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The Jumanos

The Jumanos
Hunters and Traders of the South Plains

The first full-length study of this native North American people.

August 1994
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298 pages | 6 x 9 | 6 maps, 2 line drawings |

In the late sixteenth century, Spanish explorers described encounters with North American people they called "Jumanos." Although widespread contact with Jumanos is evident in accounts of exploration and colonization in New Mexico, Texas, and adjacent regions, their scattered distribution and scant documentation have led to long-standing disagreements: was "Jumano" simply a generic name loosely applied to a number of tribes, or were they an authentic, vanished people?

In the first full-length study of the Jumanos, anthropologist Nancy Hickerson proposes that they were indeed a distinctive tribe, their wide travel pattern linked over well-established itineraries. Drawing on extensive primary sources, Hickerson also explores their crucial role as traders in a network extending from the Rio Grande to the Caddoan tribes' confederacies of East Texas and Oklahoma.

Hickerson further concludes that the Jumanos eventually became agents for the Spanish colonies, drafted as mercenary fighters and intelligence-gatherers. Her findings reinterpret the cultural history of the South Plains region, bridging numerous gaps in the area's comprehensive history and in the chronicle of these elusive people.

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Part One. Jumano Chronology, 1535-1610: First Encounters: Indians and Conquistadors
    • 1. The Travels of Cabeza de Vaca
    • 2. Explorations by Way of the Western Corridor
    • 3. Opening the Central Corridor
    • 4. The Illegal Entrada of Castaño de Sosa
    • 5. Juan de Oñate and the Conquest of New Mexico
    • 6. The Jumanos at the Dawn of History
  • Part Two. Jumano Chronology,1610-1685: Franciscans and Indians in New Mexico
    • 7. New Mexico in the 1620's
    • 8. Fray Juan de Salas' Mission to the Jumanos
    • 9. The Jumanos at Mid-Century
    • 10. The Pueblo Rebellion of 1680 and Its Aftermath
    • 11. The Expedition to the Rio de las Nueces
    • 12. Alonso de Posada's Report: The Jumano World in 1685
  • Part Three. Jumano Chronology, 1685-1700: The Decline and Fall of the Jumano Trade Empire
    • 13. La Salle's Colony: The French Connection
    • 14. Approaches from Coahuila
    • 15. The View from Parral
    • 16. Fin de Siècle: The Jumano Diaspora
  • Part Four. Continuity and Change in Jumano Culture
    • 17. The Jumano Identity Crisis
    • 18. The Trade Network
    • 19. From History to Prehistory
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Anyone who peruses the firsthand accounts of Spanish exploration and colonization of New Mexico, Texas, and adjacent regions of northern Mexico soon becomes aware of the presence throughout this large area of people called Jumanos. In the late sixteenth century, this name was applied to some of the first Native Americans encountered by explorers who ascended the Rio del Norte (the upper Rio Grande) to enter the lands north of Mexico. It appears that Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions—the first Europeans to travel into the interior of North America—also sojourned with the Jumanos even earlier as they made their way toward the Rio Grande and proceeded north along its course.

There are many references to encounters with Jumanos over the next two centuries, in the records of the Spanish colonies in Nuevo Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, Coahuila, and Texas. The Spaniards in New Mexico knew the Jumanos as a Pueblo people with villages in the eastern provinces of the colony. In the regions of eastern New Mexico, they also had dealings with Jumanos who were nomads. These Indians were plainsmen par excellence—buffalo-hunters who migrated seasonally between their scattered camps and Indian farming communities along the major rivers, both east and west.

Spanish exploration of the Plains was facilitated by contacts with the Jumanos, who were quick to offer their services as guides. Spanish settlers in New Mexico and Nueva Vizcaya (later Chihuahua) traded with the Jumanos, who soon began operating as middlemen between the Spanish colonies and distant Indian groups. Among these were the large Caddoan-speaking tribes and confederacies located far to the east of New Mexico, which the Spaniards originally named Quivira and which they later called collectively the Nations of the North.

It would appear that the known sphere of Jumano provenance expanded as the Spanish conquerors extended their sphere of influence, as the Spaniards recorded encounters with Jumanos in virtually every region they entered after the founding of New Mexico. As exploring and missionizing extended east of the Pecos, Jumano camps, or rancherias, were found located in the High Plains of western Texas and on eastward-flowing rivers such as the Rio de las Nueces (a stream which is generally identified today with the Rio Colorado of Texas).

Around 1670 missionary and military parties from another border region of New Spain, Coahuila, crossed the Rio Bravo (the lower Rio Grande) and reached the vicinity of San Antonio. These explorers, as they made their way through southern Texas, also encountered Jumanos. A decade later, expeditions out of New Mexico and Nueva Vizcaya dealt with the Jumanos as leaders of a growing pan-tribal movement in Texas. At about the same time, members of the French colony founded by the Marquis de La Salle at Espiritu Santo (Matagorda) Bay on the Gulf Coast of Texas had dealings with the Jumanos in the territory of the Ceni (Hasinai), a Caddoan confederacy. Both Spanish and French accounts indicate that in the last decades of the seventeenth century the Jumanos were extremely active, both as traders and as political leaders. At this time they were evidently conducting a busy long-distance traffic between Spanish settlements along the Rio del Norte and the Indians of eastern and southern Texas (of whom the Caddoans were the most numerous and politically important).

It is not known whether the Jumano presence was aboriginal through all parts of their vast area of distribution. It is tempting to believe that they may have advanced eastward as the Spanish sphere of influence expanded. It seems certain that they had a role in native trade dating from aboriginal times; however, it also seems likely that some of their movements were the result of an expansion of this role, vis-à-vis the Spanish colonies.

By or shortly after 1700, the Jumanos lost territory and were no longer a substantial or influential presence in the Southwest and South Plains. At some time during a brief period of Spanish withdrawal from Texas, between 1693 and 1716, they apparently ceased their frontier trading activities and were thereafter rarely seen. After this, there are only a few scattered references to the Jumanos. Some remnant populations remained clustered around La Junta de los Rios. The name was still applied to individuals and groups who became gradually incorporated during the next century into the Apache bands which were dominant in that region. As a distinct people, the Jumanos were soon virtually extinct throughout their earlier heartland.

Modern ethnographic maps of native North America rarely indicate the presence of the Jumanos, although in the past, to judge by the contemporary accounts, they could be encountered almost anywhere in the Southwest or South Plains. Historians, anthropologists, and linguists have disagreed, and continue to disagree, about the identity of the Jumanos and the nature of their culture. Their place on the map, the language they spoke, and their role in history have remained a mystery, despite their obvious importance to their Native American and European neighbors and trade partners.

Efforts to piece together the outlines of Jumano history encounter difficulties which stem, directly or indirectly, from the scattered, mobile, and ephemeral nature of their presence in the greater Southwest and in historical records. For early historic times the only written records were produced by European observers. Sedentary or localized tribes—the Pueblo peoples, for example—sometimes had enduring relationships with resident missionaries or traders, many of whom kept journals and continual records of events. In such cases, a search of the official records of a particular mission or colonial district may prove a prolific source of cultural and historical information, a running account of events in the life of a single village or tribe.

By contrast, the Jumanos were widely dispersed; as their leader Juan Sabeata put it, they were an "extended" nation. Individuals and groups moved frequently. Their record is, of necessity, a pastiche of scattered information drawn from several different political units (New Mexico, Nueva Vizcaya, Texas, Coahuila), brief glimpses drawn from Spanish, French, and American sources, with little or no continuity. Catholic priests from time to time worked among Jumano groups, and Spanish settlers dealt with them—often illegally—for many years, but none of these left large bodies of documentation. There was apparently no observer of the Jumanos who provided more than passing comment on the life and times of these people.

Any attempt to write a comprehensive account of the Jumanos must therefore rely on a bare skeleton of chronological events, a few recorded cultural details, and a large amount of inference. These are the circumstances which render the Jumanos mysterious, and which have permitted specialists in regional studies of the Southwest to overlook or ignore the very existence of this fascinating and important people. They are circumstances which have led scholars to develop widely differing interpretations of the nature of Jumano culture and of the place of the Jumanos in history. Each of these interpretations has its theoretical bias—as, admittedly, does this interpretation. Each relies on certain assumptions and an interpretive framework, and each must, of necessity, make creative use of cultural analogy in interpreting the available facts about the jumanos.

A Century of Jumano Studies

Anthropologists and historians often refer to the Jumanos as a "mystery," or a "problem." A part of the mystery is the evident cultural variety subsumed under this name. The term Jumano has been applied, at various times, to people living both in fertile river valleys and in arid desert lands; to some residing in substantial masonry houses and others in skin tents; to people described as "clothed" and others called "naked"; to farmers and hunters; to pedestrian nomads and men on horseback. The mystery also rests on the wide geographical distribution of Jumanos in time and space.

Between the first recorded use of the designation in 1581 and the last, an oral history recorded in 1888, Jumano groups were found at locales from northern New Mexico to Coahuila; and from the vicinity of Flagstaff, Arizona, at the northwestern extreme, to Parral, Chihuahua, at the southwest, to the Trinity River of Texas, at the eastern extreme. The total area could encompass at least 500,000 square miles; in no part of it, however, is there a tract of land which can be defined with certainty as a territory of permanent and exclusive Jumano occupancy.

