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General Character of the East Texas Settlements

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American,Texas | No Comments

It will be helpful, as a means of conveying an idea of the true nature of the work attempted by the early Spaniards, to present a brief sketch of the general character of these Indian settlements and of their numerical strength.

They were a people living in relatively fixed habitations, and would be classed as sedentary Indians, in contrast with roving tribes, such as the neighboring Tonkawa west of the Trinity. They subsisted to a considerable extent by agriculture, and lived, accordingly, in loosely built agricultural villages, for miles around which were detached houses, located wherever there was a spot favored by water supply and natural or easily made clearings. Their dwellings were large conical grass lodges, which accommodated several families. In all of the tribes concerning which we have relatively full data there seems to have been a main village, which the surrounding communal families regarded as their tribal headquarters. It is these central villages that I have represented on the map.

The arrangement of the settlements may be most safely learned from the accounts of some of the early eyewitnesses. Joutel tells us, in 1687, that from the edge of the Nabedache village, west of the Neches River, to the chief’s house in the middle of the settlement, it was a “large league,” and that on the way there were “hamlets” of from seven to fifteen houses each, surrounded by patches of corn. From this village to that of the Neche tribe on the other side of the river it was some five leagues, but in fertile spots between them there were similar “hamlets,” sometimes a league apart. So it was with the country to the northeast. When he left the Neches River at a point above the Neche village he wrote, “We pursued our route toward the east, and made about five leagues, finding from time to time cabins in ‘hamlets’ and ‘cantons,’ for we sometimes made a league and a half without finding one.”[1] Between the Trinity River and the main Nabedache village De Leon, in 1690, encountered only one settlement. It consisted of “four farms (haciendas} of Indians who had planted crops of maize and beans, and very substantially built houses, with high beds to sleep on.”[2] On the edge of the Nabedache village he “arrived at a valley occupied by many houses of Texas Indians, around which were large fields of maize, beans, calabashes, and watermelons. Turning to the north by a hill of oaks, about a quarter of a league further on we came to another valley of Texas Indians, with their houses, their governor telling us that his was very near. We pitched our camp on the bank of an arroyo, and named this settlement San Francisco de los Texas.”[3] The “governor’s” house was about half a league from the camp.

Of the country beyond the Neches Terán wrote in 1691, “We continue our march [from the Neches]. The country is very rough with frequent open groves, but no openings larger than a short musket shot across. In these openings, some in the lowlands, and some in the sand, their houses are located.”[4] Joutel, in describing his passage from the lodge of one Nasoni chief to that of another, says, “Those who had escorted us went ahead and conducted us to his house, about a quarter of a league away, where his cabin was located. Before reaching it we passed several others, and on the way found women and children cultivating their fields.” In 1716 Ramon referred to the Hainai settlement on the Angelina River as the “pueblo of the Ainai, where there is an infinite number of houses (ranchos) with their fields of corn, watermelons, melons, beans, tobacco,” etc. As we have already seen, in his passage from the Hainai to the Nasoni in 1716 Espinosa noted many houses on the way.[5]

After several years’ residence among these tribes, Espinosa, having in mind the dismal failure to reduce them to civilized life, described the Hasinai settlements in general thus: “These natives do not live in congregations reduced to pueblos, but each of the four principal groups where the missions are located are in ranchos [separate houses], as it were, apart from each other. The chief cause of this is that each household seeks a place suitable for its crops and having a supply of water.”[6] In another place he tells us that in their ministerial work among the Indians the padres had to travel six or seven leagues in all directions from each of the four missions.[7]

It is thus evident that the Hasinai settlements by no means corresponded to the Spanish notion of a pueblo, built in close order. To induce the natives to congregate in such pueblos, as a means of civilizing them, was a chief aim of the government and the missionaries, and failure to accomplish this was a primary cause of the abandonment, after fifteen years of effort, of all but one of the missions of the group.


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  1. Relation, in Margry, op, cit., 341, 344, 387.
  2. Derrotero, MS., entry for May 20.
  3. Ibid., entry for May 22.
  4. Descripción y Diaria Demarcaci6n, op. cit., 48.
  5. Joutel, in Margry, op. cit., Ill 392; Ramon, Derrotero, in the Archive General y Pãblico, Mexico, entry for July 7; Espinsoa, Diario, entry for July 10.
  6. Crónica Apostólica, 440 (1746).
  7. Crónica Apostólica, 440 (1746).

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