A MISSION FOR THE TEJAS (City of Laredo- Archeological)
Governor De Leon made an additional excursion into Texas the following year, 1690. On this excursion he was assigned the task of burning the fort’s remain and bringing back any of the fort’s survivors. He accomplished his task in that two young French boys, 14 year old Pierre Talon and 20 year old Pierre Meunier were retrieved from the Indian tribes.
These young men had been placed with the local Indians, the Toho and Tejas, to learn
their customs and become assimilated into their culture.
Also recovered were the three Talon children that had been taken captive by the
Karankawa. It was customary for Indian’s to spare the lives of children. These children
were Marie Madeleine age 16 and two boys ages 8 and 5.
About the Tejas Indians
The White Man Finds the Tejas Indians
When the Storm God Rides: Tejas and Other Indian Legends retold by Florence Stratton and illustrated by Berniece Burrough (1936). This part of her book is in thanks to Sacred Text
Texas is the largest state in this great land of ours. Long ago, long before Columbus came to the New World, the people who lived in Texas were not white. They had bronze-colored skins. They were called Indians, because the first white people who found them thought they had come to the far-off land of India.
In a number of ways the Indians of the New World were like us. We like to tell stories, and so did they. They did not write their stories on paper because they did not know what paper was, and so they learned their stories by heart and remembered them. Fathers and mothers told the stories to their children and the children told them again to their children when they had grown up.
The stories in this book came mostly through the Tejas Indians, who belonged to certain tribes of east Texas, but the Comanches, Alabamas, Wacos, Wichitas, Tonkewas, Attakapas, and Karankawas * gave us some of the stories. The peaceful Tejas Indians made treaties with the warlike tribes west of their country, such as the Comanches and Wacos. By doing this the Tejas people could go out of their own country to get the hides and meat of the buffaloes, which roved the western lands in great herds. Living between the Tejas tribes and the Comanches and other tribes of central and western Texas were the Wichitas, the Tonkewas and Attakapas. Along the gulf coast lived the Karankawas.
As we read the legends we shall find out what the Indians of long ago believed about the flowers that grew in the fields and the fish that swam in the rivers and the birds that sang and flew in the air. The Indians lived close to these things. They lived in the woods and on the open fields, gathered into villages. They knew how little animals lived in the bushes and trees. They walked under the trees and watched the animals eating and playing. At night they sat in their camps around their fires and heard owls hooting and wolves howling far away in the dark.
They watched the flowers grow by the rivers and in the woods and fields in the spring time. They knew where to find the pink azaleas, which grew on tall bushes. In the spring the woods were full of yellow jasmine flowers. Indian girls liked to pick these and tie them in their long black hair. Another flower which the Indians knew was the dogwood. This big white flower grew on trees. When the trees were in bloom the blossoms that covered them looked like large white butterflies resting on the green leaves. In the open marsh glade grew the purple gentians, and on the prairies the bluebonnets. Sometimes these flowers looked like purple ponds of water because there were so many of them growing together. When the wind blew across them their purple and blue heads moved like waves. The Indians liked these flowers and others which grew where they lived, and many of the legends in this book are about them.
The bronzed people who knew the animals and flowers and told stories about them were friendly. When the first white people came to east Texas from France and Spain they found that the Indians were good and peaceful, and so they called them Tejas Indians, which means friendly Indians. The white men named the country the land of the Tejas. Today that land is called Texas because of this old Indian name.
The Tejas Indians were happy and friendly when the first white people came to their country more than two hundred years ago. It was a land of woods and fields. The only people who lived there were the Indians, and they did not live in big towns. They lived in villages. The villages did not have roads between them. When the Indians wanted to go from one to another they had to walk through the open fields or the forests, sometimes on narrow trails and sometimes without any trail at all.
When the white people came to the land of the Tejas the Indians were glad to see them. These white people came from Spain. Their leader was a soldier named Captain de Leon. He brought with him his soldiers, and also a good man named Father Massanet, who came to tell the Indians about the white man’s God. When Captain de Leon came to the place where Father Massanet was later to build the first church in Texas the chief of the Indians met the white people. He could not speak their language, but he talked with them by making signs with his fingers. Captain de Leon gave the chief some clothes like those the white people were wearing, and this made the chief happy. He put them on and led the captain and his men to the Indian village. As they marched into the village they sang and waved their flags.