There has been a long history of scholarly efforts to solve the "Jumano problem"—to find a rationale in the scattered appearances of this name in the historical record, and to identify the group (or groups) in terms of known ethnic and linguistic classifications. These efforts began roughly a century ago with the awakening of a scholarly interest in the native peoples of North America and with the beginning of archival research into the relations of these peoples with the European colonial powers.

Adolph Bandelier

Modern awareness of the Jumanos begins with the work of Adolph Bandelier, a late nineteenth-century Swiss scholar who made North America his home and the subject of his research. Bandelier's studies of prehistoric sites and his research in colonial-period archives in Spain and Mexico mark the beginnings of serious scholarship on the cultures and the prehistory of the southwestern United States. He collected and made available for study many of the basic documentary sources on Spanish colonial history.

Apparently intrigued by references to the Jumanos, Bandelier noted the wide geographical range over which they were encountered, and remarked on their apparent involvement in trade. His published reports include comments on the Jumanos in Mexico and New Mexico and speculations about their history and their relations with other groups such as the Julimes of La Junta de los Rios. He remarked that the Jumanos were not as prominent in Chihuahua as they were in New Mexico, and suggested that they may have "lost... their individuality" in the "whirlpool" of Apache warfare.

Bandelier also observed that, while the Jumanos at La Junta de los Rios were a farming people, those further to the north "subsisted on the buffalo almost exclusively." In nineteenth-century anthropology, farming was considered a more highly evolved way of life than hunting; therefore, Bandelier believed that the buffalo hunters had taken a backward step. They had become "accustomed to the life which the following of the buffalo required, [and] discarded permanence of abode, exchanging it for vagrancy with its consequences." He seems to suggest that this "vagrancy"—the lack of a permanent place of residence—could account for the virtual disappearance of the Jumanos from the historical record after 1700. His writings give no suggestion that he had any doubt about the existence of the Jumanos as a distinctive people—indeed, he apparently considered them to be an exciting and interesting people, although something of a mystery. Certainly they were for him an integral part of the complex fabric of southwestern history.

Frederick W. Hodge

F. W. Hodge was the editor of the monumental Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, published in 1910 by the Bureau of American Ethnology. He himself wrote several of the entries on southwestern peoples, including one on the Jumanos. Because of the influence of the Handbook, Hodge can be credited with establishing Jumano as the standard form of the name for twentieth-century scholars. However, the real baseline for subsequent Jumano research may be Hodge's longer historical essay, published in 1911.

Pursuing issues raised by Bandelier, Hodge attempted to piece together a more coherent Jumano history. For him, the most intriguing part of the mystery concerned their "ultimate fate": why had they rapidly and completely disappeared? His attempt to answer this question was inspired in part by entries which the historian Herbert Bolton submitted for inclusion in the Handbook. From Bolton, Hodge learned that the Taovayas (or Tawehash), a division of the Wichita tribe, had been known to the French in the mideighteenth century as "Panipiquets ... alias Jumanes..." On the basis of the similarity in names, Hodge attempted to apply a technique which ethnohistorians call "upstreaming." He projected the later identification back in time to the La Junta Jumanos of the sixteenth century. With the link which he assumed existed between the two, Hodge believed he had found a solution to the mystery of Jumano disappearance from the lower Rio Grande—migration. He suggested that the Jumanos encountered at La Junta by the Espejo entrada of 1581 (see Chapter 3) had migrated to New Mexico by 1598, where they were found living in the southeastern Pueblos. When missionaries visited a Jumano encampment in the High Plains, some 250 miles to the east of New Mexico, Hodge reasoned that the Jumanos had moved again.

Thus, Hodge interpreted a few scattered references to the Jumanos as evidence of the constant, erratic migrations of a single group, who then followed the priests back to New Mexico to live, once more, in or near the pueblos. There, he reasoned, the Jumanos would not have been found in any "village other than their own." Therefore he speculated that the "great pueblo of the Xumanas," mentioned by early writers in New Mexico, must have been "an aggregation of dwellings of ... [a] more or less temporary kind . . ." From this location, they would have shifted again to where they were found a few years later in the plains east of New Mexico. Missionary visits were once more made, "apparently for the purpose of bringing them back."

