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The Texas Coahuiltecan Indian Groups
by R. E. Moore

UPDATED in 2012, We now have some names and a song in "Coahuiltacan" language.


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Lets start with one important fact about this so-called tribe. There is no one "Coahuiltecian" tribe or culture. It never existed. There is a Coahuiltecan / Group region in South Texas and northeastern Mexico. Over a hundred similar Indian cultures lived there. These Natives of the Coahuiltecan region shared very similar ways of living. But they were not one tribe or culture.

I know that older books talk about a single Coahuiltecan tribe. This is wrong. For example, there were two, and maybe more, languages spoken by the Native American peoples who lived in the Coahuiltecan region. This fact alone shows there was not one single Coahuiltecian tribe or culture. Because these different tribes had very little material culture to identify them ( material culture is stuff ) all these groups looked alike to outsiders, like the Spanish. This is why the Spanish and other Europeans lumped them together thinking they were all part of one tribe. And because the Spanish and later historians lumped them together as being one tribe, that is what we came to believe. <--Written in 1997

NEWS FLASH UPDATE 1999. Dr. Thomas Hester, in an article in La Tierra, shows it was the later HISTORIANS who lumped the Indians of this region together and called them Coahuiltecans!! An anthropologist named Rueckling wrote some pieces in a magazine in 1955. In these articles he "generalized", to quote Hester, about the Indians of this region and lumped them together as the Coahuiltecans. A few years later our old friend W.W. Newcomb used Rueckling's work in his popular book "The Indians of Texas". And we all read Newcomb's book so we think there was a Coahuiltecan tribe. In his article, Dr. Hester also shows there were probably seven languages and dialects spoken in this region and the Spanish knew this very well. So it was the scholars of the 1950s who created the Coahuiltecan tribe, not the Spanish missionaries.  

Now back to the old 1997 article.

Now for another new fact, many of these Coahuiltecan cultures were not tribes at all. A tribe is a large number of people with a chief. Most of people we are calling Coahuiltecans were organized into hundreds of small bands or groups. Groups of these bands may have had alliances with other bands who spoke the same language and shared the same culture. There is evidence that the bands had alliances with other bands. It is possible there might have been tribes, or at least very large bands. For example, the Ocana and Cacaxtle tribe were found by de Leon and others south of the Rio Grande. A little later de Leon and later Varona found members of the Ocana and the Cacaxtle bands /tribes 250 miles north in Texas at a trade camp near La Grange on the Colorado and near present day Crystal City Texas. For bands to divide up like this suggests a very large bands, or possibly tribes or separate bands of the same culture like the Comanche. As researchers find more and more information in Spanish records the question of tribes or bands may get settled someday. If you do not understand the important difference between the organization of tribes, bands, and groups you should read, "A brief Introduction to Anthropology".

What has emerged from this new research is a picture of many groups of Native peoples all living in the same region, all sharing the same environment and all living in a very similar way. But, these people were not all parts of one big tribe. They were actually of two or more language families we know of found in these many groups. Two languages mean there were at least two cultures. These are then divided up even more into hundreds of small bands and groups. The various San Antonio Mission records give us hundreds of "tribal" names just for the small area around San Antonio. Foster, in his book "Spanish Explorations of Texas", managed to find 140 "tribal" names in the Spanish records of expeditions into South Texas.

I am going to call these similar cultures "Coahuiltecan cultures" in the rest of this article.

The Coahuiltecan region is in pink. You can also see who their neighbors were.

It is important to make a distinction between the pre European contact Coahuiltecans and the post-contact Coahuiltecans. These are almost two entirely different peoples. Most of the modern descriptions of these Coahuiltecan bands describe post contact Coahuiltecans. The post contact descriptions describe a very primitive and miserable bunch of natives. Their camps are described as being filthy and smelly. They are hunting bugs and lizards for food. They are seen eating rotten meat, dirt and even maggots. They are dirty and smell. These descriptions are probably accurate. They sound like other descriptions from other places and times of survivors of terrible disasters -- modern refugees from wars and survivors of terrible famines. The reason the Coahuiltecans are so similar is because they too are survivors of a terrible holocaust that destroyed their former cultures. Their social and physical environment changed and three terrible things happened to these people.

