Historians have identified hundreds of Native-American groups in Texas. The validity of these names is problematic, however, because explorers used different languages (mainly Spanish, French, and English) to record what they heard to be the names of the newly “discovered” tribes they encountered.
Regardless, most historians agree that European diseases decimated Texas’s native people. Anthropologist John C. Ewers identified at least 30 major epidemics (mostly smallpox and cholera) that wiped out as much as 95 percent of the state’s Native Americans between 1528 and 1890. Until then, the four major tribes playing roles in Texas history were Apache, Caddo, Comanche, and Kiowa.
The Apaches arrived in the area that would become Texas circa A.D. 1200. They were a nomadic tribe subsisting almost completely off buffalo, dressing in buffalo skins and living in tents made of tanned and greased hides. The Apaches were a powerful tribe that raided most groups they encountered. Eventually, their aggressive behavior turned their neighbors into enemies, and the Apaches eventually fled before the Comanches entered the region.
The Caddos were a collection of about 30 distinct groups, including the Tejas Indians from whom Texas got its name, that had similar languages, political structures, and religious beliefs. Based in the current-day East Texas Pineywoods, the Caddos were mainly agricultural, living in permanent villages (as opposed to being nomadic). They weren’t especially warlike, except for minor territorial conflicts they had with smaller nearby tribes over hunting grounds.
The Comanches were known as exceptional horsemen who played a prominent role in Texas frontier history in the 1700s and 1800s. They occupied much of what is now North, Central, and West Texas. Because of their trading skills, the Comanches controlled much of the region’s commerce by bartering horses, buffalo products, and even captives for weapons and food. They lived in portable tepees constructed of tanned buffalo hide stretched over as many as 18 large poles.
The Kiowas acquired horses, slaves, and guns from the Spanish, and eventually evolved into a nomadic, warring lifestyle until they became one of the most feared tribes in the region that became Texas. By the late 1700s, the Kiowas made peace with the Comanches and continued to live in the area until peacefully joining the Comanches with the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition