Indian Nations of Texas
Texas was home to hundreds of tribes of American Indians. The following tribes are discussed on this website.
Though recognized as two separate tribes, the Alabamas and Coushattas have long been considered one tribe culturally. They migrated from present-day Alabama beginning in 1763, eventually settling in the Big Thicket area of Southeast Texas. The Alabamas and Coushattas were skilled warriors but preferred to stay at peace. They fought with Stephen F. Austin in his campaigns against the Karankawas and in the Fredonian Rebellion, and successfully drove the Comanches out of their territory in 1839. Their assistance to the Texans during the Runaway Scrape in 1836 won them the friendship of even such an inveterate Indian fighter as Mirabeau B. Lamar.
In 1853, the Alabamas moved to a reservation in Polk County, where they were joined by the Coushattas in 1859. They helped move military supplies for Texas during the Civil War. Their support won praise from Confederate governors Francis R. Lubbock and Pendleton Murrah. However, the 1870s saw the two tribes reach a low point, as an influx of white settlers into their lands destroyed their traditional way of life.
In the 1880s, the Alabamas and Coushattas began to build new lives, becoming experts in the burgeoning lumber industry and embracing both Christianity and education as anchors in their lives. During these years, an attorney from Livingston, J.C. Feagin, became a tireless advocate for the tribes. Feagin worked for decades to gain federal assistance for land and educational opportunities that would enable the tribes to be economically self-sufficient once again. This effort finally began to pay off in the 1920s, when the government purchased an additional 3000 acres of land that helped make the Alabama-Coushatta more competitive farmers. The federal government also paid for additional educational facilities, a gymnasium, and a hospital.
Since then, Alabama-Coushatta affairs have been alternately under both state and federal jurisdiction. The tribes formally incorporated under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and developed both a constitution and by-laws.
The Anadarkos lived in East Texas in present-day Nacogdoches and Rusk counties. Greatly impacted by disease and warfare, they migrated westward after the Texas Revolution, seeking an area where they could live free of white interference and depredations from fiercer tribes. They moved to the Brazos Indian Reservation in 1854, and to Indian Territory in 1859.
The Apaches dominated almost all of West Texas and ranged over a wide area from Arkansas to Arizona. Two groups of Apaches, the Lipans and the Mescalaros, were of primary importance in Texas. Apaches were among the first Indians to learn to ride horses and lived a nomadic existence following the buffalo. They also farmed, growing maize, beans, pumpkins, and watermelons. During the era of Spanish rule, the Apaches staged constant raids against the Spanish missions. But as the 1700s wore on, they found themselves subject to raiding from the even more fearsome Comanches. Eventually, they entered an on-again, off-again relationship with the Spanish, sometimes warring and raiding, other times allying with the Spanish against the Comanches and other enemies.
When Anglo Americans began moving into Texas, the Apaches cultivated a friendship with them as a bulwark against the Comanches. This friendship broke down in 1842, perhaps because of the unsolved murder of a Lipan chief named Flacco the Younger, whom the Lipans believed was killed by whites. Lipan and Mescalaro Apaches moved across the Mexican border and began a series of destructive border raids that lasted for decades. It was not until 1873 that the U.S. Army under Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led a force into Mexico, destroyed the Apache villages, and forced the survivors onto a reservation in New Mexico.
The Arapahos ranged to the north of Texas over a wide area encompassing much of present-day Colorado, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, westward to the Rockies, and eastward into Kansas and Oklahoma. They lived a nomadic lifestyle following the buffalo. Close allies of the Southern Cheyennes, they came into conflict with the Comanches over territory in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Around 1840, the Arapahos and Comanches made peace with each other and joined forces against further American expansion onto the western plains. The U.S. Army defeated the Arapahos in a series of violent confrontations in the 1860s, and many members of the tribes moved onto to a reservation in Wyoming. In 1869, a reservation was established near present-day Oklahoma City for the remaining southern branch of the tribe.