First, their social environment changed when the Spanish came. They brought European diseases that killed many entire Coahuiltecan bands. Chapa tells us that 161 bands that used to live in the area around Monterey Mexico simply disappeared because they got sick and died. He went on to tell that the 95 surviving bands had lost 80 - 90 % of their members. That is 9 out of every ten members. He predicted that these other bands would be gone in ten years. The Spanish also captured and used many of these people as slaves to work in mines. As slaves they had short life spans. The Spanish also set up missions and ranches along the rivers in this region. These missions and ranches were on the best land along the rivers. The missions had a huge impact on the Coahuiltecans. The second change was also in their social environment. The Apache and Comanche came down from the north. The Lipan Apache were forced south into Coahuiltecan lands and competed for food, water, campgrounds and other resources with the Coahuiltecans. The third and last major change was to their physical environment. The climate changed where they lived. It was much wetter and cooler back then, and today it is hotter and dryer causing a semi-arid environment. The first Spanish expeditions describe lush grasslands with herds of buffalo and stands of trees and flowing streams all in this region back when it was cooler and wetter. The grasslands and buffalo herds were then found well south of the Rio Grande river.

This was a time period known as the little ice age. For several hundred years South Texas was cooler and wetter than today. This climate and environment provided plenty of food resources. Then, around the end of the 1700s, it began to slowly get hotter and dryer. By the mid 1800s, South Texas became the semi-arid, resource poor region it is today. The grass quit growing and the streams dried up. Then the buffalo and other game animals left or were greatly reduced in numbers. This means much less food for people who live by hunting and gathering off the land. This is why they were hunting bugs and eating rotten meat and dirt, they were starving because most of the food they were used to hunting was gone.

The very first Spanish expeditions give us hints of a pre contact description of a that is very different from the post contact descriptions. This is before the epidemics, slave raiders, climate changes and attacks by the Spanish, Apaches and Comanches. These pre-contact Coahuiltecans hunted herds of buffalo on good grasslands. There was plenty of food and water. They were prosperous and peaceful. They lived in camps with large wickiups. The held feasts for the first Spanish explorers. There is no mention of them being dirty, smelly, eating rotten food, or living in filth.

They would travel long distances to trade fair camps in central Texas near modern San Marcos, Austin, La Grange and Victoria. The Spanish explorer De Leon visited one of these camps at the springs in San Marcos. There were 3000 Natives there from at least 5 different tribes or bands. Several of the bands told De Leon they were from south of the Rio Grande river and from South Texas. These were Coahuiltecan bands who came to trade with tribes from the Caddo confederacies in East Texas and maybe other tribes from the north. A band of Jumanos from far west Texas was also there to trade. People from the Adias tribe from Caddoan east Texas were also there to trade. These Coahuiltecan traders are hardly the miserable Coahuiltecans described in most books. The trails they used to get to New Braunfels and San Marcos later became the Camino Real road, the oldest road in Texas.  To find out more about the Camino Real go to our Camino Real web page.

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In many ways, they were probably much like the pre horse buffalo hunting Native Americans who lived on the Southern Plains, the Comanches, Kiowa and Wichita. They were probably also in contact with the advanced civilizations of Mexico such as the Aztecs before the Spanish destroyed the Aztecs.

The Coahuiltecian cultures lived all over South Texas. They were found from San Antonio, over to Corpus Christi, south to Old Mexico. The Coahuiltecans were nomadic hunter gathers. This means they moved around all the time looking for food. Before the depopulation it is hard to say how large the bands were. There may have been 100 people or more in one band. After the depopulation, the Coahuiltecans probably lived in small groups of two or three families with the groups seldom larger than about 20 persons.

