INDIANS DURING THE SPANISH PERIOD (Extract from the Handbook of Texas Online article Indians.)

Ethnologists have identified hundreds of groups of Texas "Indians," as the first European explorers to arrive called the peoples they found. Some of these were true tribes, accumulations of families or clans with social customs, traditions, and rules for order; these were occasionally quite large. At the opposite extreme, some were merely small family groups whose names or ethnic designations were taken for "tribal" names by the Spanish and French and in subsequent secondary literature. The extant names of Texas Indian groups present a dazzling array of variants, partly because the Spanish, French, and English heard the newly "discovered" peoples differently and recorded their names differently. Some names in the historical records are mistakes for groups that never existed.

Spanish period. The variety of the peoples and cultures whom Europeans first found in Texas and the different histories of each group make generalizations about Indians hazardous. Texas was not simply a Spanish-Indian or Anglo-Indian frontier, but rather a multisided frontier, a Spanish-Anglo-Comanche-Wichita-Apache-etc. frontier, where multiple groups acted for their own reasons. A few generalizations, however, apply to all Texas Indian groups. First, diseases introduced by the Europeans decimated them, especially after mission and military institutions brought people in contact so that they could be infected (see HEALTH AND MEDICINE). More broadly, anthropologist John C. Ewers has identified no fewer than thirty major epidemics-mainly of smallpox and cholera-between 1528 and 1890 that wiped out perhaps 95 percent of Texas Indians.

Texas also became a "horse-and-gun" frontier for Indians located between competing European powers. French and English traders from the East introduced firearms to the Indians in order to purchase peltry from them and win them as allies in both trade and war. The Spanish introduced horses. Groups able to obtain these two important items had a powerful advantage over others. The introduction of the horse, especially, produced nothing less than a cultural, technological, and economic revolution, enabling groups to move their habitats, intensify their raiding and trading activities, and hunt buffaloqv more effectively. When the French gun trade met the Spanish horse trade in the late 1600s, the situation impelled the Spanish to settle Texas in order to block French efforts to move southward and westward toward the Spanish provinces of Mexico and New Mexico. Texas, in effect, was of little importance except as a buffer to be occupied for the protection of more important Spanish possessions.

In the late 1680s, Spanish soldiers and missionaries ventured far beyond existing Spanish settlement to the woodland home of the Caddo Indians.qv The Caddos were twenty-five to thirty distinct groups that shared the same language, political structure, and religious beliefs and ceremonies. In the 1690s they assembled themselves into three loose confederacies-the westernmost Hasinai Indiansqv (including the Tejas Indiansqv or Tay-sha, from whom Texas got its name) settled on the Angelina and Neches rivers, the Kadodachos along the bend of the Red River at what is now the Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas border, and the eastern Natchitoch Indians.qv The Caddos were an agricultural people who lived in stable villages and were not especially warlike except for their traditional conflicts with Osages to the north and Tonkawaqv bands to the west over hunting grounds. Franciscansqv and Spanish soldiers settled among the Hasinais in 1689. Caddos resisted Spanish efforts to "reduce" them to compact towns; instead, they preferred to live in small clusters stretching through fertile river valleys. The missionaries had little success in converting them to Christianity, and resorted in frustration to ridicule of Caddo beliefs in the effort. A smallpox epidemic swept through the area in the winter of 1690-91, killing 3,000 Caddos, whose religious leaders blamed the friars for the pestilence. Aside from disease, Caddo tenacity in holding onto their religion, and the disrespect offered by the missionaries, other problems smoldered as well. The Caddos invited the Spanish into their villages mainly to get trade advantages, especially a steady supply of firearms with which to defend themselves against Osage raids, but trade was meager and the Spanish refused to supply weapons. Furthermore, Spanish soldiers committed such outrages as molesting Caddo women. Finally, in 1693 a caddi (chief) informed a soldier that "all of his people were very annoyed with the Spanish and it would be better if the Spanish went and left his lands"; then he told a priest ("with much ridicule", the priest said) that his people often spoke of throwing out the Spanish. When the Spanish left the next year, four soldiers deserted and joined the Hasinais. Although the Spanish reestablished their presence among the Caddos twenty years later, few Caddos accepted Christianity, and the Spanish never supplied goods with the quality and regularity that the French provided. Caddo agriculture thrived and, combined with the hunt and a strong trade with other tribes, enabled them to withstand Spanish efforts to control them.

