About the Western Gulf Indians
- From the Gulf coast of Northern Mexico up through the plains of San Antonio, the Western Gulf Indian tribes lived in an area that ranged from salty marshes to dry plains. The Karankawas lived along the coast of Texas and were thought to be the first natives that Spanish explorers encountered in Texas. Some of the other tribes that shared the Western Gulf lands were the Caddos, Tonkawa and the Coahuiltecans. Elaborate trading routes existed between more coastal tribes and those that lived inland. For example, a tribe living on the coast might trade shells for buffalo hides.
- Because the Gulf area is so hot and humid, men wore little beyond a simple loincloth. Women generally wore simple grass or buckskin skirts, and children were usually naked. They used simple tools, such as stone knives and scrapers and made woven baskets and basic pottery. Homes for Western Gulf Indians usually consisted of woven grass or palm leaf mats spread over bent branches.
Food was plentiful in the Western Gulf area when the various tribes lived there. The sea and salty lagoons provided fish, oysters and shrimp, while marshes provided alligator, turtle and waterfowl. Inland plains were home to deer, rabbits and other small mammals. Plant life was varied, with wild berries, roots and shoots available to supplement the Western Gulf Indians' diet.
- When the Spaniards first made contact with Native Americans in the region, they had little interest in discovering the cultural differences between Western Gulf Indian tribes. Any major differences in dress, language and society were largely unnoticed by the conquistadores. Thus, early impressions and facts of the Western Gulf Indians are not recorded. It wasn't until the Spanish friars arrived that they began to catalog the different tribes and document unique features. However, so many native people had been decimated by disease, war and relocation that it hardly reflected the pre-contact societies that once thrived.
- As Texas and northern Mexico became a crossroads of exploration, commerce and settlement, the Western Gulf Indians were systematically pushed out of their homelands. Often the government forced them to offer up parts of the land peacefully, and other times tribes were forcibly removed. Once Texas became a desired area for settlement, Western Gulf Indians were forced to move to Indian Territory, now present-day Oklahoma. Those that refused to leave were chased into Mexico or killed. Today, many of the Western Gulf Indian tribes are extinct, while others are trying to preserve what little culture, language and traditions they have and make them blend in with the modern world.
- The Spanish made the mistake of grouping all the Western Gulf Indians into one tribe, despite differences in language, customs and traditions. Remember that there is no single Western Gulf tribe; rather, there were nearly a hundred tribes in the area with varying features. While there were indeed similarities, today historians are discovering more about what made the individual tribes different. The task of identifying details about the cultures of Western Gulf Indian tribes is difficult, however, because they left behind so few material possessions to study and because many of the tribes were extinct before any truly serious recordings, notes and studies were made.