After the climate change food was scarce, these people were often starving and would eat almost anything including dirt. Yes, dirt. There are eye witness accounts of them using dirt as an intentional ingredient of their food. Here are two post contact Coahuiltecan recipes.

They would dig a hole in the dirt. Then they would take Mesquite beans from a Mesquite tree and put the raw beans into the hole. Using sticks, they would mash the beans up with dirt from the hole getting mixed in. Sometimes they would add special dirt they had collected at another location. Then they would take the muddy pulp and add some water to make it soupy. Then they would eat it quickly with their hands.

NEWS FLASH, A Coahuiltecan Lady read this and contacted me to tell me about this recipe. She says it is a cure for stomach problems not a recipe for food. Only certain kinds of dirt were used. This makes sense. Certain minerals in the right kind of dirt could help may stomach problems. The special dirt I mentioned is actually a special kind of mold that grows on Mesquite trees. Many molds have medicinal value. Penicillin is a mold used to cure infections. My informant says her mother used to use the mold for badly upset stomachs because they were too poor for a doctor and it worked. Think about all this and you realize these people were pretty smart.

Here is another favorite dish. Where there was water and fish, they would catch a fish. Instead of eating the fish they would set the fish on a rock in the sun for several days. When the fish was rotten and full of maggots they would eat the fish and the maggots and any other insects that might be in or on the fish. Sounds pretty gross. It was to people like us. To people who were starving and often went days without food, these were just ways of getting more to eat.

The men hunted animals like deer, peccary, and rabbits with bows and arrows. They used simple traps to catch small animals. They also hunted stuff like lizards, snakes, and insects for food. While hunting animals was a way of getting some food, they probably got most of their food from the women and children gathering plants, roots, and fruits. Some of the many kinds of cactus that live in this area set fruits that are sweet and good to eat. Other kinds of cactus have roots that can be cooked and eaten. As we have seen, Mesquite trees have beans. But most of these plant foods are only available for a short time at certain times of the year. There were many times when there was no food.

For shelter, the pre-holocaust Coahuiltecans used wickiup huts sometimes. There are Spanish descriptions of these huts called wickiups. Check out our Wickiup page to see one of these huts being built. Before the climate changed there was more food and sometimes it was possible to camp in one place for a longer time. Staying put like this made it worth the time and work to build huts. The post holocaust Coahuiltecans did not have much in the way of shelter. Because food was so scarce, they moved around almost daily so it was not worth the time and effort to build anything. When they did camp at one place for more than a day or two they might build simple windbreaks or lean-toos of brush and tree limbs. Usually they lived and slept in the open. The climate in South Texas is fairly warm year round so living without a shelter is practical.

A wickiup frame. Picture this covered with animal skins or grass.

The post holocaust Coahuiltecans wore little clothing if any. Often they simply went naked. They did make sandals from the fibers of the lechuguilla plant. You would think they would have made pants of some sort to protect their legs with all the cactus and shrubs with thorns that are common in this area. But they did not. The women would always wear short skirts made of animal skins. The men wore breach cloths sometimes. The children went naked. The pre-contact people probably had buffalo robes to wear in the colder weather during the colder winters back then. The eye witness accounts do not tell us much more about what they wore.

They did make simple baskets to carry things in and wove grass mats to sit and sleep on. To see how they made cords of plant fibers go here. To see how they made a dye go here.

The Coahuiltecans are gone now. But they did leave living descendants who still live in South Texas, but not as Indians. Once the Spanish came and started missions, many of the Coahuiltecan bands moved into the missions. The steady source of food and water and the protection from stronger tribes was very appealing to them. Once in the missions many of them married Spanish solders and settlers. Later more Spanish and Mexican immigrants settled in the region and started ranches that attracted local Indians for the same reasons the missions did. Again, some of them married Spaniards or Mexicans. Later, around the middle 1700s, the Apaches were forced south by the Comanches and into Coahuiltecan territory. Caught between the Spanish/Mexicans and the Apaches most of the last bands of the Coahuiltecans disappeared. By the time American settlers reached the area only a few scattered bands survived. As a Native people they were all gone by the end of the 1800s.