The Biloxis gave their name to the area around Biloxi, Mississippi, where they first encountered European explorers. They began to migrate westward in the 1760s to avoid white interference. By 1828, a group had settled along the Neches River in present-day Angelina County. The Biloxies became allies of the Cherokees and were caught up in the violence in 1839 that drove the Cherokees out of Texas. Following that disaster, the Biloxies scattered. Some went into Arkansas with the Cherokees, while others joined up with the Alabama-Coushattas, the Choctaws, and the Creeks. Other families moved west to present-day Bell County. Eventually, Biloxis settled as far west as Brackettville and as far south as Nacimiento in Mexico.
Caddo is the name given to about 25 affiliated groups of people who lived near the Red River in East Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. They lived in complex settled societies and were known for their cultivation of corn (maize) and their beautiful ceramics. As Europeans moved into their areas, the Caddos became leading traders, trafficking in furs, guns, and horses with Europeans and other Indians. By the early 1840s, the Caddos had moved to the Brazos River area to try to escape the relentless pressure of American expansion. They were forced onto a reservation in 1855. In 1859 they were forced to move again, this time to a reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Today, many Caddos continue to reside in Caddo County near Binger, Oklahoma.
The Cherokees were one of the principal Indian nations of the southeastern United States. Wars, epidemics, and food shortages caused many Cherokees to migrate west to Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas in hopes of preserving their traditional way of life. Those who remained behind in the Southeast were eventually removed forcibly to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in the incident known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Cherokees settled in Texas near the Red River. Pressed further south by American settlement, in 1820 about sixty families under Chief Bowl (Duwali) settled in Rusk County near the Caddos. As Americans settled that area, distrust grew between them and the Cherokees. Hoping to gain a legal title to their land, the Cherokees invested a great deal of energy in cultivating a relationship with Mexico. Hoping to protect this relationship, they remained neutral between Texas and Mexico during the Texas Revolution.
Sam Houston was an adopted member of the Cherokee tribe and a forceful advocate for the people. He negotiated a permanent reservation for the tribe in East Texas, but the treaty was never ratified by the Texas Congress. Under President Lamar, Texas fought a war with the Cherokees in 1839 which resulted in the defeat of the Indians. Most Cherokees were forced into Indian Territory.
The Southern Cheyennes lived an agricultural lifestyle in the Black Hills area until the introduction of the horse, when they adopted a nomadic lifestyle following the buffalo. Along with their allies, the Arapahos, they dominated the plains between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Like the Arapahos, in 1840 they settled their long-running war with their traditional enemies, the Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches. For about ten years, they lived in relative peace, concentrating on trading with other tribes, Americans, and New Mexicans. However, by 1850 the tribe was under severe pressure from cholera, the whiskey trade, the decline of the buffalo, and the loss of their camping and hunting grounds to American expansion. The tribe was split on how to deal with their setbacks, with some chiefs negotiating with the Americans for peace, and the famous Dog Soldiers waging relentless war. The U.S. Army moved to crush the Southern Cheyennes in several engagements, including the well-known incidents at Sand Creek (1864) and the Washita River (1868). Following the Washita massacre, the Cheyennes relocated to a reservation in Oklahoma. A number of Cheyennes took part in the Red River War in Texas in the 1870s.
The Chickasaws lived in present-day Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. They lived in permanent settlements, and their way of life depended on both hunting and agriculture. In the mid-sixteenth century, they were among the first Indians to encounter Spanish explorers. After years of resisting American pressure to move, in the mid-1830s the Chickasaws were forced to abandon their traditional homes and take up residence in Indian Territory. A number of Chickasaws disliked the new territory and established a small community near Nacogdoches. The Chickasaws had been among the most prosperous Indians in the United States before they moved, but the dislocation, together with Comanche raiding, hit their society hard. In 1843, Texas promised in the Bird's Fort Treaty to exercise better control over the Red River area and prevent the raiding. During the Civil War, the Chickasaws, who owned African-American slaves, sided with the Confederacy. After the war, Chickasaw territory became a crossroads for the cattle drives, and the tribe largely lost its identity.
