The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Revzews

Indians of the Rio Grande Delta: Thezn Role in the Hzstory of Southern Texas and
Northeastern Mexico. By Martin Salinas. (Austin: University of Texas Press,
1990o. Pp. xii+ 193. Foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, maps, ref-
erences, index. $25.00oo, cloth; $11.95, paper.)
While both anthropologists and historians have focused considerable atten-
tion on the Indians and missions of South Texas, Martin Salinas is the first
scholar to look closely at the natives who occupied the region of the Rio Grande
Delta. This delta is defined by Salinas as the coastal section of' land south of the
Nueces River in Texas to the Rio San Fernando in Tamaulipas, Mexico, extend-
ing inland roughly one hundred miles. Spanish ranches and missions were late
in advancing into the delta, the first settlements dating after 1750. What these
settlers found were Indian bands, usually consisting of less than one hundred
people, living in a subsistence economy gathering foods and hunting. While
many Indians from west of the delta had migrated into the area studied by Sali-
nas, the author is able to identify forty-nine bands that had been native to the
region.
Salinas's approach is to divide the delta into separate subregions and give
basic descriptions of the groups found in each. This approach allows the au-
thor to compare linguistic information and other evidence in order to deter-
mine the basic identities of the many small bands living in the area, which is the
primary goal of the study. Salinas concludes that most early anthropological
research on these people is inaccurate, leading to considerable confusion as to
the identities of various groups, especially in regard to their linguistic affiliation
or the names given them by the Spanish. In this sense, the Salinas study fits well
into the interpretation long championed by T. N. Campbell, which argues that
simply categorizing many of the small Rio (Grande Indian groups as "Coahuil-
teco," for example, or attaching them to some other generic linguistic stock,
ignores much evidence that shows diversity. While Salinas implies that the lin-
guistic diversity observed by early Spanish explorers is an indication of much
larger original populations, an observation that seems obvious from his data,
he estimates the population of the region as being only 15,000 people in 1750,
despite the fact that European diseases were already a major factor in a demo-
graphic decline by this date.
While this study is helpful in coming to some understanding of these people,
it also has several weaknesses. Major among them is the limited analyses of cul-
ture. In fairness, the Spanish sources are oftentimes not very helpful, yet Sali-
nas is also not very imaginative in developing information from the sources.
Even in the one chapter devoted to "Culture" the author simply divides his dis-
cussion into very short sections entitled, "food gathering," "houses," "tattoo-
ing," and so on, and describes these elements. There is no attempt to draw basic
conclusions relative to the relationship of these elements of subsistence econ-
omy and political or social structures, such as many recent cultural materialists
have done. Finally, while a brief chapter is included on the Spanish missions
built for these people after 1750, these sections are nothing more than outlines.
There is little suggestion that the missions had any impact at all on these
people; despite the subtitle, there is no sense of' history in the study.

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed October 24, 2014.