I don’t know that most people are interested in the how and the why or the should we and the shouldn’t we, but I find myself wondering often these days if there was any way that it all could have been done differently here in Texas. The bottom line is that I really don’t think so, not if Texas was going to be Texas, that is.
As we’ve said before, from the time the first boat docked on the eastern shore of this country, those people we call the Indians found themselves slowly but surely pushed farther and farther south and west. With the stroke of a pen in 1803, Thomas Jefferson added untold thousands of acres to this country, and the possibilities seemed endless for anyone free to settle those acres. And, like you, I wasn’t privy to the conversations that I feel sure included the fact that there were people already living on at least parts of those acres.
It wasn’t fast, but gradually, settlements sprang up until settlers finally crossed the Mississippi River, pushing the Indians even farther to the west. Of course, long before the first settler arrived, there were Indians living in what we know as Texas today, but those tribes tend to get lost in the story simply because it is the fierce warriors that tend to make their way into the history books.
In the southern most tip of Texas were the Coahuiltecan. My knowledge about these people extends no further than the fact that they existed on herbs and berries. Just up the coast to the east were the Karankawas, a tribe that existed by fishing. Neither of these tribes were much of a threat to settlers or the settling of Texas. In my own mind, I almost picture them as the original hippies in Texas, just wanting to live and let live…maybe even peace out a little…you know what I mean?
If you can imagine a diagonal line running across the center of Texas in a northeastern direction, you will have a basic idea of the next line of tribes that I will call native to Texas.
Located somewhere near the Junction, Fredericksburg area were the Lipan. You will find their name in various battles against the Texans. Located northeast of the Lipan, in what I would consider the Mills, Brown, Comanche, Brown, Erath, Hamilton Counties area were the Tonkawa. The “Tonks” were nomadic and while they did fight the Texans, you will eventually find them working as scouts for them. Farther to the northeast and into far East Texas were the Caddos. This was the oldest tribe in Texas. They were farmers, lived in permanent homes, and one could only assume would have finally assimilated into whatever culture sprang up around them.
If Texas had been an island, with no outside influences other than the immigrants who came here, her story might have been much different. However, that was not the case, and it was the latecomers to Texas that made all the difference in how the story was written.
The Sioux were, of course, located above Texas in the far northern part of the country. As more and more of that land was settled by immigrants, that tribe was pushed farther and farther south, setting off a domino effect. The Northern Comanche were pushed down into Texas and this, in turn, pushed the Apache farther south and finally into Texas as well.
It was these newcomers, these Indians that history refers to as the fierce Warriors of the Plains that most of us think of when we think of the travesties that happened in Texas between the white man and the red…with the white man being anyone who was not the red.
They were mad; they had to have been mad. They’d been pushed, and they’d been pushed again and again. They wouldn’t have even been in Texas had they not been pushed there. They were nomadic, and their way of life depended upon one thing, the buffalo. Unfortunately, the buffalo’s way of life also depended upon one thing, plenty of wide open spaces.
A few white men did not threaten either; however, when they began to come in droves, their threat was not just to a way of life, but rather to life itself for the nomadic follower of the buffalo who knew no way to sustain himself. What everyone failed to realize at the time was that (by the 1850s in Central Texas) the horses the Comanche always seemed to be stealing from the settlers were as often as not finding themselves on the dinner table back at the campground where hunger was never far from the bellies of those who called themselves The People.