Tag Archive | Native American Culture

Object: Saddle


Pack saddle
Mid to late 19th century
Materials: Wood

“Girl with Burro”
by Ritzenthaler & Peterson, 1956. Photo via Milwaukee Public Museum.

This is a Kickapoo saddle, used for horse riding. This saddle is only the wood base of what would have been an elaborate piece of equipment. The horse’s back would have been covered with a saddle blanket and the saddle would rest on top. the blanket was made of leather, cotton, or wool which could be adorned with beads, and sometime feathers or quills. Often saddles like these are wrapped in leather, the stirrups and leather girth would be set in the space between the wooden sides of the saddle. The girth, sometimes called a cinch strap, wrapped around the belly of the horse to secure the saddle on the horse’s back.

The last prehistoric horses in North America died out over 11,000 years ago but horses remained and evolved in Asia, Europe, and Africa. In 1519 horses returned to the Americas with the conquistadors from Spain. In the land that is now Mexico, the Spanish began breeding their horses and taught Native Americans how to ride and take care of the herds of horses. These herders were the first vaqueros, or cowboys. Although the Native Americans were herding, riding, and caring for the horses, the Spanish kept the Native Americans from owning their own horses for many years. The first Native Americans to acquire horses were the Apache, in modern day New Mexico. As more groups of Native Americans adopted the horse, stealing, bartering and breeding horses became a significant part their way of life.

The Kickapoo are a group of Algonquian speakers originating from the Great Lakes area, east coast, and Canada. Before European contact they relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering roots, seeds and wild rice. The Kickapoo first encountered the French in the 1640s when they were still living in modern day northern Michigan. However, the threat of white expansion grew and the Kickapoo gradually migrated south. Resulting in the Kickapoo disbanding into the three distinct groups that exist today, the Oklahoma Kickapoo, the Kansas Kickapoo, and the Mexican Kickapoo (later Texan Kickapoo). During the Civil War Spain granted displaced Native Americans land in the northern part of the Spanish Territory of Mexico. These groups wanted to get out of the United States to get away from the American Armies who were either trying to recruit them to fight or massacre them for their resources. In 1865 a band of Kickapoo led by No-ko-aht traveling to Mexico to seek refuge, were attacked by Confederate soldiers and Texas Rangers, commanded by Captain Henry Fossett. The battle took place on a branch of Dove Creek, east of Mertzon, Texas. The Kickapoo were hunting when the battle began, chief No-ko-aht’s daughter was killed when she went to meet the troops with a white flag. The Battle of Dove Creek is well remembered because No-ko-aht’s account of the battle still exists, making it one of the rare occasions that the Native American side of these conflicts are heard. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Hunt, Frazier, and Robert Hunt. 1949. Horses and heroes, the story of the horse in America for 450 years. New York: Scribner’s Sons.

Latorre, Felipe A., and Dolores L. Latorre. 1976. The Mexican Kickapoo Indians. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Pool, William C. 1950. The battle of Dove Creek. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].

Taylor, Louis, and Lorence F. Bjorklund. 1968. The story of America’s horses. Cleveland: World Pub. Co.

Wright, Bill, and E. John Gesick. 1996. The Texas Kickapoo: keepers of tradition. El Paso: Texas Western Press.

Object: Rock Painting


Rock Painting (reproduction)
Texan Indian
3,000-1,000 B.C.
Materials: Stone, Paint

This object is a reproduction of a rock painting found at Bonfire Shelter near Langtry, Texas. There is evidence of human presence at the site as far back as 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene era. Bonfire Shelter, and other rock shelters in the Lower Pecos area have a long history that continues to be a part of archaeological investigations today.

Bonfire Shelter

Bonfire Shelter. Photo by Wilmuth Skiles, via http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net

Bonfire Shelter’s importance was initially discovered by a high school student named Michael Collins. Collins was visiting the area with family when he went to go explore the rocky outcrop. Having read about archaeological excavations, Collins attempted to dig in a similar way to archaeological digs. After making a square hole and digging past a layer of cave dust and rock, Collins found charred bone a foot below the surface. He soon found a jaw bone that he thought belonged to a cow and took it to Glen Evans, a paleontologist and family friend. Evans determined that the bone belonged not to a cow but to a bison and the landowners began to look into an archaeological investigation.