Their only survivors today are the many Native Texan Hispanic families in South Texas. Many families who are members of the Catholic Churches at the old missions in San Antonio can trace their families back to Coahuiltecan ancestors. The few surviving Coahuiltecans in other parts of South Texas were absorbed into the larger Hispanic/Mexican culture of South Texas. Almost any Hispanic family in South Texas who can trace their ancestors back to the early 1800s probably has Coahuiltecan blood in the family. The culture and languages these people spoke are completely gone now.

Many of these San Antonio Coahuiltecans were part of the Payaya Indians. The Payaya lived along the San Antonio and Medina Rivers. The Medina is west of San Antonio. They called their territory Yanaguana. Spanish records indicate there may have been several hundred Payayas at first contact with the Spanish. They peacefully shared their territory with other bands of Indians. We have T N Campbell's 1975 paper on the Payaya. We have T. N. Campbell's 1975 paper on the Payaya.

It is sad to see what happened to these people. All the early records tell of prosperous and often friendly peoples living in the Coahuiltecan region. All the later records tell of miserable poor starving survivors of a terrible holocaust. People who seem to have lost most of their culture and traditions and who are reduced to doing whatever it takes just to live another day.

Comecrudo/Carrizo Indians band from the Couhuitacan cultures..
The name Comecrudo is Spanish for "eat-raw". Carrizo is Spanish for "reed" - as in cane or bamboo. The Comecrudo has often been considered a Coahuiltecan language although most linguists now consider the relationship between them unprovable due to the lack of information. The name ,"Carrizo" was used by many other Indians in the Rio Grande River area by the Spanish in the 1780s. Now we know that there are many other Indians using "Carrizo" as a name. For many years historians said that the Comecrudo were extinct. They are not.

Now we know that they are alive and in the Eagle Pass area - mostly in Mexico. They speak Spanish, not Comecrudo. The last Comecrudo speakers died 1890. But the modern Comecrudo Indians are alive - in Spanish. All we have are books on the language. What a shame.

Data in the archives indicated that the Comecrudo /Carrizo Indians were found in areas of the modern-day Zacate Creek living along the lower Rio Grande River - in the modern area of Reynosa Mexico. Near the River there are large areas of cane (bamboo) along the River. They used cane for many things.

Comecrudo "tribe" names were first recorded in 1740 by the Spanish..

Comecrudo names and language
Good Day! : etayaup'le
Indian : esto'k,

Let's start with an Indians song in Comecrudo. Not all of it. But you can see what they are talking about.

The Dancing Song in the Comecrudo band

Kuana'ya we'mi kewa'naya we'me, We'wana kua'naya we'mi, E'we paskue'l pe-a-una'ma. apeha'l; Matamoros pakamau'le
They killed [a] deer . . .

. . . Kere nami nu'we seyota'-i-ye kerena'mi. a'xpepola'mla,
It is a gush of water [from] the singer . . .

. . .Newe ma'-eyo' wena' newe meka'r eyo wena'. Pa-iwe'uni newe'
Itis going to enter on the mountain.

Pa-iwe'uni newe'mleta' -u pa-iwe -uni.
Goes skipping about . . . . deer above

Ewe' yekerena' wene.
The deer is alive!

Kuama' mekayena kuamane mekaye'na, kuama mete'wela
The deer was silent

Nuwe' nua'ya ma, peya-una'ma nuwe' wayaka'ma.
He is in the . . . mountain, . . that he is not absent from the mounta

Panayowe'n, yowe n panayowen, yowe'n.
He is alive!

Nuwe' nuwa'yama'n kua'ya maya
The deer is looking

Nuwe'mapeme ma nawa'yama nuwe' mapeme'ma.
The deer. . . is bent???