The Indians were glad to see the strange white people because the chief told them Captain de Leon was their friend. They always obeyed their chief. He ruled all the tribes of the Tejas Indians and the leaders of those tribes. When he needed to find out something he wanted to know or help in time of war he called the leaders of the tribes to his big grass-covered house. They all sat around the fire inside and talked about things with their chief. When they decided what to do the leaders would go home to their tribes and tell them what the chief had said.
Father Massanet soon set to work building
the first church in Texas, named San Francisco de los Tejas. With the help of his priests he cut down trees and built the church out of logs. He had brought some bronze bells with him, and he put these on the little log church, which was in Cherokee county and near the Neches river. He started teaching the Indians. The Indians began learning the ways of the white people and the white people began to learn about the Indians. In this way the two races of people came together.
The white people began to come in great numbers. They killed the wild animals which the Indians had been eating and they took or bought the land where the Indians had their small farms.
Now and then whites married Indian women, and in this way the blood of the Tejas people was mingled with the blood of the whites. Today only a small number of the pure-blooded Indians are left. Two tribes called the Coushattas and Alabamas in east Texas are not native to the state. A few Indians of other tribes live among the white people and work small farms and hunt for a living.
How the Indians Looked
The Indians had reddish-brown or bronze-colored skin. They stood tall and straight. They had strong arms and legs because they walked much when they were hunting or fishing or moving their camps from one place to another. Their hair was long and black. They did not cut it short, but let it grow long. Because they lived out of doors so much their eyes were bright and sharp. They could see little animals and birds moving high in the trees, far away on the hills and even in the twilight. Their ears were keen. They could hear small sounds like rabbits running in the grass, or birds singing high in the air over their heads, or deer calling to their mates in the woods.
How the Indians Dressed
In summer, when it was warm, the men wore only pieces of animal skin around their waists. In the winter they wrapped themselves in robes made of skins with fur on them or blankets which the women made. Indian women also wore skins and blankets. When the babies were still too little to walk their mothers carried them in sacks of skin tied to the mothers’ backs. When the babies were in these sacks only their heads peeped out.
On their feet the Indians wore soft shoes made of skin. These shoes were called moccasins. They were soft because the skin had been beaten with rocks or chewed. Indians could walk through the woods in moccasins and not make a sound if they were careful not to step on dry sticks and break them. The Indians were always careful not to make noises while hunting or when engaged in wars with other tribes.
These people who lived in the land of the Tejas so long ago liked pretty things, as do most people everywhere. They liked bright colors. They sewed colored feathers on their clothes and on their blankets and tied them on their hunting bows. From the little redbird they got red feathers, blue feathers from the blue-jay, white ones from herons and geese, black ones from the crow and buzzard, yellow feathers from the oriole and meadow lark, and spotted feathers from the wild turkey, the prairie chicken, the hawk, and the eagle. Sometimes they could not find the colored feathers they wanted, and so they dyed white feathers with the juices of berries or roots. They liked to wear feathers in their hair. They would braid their long hair and stick two or three feathers in the braids. The chiefs of the tribes wore bonnets made of many feathers.
On their moccasins and clothes the Indians sewed little colored beads. They made these beads from many things. Some were made from red, black, yellow or blue clay rolled into balls. When the clay was still soft after they dug it from the earth they made holes in the balls by pushing little twigs through them. Then they heated the balls in fires. This made the beads hard. Today these beads are sometimes found on the banks of rivers or around the places where the Indians used to have their villages. Beads were also made from hard nuts and seeds. Sometimes the Indians made them out of the teeth of animals, and also out of the bones of animals and fish. When they could find soft stones they would make these stones into beads and cut pictures on them. Shells found in the rivers or at the seashore were made into beads by punching holes into parts of them. Parts of certain shells were used as money.