The Spanish entry into Texas altered regional trade networks and led the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa Indiansqqv to migrate into the South Plains to be nearer the supply of Spanish horses. The Spanish also established missions among smaller groups that needed protection from more powerful northern invaders. The Jumanos,qv who lived on the western tributaries of the Colorado River and along the Pecos River and the Rio Grande, were targets of Spanish slave raids to obtain laborers for mines in Chihuahua. By the mid-1600s, however, they had positioned themselves as middlemen, trading Pueblo Indianqv textiles and turquoise, Caddo bows, Spanish metals and horses, and their own buffalo hides. This advantageous situation ended with the entrance onto the South Plains of the Apaches, who cut off the Jumanos from the New Mexico pueblos. Many small tribes sided with the Spanish in campaigns against the aggressive Apaches, but by the decade after 1710 the Jumanos had been so severely defeated that they lost their distinct cultural identity. Some merged with their former enemies, the Apaches, while others became wage laborers in Chihuahua and gradually blended into the Mexican populace.

A similar fate befell the Coahuiltecan Indians,qv who lived in small bands between the San Antonio River and the Rio Grande and along the Balcones Escarpment.qv Their only defense against Apache attacks was to congregate in the newly formed Spanish missions.qv San Antonio, in fact, was founded primarily as a cluster of missions with a presidio serving the small Coahuiltecan, Jumano, and other bands who needed protection from the Apaches. By the early nineteenth century, these peoples had intermarried and become so acculturated among the Spanish Mexicans that their ethnic identity as "Indians" was lost and they entered the lower strata of Hispanic society. San Antonio was a mixed blessing to both the Indian bands and the Spanish. While affording some protection from Apaches, the growing settlement also attracted Apache raids. In 1723 Spanish forces battled a large Apache camp in what is now Brown County,qv killing thirty-four warriors, including the chief. Such decisive victories were rare, however, and San Antonio and nearby missions continued to be plagued by Apache raids.

The Apaches themselves had a problem more severe than the Spanish. Just as they had displaced weaker bands from the South Plains, they too resisted dislocation at the hands of a more powerful newcomer to the region-the Comanches. Since the Apaches practiced some agriculture, their seasonal settlements were ripe targets for the completely nomadic Comanches. Eventually, the Comanches ousted the Apaches from the South Plains buffalo range. Some Apache groups moved westward into New Mexico, but others-Lipan Apaches-moved southeasterly to the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Relations with the Spanish were strained. On the one hand, the Apaches needed to ally with them against the Comanches; on the other, Lipan Apaches continued to raid San Antonio, and their recent displacement had brought them closer to the town. The Comanche sweep into the area was facilitated, like the Apache migration earlier, by the horse. Horses not only gave greater mobility and revolutionized Indian culture; they also became the primary measure of wealth and status. At the time the Comanches decisively defeated the previous South Plains inhabitants, they also established connections with French gun traders through Caddo and Wichitaqv bands and thus became the most formidable opponents the Spanish ever faced.

The term tribe should be used with caution in regard to the Comanches. Though they had a common language and way of life, they had no political institutions or social mechanisms by which they acted as a unit. Comanche families formed bands that acted autonomously from each other. Bands have generally been delineated geographically-as "northern," "middle," "southern," and "Llano Estacado"qv-but Comanche bands did not really adhere to any distinct territorial boundaries. Furthermore, Comanche bands were not fixed institutions; they broke apart, reformed, and merged over the years. A man's connection to a band was one of free association, and he moved from one to another at will. Band populations fluctuated with the popularity of their leaders, mainly based on success at procuring horses and defeating enemies. Because of this type of social organization, no band leader could really control the behavior of individuals, as the Spanish (and later the Americans) learned. Comanche rank and social status were determined by war honors and the accumulation of horses taken from enemies. Horses were the most important type of property, a medium of exchange, and the measure of one's worth. Horse culture promoted decentralized and nomadic living arrangements because of the pasture needed by large horse herds. Horse raiding and trading characterized the Comanche role in Texas. It was not in the Comanches' interest to destroy or drive away Europeans; by using the margins of Spanish (and later Mexican and Anglo) settlement as sources of plunder, they enriched themselves while retarding colonial expansion into their region. In their middleman role, Comanches supplied horses and goods derived from buffalo huntingqv in exchange for the agricultural surplus of other groups, such as the Wichita bands, and firearms from European-American traders.

