The Native People
Those who lived in the San Antonio missions came from a number of hunting and gathering bands. Collectively they are referred to as Coahuiltecans (kwa-weel-tay-kans). Their strictly regulated mission life represented a profound change for people who had followed the rhythms of nature. Ranging throughout south Texas and northeastern Mexico, their movements were dictated by the seasonal availability of food. While distinct dialects and religious practices were found among these bands, they shared some characteristics.
Extended families joined others in larger bands when food was abundant. The men hunted bison and deer. This was supplemented by fish, birds, rabbits, lizards and snakes. Fruits, nuts, beans, roots, and seeds gathered by women and children were part of their diet.
The local people fashioned brush huts and slept on woven mats. Dressed in skins and woven sandals, they used bows and arrows, fishing nets, digging sticks, and grinding stones to obtain and prepare food. They produced some simple pottery, but were more skilled in making baskets, using them to store and transport food. They practiced rites of passage and seasonal ceremonies common to many hunter-gatherer cultures.
Even before the missions altered their living habits, the native people were pressed by nomadic tribes encroaching from the north and south. In addition, a more ominous threat came with the introduction and spread of European diseases that, in time, decimated their population. Struggling under such hardships, they proved to be relatively willing recruits for the missionaries. The Indians found food and refuge in the missions in exchange for labor and submission to religious conversion.
Did You Know?
San José's grist mill in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park never ground corn, only wheat? The mill was built late in the mission period; by then the mission Indians had acquired a taste for wheat-based foods. Today the mill is mostly a reproduction, and is in operation five days a week.