Coahuiltecan is the name given to hundreds of small Indian groups who lived in northern Mexico and south Texas. These simple hunter-gatherers found themselves caught in the middle between Spanish colonizers and Apache raiders. Due to these pressures and disease, their population went into a steep decline during the early Spanish period, and little is known of their culture or way of life. A large number of the survivors gathered in Spanish missions for protection from the Apaches. By 1800, most of the remaining Coahuiltecans had merged with other tribes or intermarried with the Hispanic population.
The Comanches dominated a vast area of North, Central, and West Texas. There were at least thirteen active bands of Comanches, with five playing prominent roles in Texas history. These unparalleled horsemen led a nomadic lifestyle following the buffalo. They controlled trade in produce, buffalo products, horses, and captives throughout their domain. In the 1700s, the Comanches made their presence known in Texas by warring with the Apaches and the Spanish. Fearing that they would lose Texas to the Comanches, the Spanish negotiated a peace treaty with them in 1785. When the Spanish were unable to keep their promises in trade goods and gifts, Comanche raiding against the Spanish resumed, with many of the stolen horses being traded to newly arrived Americans.
After the Texas Revolution, Americans wanted to settle in the Texas Plains. The Comanches fiercely resisted their encroachments with destructive and deadly raids on the frontier. A cycle of raiding and retaliation on both sides climaxed during the presidency of Mirabeau B. Lamar. Lamar’s policy succeeded in driving the Comanches across the Red River, but at a terrible cost to both sides. After Texas became a state, a number of Comanches were defeated by disease, warfare, and the depletion of the buffalo and moved to a reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). However, many others remained active and were able to stop the spread of white settlement west of the Texas Hill Country.
In the 1870s, Comanches launched a major attack against buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls. This raid brought down a retaliatory U.S. Army campaign under Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie that broke Comanche power once and for all. The Red River War ended in Palo Duro Canyon with the destruction of the Comanche horse herd. The Comanche way of life could not survive without their horses. The Comanches were forced to surrender and begin the painful transition to reservation life. Their tribal government today operates near Lawton, Oklahoma.
The Delawares originated in the Delaware River region but were driven from their ancestral home by disease and white settlement. Eventually, the main body of the tribe ended up in Missouri and Kansas. They were relocated to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1868. These survivors became part of the Cherokee nation.
A small group of Delawares migrated to Texas and settled around the Red and Sabine Rivers. Under the presidency of Sam Houston, the Delawares assisted ranger patrols on the frontier. During the administration of Mirabeau B. Lamar, they were caught up in the Cherokee War and were forced into Indian Territory. A few Delawares remained in Texas and worked as traders, scouts, and guides for several important expeditions. The Delawares used diplomacy to help bring the Comanches to a treaty council with Texas in 1844. Eventually, the Texas Delawares relocated to Oklahoma, where they merged with the Caddo nation.
The Hainais lived near the Neches and Angelina rivers. They were the leading group in the Hasinai confederacy, a group of eight tribes that lived in Arkansas and East Texas. The word Texas (Tejas) comes from the Hasinai greeting meaning "friend." Archeologists have found evidence that this group of people had a large settlement in the area as far back as 780-1260 A.D., with substantial farms, villages, and temples. When the French and Spanish explorers first encountered the Hasinais, they found a people who fished, grew maize, beans, and squash, and hunted small game, buffalo, and bear. Within a few decades, disease, alcoholism, and pressure from whites and other Indians had taken a terrible toll on their once-great culture. At the end of the Cherokee War, they migrated to the Fort Worth area, and in 1859 they were relocated to Indian Territory.
Jumano is the name given to three distinct groups who ranged over northern Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas. Their primary base was in the Big Bend area of Texas. They were among the first Texas Indians to encounter Europeans when they were visited by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1535. During the Spanish years, the Jumanos were active in organizing trade fairs between the Spanish and other Indians. They sometimes worked as scouts and missionaries for the Spanish, but are also known to have rebelled in the early 1600s. In the 1660s, the Jumanos faced a rapid population decline due to famine and war with the Apaches. By 1700 they had lost all their territory and trade routes. Their culture eventually died out, with the survivors drifting to join other tribes, including the Apaches. Some scholars believe that a small group of Jumanos became the foundation of the Kiowas in Texas.