A similar maximization of power through the horse-and-gun trade occurred for the Wichitas, another group that migrated from the north in the early 1700s. A confederation of several linguistically related bands (Tawakoni, Taovaya,qqv Iscani, Wichitas, Toweash), these people moved southward to get away from the more powerful and European-armed Osages. The Wichitas eventually lived on both sides of the Red River, a prime location where they stood between the Comanches and the French and profited accordingly. The Wichita bands subsisted by farming and hunting buffalo. They traded surplus crops to the Comanches for horses, then supplied horses to the French and Caddos living to the east. This trade system-from the French through the Caddos through the Wichitas to the Comanches-defined the diplomacy, economy, and general issues of war and peace from the early 1700s until the early years of Anglo-American settlement near the South Plains. The Wichitas originally made peace overtures to the Spanish in San Antonio, but the Spanish could not compete with the French trade. Also, the Spanish had established amicable relations with the Lipans in the early 1750s, much to the dismay of the Wichitas and everyone else who fought the Lipans in competition for hunting grounds. The Spanish were seen as protectors of the Lipans, for whom they established Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission on the San Saba River. The Lipans could not settle at San Antonio because the mission Indians and Spanish settlers feared them. Spanish officials believed San Sabá Mission would serve as a buffer between the Comanches and San Antonio and perhaps begin a chain of settlements between San Antonio and Santa Fe, New Mexico. They had not realized, however, that the mission would also become an attractive target for enemies of the Lipan Apaches. In March 1758, 2,000 warriors surrounded the mission, firing their French muskets into the air. This force, a conglomeration of Comanches, Wichitas, Tonkawas, Caddos, and others, told the Spanish soldiers not to fear them, that they only wished to attack some Apaches who had been raiding them. At the end of the day, thirty-five Apaches and Spaniards lay dead as the warriors looted and burned the mission. The meager Spanish military force, numbering fewer than sixty, had no choice but to remain barricaded in the nearby presidio.

The destruction of the mission was a severe blow to the Spanish and Lipans, but the larger meaning of the event swept fear through the province-2,000 warriors representing several groups had united in a concerted attack, displaying large quantities of firearms and notable skill in using them. The Spanish forces scattered through the various presidiosqv of Texas were no match for such formidable opponents. Mission Indians in San Antonio fled southward to escape a predicted onslaught. Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla,qv commander of San Sabá Presidio (San Luis de las Amarillas), organized a punitive campaign against the attackers with more than 600 men, including Lipans, the next year. The objective Ortiz chose was a cluster of Wichita villages on the Red River anchored by the Taovayas. The Indians had constructed a split-rail fort with spaces between the rails for warriors inside to fire their guns. Outside the stockade (for which present-day Spanish Fort is named, although it was actually a Taovaya fort) they made a steep embankment, and beyond that dug a deep moat to prevent horsemen from nearing the walls of the fort. Inside the 130-by-80-yard fortress, the Taovayas had dug four large underground rooms to shelter noncombatants. Ortiz encountered this imposing structure in October 1759. The Taovayas, who had skirmished with Ortiz earlier, protected themselves in the fort, laughing at the Spanish and daring them to try to enter. Indians opened fire from behind the walls, and mounted warriors charged out of the fort at the Spanish line. The battle lasted four hours before Ortiz fell back after nightfall. The fort's defenders obviously had an unlimited amount of ammunition, and Ortiz's Apache scouts could find no approach to the walls. The Taovayas showed greater discipline under fire than his own militiamen and outnumbered him as well, as other Wichita groups sent warriors to aid their kinsmen. Ortiz left the battlefield so quickly that he abandoned two pieces of artillery, which the Wichitas kept as trophies.

