Native people that their buildings, culture, and lives were aligned in harmony with higher celestial powers.

During this classic period of Native American culture, well-defined long-distance networks of interaction, which first developed during the Archaic, spanned the North American continent. Native populations on the northwest coast of Mexico and the Gulf of California were connected by trade routes that carried literally millions of marine shells over 500 miles directly to Casas Grandes and to communities in Arizona and New Mexico. Archeologists have confirmed that the copper metallurgy and a cast copper bell technology known at Casas Grandes (but unknown in the Mississippian Southeast) originated on the Pacific coast of Peru and Mexico.

In turn, merchants in Casas Grandes traded directly with La Junta de los Ríos people and their friends in West Texas. Scarlet macaw feathers, cast copper bells, blue and white cotton blankets, shell beads, and turquoise pendants were traded from Casas Grandes. Again, in turn, it appears that tribes residing or stationed near La Junta annually sent trade delegations and hunting parties over 500 miles farther east to modern-day Tamaulipas on the Gulf of Mexico and to the Hasinai in East Texas.

Farther east, Caddo Indians in East Texas were related closely by culture and trade to Cahokia and, we know later, to the Acansa and Taensa Indians on the Mississippi. The Mississippian cultural tradition and interaction sphere extended across the Southeast to the Atlantic coast.

The classic period of North American Native culture flourished for several centuries; some cultural centers continued well into the sixteenth century before beginning to decline. Anthropologists offer different explanations for the collapse of Native cultures across the continent at the close of the classic period. Researchers frequently mention the negative effects of the Little Ice Age on horticultural activities in the higher latitudes and elevations. In his recent (2005) study of the collapse of cultures and of why societies fail or succeed, Jared Diamond describes the climatic change in the Northern Hemisphere as follows:

Between AD 800 and 1300, ice cores tell us that the climate in Greenland [and Northern Hemisphere] was relatively mild, similar to Greenland's weather today or even slightly warmer. Those mild centuries are termed the Medieval Warm Period. Around 1300, though, the climate began to get cooler and more variable from year to year, ushering in a cold period termed the Little Ice Age that lasted into the 1800s.

In his recent studies (1999, 2003) of climatic change and the evidence of increased conflict and warfare in the Southwest, Steven A. LeBlanc of Harvard University agrees with Diamond's assessment of climatic change and its effect on horticulture during the past 1,100 years. LeBlanc writes the following: "The Medieval Warm Period came to an end around 1200, and not long thereafter the first signs of the Little Ice Age were seen in Europe. Famine was recorded in England in 1317 as crops did not mature due to the cold. I believe the same thing happened in North America."

This climatic change to colder weather and shorter growing seasons threatened marginal horticultural communities in the higher elevations and higher latitudes of the Temperate Zone of North America. It appears that the cold and deep snow brought by the Little Ice Age may have prompted large bison herds on the Great Plains to drift southward into the warmer, richer, and wetter Southern Plains. The increased precipitation turned the comparatively dry and sometimes xeric and barren Southern Plains of South Texas and parts of the Chihuahuan Desert in northern Mexico into rich, deep grassy prairies that invited bison herds to extend their range to the Texas Gulf Coast, northern Coahuila, and northwest Chihuahua.

By the time the first Spanish explorers visited Texas (1528-1543), the major cultural centers such as Cahokia, Chaco Canyon, and Casas Grandes had all faded. But, as De Soto discovered, some strong Mississippian-style horticultural chiefdoms were still dominant throughout parts of the Southeast and into Arkansas and East Texas. At the same time, Pueblo people continued to flourish on the Rio Grande and Pecos River in New Mexico, despite the colder climatic conditions as confirmed by sixteenth-century Spanish chroniclers.

AD 1500

By ca. AD 1500, Plains Indians were also on the move, following the drifting bison herds south to warmer latitudes and more grass on the extended Southern Plains. To add to the cultural mix, diversity, and conflict, large semisedentary tribes from southern Coahuila and Chihuahua in Mexico, including the Toboso, Tepeguan, Salinero, and many of their allies, sent scouts and hunting parties north 400 miles or more in search of bison on the plains of Southwest and Central Texas.

This book picks up the documentary history of the Native peoples of Texas with the landing of the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca on the central Texas coast in 1528. Whereas the pre-Columbian history of the Americas is based primarily on the physical record studied by anthropologists, archeologists, paleontologists, paleozoologists, climatologists, and other specialists, the documentary history of the Native peoples of the state is based primarily on ethnographic and ecological information found in the earliest European expedition accounts. These written expedition diaries were prepared by officially designated and competent chroniclers who encountered and reported firsthand on the Native peoples of Texas in their natural state. European chroniclers also reported on weather conditions and the species of plants and animals observed. The historic Native peoples of Texas were either hunter-gatherers or horticulturists, so reports on climatic conditions and the range and concentrations of wild plants and animals constitute critical information for understanding the lifeways and behavior of the Native population in the state.