Indians used paint on their faces, arms and legs. They made their paint out of the juices of berries and also out of different colored clays by mixing the clay with water or with grease. They got this grease from animals. When they went to war the men put paint on their faces to make them look ugly so they could scare their enemies. When they danced in their villages they put red and yellow and white and black paint all over themselves and shouted and danced. We would not think they were very pretty, but they thought they were, and that made them happy.
The Indians lived in strange houses. They did not have such things as bricks and the kind of wood with which we build houses now. When they could find young trees growing close together they bent them over until their tops were touching and then they tied the tops together. Most of the time they stuck poles into the ground in the shape of a circle and tied the poles together at the top. Around these poles they made the walls of their houses by tying thick branches from trees or bunches of grass. Their houses looked like round haystacks. They did not have any windows. The only way light could get into them was through the door; which could be closed by hanging skins over it, or through holes in the walls used to let out smoke from the fires.
Some of the Indians lived in tents. These Indians did not live long in one place, but moved around and followed the animals which they killed and used for meat. They made their tents by stretching skins over poles set up in the ground and tied together at the top. When the skins were stretched over the poles the tents looked like ice cream cones upside down. On the skins the Indians painted pictures of trees, the sun, animals, birds, fish and Indians fighting or playing. When a tribe got ready to move to a new place the Indians took the skins off the poles, and rolled up the poles in the skins. They carried the bundles with them when they went to a new camp. In this way they could move their villages without much trouble.
The Tejas people did not travel much. They had gardens. They could not move their gardens, so they stayed where these were. On the inside of their houses they did not have wood floors, but walked on mats made of grass or on blankets or skins laid on the bare earth. They slept on beds made by driving four short sticks into the ground like the legs of a bed. On these legs they tied vines and the soft branches of trees, then laid on top of these their skins and blankets. Their beds were quite soft.
There were not many things in their houses. They had no chairs or tables, but sat on the floor or on their beds. There were no lights. When night came they would lay wood on the fire inside the house and this would make a bright blaze. The Indians did not have any books to read, so they did not need lights very much. They did most of their work while sitting outside their houses during the daytime. Those who went away from their homes to work did so in gardens or fished or hunted. When night came they were tired, and went to bed early. On cold winter nights they piled wood on their fires to make a big, bright blaze to keep them warm while the winds blew and whistled high in the trees outside. They cooked some of their food on these fires.
How Food Was Cooked
The Indians cooked their food in several ways. One way was to boil things in jars or dishes made of clay. When an Indian woman wanted to make soup or boil meat or vegetables she put the food into one of these pottery dishes, poured water into it and set it on her fire until the food was cooked.
Sometimes the Indians cooked food in pottery that could not be put on fires without cracking. When they used this kind of pottery they boiled the water and food in the jar by dropping into it rocks which had first been heated in a fire. As soon as one rock had cooled it was taken out and another hot one put in its place. At last the water came to a boil. It was a slow way to cook, but the Indians had plenty of time.
Indians knew how to bake food, such as corn bread and beans. They baked these in ovens made of dried clay or mud into which they put burning wood or hot rocks. They baked some food, such as fish, by rolling the food in wet clay and covering it up in red hot ashes for a while.
They cooked their meat by cutting it into strips and smoking it over fires or by boiling it. They often did not cook it, but cut it into strips and hung it outside their houses in the sun on long poles until the sun had dried it. They dried their meat in the summer and ate it during the winter months when animals were hard to find.
Indian Pottery and Baskets
The Indians kept their food and water in dishes or bottles made of clay or in baskets of woven grass and branches from trees. The women made these things. When they needed a dish of clay they would go out to find the kind of clay they wanted on the banks of rivers or in fields where rains had washed away the soft dirt till the clay could be seen. This clay was mixed with water until it was soft and could be pressed into shape. The woman who was making the dish would roll it and pound it with her hands until it was the right shape and size. Sometimes she painted it with paint made from clay of another color. Sometimes she scratched pictures or lines on the dish when it was still soft. At last she put the dish into a fire and burned it and made it hard, so that it would hold water without leaking or falling to pieces.
These clay dishes and bottles are called pottery. They were made in many different shapes. Some were like bottles. These were used to hold water and berry juices. Others were like bowls. In them were kept the foods which the Indians raised in their gardens, and fruits, nuts and berries. They were all easy to break and had to be used with care. Many are to be found today in the places where the Indians had their villages. Sometimes they are broken into many pieces, but if all the pieces are found they can be glued together and made to look just as they were when the Indians used them many years ago.