In 1962 the area surrounding Bonfire Shelter was chosen as the future site of the Amistad Reservoir. Mark Parsons from the Texas Archaeological Salvage Project was sent in to determine if the area could be flooded. Almost immediately Parsons found artifacts, like a Montell style dart point which dated the bison bone layer to the late Archaic Period, roughly 2,500-3,000 years ago. As the investigation continued, evidence indicated that Bonfire Shelter was the site of a bison jump. Bison jumps were areas where bison were herded off a cliff and down onto a rock pile in front of the shelter where they were then butchered. Archaeologists realized that this bison jump site was the oldest known in North America as well as the furthest south.

Cave painting of horse in the Lascaux cave.

Cave painting of horse in the Lascaux cave. Image via WikiMedia Commons.

The rock art found in the Bonfire Shelter area is an example of the Lower Pecos rock art style. Rock paintings go back thousands of years. Until recently, the oldest cave paintings were found in Spain and France and dated at 30,000 to 32,000 years old. In 2014 a new discovery pushed the oldest known painting back to 35,400 years old and was found in Sulawesi, Indonesia. There are even older paintings of abstract unidentifiable objects, which have been dated to 40,000 years old.

Today, Bonfire Shelter and the surrounding area is a part of the Seminole Canyon State Park. The park is named after Lieutenant John L. Bullis’ Black Seminole Scouts who were descendants of runaway slaves. This area sports some of the oldest known rock shelters in North America as well as some of the oldest rock wall paintings or pictographs, which can be seen on guided hiking tours today. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources

Dubble, David S. and Dessamae Lorrain. Bonfire Shelter: A Stratified Bison Kill Site, Val Verde County, Texas. Austin, Texas: Texas Memorial Museum, 1968.

Lawson, Andrew J. Painted Caves: Paleolithic Rock Art in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

“Rock Art.” Texas Beyond History. May 2008.

Shafer, Harry J. and Georg Zappler. Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, 1986.

Object: Drum


Ysleta del Sur, TX
20th century
Material: Leather, paint and wood

This object is a Tigua drum. The Tigua community is based out of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and is located in El Paso, Texas. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, like many other Native American settlements, is recognized as a sovereign nation, even though it is located inside Texas.  The Tigua tribe was one of the last tribes to be officially recognized in the United States. This was due to their rich agricultural economy, which sustained them and they found no urgency in being recognized. It was not until the State of Texas threatened to annex Ysleta del Sur from El Paso and subject the Tigua to higher property taxes, that they moved to be officially recognized as a surviving Native American tribe. The Tigua are dedicated to preserving their history and cultural traditions. The core values of the tribe today are centered on culture, tradition, teachings of ancestors and sustaining land resources.

maptigThe Tigua however, were not always part of Texas. Originally from New Mexico their ancestral homeland was the Quarai Pueblo. However, due to drought the Tigua were forced to leave the Quarai Pueblo, and looked for refuge at the Isleta Pueblo. However, the biggest threat to the Pueblo tribes were at the time were the Spanish who had begun settling the land.  Spanish colonists were moving into the Southwest and taking advantage of the resources provided by the land. The Pueblo tribes felt threatened by the colonists and in 1680 banded together to drive out the Spanish. This is known as the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. During the revolt some of the Tigua were captured and were forced to retreat with the Spaniards, walking 400 miles south. Two years later, in 1682, Ysleta del Sur was established near El Paso. To differentiate between the first Isleta Pueblo they gave Yselta del Sur the letter Y.

The Tigua took on many Spanish customs after losing most of their land and relocating. One example of a Spanish custom the Tigua adopted pertained to leadership and family in the community. The Tigua were originally matrilineal, meaning leadership and authority was passed on in the family through the mother’s bloodline. But over time they became patrilineal which focuses on the father’s bloodline.  A modern example of how patrilineal customs work is the practice of a woman taking the last name of the man she marries. The Tigua also took on Catholic marriage traditions. Often when two cultures come together neither lose all traditions but rather combine traits and sometimes form new ones.


Ysleta Del Sur Church

Today, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo consist of about 1,700 tribal members. Many Pueblo tribes maintain economic stability by selling craft goods and art, but the Tigua still have a thriving agricultural economy. This drum has a hand-painted design on the rawhide drumhead. The central red and yellow pattern represents a sun which is a common Tigua design, as they are known as the people of the sun. Traditional Tigua designs are full of images of the landscape, people or animals. Today the community is making every effort to maintain some of the traditional customs of the Tigua. The crafting and playing of drums, like this one, help them practice their traditional crafts and harvest dances while also educating a wider audience about their history.