Newe' semi'-eke' peya-una'ma, newe' wa'i aka'ma.
Deer. . . .did not go out of the water mountain is there the deer did not go away from the mountain.

Newe ne'-eke senowe ya payo wera yename ra.
Deer round about. . .is alive walking looking.

Payo'warewa pa'yo waiye'ye ke'nema pakna'x klatai'l.
He went hunting to the mountain [the] femaile deer call it.

It is hard to understand. Some of the names are gone. What do you think?

Here are some names in Comecrudo, mostly animals.

Alligator : selau

Ant : kiome't

Antelope : icnako

Armadillo : mowe'n.

Arrow ; kua'k

Basket: pawape'l

Beans : patoH'to.

Bedbug : wisne'p

Black : pa'l, yatau'.

Break wind : to; pape't, pel.

Buffalo : wakate'.

Buzzard : paketiapo'.

Canoe : xai', pakwatatap.

Cardinal bird, kuis : xa'm, pamso'l.

Cat : mu's.

Cat : spotted; epapu'l.

Chief : kwamlal, katawa'n.

Cloud : a'li, ape'l, mape'l, yohue'l.

Cochineal : mape'n, pamso'l. As in Cochineal bugs and "Making Red Dye" in

Cockroach : wisne'p.

Comanche (Indians) : Selakampo'm.

Corn : tawelo'.

Coyote : kla'm.

Cross-eyed : u-i.

Crow : pa'l.

Cup : chocolate : ko-ome't, epe't(le),

Dance : a; kuama'k.

Dance : to : kuama'k.

Dance : to: kuama'k.

Deer : ewe',

Devil : pahuel, yame'l.

Dirty : papela'ple

Dog : ketuau', kla'm.

Drum : patapta'k, tambo'r

Evening star, ketekui' : lesum.

Flea : nahueli'z.

Flint : woyekue'l

Fox : mu's.

Friend : pakwase'l.

Frog : paka'-u.

Girl : ke'm, kica'x.

God : kio.

Gold : oro, pa-uta'p

Gourd : kai.

Hat : pakuape't

Horse : poya'k.

Indian : esto'k, somna'-u, gna'x, nawaso'I

Knife : kawi, xayepo'.

Life : payase'l.

Maize : tawelo'.

Manure : pawetia'p.

Meteor : ketekui'.

Mexico : kiau'.

Morning star : ketekui' : ma-ute'.

Mosquito : keswahui'.

Mountain : wai'.

Negro : gna'x, yatau'.

Otter : a'x, alua'x.

Owl : xa'm, pakma't, u-i.

Pretty : pese'x, poxla'p.

Prickly pear : mape'n.

Rabbit: kiexue'n.

Raccoon : pakwa'-ule.

Rainbow : a'l, maiko'k.

Rattlesnake : panate'l, pase'l, wemu'k.

red, kuis : pamso'l.

Rio Grande : the; atmahau', pakma't.

Saddle : patata'm(le).

Silver : emtai'.

Sing : to; kuampak.

Sky : ape'l.

Sleepy head : eikahua'k, telom.

Snake : wemu'k.

Spider, wisne'p.

Star, ketekui'.

Texan : a; somi'.

Thunder : to; klewe'm, pakuatiwak.

Turkey : esmakue't.

Turtle : glai', peklai.

Venison : ewe'.

Violet : panate'l.

War : kamau'.

Warrior : patua'm.

White : pepo'k.

White man : a; pepo'k.

Wolf : kla'm, payauya'p, payawiau'.

Yellow : yalu-i.

Albert S. Gatchet "Field notes on Comecrudo and Cotoname, collected at Las Prietas. Tamaulipas" Smithsonian Institution. (1891)

Thomas N. Campbell, "Comecrudo Indians", Handbook of Texas Online, by the Texas State Historical Association. (2012)

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Copyright by R Edward. Moore and Texarch Associates, 1997, 2012 all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.





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