Karankawa is the name given to several related groups who lived along the Texas coast from Galveston to Corpus Christi. The Karankawas were nomads who lived off the sea. They migrated between the mainland and the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, seldom remaining at a campsite more than a few weeks. The Karankawas were the first Indians in Texas to encounter Europeans. In 1528, the survivors of a Spanish shipwreck, including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, washed ashore and spent six years with the Indians. Several generations later, in 1685, the Karankawas attacked and wiped out the tiny French settlement of Fort St. Louis near Matagorda Bay.
In the 1700s, the Karankawas faced renewed attempts of the Spanish and French to settle the coast as well as incursions from other Indian tribes, including the Tonkawas and Comanches. These contacts brought both war and epidemic disease. In 1819, the Karankawas attacked the pirate compound of Jean Lafitte on Galveston Island but were badly defeated. In 1824, Stephen F. Austin personally led an expedition with the goal of exterminating the Karankawas. Although a Spanish priest negotiated a peaceful settlement, the Karankawas had already entered a downward spiral in terms of population. By the 1840s, the remnants of these people had moved into the lower Rio Grande Valley, where they were annihilated in 1858 by a Texan force led by Juan Nepomuceno Cortina.
The Kichais lived along the Louisiana-Texas border on the Red and Trinity rivers. Disease and warfare greatly reduced their numbers, and they were reduced to two small villages near present-day Palestine by the 1770s. In 1855, they joined several other small tribes in moving to the Brazos Indian Reservation. In 1858, they fled the violence in the area and moved to Indian Territory, where they joined the Wichitas.
The Kiowas originated in the area of modern-day Yellowstone Park but migrated south after the introduction of the horse culture. They became among the greatest horsemen in the world and, along with the Comanches, the most feared of the Plains tribes. They formed an alliance with the Comanches around 1790 and together with the Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes, successfully held back American expansion into the southern plains for decades. The Salt Creek Massacre, also known as the Warren Wagon Train Raid, was led by Kiowas, and two of the leaders, Satanta and Big Tree, were tried for murder in a one-of-a-kind trial that made national headlines. The Salt Creek Massacre led the U.S. Army to adopt a much more aggressive policy toward the Kiowas and their allies, and by June of 1875 the tribe was forced on to the Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma.
The Kickapoos originated in the Great Lakes region. By the time of the Republic of Texas, a number had migrated to Texas and allied themselves with the Cherokees. As Cherokee allies, they were caught up in the violence of President Lamar’s attempt to expel most Indians from Texas. The Kickapoos fled to Mexico, where they formed an alliance with the Mexican army and conducted continuous harassing raids into South Texas.
During the Civil War, Kickapoos from Kansas and Indian Territory (Oklahoma) journeyed across Texas to join their kinsmen in Mexico. On January 8, 1865, three bands of Kickapoos were attacked by Confederate cavalry on Dove Creek, a tributary of the Concho River. The Kickapoos successfully fought off the attack and continued to Mexico, where the Dove Creek battle fueled Kickapoo anger and led to even more aggressive border raiding.
In 1873, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie led an expedition against the Kickapoos. Mackenzie captured forty of the tribe’s women, children, and elderly and took them to Fort Gibson in Indian Territory. These people served as hostages to compel the Kickapoo warriors to surrender and begin reservation life. Most refused and continued to live at El Nacimiento in northern Mexico, which remains the home for most Kickapoos today. They are notable for their adherence to their traditional way of life.
The Pakana Muskogees were a branch of the Muskogee or Creek Indians who migrated in 1834 from Alabama and Louisiana to present-day Onolaska in Polk County. Their fortunes were closely tied to those of the Alabamas and Coushattas, who lived nearby. Disease, along with intermarriage with the Alabamas and Coushattas, led to their decline. The Pakana Muskogees numbered only 42 tribal members in 1882. Most of these survivors moved to the Creek reservation in Oklahoma in 1899.