Hodge made rather free interpretation of the locales and distances given in his sources, suggesting that the settlements in the plains were located in the vicinity of El Cuartelejo, an area in western Kansas, even though the original sources indicate locations east or southeast of New Mexico. His interpretation was evidently influenced by his efforts to establish a link between the early Jumanos and the later Wichita tribes of Kansas and Oklahoma. After 1650, he believed that the Jumano tribe divided, some of them locating in Texas and others remaining in the north to become allies of the Pawnees and French. He related these movements to changes in nomenclature: the term "Jumano . . . originated in Chihuahua and New Mexico, passed into Texas, but seems to have been gradually replaced by the name 'Tawahash,' which in turn was superseded by 'Wichita.'" Thus, according to Hodge, the Jumanos did not actually disappear from history—it was simply a matter of changing nomenclature.

It is with Hodge's work that the issue of language identity became part of the "Jumano problem." Wichita, to which he linked the Jumanos, is part of the Caddoan family of languages. This grouping is associated with the Plains rather than the Southwest, and may be distantly related to the Siouan and Iroquoian families. Thus, Hodge's interpretation suggests historical connections for the Jumanos which are prevailingly eastern.

Herbert Bolton

Bolton was a renowned historian whose field of interest was the Spanish borderlands region, including northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. As noted, it was Bolton's contribution to the Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico which fueled Hodge's interpretations of Jumano history. However, Bolton disagreed with Hodge's conclusions. In 1911, after further researches in the archives of Mexico, he responded to Hodge with an article in which he, too, focused his attention on the mystery of Jumano identity and on their whereabouts at and after the end of the seventeenth century.

Bolton disputed Hodge's identification of the Rio de las Nueces, where the Jumano were situated in 1632 and 1650, with the Arkansas River. He carefully analyzed the itineraries of several Spanish expeditions to this river and identified it as the Concho, a tributary of the Colorado of Texas. Bolton also contradicted Hodge's assertion that the Jumanos had vanished from the southern part of their range by the beginning of the eighteenth century. He cited manuscript sources which indicated the presence, decades later, of Jumanos together with Tobosos near La Junta, and allied with Apaches near San Antonio, Texas.

For Bolton, an important part of the Jumano mystery was an evident shift in loyalties. Until Spanish missionaries left Texas in 1693, the Jumanos were allies of Spain and enemies of the Apaches; however, when Spain reclaimed the territory in 1716, the former enemies had become reconciled. After this date, Spanish sources began to refer to "Apaches jumanes," indicating that some observers considered the Jumanos a division of the Apaches. As a result, when the Wichita and Apaches were at war in 1771, according to Bolton, there could have been "people called Jumano" on both sides of the conflict. This observation led him to conclude that, at least in those later years, the name did not apply to a unitary group of bands or tribes.

Bolton expressed no opinion about linguistic affiliation; however, his exposition would render Hodge's position untenable. It appeared very unlikely that the Rio Grande Jumanos of 1581 were direct ancestors of the nineteenth-century Wichita.

Carl Sauer

Sauer, perhaps the most famous of American geographers, mentioned the Jumanos in a 1934 survey of the aboriginal tribes and languages of northwestern Mexico. The area includes the southern fringes of Jumano distribution, along the Rio del Norte near La Junta. Sauer presented evidence which indicated a cultural and linguistic continuity between Jumano and Suma, a people with wide distribution through northern Chihuahua and Sonora. The Sumas were almost as widely dispersed as the Jumanos, ranging west into Sonora and as far north as Casas Grandes.

On the basis of life-style and location, Sauer tentatively assigned the Suma-Jumanos and their neighbors the Julimes to different divisions of the great Uto-Aztecan language stock. The Julimes were aligned with the western Pima and Opata, while the Suma-Jumano were set apart as "the northeasternmost lot of the North Mexican Uto-Aztecan peoples." Over the years Sauer's suggestion has been the most generally accepted of several conflicting opinions on the linguistic identification of Jumano.

France V. Scholes and the "Jumano Problem"

In 1940 historian France V. Scholes and archaeologist H. P. Mera combined their perspectives in an important publication on the "Jumano problem." Scholes' contribution falls into three sections. In the first, he reviewed the discussion of the problem of Jumano identity up to that date, and proposed a unique solution. Observing that in certain early seventeenth-century documents, the name Jumano was applied to people who were also described as rayados, Scholes suggested that "in the early colonial period the name Jumano was used ... to designate all indios rayados."

As Scholes himself indicated, use of the term in this sense would have made it indiscriminately applicable to a large number of tribes, since decoration of the face and/or body with rayas (stripes or lines) was a widespread practice. If this were the case, a question would still remain regarding the origin of the name; Scholes left open the possibility that a specific group of "true" Jumanos could be identified, whose name had come to be used more widely. His suggestion was well received, and has been the point of departure for most subsequent discussion.

