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Indians, Spanish Period

There were many different groups of Indians in Texas, and it is hard to make generalizations about them because of the great variety.

Texas was a "horse-and-gun" frontier for Indians located between various European countries. The English and French introduced the Indians to firearms, and the Spanish introduced them to horses. The Indians who had these two things were more successful than those that did not.

In the late 1680s, the Spanish soldiers and missionaries headed far from existing Spanish settlements to the woodland home of the Caddo Indians. The Caddo were many different groups that all spoke the same language, shared the same political structure, and had the same religious beliefs. The Caddos were farming people who lived in strong villages and were not warlike except for their traditional fights with Osages and Tonkawa. The Caddos were against the Spanish's idea of moving them into compact towns. They liked living in small clusters that stretched out near the river valleys. The missionaries were not very successful in converting them to Christianity and insulted the Caddos' beliefs while they attempted. The Caddos invited the Spanish into their villages to get trade advantages, especially firearms, but the Spanish refused to supply them with weapons. The Caddos told the Spanish to leave and the Spanish did for a number of years. Even though they came back twenty years later, the Caddos did not accept Christianity. They were strong farmers and hunters and did not need the Spanish support.

When the Spanish entered Texas, they changed the trade network. The Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa Indians migrated to the South Plains to be closer to the supply of Spanish horses. The Spanish also set up missions among the smaller groups that needed protection from northern invaders. The Jumanos were targets of Spanish slave raids to get people to work in the mines in Chihuahua. By the mid-1600s they became trade middlemen. They would trade the Pueblo Indians cloth, turquoise, bows, metals and horses for their buffalo skins. This worked well until the South Plains of the Apaches cut them off. By 1710, the Jumanos had lost their identity as a culture because of the Apache attacks. Some of them merged with the Apaches, and others became laborers in Chihuahua and blended in with the Mexican people.

The Coahuiltecan Indians who lived between the San Antonio River and the Rio Grande were also attacked by the Apaches. The missions protected the Coahuiltecan, Jumano, and other Indians against the Apache attacks. These Indians began to marry the Spanish Mexican people and their identity of "Indians" changed to Hispanic.

The Apaches had problems with the Comanches and with the Spanish. The Apaches needed the Spanish to fight the Comanches, but they continued to raid San Antonio owned by the Spanish.

The Comanches used horses to move into an area. The horses helped with their mobility, and they were a sign of wealth. The Comanches had a connection with French gun traders through Caddo and Wichita tribes and because of this they became enemies of the Spanish. Although the Comanches shared a common language and way of life, they did not all work together. The families formed bands that acted independently of one another. The Comanche rank and social status was determined by war honors and taking horses from their enemies. The Comanches were known for horse raids and then they traded the horses for agricultural goods and firearms.

The Wichita were also powerful with horse-and-gun trading. The Wichita moved southward to get away from the more powerful and European-armed Osages. The Wichita bands were farmers and hunted buffalo. They trader their extra crops to the Comanches for horses. Then, they traded the horses to the French and Caddos. The Wichitas tried to make peace with the Spanish in San Antonio, but the Spanish could not compete with the French trade. Also, the Spanish protected the Lipan Apaches by establishing Santa Cruz de San Saba Mission. The Wichitas did not like the Lipans because they competed for the same hunting grounds. The mission became a target for enemies of the Lipans, including the Wichitas. In March 1758, there was an attack on the mission, killing many and allowing the Wichita and other groups to steal from the mission and burn it down. The small Spanish military group could do nothing but hide in a nearby presidio (military fort).

The Lipans Apaches looked for allies, but had few. One group, the Tonkawas, made an alliance with them that lasted for more than one hundred years, during which both groups dwindled. The Tonkawas were a small group that was shoved out of the South Plains by the Comanches. The Tonkawas came together in the mid-1700s to become stronger after losing many to disease and war. They were hated by other Indians because of their raids, competition for hunting grounds, and because they had a reputation of cannibalism (eating other people) of their enemies.


Source: Indians, Spanish Period
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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