The Tigua Indians of Texas

by R Edward Moore

UPDATED, NEW in 2012, Some names in the Tiwa/Tigua language!!

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The Tigua are the only Puebloan tribe still in Texas. The Pueblos are a number of different Indian tribes who lived in the southwest. The southwest includes far west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona with bits of southern Colorado and Utah. All these different Puebloan tribes shared similar ways of living, even though they spoke different languages and had slightly different cultures. Other Puebloan tribes in Texas include the long gone prehistoric Pueblos along the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle and probably the Jumano.

Before we go to the Tiguas lets learn a little more about the Pueblo Indians. The Pueblos are a group of different tribes who are all much alike, so much alike we group them together. First, lets find a way to understand how a group of people can be the same and yet very different at the same time. Think of European and American ways of living. Europeans and Americans live in houses and buildings that are much alike. They eat similar foods and wear similar clothing. Most Americans and Europeans are Christians, but there are many kinds of Christians. An outsider from another planet might think all Europeans and Americans were the same. But they speak English and French and German, and a bunch of other languages. Europeans and Americans can see the many small differences in their clothing, food and buildings. No American or European would mistake a German city for a Spanish city or an American city.

So Europeans and Americans share very similar culture, but they are also different in important ways.. The Pueblo Indians were like the Europeans and Americans. They spoke many different languages and had slightly different cultures. There were, and still are, Hopi Puebloans, Taos Puebloans, Jimez Puebloans, Zuni Puebloans and, of course, our Tigua Puebloans. These are all different tribes. But, because they share so much culture in common we group them together as Puebloan.

The main thing that sets the Puebloan Indians apart from other Indian tribes are their distinctive houses. They build Pueblos. Their name, Pueblo, is Spanish and means "town". That is what we still call Pueblo Indian towns, Pueblos. A Pueblo is also a big building with many rooms in it. Sort of like our modern apartment buildings. Families live in a group of rooms in a Pueblo. Often many families live in one Pueblo. Many Pueblos had hundreds of people living in them. Some Pueblos were 4 or 5 stories high. In larger Pueblos there are several individual Pueblo buildings built around a plaza or square. Really big Pueblos like the Zuni or some of the Hopi Pueblos have several squares or plazas. The plazas are used all year round for ceremonies and group activities. Puebloan Indians have lots of ceremonies. So when the Spanish saw the big towns with the buildings, the Pueblos, they named the people who built them Pueblo Indians.

Lets stop here and take a look at one of these Pueblos.

This is a Pueblo. I believe this is an old picture of Taos Pueblo. The old Tigua Pueblo of Gran Quivera would probably have looked a lot like this. Notice the wooded frames in the front. These are for shade in the hot New Mexico summers. The women would spend the day under them. The little domes are ovens made of mud bricks. These ovens are called "hornos". The women would bake corn tortillas and other foods in them. This Pueblo has European style doors on the ground floor. In the old days no Pueblo would have doors on the ground level, they would have openings in the roof. Notice the ladders. They use ladders to get on the roof to get in the houses. They could pull the ladders up if an enemy attacked. This Pueblo is at least four stories high. Also look at the rows of logs sticking out of the walls up at the tops of each house. These logs support the roof. The next picture is a picture of one of these roofs from inside looking up.


You can see here how smaller sticks are laid on top of the large logs. The cracks are filled with a mud plaster. There are even smaller sticks on top of this layer and mud plaster on top of that to make the roof. These kinds of roofs are not very good if it rains often or for several days. The environment where these are found is a dry arid climate so they work well. All the layers of mud and wood provide good insulation from the heat in the summers and cold in the winters.

Pueblos are built several ways. One way is to use rocks to build a wall and cover the rocks with a plaster of mud on the outside. The Pueblo of Gran Quivera that we will be talking about later was built this way. Another popular way was to use big bricks made out of dried mud. This is called adobe brick construction. An adobe brick wall would be covered with a mud plaster just like the rock wall so both would look the same when finished. The roof was made by laying large logs on top of the walls. You can see the ends of these logs sticking out of the wall. Smaller logs and sticks would be laid on top of the big ones and mud would be packed down on top of the logs and sticks. The mud roof would be smoothed out to make the roof a living area. Building with mud plaster for roofs only works in dry climates like the southwest where the Pueblos lived.