To learn more about different cultural groups in Texas visit the Institute of Texan Cultures. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Adam, S. K. Extinction or Survival?: The Remarkable Story of the Tigua, an Urban American Indian Tribe. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2009.

Eickhoff, Randy Lee. Exiled: The Tigua Indians of Ysleta Del Sur. Plano, Tex: Republic of Texas Press, 1996.

Houser, Nicholas P. 1970. “The Tigua Settlement of Ysleta Del Sur”. Kiva. 36, no. 2: 23-39.

Liebmann, Matthew, T. J. Ferguson, and Robert W Preucel. 2005. “Pueblo Settlement, Architecture, and Social Change in the Pueblo Revolt Era, A.D. 1680 to 1696”. Journal of Field Archaeology. 30, no. 1: 45-60.



Object: Jar

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Pottery, Bowl
Artist(s): (Possibly) Maria and Julian Martinez
San Ildefonso Pueblo
New Mexico
Material: Ceramic

We have a pottery mystery here at the Institute of Texan Cultures. This piece of pottery was given to the museum with little historical background provided. After cataloging, photographing and inspecting its condition, a signature was found on the bottom and it appears to read: Marie + Julian. These are the names of one of the most famous producing pottery couples out of the southwest. They were masters of their craft, perfecting techniques that others today can only aspire to match. Yet, for being masters of their craft this pot is a bit underwhelming. It does not have the quality most commonly associated with Marie + Julian pottery. Thus, we must investigate further.


Map by Paula Giese, via http://www.kstrom.net

First we should start with what we know about the piece of pottery we have in the museum collection. In analyzing the piece we need to make note of as many details as we can, because no matter how big or small they could be a clue. Notice the color, shape and designs. Each of these characteristics can help identify where a piece of pottery came from. For example, the southwest is well known for its elaborately decorated pottery. Some pieces have distinctive designs, some are made of characteristic types of clay or finishes, others have symbolic shapes such as the wedding vase. The shape of a wedding vase is a symbol of unity, the unity between a man and a woman. It has a large round base for liquid and two spouts for the couple to drink from. This pot is 6 x 8.5 inches, black, with evidence of design work on the upper shoulder of the pot. The inside was left unfinished and there are signatures on the bottom of the pot that looks like Marie + Julian.

Maria and Julian Martinez are legendary names amongst potters, avid collectors and museums. Maria Martinez grew up in San Ildefonso Pueblo, just twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. San Ildefonso has a rich history with evidence dating back to as early as 1300 A.D. The San Ildefonso people had many struggles over the years, from an uprising in 1696 to later colonial encounters that would spread illness through the pueblo, such as smallpox and pandemics like the 1918 Spanish flu. A once thriving population was diminished to only ninety by 1918. Arts and crafts became essential to the San Ildefonso economy soon after during the 1920s as they lacked the people and resources to maintain a thriving agricultural economy. The influence and attention that Maria and Julian’s pottery brought to the community helped build the reputation of an otherwise suffering San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Maria Martinez learned traditional pottery techniques of the area from her family as a young girl. Later in an effort to prefect her craft, she studied the excavated pottery from local archaeological sites. Maria alongside her husband Julian Martinez would spend their lives designing and teaching pottery to others. The two married in 1897. Maria and Julian Martinez were a perfect team. Maria focused on making the pieces of pottery themselves while Julian would paint and add detailed designs to the pieces. Julian Martinez is known for mastering the technique that creates the black on black finish you see on this object.

Maria Martinez…San Ildefonso Pueblo video:

The inscription seems like a dead giveaway that this piece of pottery must be a work of Marie and Julian Martinez. The signature even has the ‘+’ symbol that is typical of their pieces produced between 1925 and 1943. Yet, the history of Maria Martinez signing pottery is a long one. When Maria and Julian first began producing pottery they didn’t sign their work. Even after they did start signing their works,  the style of the signature would periodically change. Maria, while not officially changing her name, would sometimes sign her name “Marie.” It is said she was advised to do so because Marie was a more commonly recognized English name and Julian’s name was omitted entirely at first because pottery making was the work of women. As their work developed and gain notoriety they began to sign each piece ‘Marie + Julian’ and this would remain their signature until 1943 when Julian Martinez passed away. Marie surrounded by the support of her children would continue to make pottery with her daughter-in-law and son who took on the black on black design work of his father.