In retrospect, the wide acceptance given to Scholes' position is remarkable. It appears to have been based on very limited evidence, and the argument from that evidence is not strong. In historical sources, Jumano was not broadly applied to any and all painted or tattooed peoples, as Scholes appears to indicate. For example, it is not known to have been applied to the Conchos, who were known as rayados; or to the Tejas or other Caddo groups; or to the Apaches (only some of whom were painted). The use of the term Jumano was actually much more selective than is suggested by Scholes' remarks. and the possibility remained that some or all of the groups so called were linked by other historical connections.

A longer and more informative section of Scholes' essay deals with the Jumano pueblos in the Tompiro region of New Mexico, between the first Spanish entradas and the abandonment of the region circa 1672. Scholes made use of his own research in New Mexican church history and was able to fill in some of the gaps in Hodge's characterization of the Tompiros. Hodge had earlier argued that the Jumanos were only present in eastern New Mexico as temporary, nomadic visitors. Scholes demonstrated that they formed a substantial element in the population of southeastern New Mexico; they were distinguished, as rayados, from the large Tompiro group (gente sin rayas—people without stripes). The Jumanos were the dominant element in three or four pueblos; at least one of these (the Great Pueblo) was a town of several thousand people.

Although Scholes did not attempt to resolve the question of Jumano linguistic affiliation, the final section of his paper makes a contribution toward that end. He cited sources to confirm Sauer's linkage of Jumano with Suma, but was wary of including SumaJumano in the Uto-Aztecan family. For the Tompiro region, he presented accounts which indicated mutual intelligibility between Piro (or Tompiro) and jumano elements in the population. Since Piro was part of the Tanoan family of languages, this could be evidence for a Tanoan affiliation of Jumano as well. Indeed, Scholes suggested that "the linguistic phase of the problem should ... be carefully explored, especially with reference to current speculation about the wider connections of Tanoan."

H. P. Mera and Jumano Archaeology

Presented in the same publication with Scholes', H. P. Mera's paper dealt with the prehistory of the Tompiro province, with special reference to the identification of archaeological sites with historical communities. Mera confirmed the large complex of ruins now called "Gran Quivira" to be the community known, in the colonial period, as the "Great Pueblo of the Humanas."17 He also noted very slight local variations in the archaeological materials and suggested that these could help distinguish between Jumano and Piro sites.

Archaeologists have continued to study and classify, and have partially restored, the sites in the eastern Tompiro Pueblos, which now are included in the Gran Quivira National Monument. Both archaeological and historical researchers are interested in the position of these villages, situated in the Salinas, a region of arid salt flats on the eastern margin of the agricultural Southwest, and are curious about their relations with the South Plains and regions farther to the east.

Like Mera, archaeologist Stuart Baldwin divides the Tompiro province into two regions: eastern (the Salinas) and western (the Abo valley). One point of interest is the attribution of distinctive pottery types to the pueblos of the Salinas region. These are, most importantly, Chupadero Black-on-White, Salinas Red-ware, and related pottery types which frequently occur as trade wares, far from their point of origin; this pottery is often found at sites in the South Plains. Pottery is an especially useful marker for the intensity and direction of trade relations between the eastern pueblos of New Mexico and the South Plains, in late prehistoric as well as early historic times.

J. Charles Kelley

Kelley did archaeological work at La Junta de los Rios in the 1940's. At that important crossroads, he located and described a series of sites, some of them identifiable with the historical communities of colonial times. Within these sites, Kelley distinguished house patterns and cultural remains which he attributed to two different population groups; he calls these groups Jumano and Patarabueye. Kelley identifies the Jumanos as a hunting tribe, based in the Pecos River-Toyah Creek region of western Texas. He believes that the hunters who ranged from the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico were also involved in trade. The other group, sedentary villagers, were the Patarabueyes. They were closely associated with, and perhaps related to, the nomadic Jumanos; however, the nature of the relationship is left undefined.

Kelley tentatively accepts Sauer's linguistic identification of the sedentary La Junta population, the Patarabueyes, as Uto-Aztecan. For the nomadic Jumanos, he is inclined to a more eastern or northern affiliation, making a shotgun suggestion of a link to Caddoan, Tonkawan, Athabascan, or Coahuiltecan, as well as the generally accepted Uto-Aztecan. He explicitly denies any connection between the Pueblo Jumanos and those who wintered at La Junta de los Rios.