Baskets which the Indian women made were often very pretty. Some were of long, tough grass. Others were of strips of bark or wood cut from trees. Baskets could also be woven out of vines and the long, slim branches of willow trees growing near the rivers and ponds. The baskets the Indians used looked very much like those which are made now. Some were painted with different colors. Some had beads and feathers on them, and handles made of strips of skin. In these baskets the Indians kept foods.
Indian Gardens, Fruits and Berries
The Tejas Indians had gardens and small farms from which they got part of their food. This was one of the reasons they did not roam far over the country as most Indians did. The women, not the men, did the work in these gardens. Men hunted and fished and fought battles and left the work in the villages to their women.
The Tejas people did not have big farms with fences around them. They planted only little pieces of ground because they did not have such things as ploughs. Most of the time two or three Indian women would work on the same garden together, and when the crops were ready everything was taken from the garden and put into one pile. From that pile each Indian took vegetables as these were needed by a family.
The land where they lived was very rich and would grow anything they wanted to plant in it. There was not much cold weather in the winter, so that their gardens were not killed by hard freezes. There was plenty of rain to make their seeds grow in the spring. They did not have to dig big rocks out of the ground because there were not many rocks where they lived.
They raised corn, beans, calabashes, berries, melons and pumpkins. Corn and beans could be kept and used in the winter by putting them away in baskets or jars. Peppers could be kept the same way.
In the woods the Indians found many things to eat. They knew where to find the wild pecan trees, the hickory nut trees and the walnut trees. They knew where vines with grapes grew. There were many kinds of berries growing wild, such as blackberries, dewberries, and huckleberries. Wild plum trees also grew in the woods. When the fruit and berries were ripe the Indian women and children would take baskets into the woods and go from tree to tree and from bush to bush until the baskets were full. Sometimes they were gone all day and did not go back to their camp before night began to fall in the woods. They liked the fruits and did not mind working hard to get them.
How They Hunted and Fished
Indians liked to hunt. It was fun to walk through the woods looking for rabbits or wild turkeys or to run after the deer and buffalo which roamed over the country. These Indian people had to hunt because it was the only way to get the meat they ate. Each father had to go out hunting meat for his own family. While the women stayed at home tending the gardens and keeping house the men spent much of their time going through the woods or across the open prairies with their bows and arrows.
The Indians used bows and arrows for shooting animals. The bow which the Indian used was much like the bows from which boys shoot arrows today. It was about five feet long and was made of the wood of different kinds of trees growing where the Indians lived. A cord made of skin was tied to each end of the bow and was pulled tight until the bow was bent. The arrows which were shot from the bow were also made of wood. An arrow had to be very straight so it would fly in a straight line. It had a point shaped from hard rock. Each tribe of Indians had a man who did nothing but make arrow points, because a man could not make these well unless he made many of them. The arrow maker would look on the ground for the kind of rock which he wanted. Then he would take another piece of rock and pound the first so that it was broken into flat, thin pieces shaped like leaves. From each of these pieces he would make an arrow point. He did this by chipping little bits off of them with a sharp stone until they had the right shape. Arrow points were both big and little. Indians used big ones on their arrows when they wanted to shoot large animals like deer or bears. When they wanted to shoot birds, such as wild turkeys, cranes and hawks, they used arrows with little points so as not to tear the birds to pieces.
Each hunter carried many arrows in a long leather sack which was called a quiver. He hung the quiver full of arrows over his shoulder so that he could quickly pull an arrow out of it when he wanted to shoot something.
A good hunter could hit an animal with an arrow when the animal was running fast, and he could hit birds as they flew in the air. All little Indian boys were taught how to use the bow and arrow just as soon as they were strong enough to hold them, and that is why Indians were such good hunters. Today the woods where the Indians hunted are full of arrow points. They can be found lying in ditches where the water has washed the dirt away from them. Sometimes one can be found sticking in a tree where the arrow hit when an Indian shot at an animal and missed it.