These are some Pueblo women baking bread. The domed shaped thing they are in front of is a horno. A horno is a kind of oven used by Pueblo Indians to cook bread and tortillas in. Look at the houses in the background. Those are pueblo houses. Notice the ladders to get up on the roof. They use the roof like a porch. They work and hang out on the roof. Even now that they have doors they still use the roof and keep ladders to get up on them. Notice the end of the logs sticking out of the wall on the house on the left.

Pueblo Indians, including the Tigua, are farmers. Most of their food comes from crops they plant and tend. Corn is the main crop they plant. Notice I used the verb "is" and not "was". The Pueblos are still here and they still farm. They also raised many other crops. For food they raised beans and squash. They also raised cotton that they used to make cloth. They also raised gourds that could be dried out and used as containers.

They stored and cooked their food in well-made pottery. The Tigua and other Pueblos are famous for their beautiful pottery. Much of this pottery has painted designs that are very pretty.

The men hunted deer, rabbits, antelope, bear and any other wild game they could find for meat. The women and children would collect wild foods like berries when they were in season.

They knew how to grow cotton and weave cotton cloth. So their clothes were made of cotton. They also used leather and fur on their clothes. The men would wear a breach cloth. A breach cloth is what Tarzan wears. Now you know what one looks like!! Here is an old picture of some Isleta Pueblo women and a girl in traditional clothes.

These clothes are a mix of the old styles and materials and new European materials. This picture was probably taken around 1900.

The land they farmed was all owned by the tribe but each family was given the right to farm a plot of land. The family never owned the land, they just farmed it. This is called usufruct land ownership. Usufruct means the land is owned in common by the tribe, but families and individuals have the right to use certain plots of land. Use that word on your teacher and see what happens!! ;-) Most Indian tribes owned things like land as a group and not as individuals.

The men cleared the fields and prepared the soil. The women did most of the farming. They used sharp sticks to poke holes in the dirt and put seeds in each hole. The children would walk the fields every day and pick insects off the plants by hand and would pull up weeds. Often a small house was built in the field and men and older children would sleep in it to drive off animals and protect the crop.

There were important religious ceremonies that had to be done at each stage of the farming season. There were dances and ceremonies before planting. There were more dances and ceremonies while the crops were growing to bring rain and protect the crops. The biggest dances and ceremonies came with the harvest of the crops.

To farm you need water. Most of the southwest is semi desert and very dry. Because of this most of the Pueblos lived along the rivers and streams. A few lived near springs. Crops like corn also need at least 120 days of frost and freeze free weather. Much of the southwest is in mountains were it is cooler. So the Pueblos lived in the valleys were is was warmer in the spring and fall.

The biggest river in this region is the Rio Grande River. Before they came to Texas the Tiguas lived along the Rio Grande River south of modern Albuquerque New Mexico.

The Tigua called their ancestral home Pueblo Gran Quivera. Gran Quivera was north of El Paso in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque. Manzano means Apple in Spanish so these are the Mountains of the apple. Gran Quivera was started about A D 800. By 1300 it was one of the largest Pueblos.

The Spanish explorer Coronado was the first European to see Gran Quivera in 1539. The Spanish called Gran Quivera "Pueblo de los Humanas", which means "city of the humans".

In the 1600s more Spanish came and founded missions and settlements in New Mexico around Gran Quivera. With the Spanish came diseases and epidemics that killed many of the Pueblo Indians including the Tigua of Gran Quivera. The Spanish also would take Pueblo Indians to act as slaves in their settlements.

In the 1670s there was a bad drought that lasted several years. Food was in short supply. The population of Gran Quivera dwindled and got smaller and smaller. By 1675 they were desperate so they left. They went south to the Rio Grande River near modern El Paso. They settled there and started farming. Some of the Tigua went north to live with their close relatives at Isleta Pueblo. The Isleta Puebloans spoke Tiwa like the Tigua. Gran Quivera was left abandoned. The ruins are still there and are protected by the National Park Service.

The Tigua still remember Gran Quivera in their prayers and songs. A verse in one song goes, in English,

"My home over there,
Now I remember it,
And when I see it,
the mountain far away

Oh, then I weep,
Oh, what can I do?"

