Indian Groups Associated with Spanish Missions of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
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The San Antonio mission area lies near the northern edge of a large coastal plain that extends from the southern margin of the Edwards Plateau of Texas southward across the Rio Grande to the continuous series of mountain ranges that diagonally cross the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Coahuila. When first known to Europeans, this region was occupied by hundreds of small, autonomous bands of Indians, most of whom were hunters and gatherers. Agriculture was practiced only by certain Indian groups near the Gulf Coast of southern Tamaulipas. Spanish Colonial settlements began to be established in northeastern Mexico about the year 1590 and slowly spread in a generally northward direction during most of the following two centuries (Fig. 1), displacing the native Indian groups from their traditional foraging territories. North of the Rio Grande this displacement was intensified by the southeastward expansion of Apache Indian groups from the southern High Plains in the middle 17th century. The displaced Indian groups were often fragmented, and their populations declined. Some fragments chose to co-exist with Spaniards; other fragments migrated to open areas north of the Rio Grande, from which they were later displaced by invading Apaches. Eventually, remnants of numerous groups entered Spanish missions along the Rio Grande, and as far north as San Antonio (Fig. 2). The story of the San Antonio missions is, from an Indian point of view, the story of refugee groups who abandoned their former hunting and gathering way of life and were transformed into settled mission Indians who raised European livestock and practiced the Spanish style of irrigation agriculture.

Figure 1. Missions of Texas and Northern Mexico. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Figure 2. The San Antonio Area During the Spanish Colonial Period. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

Few regions of Indian North America are so poorly known as this one. As nearly all of its numerous hunting and gathering groups have been extinct for at least a century, what can be learned about each of them must come from limited information scattered through miscellaneous documents, mostly still unpublished, that were written by Europeans prior to Indian extinction. Archival records pertaining to this region are abundant, but relatively few students of the American Indian have examined these primary sources in quantity. It cannot be said that basic research on the Indian populations, languages, and cultures of the region has been extensive, or persistent, or notably systematic. It is not possible to identify a single scholar who has specialized in the study of this region's Indians and made a lifelong career of it. Although a considerable number of individuals have at one time or another worked in this field of inquiry, many of these later shifted their interest to other fields. Thus, few have worked in this particular field long enough to control the recorded minutiae and develop a disciplined perspective.

Perhaps because the pertinent documents are widely scattered in archival collections and usually contain little information on the basic ethnic units, monographic studies of these units have not been published until recently, and these are still few in number. Comparative studies of the numerous and confusing group name variants have been few, and it is still not possible to determine the total number of separate ethnic units or to determine just how many of them were in existence at any particular time. Displaced Indian populations have seldom been carefully traced through documents and connected with groups recorded at the various Spanish missions. Only recently has effective use been made of information recorded in the mission registers that have survived. The dearth of information on languages and behavior has led to oversimplification in modern attempts at linguistic and cultural classification. Generalizations about the region as a whole have sometimes been based on uncritical use of data found in the primary documents, and sometimes also on unstated or unvalidated assumptions. Untested hypotheses and speculative opinion have not always been carefully distinguished from demonstrated fact. Hence much interpretive opinion has been premature. In short, much that has been written does not stand up well under close scrutiny.

In this study an effort is made to identify the maximum number of valid Indian groups represented at each of the four Spanish missions of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. For each identified Indian group an attempt is made to determine where that group came from and also to summarize briefly What is now known about its language and culture prior to mission entry. As will be seen, these objectives are not easily achieved because the desired information must come from documents written during the Spanish Colonial period, and most of the documents do not contain enough of the information desired. The following section will show how the severe documentary limitations have affected the study of Indians associated with the San Antonio missions.

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Last Updated: 26-Apr-2007