The failed assault on the Taovaya fortress demonstrated the limits of Spanish power on the frontier. The Spaniards could make isolated forays into the South Plains and inflict light damage, but they could never get the upper hand against Wichitas and Comanches and had to treat them practically as diplomatic equals. The battle also represented the high point of Wichita strength. Within a few years the Wichitas made peace with the Spanish, mainly because the Seven Years' War between France and Great Britain caused the French in Louisiana to cut back on the trade goods sent to western tribes. Likewise, at least one Comanche band, under a chief named Povea, made peace in San Antonio in 1772, but the chief reminded the Spanish that he could speak only for his own band, not for all Comanches. Spanish relations with the Lipans, never good, deteriorated after the San Saba-Wichita campaign fiasco. Lipans abandoned the missions for good and increased their stock raids on San Antonio. Trade and common enemies influenced Spanish efforts to establish friendly relations with Comanches, Wichitas, and Caddos, who were encouraged by Spanish officials in the early 1770s to finish off the Lipans. Although by 1779 the Lipans had once again made peace with San Antonio, hostilities between them and the other tribes continued for decades.

The Lipans sought allies, but found few. One group, the Tonkawas, formed an alliance with them that lasted more than a century, during which both groups dwindled. The Tonkawas were another small group shoved out of the South Plains buffalo range by the Comanches. Unlike the Lipans, they practiced no agriculture. Though originally known to the Spanish as four distinct bands, the Tonkawas unified in the mid-1700s as a response to epidemics and war losses. They were despised by other Indians not just for their raiding and competition for hunting grounds but also because they had a reputation for cannibalism. Tonkawa warriors ceremonially cut off the hands and feet of slain enemies and ate them; this practice, described first-hand by a few white witnesses (such as John S. "Rip" Fordqv in the 1850s), led enemies to seek even greater vengeance for the desecration of their dead kinsmen's bodies. The Tonkawas were even more outcast than the Lipans. The Lipans also allied briefly in the 1780s with groups of East Texas Indians, mainly to establish a source for guns and ammunition other than San Antonio. They made contacts with the small Atakapaqv bands on the lower Trinity River, who had been given two meager Spanish missions in an attempt to block French expansion. The missions never successfully reduced these hunter-gatherers, who had French contacts through the Caddos. At a trade fair held on the Guadalupe River in 1782, Lipans met Tonkawas, Atakapas, and Caddos and traded 1,000 Spanish horses for 270 guns. Such trade continued for four years, and the Caddos, although friendly to the Spanish, were oblivious to Spanish warnings to end it. By the end of the decade, the Caddos were forced to abandon the trade with the Lipans, as the Spanish again turned all the other tribes (including the Tonkawas, briefly) against the Lipans.

The Spanish policy of Indian alliances depended upon trade. Their failure to supply goods, especially firearms and ammunition, regularly or in abundance caused peaceful relations to stop and start and never be firmly established. The Spanish colonial bureaucratic structure also contributed to Wichita and Comanche disillusionment, as the viceregal authorities in Mexico City did not adequately understand the situation on its northern margins and communication was slow. Finally, increased Comanche raids led Mexico City to conclude that peace treaties were useless. Only one or two bands of Comanches had actually made peace with the Spanish, and their social structure had no way of preventing bold young men from going off to attain wealth and war honors. Raiding enabled the Comanches and other groups to circumvent Spanish attempts to control trade and regulate access to horses. Spanish power in Texas further unraveled in the beginning of the nineteenth century due to events in elsewhere in the empire. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe made Spain and Portugal battlegrounds for several years, and the crown had to attend to matters on its doorstep. At the same time, the wars of independence swept through the Americas, including Mexico. In 1821, the Republic of Mexico became independent after the eleven-year Mexican War of Independence,qv and Texas was included within its boundaries. In the end, the Spanish were no longer able to supply adequate trade to Indians or to station a respectable military presence on the frontier. Always an area of marginal importance in the large imperial scheme, Texas was the neglected fringe of a collapsing empire.

George Klos

 Citation: "Indians During The Spanish Period," extract from The Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, 2001, <> [Access Date].

For bibliography and complete article go to Indians.
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