In 1955 Kelley wrote a historical study which traces the movements of the Jumanos of the 1680's and focuses attention on their leader, Juan Sabeata. Here, he describes a pattern of regular travel or migration between La Junta and eastern Texas. Kelley's definition of the pre-contact Jumanos as a nomadic, buffalo-hunting, Plains tribe may be in part a projection of their late seventeenthcentury culture; this was later much influenced by their acquisition of horses.

W. W. Newcomb, Jr.

Newcomb included a chapter on the Jumanos in a regional survey of the Indians of Texas, published in 1961. He relies on Kelley in discussing the remains of early historic village sites at La Junta; however, he applies the name Jumano to the sedentary village population (Kelley's Patarabueyes). Newcomb suggests that the nomadic bison-hunting people who roamed the South Plains were a derivative and, perhaps, mainly seasonal, offshoot of these "barbaric gardener" folk.

The timeline for Newcomb's cultural description is the initial period of Spanish exploration; he has little to say about the culture of mounted nomadic Jumanos of a century later. He follows Sauer in assigning both the villagers and their nomadic kinsmen to the Uto-Aztecan language group.

Jack Forbes

Forbes, a specialist in Athabascan history, is one of the most recent anthropologists to offer a solution to the problem of Jumano identity and linguistic affiliation. Forbes carries the position stated by Scholes to an extreme, and in effect denies the very existence of the Jumanos as a separate ethnic or linguistic entity. Forbes' Jumanos, like Kelley's, are the nomadic Plains people; however, Forbes identifies this group as early Apaches, and thus as part of the Athabascan language stock. The La Junta village people (Newcomb's Jumanos) are considered by Forbes to be Julimes; the sedentary Jumanos of the Tompiro pueblos are simply called Tompiros, and the Arkansas River Jumanos of Hodge and Bolton are Wichitas.

Forbes also focuses on the issue of language. He attempts to establish the Athabascan affiliation of the Plains Jumanos (his Jumano-Apaches) and a number of others in "a belt of tribes extending from the area of southeastern Arizona to eastern Texas." Several of the sources which Forbes cites do indicate a linguistic connection among the Jumanos and Sumas, Cholomes, Cibolos, and Mansos; these tribes were also closely allied in a political sense. By demonstrating that there was an apparent absence of intelligibility with their Uto-Aztecan neighbors, Forbes makes a convincing case to counter Sauer's classification of this Jumano bloc as UtoAztecan. However, he seems to go beyond the limits of his data in linking the Jumanos with Athabascan; here his case rests more on cultural considerations and political alliances than on information about language.

Who Were the Jumanos?

The Jumanos disappeared from the historical record more than two centuries ago. What kind of people were they? They seem never to have been extremely numerous, but they were given a remarkable degree of respect and diplomatic attention by the government of Spanish New Mexico. Were they a scattered tribe of nomadic hunters? A sedentary tribe of horticulturalists with a penchant for seasonal wandering? Was Jumano the name of a single tribe, or was it a broader term applied to Indians of a certain cultural type? Was it a linguistic grouping which incorporated both sedentary and nomadic groupings? Was it, as some have contended, a term applied to all Indians who practiced a certain type of facial painting or tattooing? All of these alternative hypotheses have been suggested; however, none of them is completely satisfactory.

My own belief, which I will attempt to demonstrate in the following pages, is that Jumano was first an ethnic designation applied, in early historic times, to Tanoan-speaking Indians with a longestablished territorial range in the South Plains. However, it was also applied in a narrower and more specialized sense to Indians of this ethnic type who played a traditional role as traders. In conjunction with their trade, Jumanos frequently traveled and sojourned far beyond geographical limits of their tribal territory. Throughout their history they were part of a regional system and played a key role in the exchange of staple commodities and distribution of localized resources.

In later times—and especially toward the end of the seventeenth century—the Jumanos appeared almost exclusively in the role of traders, as they were increasingly displaced from their previous territorial range by southward and eastward advances of the Apaches. The Apache occupancy of the South Plains also marked a major transition in economic and political alignments. It will be seen in the following chapters that the effects of this transition can be clearly followed in the historical record.

It is possible that a few of the primary references to jumanos may represent, as Scholes and others have suggested, extensions of the term—perhaps in the specific sense of "traders." In general, however, I would argue that Jumano, as found in the historical sources, was the designation given to a unique, recognizable, cultural and linguistic entity. I hope to demonstrate that there is a rationale to the distribution of these people in time and space, and that most or all of the scattered individual groups were segments of this same entity.

The World of the Jumanos

Within the known territorial range of the jumanos between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries a focal or heartland region can be roughly defined. It encompassed the South Plains of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, and may have extended to adjacent regions of Oklahoma, Colorado, and northern Chihuahua. The South Plains are characterized overall by a semi-arid continental climate, level and open terrain, and the absence of significant natural barriers to travel. The movements of the Jumanos within and beyond their heartland region were shaped and constrained by features of the natural environment, which influenced or limited their numbers, distribution, and lines of communication.

