Long before Texas was settled or conquered by Europeans, Native Peoples (Indians) lived all over. Many of these tribes had similar lifestyles due to their location and proximity to resources. However, some differences between the tribes were noticeable. We will study Native Tribes and their characteristics based upon locations within Texas. Like the four regions in Texas, we can separate Indians into one of five groups: The Gulf Coast Tribes, the Southeastern Tribes, the Plains Indians, the Pueblos Tribes and the Northeastern Natives.
The Gulf Coast Indians
The tribes of the Gulf Coast lived off of the land and used their resources for survival. Most tribes, such as the Karankawas, were hunters and gatherers, meaning that they followed their food sources of animals along the coastal regions. Not all of their nutritional needs were met with just hunting, so they also gathered small berries, nuts, and plants to add to their diet.
Since most of the Karankawas lived near waterways, dugout canoes were their best means of transportation. They used these canoes to help them hunt and fish. Canoes were also a great way to travel and trade with other Karankawa tribes within the region.
Most tribes consisted only of 30-40 people, making travel easier. Their bands, as they became called, were usually headed by a chief. Karankawa people were usually easy to identify with their tall and muscular frames, due largely to their nomadic lifestyles and limited diets. Traditionally, both men and women had tattooed and painted bodies that displayed family ties. Karankawa children were given two names, one public, and one secret. Their secret names were believed to be magical since these Natives were very superstitous.
The Southeastern Indians
The southeastern Indians were located to the west of the coastal tribes and lived very different lifestyles. Tribes like the Coahuiltecans, hunted small animals of South Texas and lived off of the land. As a nomadic tribe (always on the move and not living in one area), trade was often limited to few other tribes within the region. These tribes relied on the availability of animals to survive, and moved often. Their housing consisted of collapsible teepees and very little heavy goods.
Coahuiltecans followed a Shaman, not a chief, who acted as their spiritual and medical leader. This person was very skilled in using plants and animals to heal illnesses within the tribe. The Shaman was also in charge of the Mitotes, or tribal dance and celebration in the event of finding large amounts of food. The women were mainly responsible for doing the day to day work, since men were constantly looking for food. Due to the hot weather and humid climate of the Southeastern region of Texas, most Coahuiltecans wore little clothes, aiding in not having to carry extra items in their nomadic lifestyle.
The Plains Indians
Plains Indians were located both in the Great Plains and North Central Plains of Texas. These tribes, consisting mostly of the Comanche and Apache people were known for being fierce warriors and fighters. These tribes were nomadic people, dependent upon large game like buffalo and elk. They perfected their hunting skills when Spaniards introduced horses to the plains of Texas. Although some gathering was done to balance their diet, these tribes did not farm or plant crops.
Most of the Comanche Indians were divided into smaller bands of people, usually consisting of relatives. The Comanche had a chief who was chosen by warriors of the band. To be a chief, one had to prove himself in battle. Comanche people lived in teepees made out of buffalo hides and used all parts of the buffalo in daily life- never wasting any product. Women were responsible for making clothes and tools from the buffalos as well. Men wore their hair inlong braids. Most TV representations of Native Americans are those of Comanche Indians due to their aggressive behavior and unique appearance.
Apache Indians, although similar to the Comanches, did have some slight differences. Since the Comanche and Apache people did not get along, most Apache tribes were found between San Antonio and the Pecos River. They too were a nomadic people, but relied more heavily on smaller game animals like antelope (deer like), javelina (hog like), and wild turkeys. The Apache Indians balanced their diets with citrus and other small nuts that grew well in South Texas.
Although the Apache were loosely organized (bands would often intermix and change), they were led by a Chief. The chief was determined by wisdom, age, and skill. The word Apache, meaning enemy, encouraged most other tribes to keep their distance. Most Apache people had piercedears and wore copper and shell jewelry to show power and fortune. Clothing was made from deerskins and hides, as well as their teepee covers. Apache men had a very distinct look; they shaved their heads on one side, and grew long flowing hair on the other. Women kept with the traditional long braids.
The Puebloan Indians made of up the Jumanos and Tiguas were very unique natives in Texas. Due to their location in the Mountains and Basins region, they were not hunters or gatherers, but were sedimentary farmers. These tribes lived in adobe houses (mixture of clay and sand that dries into brick like blocks). The Spanish word for settlement or village is pueblo, where these tribes get their name. These tribes lived in large villages along the Rio Grande and traded amongst each other. Their main crops were drought resistant beans, corn, squash, and cotton for fabric. Since some did not have irrigation, they relied heavily on rain and collecting water in natural basins.
The Jumanos had a chief who was responsible for settling issues and problems throughout the village. They painted and tattooed their bodies. Women had long hair, while men only left a small patch on top to attach feathers and decorations. Both men and women wore deerskin ponchos, a style most likely taken from Native Mexicans across the Rio Grande.
The Tiguas, also sedimentary, grew a diverse amount of vegetables and crops because they had an elaborate irrigation system (piping in water from a river or source). Their lives were very structured. Their villages were built around a social center, like a plaza, and they not only had a chief but also governors, war lords, and captains. This advanced system gave them great advantages over other natives and Europeans, aiding in their longevity. The Tiguas are one of only a few Texas tribes that still live in their original locations.
The Northeastern Tribes
These tribes of East Texas were food rich tribes and all had complex social systems. The Atakapan, Caddos, and Wichita tribes lived along the eastern border of Texas from Galveston Bay to the present day Arkansas border. These tribes had a diverse lifestyle due to the rich resources found in their area.
Atakapan natives hunted and gatheredfood from as far south as Galveston Bay. They also traded with surrounding tribes for foods and goods that they could not make themselves. The Atakapan tribe lived in small lodges made of tree branches and covered in hides. With no chief or leader, many small bands lived different lifestyles. Most men and women wore hides and skirts of Spanish mosses and grasses. They painted their bodies and smeared alligator oil on their skin to protect them from the mosquito infestations that were all too common on the marshy lands of East Texas.
The Caddos lived in the Piney woods of deep north Texas. They used the tall pine trees to build wooden lodges which the covered with long grasses. Once completed, these huts often looked like large beehives or grassy hills that blended in with the landscape. The hills were also used as homes for religious leaders within the tribe. Tribes were made up of a confederation (many small groups joining together) and led by a single Chief. The position of chief was inherited on the paternal side. Other than the chief, the bands of tribes were largely matriarchal; where men moved into their wives homes and children would take the mothers common name.
The Caddos are regarded as one of the friendliest tribes in Texas. Their word for friendship was Tejas. When explorers first found the Caddos they were welcomed into the ‘Land of Tejas’, really meaning friendship, but soon the Land was called Texas by Europeans.
The Wichita Tribe lived west of the Caddos near the edge of the Great Plains. They survived off of a mixture of hunting buffalo and planting farms of corn, beans, and squash. Chiefs and sub-chiefs led daily tribal life. Most adults were involved in decision making and in general the tribe made peaceful group decisions. Much like the Caddos, the Wichita tribe built beehive like structures that often looked like hills.
The Wichita Tribe was the most dressed tribe of Texas, wearing coverings from ankles to neck. Since most of their skin was covered, they dressed up their eyes with tattoos and jewelry. These tattoos often gave them the nickname of ‘Raccoon Eyes’ by Europeans. This tribe was matrilineal, meaning leaders of the house and of the tribe were women.