Corn: A Product From The Natives

Corn at San Juan Farm



Background: A great part of mission Indians’ days involved growing and preparing food.One major food source was corn. Indians throughout the Americas grew corn for thousands of years before Columbus' voyages. Anthropologists have found petrified corncobs over 5000 years old in Indian ruins. Columbus took corn back to Spain, and from there, corn was introduced to western European farmers. The Indian name for corn is maize (ma-hiz). Indians helped early European settlers by teaching them how to grow corn to eat. Indians used a small fish as fertilizer when planting each kernel of corn. They taught the settlers to make corn bread, corn pudding, corn soup, and fried corn cakes.

Indians had purposely transformed corn by hybridizing it. They took pollen from one variety of corn and fertilized another variety to create new corn.Each strand of corn silk is attached to a kernel of corn. Pollen must travel down the silk in order to fertilize its kernel. After manual pollination, the corn silk was covered with a husk to prevent fertilization by an unwanted strain. Modern farmers continue to cultivate and improve the quality of corn in a similar manner.

Corn grows easily in regions that receive too much or too little moisture for wheat or rice. Indians cultivated rapid-growing varieties for areas as cold as Canada and Chile, while other types of corn flourished in the heat of the Amazon.Inca farmers cultivated it on the terraced sides of steep Andean Mountains, and Hopi people irrigated it in the hottest and driest deserts of the American Southwest.

In Central America and Mexico, women soaked corn in water to which they added lime or ashes to produce nixtamal. They then ground it using a mano y metate to produce corn meal to make bread or other food products.

The Indians who lived in Texas had various methods of obtaining food. Some were hunters; some were plant gatherers; others were fishermen, while still others were farmers. Corn was obtained through barter with Indian farmers. When the Spaniards arrived to establish settlements and missions in central Texas, Coahuiltecan Indians became a part of the mission community.They learned to raise livestock and practice agriculture.It was many years before the mission Indians gave up their preference for corn and accepted wheat as their staple.

TEKS (Texas education standards)

  • Listen actively and purposefully in a variety of settings
  • Offer observations, make connections, react, speculate, interpret, and raise questions in response to texts
  • Determine distinctive and common characteristics of cultures through wide reading
  • Articulate and discuss themes and connections that cross cultures through letters, reviews, poems, narratives, and instructions
  • Identify the mathematics in everyday situations
  • Use a problem-solving model that incorporates understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution for reasonableness
  • Select or develop an appropriate problem-solving strategy, including drawing a picture, looking for a pattern, systematic guessing and checking, acting it out, making a table, working a simpler problem, or working backwards to solve a problem
  • Use tools such as real objects, manipulatives, and technology to solve problems
  • Conduct field and laboratory investigations following home and school safety procedures and environmentally appropriate and ethical practices
  • Demonstrate safe practices during field and laboratory investigations
  • Use critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions
  • Describe ways people have adapted to and modified their environment in Texas, past and present
  • Identify reasons why people have adapted to and modified their environment in Texas, past and present, such as the use of natural resources to meet basic needs
  • Analyze the consequences of human modification of the environment in Texas, past and present
  • Explain how people in different regions of Texas earn their living, past and present
  • Explain how geographic factors have influenced the location of economic activities in Texas


  • A Kid’s Guide to Mission Espada”, one for each student For corn grinding activity (corn is not to be consumed)
  • Dried corn cobs with husks (preferable) or Dried corn kernels (available at feed stores)
  • Metate and mano (may substitute a mortar and pestle that may be borrowed from a high school science teacher if not available at one's school.) For cornbread activity
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Mixing spoon
  • Several measuring spoons (tablespoon)
  • Several measuring cups (1/2 cup)
  • Clock with second hand
  • Hot pads
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Ingredients for cornbread (see Student Information sheet) For corn husk doll activity
  • Corn shucks (available at grocery stores for making tamales.)
  • Scissors
  • Large container (to soak corn shucks)
  • Paper towels
  • Marking pens
  • Cloth and other items (to decorate the dolls)
  • Glue

Last updated: November 17, 2021

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

2202 Roosevelt Avenue

San Antonio, TX 78210


210 932-1001

Contact Us