The Great Plains of North America are a product of the same tectonic uplift which formed the Rocky Mountains some 10 million years ago and of the subsequent activity of water and wind. The entire area is prevailingly flat, and decreases in altitude from west to east. Humidity varies from semi-arid (ten to fifteen inches of rain per year) at the west, to sub-humid (fifteen to twenty-five inches of rain per year) at the east. This gradient is continued in adjoining regions; the Gulf Plain is a zone of high humidity (up to sixty inches of rain per year), while in the south and southwest the South Plains border on almost waterless deserts in northern Chihuahua.

The South Plains are edged on the west and south by the drainage system of the Rio Grande. The upper Rio Grande (Rio del Norte) flows south out of the southern Rockies, turns southeast at Big Bend, and debouches into the Gulf of Mexico. The valley of the upper Rio Grande was a focal area of Native American agriculture and the site of numerous permanent villages. Two densely populated areas within this valley are the Pueblo provinces of New Mexico, where some sixty-five villages were located along the main channel of the Rio del Norte and several tributaries; and La Junta de los Rios, where a half-dozen large villages and a number of rancherias were clustered at the confluence of the Rio del Norte and the Rio Conchos, a tributary which flows northeastward out of Mexico. Irrigation agriculture was practiced in New Mexico, as well as dry farming. At La Junta, the extensive floodplains along both rivers were cultivated, the agricultural cycle being adapted to the predictable seasonal variation in water flow. In both areas the staple crops of maize, beans, and squashes were grown; many European cultigens were adopted in the years following the Spanish conquest.

Below La Junta the Rio Grande has cut a series of deep rocky canyons as it passes through the mountainous Big Bend region. A tributary, the Rio Pecos, has its source in the mountains of southeastern Colorado, and flows across the South Plains and Edwards Plateau, to join the Rio Grande below Big Bend. The lower course of the Pecos also has deeply eroded canyons. The canyons of the Rio Grande system mark a natural limit to the South Plains as an aboriginal culture area, since they would have discouraged travel, especially in the years prior to the introduction of horses.

Besides the Rio Grande and the Pecos, a number of other rivers have sources in the South Plains and adjacent southern ranges of the Rocky Mountains. All of these rivers flow toward the east or southeast, and empty into the lower Mississippi or the Gulf of Mexico. Among them are the Arkansas River and its major tributaries, the Canadian and Cimarron; the Red River; the Brazos; and the Colorado River of Texas. Further to the south, the Guadalupe and Nueces systems rise in the Edwards Plateau (a rugged extension of the South Plains) and flow across the Coastal Plain into the Gulf. Many of the rivers of the South Plains originate as or are fed by natural springs. Although the surface flow of these streams may be low or even absent in dry seasons, their deep valleys appear as oases, often containing the only concentrated growth of trees in a given area. The valleys, or canyons, often a mile or more in width, may be unnoticed until approached at close range, due to the general absence of surface elevation.

Temperatures in the South Plains often rise to 100∞F. or more in the summer months. Winters are not severe, though brief subfreezing cold spells are common; blue northers, with high winds and blowing snow, occasionally sweep through the region. High winds are characteristic at all times of year; in the summer months, tornadoes and thunderstorms occur in the region. Although annual average rainfall is low, the amount in any given year is variable and unpredictable. Rainfall follows a seasonal pattern occurring mostly between April and November, with peak amounts in late spring and in early autumn.

The Llano Estacado, or High Plains of western Texas and eastern New Mexico, is one of the flattest regions in the world. This interested early European travellers; for example, Coronado noted the "limitless plains" with "no more landmarks than as if we had been swallowed up in the sea"; there was "not a stone, nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by."

Another well-known feature of the Llano Estacado is the concentration of playas, small lakes which fill during rainy periods and hold water for weeks or months until drying up during the dry season. The playas are a function of the underlying Ogalala aquifer, and reflect a network of buried stream valleys. As a seasonal environmental resource, they make the region attractive to migrating animals and waterfowl, and have also influenced the movements of nomadic human populations for many centuries.

High surface relief features are, for the most part, marginal to the South Plains. At the west, the Plains rise in altitude to meet the foothills of the Rockies. South of the Rockies, a series of small mountain ranges—including the Sangre de Cristos, Manzanos, Guadalupes, Sacramentos, Chizos, and Davis Mountains—lie both east and west of the Rio Grande Valley. These ranges are not massive and are interspersed with a number of ground-level passes. Both river courses and mountain passes have helped to shape interregional routes of travel and communication throughout human history.