The Potawatomis originated in the Great Lakes area near present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin. In the 1830s and 1840s they fled the advance of white settlement. Most of the tribe moved to Kansas and Oklahoma, but one group allied itself with the Kickapoos and settled at the headwaters of the Sabine and Trinity rivers in 1852. They were involved in the Dove Creek massacre incident in 1865.
The Shawnees originated in the Ohio and Cumberland valleys in present-day Kentucky. During winter, they ranged in search of game, while in warm months they settled and raised crops such as corn, squash, and beans. Beginning in the early 18th century, the Shawnees began to migrate westward to try to escape white expansion into their territory. In 1822, a band of Shawnees settled in Texas on the south bank of the Red River. They cultivated peace with both Indian neighbors and American and Mexican settlers. In 1832, under the leadership of chief John Linney, they assisted the Mexicans in their war with the Comanches.
In February 1836, Sam Houston signed a treaty with the Shawnees, along with a number of other Indian tribes, which designated land for their use. However, this treaty was never ratified by the Texas Senate. The Shawnees remained neutral during the Cherokee war in 1839, hoping to preserve their way of life in Texas. The following year, Texas paid the tribe to leave for Indian Territory. Unlike many tribes, the Shawnees were able to preserve much of their culture, including their ceremonial dances and other religious practices.
The Tawakonis were a Wichita group who ranged between present-day Waco and Palestine. They participated in the 1758 raid on the Spanish mission at Santa Cruz de San Sabá. The Tawakonis were included in treaties made with the Republic of Texas and later with the United States. In 1859, they moved to the Wichita reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
The Tiguas are descended from refugees from the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, in which the Pueblo tribes of New Mexico united to fight the Spanish. In 1751, the king of Spain granted the Tiguas land near present-day El Paso, a claim that was recognized by the subsequent governments of Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States. However, both legislative acts and unscrupulous land traders eventually robbed the Tiguas of their land. In the 1960s, the Tiguas organized and won recognition from the state as a tribe, then filed a claim for their original grant and other traditional lands in the area. Today they occupy a 26-acre area which contains housing and bingo gambling.
Tonkawa is the name given to several independent groups that banded together in Central Texas in the early 1700s. Their preferred lifestyle was to be nomadic buffalo hunters, but they often found it difficult to pursue this life because of raiding by their traditional enemies, the Apaches. They resisted Spanish colonization and played a leading role in the destruction of the Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission. In 1784, the Spanish killed El Mocho, the leading war chief to the Tonkawas, ushering in an era of uneasy peace. The Tonkawas formed an alliance with Stephen F. Austin and the Americans and helped them in wars against the Comanches and Wichitas.
The Tonkawas suffered grave losses in the 1850s, when their reservation in Young County on the Brazos River was attacked by white Texans. They were forced to move to a new reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), where they were attacked and decimated again, this time by a group of Delawares, Shawnees, Wichitas, Caddos, and others. The survivors came back to Texas, where they settled around Fort Griffin and worked as scouts for the United States Army until the end of the Indian Wars. In 1884 they returned to a reservation in Oklahoma.
The Wacos were a branch of the Wichita tribe. Most Wacos (also spelled Huecos) lived on the Brazos near present-day Waco, though another band lived in the New Braunfels area. They combined the buffalo lifestyle in the winter with an agricultural life the rest of the year, growing bean, squash, corn, melons, and watermelons.
Wichita is the name of several bands of people who lived in present-day Oklahoma, Kansas, and along the Red River in Texas near Nocona. Hunters and farmers, the Wichitas prospered during the Spanish and Mexican period, when they acted as middlemen in the lucrative trade between the Comanches and whites in Louisiana. The Wichitas participated in the Comanche-led raid on the mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá in 1758 and raided San Antonio on several occasions. Disease and warfare took a heavy toll on the Wichitas. The survivors eventually settled on a reservation near present-day Anadarko, Oklahoma.