One of the animals which the Indians hunted was the buffalo, that once roamed in thousands over the plains. The buffalo was of great use to the Indians. They used his meat for food and his shaggy hide for making clothes, tents or blankets. Indians killed the buffaloes by driving them in large numbers into narrow paths between rocky walls until the animals came to high cliffs and fell over. Sometimes they drove them into rivers or muddy places and shot them with arrows. Another way to shoot the buffaloes was for the Indian hunters to dress themselves in buffalo hides to fool the animals and then creep up close enough to shoot arrows at them. After the white man came to America the Indians used horses for hunting. The Indians skinned the dead animals and carried parts of the meat back to their camps. When they had so much meat that they could not eat it all at once they cut it into thin strips, and hung it in the sun to dry. Dried meat lasted a long time.
In the woods the Indians hunted rabbits, squirrels, coons, turkeys and bears. They did not shoot animals just for fun. They only killed when they were hungry. Because of this the woods were always full of things which they needed for food. On still summer days they could hear the big turkey gobblers calling to their flocks. They could hear squirrels barking and scolding one another up in the oak trees. If they stood still and hid themselves they could see the little rabbits hopping along in the grass and nibbling leaves. They knew where to find the tracks which the little black coon made in soft mud with his paws on the banks of rivers when he came to drink at night or to catch crawfish in the water. They knew where the big bear had been walking when they saw his footprints looking like the hand of a giant in the dirt. At night when they heard something howling on the plains they knew it was a wolf.
The best hunters could call animals and birds to them. They could whistle like the larks and bob-whites. They could call the wild turkeys close to them. They could bark and scold like the squirrels. Hunters who could do these things did not have to walk, but stood still in the woods and called the animals close enough to shoot them.
How They Got Food from the Water
The Indians also fished. They got part of their food from the rivers and lakes, which were full of fish of many kinds. They caught them with hooks and lines. They made hooks out of thin rock and bones, much as they made their arrow-points. It was hard work to make hooks, and they were easy to break. The hooks were tied on lines made of long strips of skin, sinews, long vines or hair. On these hooks and lines the fishermen caught the large fish, such as the catfish, the gar, the buffalo fish and the drum. Once in a while they would catch a big turtle, but the Indians got most of their turtles by digging them out of the ground after the turtles had buried themselves for the winter.
Sometimes the Indians shot fish with their bows and arrows. They would stand very still near the river and wait until a fish swam close to the top of the water, then shoot it with an arrow and catch it before it could float away. The fishermen also used nets made of vines. They would drag them through the water and catch the big fish in them, or would put food in the nets and leave them in the water where fish would become caught in them.
Indians liked to eat clams, and these were easy to get. They waded in rivers and picked up the clams lying on the bottom. Some clams buried themselves in mud or sand in the rivers. The Indians found these by digging with their feet or hands where they knew the clams were hiding. Indians who lived near the waters of the Gulf of Mexico waded into the shallow water near the shores and found many oysters, which taste somewhat like clams.
The Gods of the Indians
The people of the Tejas country believed in many spirits. They thought some of these were good and that others were bad. Everywhere, they believed, the spirits were watching them. When a storm arose and howled through the trees it was evil spirits wailing and shouting. When leaves rustled and whispered in the tops of trees in summer it was good spirits talking among themselves or playing together. Spirits caused the lightning to shoot across the sky, made water bubble out of the ground, caused the snow to fall and ice to form on ponds of water, turned the leaves red and yellow when winter came, made the flowers bloom in the spring and caused fire to leap and dance.
Each Indian tribe had what was called a medicine man, who was able to talk with these spirits. The medicine man believed that he could talk with spirits who lived in the woods and sky, and he told the Indians what the spirits were doing and what they said.
There were the evil spirits, which the Indians feared. There were also the good spirits, which helped the Indians. The medicine man thought he knew how to keep the bad spirits from hurting the Indians and how to get the good spirits to give them what they wanted. He kept a fire burning night and day in the big house where he lived. From it all the Indians got burning bits of wood which they took to their homes to build their own fires with, because they thought the medicine man’s fire had magic in it. The medicine man did not have to work like other people of the tribe. Indians brought him fish and birds and other things to eat, and the women cooked for him and made his clothes. Even the chief thought he was a very wise man.