Beyond the South Plains, the Jumanos' historical occupancy extends into neighboring regions to the west and east. In the west, they were a familiar presence in the village provinces of New Mexico and at La Junta de los Rios. In New Mexico, the Pecos and Tompiro provinces were centers for interregional trade. These gateway communities were strategically located in relation to important trails; for example, Pecos Pueblo overlooks Galisteo Pass, a major point of entry for the Plains trade. The villages at La Junta de los Rios and El Paso were also situated at natural crossroads, where the river met east-west highways. La Junta de los Rios was perhaps the most important such communications center south of New Mexico. This was the point of intersection of routes linking Mexico, New Mexico, the South Plains, and the Gulf Plains. Trails which followed the Rio Conchos and Rio del Norte to La Junta made connection, by way of the Davis Mountains, with the Pecos, the Colorado, and other rivers of Texas. This linkage of riverine routes with overland trails took optimum advantage of springs and other water sources and exemplifies a type of communication network adapted to the arid South Plains environment. Such water routes were especially important prior to the introduction of horses and more advanced means of communication.

The variety of food resources available in the South Plains made this an attractive area for hunting and gathering. However, the seasonality of certain key resources conditioned a pattern of nomadism for the aboriginal population. Large and small game included deer, antelope, and elk; rabbit, armadillo, beaver, porcupine, and many rodents; and snakes, turtles, and fish. Bison may have been present in some number year-round, but the largest herds were found between mid-summer and late autumn; autumn was the preferred hunting season. Migrating birds would also have been found in largest numbers in spring and fall; the playas are still a favorite sanctuary for migratory Canadian geese and other waterfowl.

The concentration of rainfall between spring and fall, and the natural reservoirs which retained a plentiful supply of standing water throughout this period, are environmental features which dictated that a pattern of seasonal transhumance was adaptive to the South Plains environment. The protohistoric Jumanos probably did maintain and regularly occupy permanent bases in propitious locations on permanent watercourses (e.g., in Yellowhouse Canyon, on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos). However, all or most of the Jumano bands probably wintered in or camped near the villages of their trading partners along the Rio Grande; they set out for the Plains in the spring, and turned westward in the fall.

Both staple foods and other trade goods (such as bow-wood, mineral pigments, pottery, and gemstones) were transported between the farming villages along the Rio del Norte and hunter-gatherers whose territories lay in the South Plains. These societies were linked in a pan-regional exchange system, some features of which can be traced far back in the archaeological record. The Jumanos played an important role in the exchange between Pueblos and Plains and also served as middlemen in a more distant trade, which brought them into contact with both agricultural and non-agricultural peoples whose territories lay far east of the Plains.

The Jumanos' bases in the Plains must have had something of the character of trading posts. They shared the use of their hunting grounds with a number of other tribes; out of these intertribal contacts, they developed a special role as traders and middlemen. However, the seasonal buffalo hunt was only a part of a complex pattern of shared utilization of regional and localized resources. The seasonal harvests of such wild foods as tunas (prickly pears), pecans, piñon nuts, and shellfish were the occasions for multi-band and multi-tribal gatherings. These gatherings had social and political, as well as economic, functions. It is likely that the fairs to which the Jumanos traveled as traders coincided with an annual calendrical round of gatherings of this type.

In the seventeenth century, the Jumanos made annual trips as far as the Hasinai region of eastern Texas. They traded horses and goods of European manufacture to the Texas Indians; it would seem that fur and pelts were an important part of the goods which they received in exchange. It is unclear whether trading expeditions of this magnitude were aboriginal; in any case, they increased in scope after the supply of horses became plentiful in the South Plains.

The Indians originally obtained horses from the Spanish colonies. The Jumanos sometimes raided the horse herds of their enemies, the Apaches (as the Apaches also raided the Jumanos). However, the Jumanos were especially well known as horse traders. The size of their herds, with a surplus supply available for trade, can be explained by the availability of natural pasturage and a permanent water supply within the Jumanos' heartland. In the 1680's, large Jumano horse herds were located along the upper Rio Colorado, a convenient location for their trade to the Hasinai, Wichita, and other eastern tribes.



“This important book accomplishes many things.... It will reshape perceptions of the history of the Southern Plains and the Spanish borderlands. The Jumanos have been the subject of complete misunderstanding by anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians alike, and Hickerson has gone a great distance to clarify just who the Jumanos were, what happened to them, and why they were important.... The Jumanos is excellent ethnohistory.”
Journal of American History


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