Heritage, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 1988 Page: 23
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The Hasinais: Southern Caddoan as Seen by
the Earliest Europeans. By Herbert Bolton.
The Frontier People: The Greater Southwest
in the Protohistoric Period. By Carroll L.
A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, by
Himself. With an introduction by Paul A.
The Recollections of Early Texas: The Memoirs
of John Holland Jenkins. Edited by John
H. Jenkins, III.
The Dictionary of Texas Misinformation. By
A few years ago I stopped by Poverty
Point in northern Louisiana during a long
trip home to Texas. To most people there
isn't much to see in that flat, dreary country,
but I had been curious about this famous
archaeological site ever since I
learned there was a farming village there
several hundred years before corn was
grown in the Southwest. The rivers of the
region form grand loops across the landscape
in their lazy sinuous trek to the Gulf.
Oxbows that were left behind made fine
places to live. They harbored waterfowl,
fish, mollusks, game mammals, and wild
plants. And they also had deep alluvial
soils that were perfect for farming.
Mitch Hillman is the park superintendent,
and he had a lot of theories about
these people. He didn't get many visitors in
the winter, so he had time to make replicas
of early Indian darts and dart points. Before
the idea of bows and arrows spread across
the continent, these darts were the main
hunting weapon. They were thrown with
the aid of an atlatl, a stick a few feet long
that worked like an extra forearm, so that
there were three joints, and that much
extra leverage. Mitch had developed a
deadly aim. As we talked about the park,
and the huge mound that was built fairly
late in the history of the site, we kept
coming around to the topic of trade and
contact with other Indian groups.
He told me about a map in the Spanish
Archives in Seville that showed Indian
roads, as recorded by the Spanish and
French explorers, that spanned the continent
from Florida to the Gulf of California.
The legend on the map described these as
safe passage routes. As long as a traveler
stayed in the right-of-way, he was safe from
harm. The main roads stretched to the
southeast, toward Florida. And there
weren't any clear routes through Texas to
the Aztecs of Mesoamerica. So where and
when did the people at Poverty Point get
corn, squash and beans? If they were growing
these crops long before 300BC, which
appears to be the earliest Southwest use of
them, then they obviously didn't get them
from that direction. The humid climate of
the southeast United States was great for
these crops, but miserable for preserving
archaeological remains. We may never
know how the seeds and ideas of farming
spread, but we do know enough to be
deeply impressed by the sense of place that
these prehistoric people had. It wasn't just
local or regional, but took in the whole
The first Spanish explorers were guided
across America by local folk who were on
speaking terms with their neighbors, and
through them, their neighbors, and so on.
The Indians passed along the Spanish like
country cousins, at least until they learned
to mistrust them for their imperious ways.
Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked along the
Texas Coast in the 1530s, and traveled for
years throughout Texas and the Southwest.
Nine years later, he met up with
Spanish slavers in Sinoloa on the Gulf of
California coast of Mexico. He was
ashamed of what his countrymen were
doing to the Indians of the region. He had
come close to being dinner for the Karankawa
on the Texas Gulf coast, but had
grown to appreciate the open and honorable
treatment he received once word
spread that he was a healer and friend to the
people. Coronado, Ofnate and others who
launched expeditions through the Southwest
were treated well until it was apparent
they had larceny in their hearts. Even then,
the Indians more often than not just tried
to lose them in the trackless desert rather
than be inhospitable at home.
This is a long way around the mistletoe
to the point of all this, but here it comes.
Most of the books that have come in the
mail this winter focus on that period of
discovery when the Spanish, French and
Anglos stumbled into the New World, and
then took credit for finding it. Even worse,
they didn't recognize the value of what
they found. There was no gold or silver or
emeralds. It even took a while for the
Spanish to admit that the Indians had
souls. What they failed to see was the deep
sense of place and knowledge of their world
that was expressed in unwritten symbols
and ways of life. Don't get me wrong. I don't
think that the early Indians were primeval
ecologists, recycling aluminum and buying
their Shiner Bock in returnable longnecks.
Their trash was, by and large, biodegradable,
but there's no telling how many
hunters and gatherers moved on just to get
away from their own trash. And there's no
telling how many pueblos were abandoned
simply because their inhabitants exhausted
the local firewood and farming soils. No,
the lessons are not that pure. The Spanish
may have missed all that, but in spite of
their ingrained bias toward gold and slaves,
they did leave a tremendous archival legacy
of knowledge of our part of the New
That's what this first book is all about.
The Hasinais: Southern Caddoan as Seen by
the Earliest Europeans by Herbert Bolton
(University of Oklahoma Press) is a marvelous
addition to our ethnohistoric
knowledge of early Texas. Editor Russell
M. Magnaghi has done a service to professional
and lay readers by reviving this longlost
manuscript and nursing it along toward
publication. Bolton wrote this volume in
1907 and 1908 as a contribution to Frederick
Webb Hodge's Handbook of American
Indians North of Mexico, which was being
prepared by the Smithsonian Institution's
Bureau of American Ethnology. Bolton
was a young professor in the history department
of the University of Texas at the
time, and had immersed himself in the
Spanish Archives that were available in
Austin and Mexico.
Bolton kept tinkering with the manuscript
for years. Long after he had become
the leading scholar on Spanish exploration,
he continued to resist publishing his
earliest and possibly one of his finest works.
In this volume he demonstrates an understanding
of ethnography and ethnohistory
that is missing in much of his later work. In
fact, he presents a fairly complete portrait
of Caddoan society that he gleaned from
Spanish accounts. The Spanish, after all,
were great chroniclers. Their interest in
exploiting native economies led them to
develop good census techniques. They
wanted to know how many able-bodied
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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/m1/23/: accessed October 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.