When I began doing research on early Texas history for my new series, “Texas Star of Destiny,” I found out what a complex setting I had chosen for my three books. (The first, The Desires of Her Heart, debuted Feb 10, 2009.)
Texas has an extremely varied climate (cold to tropical) and geography (piney woods, prairie, grassland, Gulf coast, etc.). As for its population, generations of head-butting between the descendants of Spanish vs. English colonists, coupled with a complex population of Native Americans, this variety made for interesting research and three exciting (I hope) stories.
I was surprised by the variety of Native Americans in one place, and most of them lived very differently from each other.
In Texas in the 19th century, the tribes were:
in East Texas: the Caddo, the Karankawas;
in Central Texas: the Tonkawas;
in South Texas: the Coahuiltecan,
and in West Texas: the Comanche, Apache (including the Lipans and Mescaleros.)
Now I don’t know about you but I had only heard of three of these: the Karankawas, Comanche and Apaches. So let me introduce you to the Caddo.
The Caddos lived in the far eastern Piney Woods of Texas and westward onto the prairie. They were peaceful farmers and had permanent settlements. The name, Texas, is from the Spanish word tejas which was the Caddo word for “friend.”
The Karankawas were primarily fishermen in the Galveston area.
The Tonkawas were horsemen and hunted buffalo and small game such as deer.
The Coahuiltecan lived along the Rio Grande. They eked out a life on native plants and hunting. (Not horsemen.)
The Apache had two groups which roamed virgin Texas: the Lipan, and the Mescalero. (horsemen.)
The Comanche were latecomers to Texas, migrating from the northern plains after acquiring the horse. Taming the horse and using it to hunt buffalo revolutionized the Comanche society. The Comanche were the most feared by all.
This is proven by the fact that the Lipan Apaches started out fighting the newcomers, the angloamericanos, but ended up allying themselves with the Anglos against the Comanche.
The Comanche was the consummate Texas horse warrior. You’ve heard, “Don’t mess with Texas,” right? Well, in 19th century Texas, it was “Don’t mess with Comanches.” This was true because Comanche life was essentially centered around war.
Finally, as the white Americans moved west, they pushed the eastern tribes, such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Kickapoo, and Shawnee into Texas territory. This also brought tribal warfare against these new encroachers.
Thinking about the Texan Native Americans as active participants Texas history brought back other research I had done.
My American history Masters thesis used early novels (not the classics like Louisa May Alcott but pulp fiction of the time) as a way to glean and understand 19th century social attitudes. I had no preconceptions of what I would find as I read early American novels from around 1820 to 1914. I came away however with certain “stock” characters” or “stereotypes” that appeared over and over in these novels.
Native Americans had two faces in these books. There was the NOBLE SAVAGE and its opposite THE BLOODTHIRSTY SAVAGE. I think we still struggle with the conflict between these two opposites. When I was thinking of writing an article about the Native tribes in Texas, I skimmed Karen Kay’s very illuminating posts here on Petticoats and Pistols about Native Americans. I especially was impressed by her post on the fact that southern tribes did torture their enemies.
(Digression: This might be an interesting start of a time-travel story. How a 21st century man or woman would react to being sucked into this bit of unpleasant history.)
So were the Native tribes–the Caddo, Karakawa, Tonkawa, Comanche, Apache, etc. in Texas — noble savages or bloodthirsty savages? Or something else?
How should Native Americans be portrayed in today’s historical novels? What’s your opinion?
The Desires of Her Heart, 2-10-09
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