This work focuses on and describes as accurately as possible the Texas Native population encountered on Spanish and French expeditions into Texas in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries. The ethnohistoric material is organized around certain themes, particularly a study of the patterns of subsistence, settlement, and long-distance interaction networks between Texas tribes and other Native groups within and beyond the present state borders. Because the historic Indians of Texas were cosmopolitan and had interregional networks of interaction, the geographic scope of this study extends far beyond the state boundaries into areas as far south as Monterrey and Durango in Mexico, as far west as the Mexican state of Sonora and Arizona, as far north as central Kansas and Missouri, and eastward beyond the Mississippi Valley. An understanding of the historic Native peoples of Texas requires a map that includes the Southeast, the American Southwest, the Southern Plains, and northern Mexico.

Our study ends in 1722 with the closing of the period of major explorations in Texas, the establishment of the first capital of the province of Texas, and the commencement of the Hispanic colonization period. However, in some regions of the state, such as the southeast, Spanish and French explorations continued for several decades after Spanish colonization was well under way in other parts of the state. After the period of major exploration, information about Native Americans in Texas seldom reflects how Indians lived in their natural state, which is the primary interest of the study. We should note here, perhaps, that our focus on how the Native peoples of Texas lived at the time of first European contact implies that only limited attention is given to the relationships between Texas Native groups and the Spanish and French authorities or the Catholic Church.

European expedition diaries were usually written by military and clerical chroniclers who were assigned the duty of maintaining an official daily record of the journey. Spanish and French government officials and the Catholic Church depended upon the accuracy of the information provided by expedition diarists to formulate policy for the conquest of the new lands and conversion of the Native people.

Official chroniclers on expeditions into Texas were generally well-educated scribes who understood the importance of preparing an accurate daily written account of the journey. Accounts usually included the direction the party had taken, the number of leagues traveled, a name identification and description of rivers crossed and prominent land forms observed, the location and size of bison herds and other wild fauna and flora seen, as well as information on the Native population encountered. Indians who served as expedition guides were used as interpreters to communicate with different tribes, often using a common sign language.

Confidence in the accuracy of the information found in the expedition diaries is substantially enhanced when both the government and the church assigned independent diarists to maintain separate records of the same trip. Confidence in projecting the route of an expedition is also strengthened when several successive trips were conducted along the same route over a short period of time. This occurred, for example, when a Spanish expedition from Parral marched down the Mexican Río Conchos and up the Rio Grande to New Mexico in 1581, and a second expedition was dispatched over the same route a year later. A French expedition marched from Matagorda Bay to the Hasinai Indian villages in East Texas in 1686, and the next year a second French expedition followed this same route. Four Spanish expeditions marched from Monclova, Mexico, into Texas between 1689 and 1693 using the same or similar routes and the identical crossing areas when fording the Rio Grande, Guadalupe, Colorado, and Brazos Rivers.

This study reviews information from over thirty Spanish and French expeditions or limited excursions that crossed into Texas, and on each journey one or more chroniclers provide significant firsthand ethnohistoric information on the Native peoples encountered.

Between 1528 and 1543, three major Spanish expeditions or remnants thereof visited the central Texas coast, the Big Bend in West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, and East Texas. Specifically, Cabeza de Vaca lived for about six years on or near the central Texas coast and in 1535 continued his journey west to visit South Texas and the La Junta de los Ríos people on the Rio Grande in West Texas. Cabeza de Vaca's party followed the Rio Grande upriver to a point about fifty miles below modern El Paso and then traveled west across the Chihuahuan basin and range toward the Casas Grandes river valley and the Pacific. In 1541 Coronado marched across the Texas Panhandle on his expedition from New Mexico to visit Quivira in Kansas and crossed the Panhandle again on his return. In 1542 Luis de Moscoso visited the Hasinai Caddo and other Caddoan tribes in northeast Texas, sent scouts to the lower Colorado River, and the following year sailed westward, landing on the Texas Gulf Coast on his voyage to Mexico.

During the second half of the sixteenth century, Spain initiated five expeditions into the American Southwest and the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. The first was initiated in 1565, when Francisco de Ibarra marched up the west coast of Mexico, crossed the high Sierra Madre Occidental, and explored northwestern Chihuahua as far north as the Río Casas Grandes, about 150 miles west of El Paso. Along the Casas Grandes, Ibarra's troops camped near the abandoned ancient city that the diarist Baltasar de Obregón called Paquimé. Ibarra's troops found evidence of bison in the area and encountered the Texas plains tribe that Ibarra called the Querecho. About twenty-four years earlier, Coronado had met bison hunters called the Querecho about 500 miles to the north in the Texas Panhandle.

