Texas Almanac, 1992-1993 Page: 32
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Beginning of the Historic Period
When the Spanish arrived in Texas in the 16th cen-
tury, they found it inhabited by scattered bands of Indi-
ans. In Central Texas, the numerous Tonkawas were
concentrated along the streams and rivers, living in
small groups. These typical Southern Plains Indians
were hunters-gatherers with little or no agriculture.
Until the Spanish introduced horses, the Tonkawas used
dogs for pack animals as they followed the bison herds
that were the mainstay of their existence.
The name Tonkawa is taken from the Waco Indian
word for the tribe - "tonkaweya," meaning "they all
stay together." The Tonkawas' name for themselves
was "tickanwatic," meaning roughly "the most human
Both men and women painted and tattooed their
bodies and wore earrings and necklaces of shell, bone
and feathers. Men wore long breechclouts, skin shirts
and buckskin or bisonhide moccasins and leggings. The
principal garment worn by Tonkawa women was a
short skin skirt.
Unstable relations with other tribes, war and dis-
eases brought by the Spanish greatly reduced the Ton-
kawa population in the 17th and 18th centuries. By early
in the 19th century, they had gathered their tattered
remnants together as an identifiable tribe, but their
troubles were far from over. Bison were not as numer-
ous in Central Texas as they were on the Southern
Plains to the west. As the bisons' range receded west-
ward in the mid-1800s, the Tonkawas were unable to fol-
low, because the more powerful Comanches controlled
the region. Thereafter, the Tonkawas relied more on
deer, fish and small game.
The Tawakonis and the Wacos, the other princi-
pal Indians groups living in Central Texas when the
Spanish came, were subgroups of the Wichitas. The
Wichitas had migrated south into the Texas area in the
17th and 18th centuries. The Tawakonis and Wacos set-
tled on the Brazos River at the present town of Waco
and on the Trinity upstream from present Palestine by
1772. By 1779, the Trinity site had been abandoned and
members of that group joined those on the Brazos.
The Comanches descended to the Southern Plains
by the 18th century in a number of family bands at dif-
ferent times. More than any other Indian group, they
used the horse to the greatest advantage. On foot, this
loosely affiliated group of crudely equipped hunters-
gatherers appeared short, squat and ungraceful. On
horseback, the fierce Comanches dominated the South-
ern Plains for more than a century.
The word "Comanche" originated from the Ute
word "Komantcia," meaning enemy. But the Coman-
ches called themselves "The People." The Comanches
did not live in Central Texas, but raided the region, and
they were greatly feared by the white settlers.
A lesser force in Central Texas, but still one to be
reckoned with, was he Lipan-Apache tribe. They were
forced out of their traditional hunting areas by the
fierce Comanches as they made their way onto the
As the Europeans spread their settlements across
the face of Texas, they appropriated for their own the
lands of the agrarian Indians. The newcomers planted
their houses and corn cribs on the nomadic Indians'
hunting grounds. The clash of cultures that followed
Three Centuries of Spain
The Spanish were the first Europeans to have pro-
longed contact with the Texas Indians, and the result
was frustrating - and sometimes deadly - to both. Ini-
tially lured by tales of the wealth of the legendary Seven
Cities of Cibola and Gran Quivira, the Spanish first vis-
ited the area that became Texas in 1519. In that year,
Alonso Alvarez de Pineda mapped the Gulf Coast from
Florida to Veracruz.
Francisco Vazquez de Coronado, governor of New
Galicia, was appointed by the Spanish king to lead an
expedition to explore the American Southwest in 1540.
His report to King Charles V, after a fruitless trek
across the High Plains, Oklahoma and Kansas, recom-
mended that Spain drop efforts to further explore and
colonize the northern interior of New Spain.
Except for missionary activity in the El Paso area,
Spanish interest in Texas waned until the French ex-
plorer Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, landed
at Matagorda Bay in February 1685. His men built Fort
St. Louis on Garcitas Creek near present Vanderbilt.
Indians soon destroyed the fort and La Salle was mur-
dered by one of his own men in 1687. Word of French ac-
tivities on the coast threw the Spanish into a frenzy. In
1689, Alonso de Leon, governor of Coahuila, found the
ruins of Fort St. Louis. To prevent future French
incursions into what the Spanish considered "their" ter-
ritory, the Spanish founded two missions in East Texas
To facilitate travel between the East Texas missions
and the provincial capital in Mexico, Domingo Teran de
los Rios, the first provincial governor of Texas, blazed
El Camino Real (the King's Highway) in 1691. Later
known as the Old San Antonio Road, the route was actu-
ally a network of roads. The principal stem was for
many years the main route between Nacogdoches and
Meandering for 540 miles through what is today Tex-
as, the route of El Camino Real passed through the
present-day counties of Sabine, San Augustine, Nacog-
doches, Cherokee and Houston to the Trinity River. Be-
tween the Trinity and the Brazos, it formed the
boundary between Madison and Leon counties and be-
tween Robertson and Brazos counties. Continuing west,
it traversed Burleson, Lee and Bastrop counties and be-
came the boundary between Hays and Caldwell
counties. Then the road cut through Comal, Bexar, Ata-
scosa, Frio, La Salle, Dimmit and Maverick counties to
Paso de Francia or Paso de los Pacuaches below pres-
ent Eagle Pass on the Rio Grande, terminating at the
Mexican town of Guerrero. Through Central Texas, the
route crossed the Leon, Rogers, Wheelock, Cobb and
String prairies of Central Texas.
The Indians in the East Texas missions had no
immunity to European diseases and were hit by an
epidemic that wiped out great numbers of potential
converts. Many survivors resisted efforts to separate
them from their traditional religious practices. After
one mission was destroyed by flood, the other was aban-
doned in 1693.
In 1716, the Spanish government responsded to a
new French threat by re-establishing missions in East
Texas. As early as 1709, Fray Antonio de San Buenaven-
tura y Olivares, a Franciscan missionary of the College
of Santa Cruz de Queretaro, sought permission to estab-
lish a mission in Texas, preferably at San Pedro Springs
in today's San Antonio. He was impressed by the Indi-
ans of the region, the climate and the plentiful water
supply afforded by the river there. His initial request
was denied. But when the East Texas missions were re-
established, the Spanish government recognized the
need for a way station between East Texas and north-
ern Mexico. Fray Olivares received permission to
found his mission. Don Martin de Alarcon, captain gen-
eral and governor of the province of Texas and leader
of the military group that accompanied Olivares' mis-
sionaries, took official possession of San Antonio in the
name of the King of Spain on May 5, 1718. Fray Olivares
founded the Mission San Antonio de Valero, later
known as the Alamo. "San Antonio " was in honor of
Saint Anthony, while "de Valero" was to honor the vice-
roy of Mexico at the time, the Marques de Valero. Alar-
con established the presidio San Antonio de Bexar south
of San Pedro Springs. The name honors the viceroy's
half brother, the Duke of Bexar, a Spanish military
By January 1719, there were enough Indians in the
mission for the Spaniards to organize an informal pueb-
lo government. That month was also spent constructing
irrigation ditches for the fields, which were later plan-
ted with watermelon, pumpkins, chiles, melons, corn,
beans and grains. Vine and fig-tree cuttings from Coa-
huila were also planted, and herds of cattle, sheep and
goats were acquired.
The new mission was first housed in a temporary
TEXAS ALMANAC 1992-1993
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Kingston, Mike. Texas Almanac, 1992-1993, book, 1991; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth279642/m1/36/: accessed May 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.