Heritage, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1988 Page: 20
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This means settling down, building houses a bit more permanent
than a simple pit in the ground covered with branches and
mud. It also means the beginning of pottery, something in which
food can be stored, and something that isn't as portable as a
This also means a division of labor. If you are making a
ceramic pot or tending a field, who is going to go out and hunt
for meat? You do this, and I'll do that; and we begin to get people
doing different tasks, holding the group or clan together.
Agriculture means there is a surplus. We have more corn than
we can eat or store. Those people in the mountains to the west
make some pretty good robes out of deerhide. What if we take
some of this corn over there and trade it for those robes ... and
if we go just a bit further north, those people there have
turquoise. Still further west and south there is a big city. It's made
of adobe, they say, and some of the buildings go up four and five
stories, and they make beautiful pottery. We make our own
pottery here, I know, and it serves us well. But that pottery from
Paquime ... what do we have that they don't? My wife saw one
of those pots, and life has been miserable ever since-she wants
Beginning to see how a civilization grows?
The people living at Hueco Tanks from about 450 to 1 100AD
developed the earlier pithouses into above-ground adobe houses.
They made their own styles of crude pottery, one strictly for
utility and the other decorated in red and black; and they left
behind their own distinctive style of rock art.
We're also beginning to suspect they had a sophisticated
system of water control, check dams, baffles built of boulders
along the waterways to direct the flow wherever they wanted it
to go. This system of water control may well have been the result
of contact with the people of Paquime. The mountains in
Chihuahua are filled with such devices, rock baffles cleverly
arranged to stop any flash flood before it starts, directing the flow
of water to the fields below.
There were other groups and culture phases following, but we
won't confuse you with the names. It's a rich and varied history,
the story of our desert home.
The early farmers disappeared. Where they went or what
made them go, no one really knows. Maybe a year in which the
rains did not come, in which the prayers were ineffective. We
find the traces of their villages, their pueblos, all through the
desert, silent witness to the people who lived here long before
there was any written history.
Some of them may have evolved into the Suma and Manso
tribes the Spaniards found living along the Rio Grande. Again,
though, we simply do not know.
One of the things that make archaeology a fascinating study
is the hints, the bits and pieces of evidence slowly put together.
The joy of knowing more now than we did yesterday; the double
joy and wonder of searching for the answers, and finding them
often enough, so that we keep on going in this greatest treasure
hunt of all, the study of Man himself.
Learning to understand that man of yesterday, of all our
yesterdays, may help us understand ourselves a little better.
The Spaniards passed this way in the late 1500s, and found
nomadic groups living around Hueco Tanks. The old pueblos
were long gone, nothing but low wall stubs marked where they
had been. The mysterious group known only as the Jumanos
ranged through the area.
Later on, the Mescalero and Lipan Apache used Hueco Tanks
as home base, raiding settlements along the Rio Grande and
farther south. In keeping with the long-time traditions, the
Apache, too, made their marks on the walls of Hueco TanksComanche
Cave in the Huecos has a white-pigmented mural
telling of an Apache triumph.
Coming down from the Great Plains, the Comanche and the
Kiowa took shelter here on their raiding expeditions, and the
latter-day Tiguas came to the tanks to camp and hunt and hold
their religious ceremonies.
We don't know when the first non-Indian came to the
Huecos. The early Spanish expeditions tended to stay close to
the river route along the Rio Grande, and the rumors were of
hostile Indians out at Hueco. Besides, there was no lure of gold,
so the Spaniards didn't suffer from any burning urge to go
exploring in that direction.
Several battles were reported to have taken place between
Mexicans and Indians in and around Hueco Tanks, but the
reports are confusing and unclear-except for one battle which
was fairly well documented.
About 1839, a small Kiowa party planned a raid on the El Paso
area. This group, numbering about 200 warriors, found the
Mexican troops too much for them. They retreated to a place
called, in Kiowa legend, "The Rock House in Which They Were
Mexican soldiers, apparently with Tigua allies, surrounded
the Kiowas in the cave and, after a siege which lasted about ten
days, the Kiowas managed to escape by climbing up a tree and
crawling out to safety, leaving only one or two of their dead
Most sources say this all took place at Hueco Tanks; but,
whatever happened, the battle has found a place in Kiowa and
We do know that only three years ago a group of Tigua and
Kiowa Indians visited the site and the cave in which the battle
is said to have taken place.
Fairly quiet times followed at Hueco Tanks, up till about
1848. That was when the Mexican War came to an end and the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, establishing the Rio
Grande as the international boundary of Texas.
What happened then was, literally, the opening of the West.
That it was motivated by greed is beside the point, most of
pioneering down through history has been this way.
Texas towns had long been eyeing the lucrative Santa FeChihuahua
trade, and the discovery of gold in far-off California
made them eager to find a southern, snow-free route across the
country to the west. Three expeditions were sent out in 1848 and
1849 to find a route to El Paso from either Austin or San
The first one, led by Texas Ranger Samuel Highsmith and
John Coffee Hays, got lost in the Big Bend and had to turn back.
A second expedition was sent out by Austin merchants. This one
was led by Doctor John S. Ford, nicknamed Rip, and Colonel
Robert Neighbors, a Texas Indian agent.
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1988, periodical, Spring 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45435/m1/20/: accessed October 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.