Spanish authorities sent two small but important expeditions from southern Chihuahua down the Río Conchos and up the Rio Grande in West Texas to New Mexico during the period 1581-1583. In 1590 Castaño de Sosa's large expedition, the first authorized to colonize New Mexico, crossed West Texas following the Pecos River. In 1598 Don Juan de Oñate crossed the western tip of Texas near El Paso on the second colonizing expedition to New Mexico. Later that year, Oñate's lieutenant, Vicente de Zaldívar, marched his troops onto the Southern Plains near the present-day Texas-New Mexico border to secure bison meat for the winter. Three years later, Oñate himself led an expedition across the Texas Panhandle following Coronado's earlier path.

The close of the sixteenth century and the first half of the seventeenth century is marked by the appearance of important regional historical treatises dealing with northern New Spain, including Texas. In 1620 Fray Juan de Montoya wrote a relación, or account, of the discovery of New Mexico, which includes informed comments on the Native population and on Spanish expeditions across West Texas to New Mexico in the late 1500s.

In 1630 Fray Alonso de Benavides composed his Memorial, or account, of the history of New Mexico that includes very significant ethnographic information on Native cultures on the western boundary of Texas in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. In 1644 Fray Andrés Pérez de Ribas authored an account of his earlier travels and missionary work in northern Mexico, including Chihuahua and Coahuila. Ribas describes in sympathetic detail the Indian cultures on the southern boundary of Texas.

In 1650 Captain Alonso de León (the elder) completed his history of Nuevo León and northern Coahuila focusing on the period 1620 to 1650. Many of the Native tribes described by De Leon spent as much time in South Texas as in modern-day northern Mexico. Juan Bautista Chapa, the explorer, scholar, and close friend of Alonso de León, wrote his history of northeastern Mexico and Texas covering the period 1630 to 1690. In reviewing the history of Nuevo León and Texas, both De León and Chapa provide graphic accounts of the serious depopulation of Native peoples as a result of European-introduced highly contagious diseases.

During the second half of the seventeenth century, a new wave of Spanish and French expeditions explored Texas. A large Spanish military expedition was sent from Monterrey, Mexico, across the Rio Grande into South Texas in 1665 to punish the Cacaxles Indians for their raids on Spanish communities and ranches in Mexico. In 1675 Fernando del Bosque led Spanish troops and missionaries from northern Mexico into South Texas to explore the area and pacify the Native groups. Nine years later Juan Domínguez de Mendoza crossed the Trans-Pecos region from El Paso for the purpose of meeting East Texas and South Texas tribes on common ground in the Hill Country of Central Texas.

In 1685 the French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, landed on the central Texas coast and established a fort and colony. The French establishment, called Fort St. Louis, survived for about four years near the shores of modern-day Matagorda Bay. We have several journals describing Native encounters and the flora and fauna near the French post and detailed diary accounts of the 1686 and 1687 French explorations from the bay area to East Texas and beyond.

In response to La Salle's French threat, the Spanish government authorized between 1689 and 1693 four substantial overland military expeditions into south-central and East Texas from Coahuila, Mexico. Governor Alonso de León (the younger) led major expeditions to Texas in 1689 and 1690. Governor Domingo Terán de los Ríos commanded the 1691-1692 expedition, and Governor Salinas Varona led the resupply expedition to support a failing Catholic mission in East Texas in 1693.

Soon after Salinas Varona returned to Monclova, the Hasinai Caddo drove the Catholic fathers out of Texas just as the Pueblo Indians had revolted against and driven the Spaniards from New Mexico thirteen years earlier. Although a Spanish expedition was sent in 1709 to reopen the Caddo frontier to Spanish troops and Catholic priests, the effort proved unsuccessful, and Texas remained Indian country.

Spain was unable to reestablish friendly relations with the Hasinai Caddo until 1716. In that year Captain Diego Ramón and the very able and experienced priest Isidro Espinosa led a small company of troops and a few colonists to East Texas to establish several forts and missions. Two more large Spanish expeditions followed from Coahuila in 1718 and 1721. The 1721-1722 expedition, led by Governor Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, established the first capital of the province of the Tejas at the small Spanish community of Los Adaes near the Red River in present-day Louisiana. During the same period (1719-1722), French authorities dispatched envoys to establish contacts among Indian groups in northeast Texas and along the Texas coast.

The documentary accounts related to these early Spanish and French expeditions and the regional histories covering the study area provide a rich body of firsthand ethnohistoric and environmental information that is the basis of this overview of the historic Indian population of Texas.