In 1680 all the Pueblo Indians revolted against the Spanish. They drove the Spanish out of New Mexico and down to El Paso. In 1681 Spanish came back and attacked Isleta Pueblo. Many of the Isleta Puebloans managed to run away and escape. But, the Spanish captured many of them. The Spanish forced these Isleta Pueblo prisoners to come with them to El Paso. These were both Isleta Puebloans and Tiguas. The Isleta Indians who ran away did come back to their Pueblo and made peace with the Spanish. Isleta Pueblo is still there today and the Isleta Pueblos still live there on a reservation.

In 1682 the Tigua and Isleta near El Paso founded Ysleta. Ysleta is a different way of spelling Isleta. They did this to avoid confusion with Isleta. By this time they had become Christians and they built a mission church at Ysleta. The Ysleta mission is the oldest church in Texas and the oldest mission in Texas. The Spanish King gave them a grant of land around their Pueblo. This gave them title to the land.

The Ysleta mission and the Pueblo were right next to the expanding town of El Paso. Eventually the Tigua were living as a suburb of El Paso. The still live there today. Their neighborhood is called in Spanish "El barrio de los Indians". After the Americans took over in 1848 of crooked land speculators stole much of the Tigua land from them. The State of Texas ignored the Tigua's Spanish land grant and title to the land. Much of present day El Paso is built on land taken from the Tigua. This left the Tigua very poor. Only the land around the Ysleta mission and their houses was still theirs.

These are some Tigua houses near El Paso around 1900. These are not Pueblo style construction. They are made in a style called jackal. That is a Spanish word pronounced Ha Calle. Jackal houses are made of sticks stuck in the ground and then covered with mud. It is not a very good way of making permanent buildings. You can see these are already falling apart. Only very poor people build jackal houses. Look on the left of the houses at the rectangular things in the stack covered with a tarp. Those are adobe bricks used to build proper pueblo houses. They were probably making them when they could and storing them till they had enough to build an adobe pueblo house. Notice the domed shaped horno the women cook in right out in front.

Here are some Tigua houses around 1930. Maybe these were built from the adobe bricks in the other picture. Another horno is out front.

The leader of the Tigua is called a Cacique. The also have a war chief. These two leaders lead most of the ceremonies today. The Tigua still respect their ancestor's religious beliefs by performing many of the old ceremonies, dances and songs. They have a drum that is very old they use in these ceremonies. The drum has been handed down for generations and no one knows how old it it. They also go to Catholic mass at the mission church. Saint Anthony is their patron saint.

Near El Paso is a special place called Hueco Tanks. Hueco tanks are a rocky outcropping in the middle of a desert. There are many caves and springs with water in Hueco Tanks. The springs form lakes and pools in depressions and hollows in the rock at Hueco Tanks giving it its name. Hueco means bowl in Spanish and refers to the bowl like depressions in the rock and a tank is a small lake or pool of water. The Tigua consider Hueco Tanks to be a sacred place. They go there to worship. Hueco Tanks is now a Texas State park. The Park Service lets the Tigua in to worship. In the caves and cliffs there are pictures drawn on the rocks called pictographs. Many Indians, including the Tigua, made these pictographs.

By the 1930s many people thought the Tigua were extinct. But they were not. In the 1960s they began asserting themselves and laying claim to the land they had lost. In 1968 Texas finally recognized the Tigua as a tribe. Later in 1968 Lyndon Johnson signed an act of the U S Congress recognizing the Tigua as a tribe and making their land a reservation. This is where the Tigua still live.

Some names in the Tiwa/Tigua language

Friend : piyee

Bow : hwide

Arrow : cihoa

Knife : tse-e

Canoe (boat) : kanoa

Sun : pue

Moon : paide

Star : hrom - e

Wind : waide

Thunder : kwanide

Fire : paide

Stone : kiaw

Dog : kwianide

Buffalo : sivelaide

Bear : kioe

Wolf : kiale

Deer : pive

Snake : pe - tsun - to - yene

White : na - tzey - e

Black : na - a - se - en - e

Red : na - u - e


From "Notes from the Piro languege" John P. Harrington

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Copyright by R E. Moore and Texarch Associates, 2000, 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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