The medicine man helped the great chief of the Indian tribes. When the chief wanted to know something which nobody else could tell him he went to the house of the medicine man. He asked the wise man things about hunting or where to find water, or how to make the rain stop, or how to cure sick people. Then the medicine man painted his body with bright colors and put a cap of feathers on his head. Sometimes he would shout and dance until he was so tired he fell to the ground. He often swallowed a magic drink which he had made, and this drink would make him say strange things, and the Indians thought he was talking with the spirits. After that he would tell the chief what he wanted to know.
The medicine man was many times wrong, but the Indians did not remember when he was wrong, and they always remembered it when he was right. Because of this they thought he was a very wise man with magic powers. When they wanted to go to war they asked him how they should begin and where they should fight. When they needed rain for their crops they asked him to pray for the spirits to send it down from the sky. When the hot sun burned from the sky for day after day they asked him to pray to the spirits to send clouds to make it cool and make the rain fall.
Sometimes, the Indians thought, an evil spirit would get into a man and make him sick or crazy. They had ways to drive out this evil spirit. The medicine man of the tribe would make medicine out of different things and give it to the man, or he would put seeds, hair, bones and other things into little bags called charms and tie these about the man’s neck to drive out the evil spirits. If many people of the tribe got sick the other Indians would dance and shout and pound on drums to make a great noise so that the evil spirits which caused the people to be sick would become scared and would go away from the camp.
When the people wanted the good spirits to give them something they often danced and sang and prayed in their camps so the spirits would hear them and be pleased. They would paint their faces and put flowers and feathers in their hair. The medicine man would make magic drinks and swallow them so he could talk better with the spirits. Then everybody would begin to dance. Sometimes they danced all day and all night. The weaker Indians would soon fall to the ground, but the others kept on leaping around and shouting their songs to the sky, where they thought the spirits were watching and listening. When night came some of the Indians piled logs on the campfires. The bright flames roared and climbed high in the air and made the camp as light as day. The dogs barked, the Indian children laughed and the dancers sang as loud as they could. At last the Indians were so tired they fell to the ground and slept there or crawled to their houses and went to bed. Sometimes the spirits gave them what they wanted. At other times they did not, for the good spirits did not always hear the Indians, so the medicine man said.
The Indians had a god they called the Great Spirit, who ruled all the other spirits, both good and bad. He lived somewhere up in the sky, where he could see all things that happened on the earth. He knew when a baby died. He saw every wolf on the prairie. He knew when it was going to rain, when a storm was about to come, when an Indian was going to get hurt and when a little ant fell off a leaf in the woods. He knew these things because he ruled everything on the earth and nothing could happen unless he wanted it to happen.
The people of the Tejas country believed that when they died the Giver of Life took them to heaven, where they lived just as they had done on this earth but did not have the troubles they had here. They believed that they needed their bows and arrows for hunting up there in the sky. They thought that after they died they would need everything they used on the earth. Because of this they buried their people with all the things used and loved when they were alive. When a hunter died his family would put in the grave with him his clothes, his bow and arrows and his knife. When a little child died they would bury it with dolls or other things it liked to play with. When an Indian woman died they would bury her with her pretty clothes, beads, moccasins, necklaces and bone needles.
The Indians loved and worshipped the Great Spirit or Giver of Life. Some of the legends in this book tell how the Great Spirit brought help to the Indians when they were in trouble. The legend named “Why the Irises Hold Hands,” tells how the Great Spirit grew angry and sent a flood upon some Indians who did not thank him for the good things he had given them. In the legend called “Kachina Brings the Spring” it is told how the Great Spirit sent down rain to the Indians after a little girl had burned her doll to please him.
We have seen how the Indians lived close to the animals and fish and birds and how much they knew about these little things that ran, swam and flew. We have found that the Indians believed in good and evil spirits and a Great Spirit who was most powerful of all. Now we know why the legends in this book tell us about these things. The Indians thought about them all the time, and because of that they put them into their stories. The legends tell us what the Indians thought about the world in which they lived.