In this episode, I explore the relationships between the native tribes and each other and the native tribes and the Spanish and question whether or not Spanish Colonization of Texas had a realistic chance to succeed.
Each tribe was unique, there was always a fluidity in the relationships between the tribes, and the tribes didn’t really believe in or have knowledge of the European concept of nation-states. Now there were confederations of tribes, those were usually loosely organized and didn’t have a central government or a unified army and other elements that we usually associate with a nation-state.
The tribes were often very successful at life and adapting to their surroundings, for example, the Jumano who lived in the area around the Rio Grande during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had a very successful economy. They hunted and lived on game such as buffalo, deer, rabbits, and fowl, they took fish from the rivers. Those living along the Rio Grande and Conchos grew corn, beans, squash, and bottle gourds, while women gathered mesquite beans, prickly pears, maguey leaves, and a host of other plants and roots. Now if you’ve ever been in South Texas you know there are periodic draughts in those times elders of the tribe would often arrange marriages with other Jumano tribes. The Jumano seem to have been one of the tribes that actually attempted to co-exist with the Spanish, and many of them sort of lived in two worlds. The world of the Mission and the original world of the Jumano, that had existed for centuries and in which they were highly successful. The Jumano and the Caddo in the Eastern part of Texas had probably the most sophisticated trading networks all the native peoples. However, Jumano expansion was at the same time being rivaled by the expansion from the north, the Apaches. The Jumanos were hard pressed trying to stand up against these newly arrived people.
The Apache are a people who many anthropologists think originated in or near Canada, and who eventually migrated south. As we’ve discussed in a previous episode the name Apache comes from the Zuni Pueblo word for “enemy”. Coronado encountered them during his expedition in 1540 and in time the various Apache groups played a significant role in Texas history. By the late 1600s and early 1700s the Spanish identified two major Apache groups; the Lipans who roamed northwest of San Antonio on the upper Colorado, Brazos, and Red Rivers, and the Mescaleros, who lived farther southwest around the Pecos River and the Rio Grande. While not as large as the Jumano trading network, the Apache would visit some Pueblo towns and trades skins and buffalo meat for corn and salt. They were very nomadic, because as a group of hunter-gatherers they had to follow the game and move when the seasons changed. As a result, they did not really make very suitable targets for conversion to Mission life. Boys were trained from an early age to be warriors and to endure the hardships they would encounter in their daily lives. Since the Apache were trained as warriors, they were ready to fight when the Jumano, the Spanish, and tribes from Mexico who were moving north began to encroach on their hunting and traveling grounds. Add to this volatile mix, the fervor of the Spanish for silver and or gold and to acquire land, plus the Comanche who were also moving from the North, the Caddo who were being pressured in the east, and the Karankawa who were pressured on the coast, Spanish Texas was a tinder box; not ready to be pacified.
As a result of the varieties and lifestyles of the native peoples, Spanish efforts to “colonize” the state and “civilize” the native peoples, were doomed to ultimately fail, because the Spanish had to deal with the native tribes on their own basis and rules; and the Spanish weren’t prepared to do so. As I talked about in Episode 8, there was a true clash of cultures.
We often hear how Spain conquered the native peoples they encountered and for the most part in much of Central and South America that is true, simply because they did their best to kill everyone who opposed them. Then there were those who died from contracting diseases, that the Spanish brought with them from Europe and that the natives didn’t have any immunity for. From 1694 until 1715, most of Texas was unoccupied by the Spanish. As mentioned in an earlier episode the Mission at San Antonio de Bexar established in 1718 served as a resupply point for the missions in the East and as a hub for exploration of the rest of the territory.
Despite well-entrenched myths of Spanish conquest, claims of imperial control made by Spanish officialdom did not reflect reality on the ground in much of the region they identified as the province of Texas. Indians—and the Spaniards who lived among them—recognized most of the region as Apachería, Comanchería, Wichita, and Caddo territories. Each area was unique and each group was unique (with some similarities) from one another, there was no one size fits all plan that would work.
Nicolás de Lafora, in 1767, wrote that Indians “have little respect for the Spanish and we are admitted only as friends, but without any authority.” In addition, 13 years later in 1778, friar Juan Agustín Morfi stated “though we still call ourselves masters, we do not exercise dominion over a foot of land beyond San Antonio.” Why did the Spaniard have so little success, according to the book, Peace came in the form of a woman, author Juliana Barr wrote, “In the eyes of Apaches, Comanches, Wichitas, and Caddos, Spaniards operated as just another collection of bands like themselves in an equal, if not weaker, position to compete for socioeconomic resources in the region. Throughout the century, different Indian groups made it clear that they viewed each Spanish settlement as an individual entity. At midcentury, allied Wichitas, Caddos, and Tonkawas maintained peace with Spaniards living at Los Adaes while making war against those at San Antonio de Béxar and the nearby mission-presidio complex at San Sabá.” (1)
The tribes simply did not recognize the Spanish as representatives of the most extensive, wealthy, and powerful European empire in the Americas. The Spanish failed to understand that the land they entered could have easily been divided into quadrants, three under native control, with Apaches in the west, Caddos in the east, and Comanches and Wichitas in the north. The fourth, the Spanish quadrant of Texas, consisted of the south-central areas of San Antonio de Béxar and La Bahía. Other than that, the native tribes simply viewed the Spanish as just another group of people. This disparity in outlook and understanding of how people thought and lived would be source of conflict for decades to come, regardless of which new group tried to settle Texas.
If you are interested in learning more about the lives of the Texas Native Americans, I suggest three books, Donald E. Chipman’s Spanish Texas, 1519-1821, Juliana Barr’s, Peace Came in the Form of a Woman, and David La Vere’s, The Texas Indians each of which is available as an ebook. (I DO NOT RECEIVE ANY COMPENSATION FOR RECOMMENDING THESE BOOKS)
So until next time, I’m Hank Wilson, your Time Traveling Texican; Talk with you soon, God Bless y’all.
Texas State Historical Association – https://www.tshaonline.org/home/
Donald E. Chipman. Spanish Texas, 1519-1821: Revised Edition (Clifton and Shirley Caldwell Texas Heritage Series) (Kindle Locations 703-704). Kindle Edition.
Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman (p. 2). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition.
La Vere, David. The Texas Indians (Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University) (p. 80). Texas A&M University Press. Kindle Edition.