For the purposes of this study, the state of Texas is divided into eight Indian Study Areas (see Map 0.2), which correspond to the eight chapters in this book. As will be noted in more detail in each chapter, the boundaries of the Study Areas generally identify different ethnographic regions that have shared cultural traits—the eastern and western sections of the central coastal plains (Areas I and II), the Karankawa country of the coastal bend (Area III), South Texas (Area IV), the Trans-Pecos (Area V), the High Plains and Hill Country (Area VI), Caddoan East Texas (Area VII), and the upper Gulf Coast (Area VIII).

Each chapter is followed by a chapter supplement that includes an alphabetical list of the names of the Indian tribes and bands reported in that Study Area. Each entry in the supplement includes variants in the name of the tribe, the name of the diarist reporting the meeting, the date of the encounter, and where the tribe was seen or reported (by county where possible). Entries also include the names of tribes encountered with the named entry tribe and the suspected homeland of visiting groups. A total of over 400 named tribes and bands are included in the eight supplements.

The study also includes two appendices, which record early Spanish and French expedition reports of both wild and domesticated flora and fauna observed in Texas and adjacent areas. The plant and animal tables list alphabetically the species of plant or animal reported, the diarist who reported the sighting, the date of the report, and the geographic location of the species. Paleontological information is included on some mammal species. It is hoped that the information will prove helpful to zoologists and botanists in projecting the range and density of population of specific plants and animals during the study period. Moreover, there may be general public interest in understanding whether animals and plants known today were present in Texas 500 or 5,000 years ago.

The present seems to me to be a particularly appropriate and favorable time to prepare an overview of the early historic Indian population of Texas because during the past decade an unprecedented number of significant documentary and archeological studies have been published detailing the early European exploration of Texas, northern Mexico, the American Southwest, and the Southeast. These publications include no fewer than twenty new or fresh English translations of early accounts of Spanish and French expeditions into Texas that previously had been overlooked or were in need of a fresh translation with full annotations.

The following are several examples of Spanish and French expedition diary translations and archeological overviews recently published by the academic press in Texas and cited in the study. In 2002 the University of Texas Press published a fully annotated English translation of Cabeza de Vaca's account of the Narváez expedition and his journey across the continent from 1526 to 1536. The same volume includes a translation of the report of the expedition and journey prepared by the highly acclaimed chronicler Oviedo y Valdez. The following year, the same press published a fully annotated translation of the diary of the 1675 Bosque expedition and of the 1683-1684 Mendoza expedition across Texas. And the University of Texas Press in 1997 released the publication of an English translation of Captain Alonso de León's 1686 and 1687 expedition diaries and Juan Bautista Chapa's own account of De León's 1689 and 1690 expeditions into Texas.

In 2005 Southern Methodist University Press published Documents of the Coronado Expedition, 1539-1542. The William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies published in 1999 the Spanish texts of Vicente de Zaldívar's 1598 expedition from New Mexico to the Southern Plains and released in 2002 a critical edition of the several Spanish texts of Mendoza's 1683-1684 Texas expedition.

The Texas State Historical Association in 1995 released Imaginary Kingdom, which contains both Pedro de Rivera's 1727 expedition diary to Los Adaes and the recently discovered personal diary of the Marqués de Rubí written during his inspection tour of colonial Texas in the 1760s. In 1998 the association published the first English translation of Henri Joutel's unabridged journal of La Salle's expedition to Texas (1684-1687) and five years later, in 2003, published the most complete diary account of La Salle's 1682 expedition on the Mississippi River.

In 1993 the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, published by the Texas State Historical Association, issued the first English translation of Governor Salinas Varona's 1693 expedition diary to Texas. More recently, in 2006, the Southwestern Historical Quarterly published a fresh translation of the Domingo Ramón diary of the 1716 Spanish expedition into Texas; significantly, the editor adds that it is her intention to provide soon a fresh annotated translation of the diary of Fray Isidro de Espinosa from the same 1716 expedition.

In addition, during the past ten years, numerous new archeological excavation reports, site-specific studies, and archeological overviews in Texas have been published. The most comprehensive and significant recent archeological overview of Texas, entitled The Prehistory of Texas, was released by Texas A&M University Press in 2004.

During the past decade numerous detailed site-specific archeological studies have been published by the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross University in Alpine, by the University of Texas Press, by Texas A&M University Press, and by or for several agencies of the State of Texas, including the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Texas Historical Commission.

The archeological studies cited in the present work give a broader context and an added perspective to the documentary accounts. The studies provide much needed physical evidence to correct and help interpret information found in the expedition diary accounts. But there is much left to be done in the archives and the field.

With this background, we will turn to our study of the historic Native peoples of Texas.


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