Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991 Page: 14
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The Last Prehistoric
Interpretation of bison in the South Texas environment, A.D. 1200-1400.
By Jeffery A. Huebner and
David G. Robinson
S ilently, a prehistoric hunter rises from
the tall grass and draws his bow.
Around him, the South Texas coastal
plain grasses and shrubs wave in the breeze
blowing from the dispersed bison herd. The
young cow the hunter has been stalking for
hours stands only a few yards off. The arrow
is drawn back to its tip, a razor-sharp wedge of
flaked chert. Breathing a prayer, and with a
flick of his wrist, he releases the shaft; it flies
buzzing, then buries itself in the cow's ribs,
followed swiftly by another. The three
companions of the hunter leap shouting from
their hiding places and join him in pursuing the
wounded animal until it collapses.
Soon the men are using their peculiar, but
strong beveled-edge stone knives to open the
tough bison hide. Heavy stone cobbles shaped
as choppers are used to break the shoulder
joints of the forelimbs and the jaw with its two
delicacies-marrow and tongue. The bison
hunters also slice off the fat, rich backstrap.
The hide may or may not be taken, depending
on its quality and their present needs. The
hunters cannot take all the meat the carcass
provides because the walk back to their families
at the wooded creekside camp is a long one, and
these Native American hunters have never
even dreamed of such a thing as a horse.
Yet the bowman exults. With this kill, the
group is guaranteed enough food on its
upcoming journey, a seasonal move which will
take the band from its deep inland camp toward
the coast. Hunger is pushed back one step, and
life smiles, at least for a while.
The incident just presented is fiction,
but new research in southern and coastal
Texas shows that the scenario it describes
was enacted on countless occasions from
about 1200 A.D. into early historic times.
Careful excavation and breakthroughs in
scientific archaeology have put together
the first clues about a cultural lifeway not
greatly different from the bison-hunting
Indians of the Great Plains in historic
times. Ongoing research is trying to clarify
and give more detail to the picture. This
article presents some of the evidence for
this pattern and offers some possible
explanations for it.
The region under discussion is not one
ordinarily thought of as bison country, at
least in modern times. It is also not a
homogeneous grassland. The territory
stretches in a broad triangle with one edge
along the flat coastal prairies between
Baffin and Matagorda bays. From there the
sides converge on the approximate apex of
the triangle in the Upper Sabinal River
Valley, on the southwestern fringes of the
Edwards Plateau. The flat coastal prairies
have abundant little bluestem, Indian
grass, muhly, purple three awn, and Florida
paspalum as native grasses. Farther inland,
on the undulating plains and river valleys,
termed South Texas Brush Country, the
bluestem family and mesquite dominate.
In the apex of the triangle, the canyons of
the southern Edwards Plateau harbor a
wide variety of trees, shrubs, and grasses
such as little bluestem, Indian grass, tall
dropseed, Texas cupgrass and various
How are achaeologists able to paint a
picture of prehistoric bison-hunters in this
region? For years, bison bones have been
unearthed from scattered archaeological
sites across the coastal plain. Unfortunately,
most of the data on these animals
came from surface sites and undated sites.
Recently, however, a chronology of bison
in the region has been worked out from
painstaking work at a few well-investigated
sites, among them the Burris site, the La
Jita site, the Batot-Hooker site and the
41RF21 site in Refugio County. Not only
did sites reveal clues, but so did scattered
14 HERITAGE * SPRING 1991
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 9, Number 2, Spring 1991, periodical, Spring 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45424/m1/14/: accessed January 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.