The following video can tell you more about Maria Martinez signatures.

Compared to many of the pieces of pottery by Maria and Julian Martinez the craftsmanship of this piece is lacking. The black on black design is barely recognizable at first glance and has a rough, raised and bubbled look to it. This might be the result of damage, or simply a “bad batch” made of lesser quality materials or due to a problem with the firing conditions. The signature indicates that it couldn’t be one of their earlier works, when they were still learning their craft, as those pieces would have been unsigned. Of course, due to the popularity and value of Maria pottery, this piece could also be an attempted forgery. Unfortunately we don’t always get all the details when objects are donated as museum artifacts, and many authentications must be based on expert opinions. Without further research, we can only say that this piece might have been made by Maria and Julian Martinez. What do you think? Is this a Maria Martinez original? Let us know by writing a comment below! [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Additional Resources:

C. Norris Millington. Modern Indian Pottery. The American Magazine of Art Vol. 24, No. 6 (JUNE 1932) , pp. 449-454.

Cody Hartley. Maria Martinez, Industrial Designer. IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology . Vol. 34, No. 1/2, IA IN ART (2008) , pp. 73-86. Society for Industrial Archeology.

F. W. Putnam. Archeological Frauds. Science . Vol. 1, No. 4 (Mar. 2, 1883) , p. 99. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

L. P. Gratacap. An Archeological Fraud. Science . Vol. 8, No. 196 (Nov. 5, 1886) , pp. 403-404. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Object: Pouch

I-0422a (2)
Medicine or Pipe bag
Plains Indian (likely Cheyenne)
North American Great Plains
Mid-1800’s – 20th century
Materials: Leather, beads, thread


Range of Plains Indians at the time of first European contact. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Museums often receive objects with little known history. This beaded buckskin pouch was given as a gift to the Institute of Texan cultures many years ago without any information on itsorigin. However, the style of beadwork and materials used indicate that it likely came from a Plains Indian tribe. These types of items are found in many museum collections. The Great Plains covers a wide range of the United States, as can be seen in the map to the left. The area designated in red highlights the Great Plains where many Native American tribes resided and are more broadly referred to as the Plains Indians (or Plains Tribes).

Because these tribes lived in the same environment, they adopted similar lifestyles and made similar daily life items. It is not uncommon for museums to struggle with identifying a specific tribe, for all their objects. By using the term Plains Indians, the museum is able to identify an item’s regional origin without having to know the exact tribal affiliation. Some of the struggle comes from the history of trade amongst the tribes across the Great Plains. This beaded pouch has a beaded design on the lower third of the bag and is made of an animal hide. This could describe the majority of beaded bags, not only amongst the Plains Indians, but most tribes across the United States. Uniformity in style, shape, color or technique, indicates trade activity and a shared knowledge amongst various tribes on how to craft beaded goods. Yet, sometimes a particular kind of bead, design, animal hide, or stitching can also help to identify a tribe. If a particular type of bead, animal hide or stitching is repeated in many craft goods of one tribe but is not consistent amongst the other tribes, you can use that feature to determine which tribe made the item. During the 1950s Orvoell Gallagher and Louis Powell wrote a paper entitled, Time Perspective in Plains Indian Beaded Art (1953). The paper discussed the struggle museums have in identifying Plains Indian craft goods. They pointed to the same issue of trade. If all the tribes are trading with one another it makes it much harder to find anything unique. Their paper called for criteria to be built on what to look for in identifying Plains Indian craft goods. The criteria would help guide other museums when identifying Native American products.

Beaded pouches have great potential to help identify tribal origin. The animal hide that many Native American pouches are made of can be the first clue. One of the first things to look for is what type of animal skin was used. If a tribe didn’t have  access to that animal, they either received the hide in trade, or it is not theirs. Most tribes used animal hides for pouches, clothes, blankets, shelter and even drums. The process to prepare the skin of an animal for use is called ‘tanning the hide’. Using every part of an animal after hunting was a common practice, nothing was to be wasted. The women of the tribe often collected the skin and brain of the animal after the meat and other organs were taken. The process of transforming the skin into leather, or ‘tanning’ it,  requires many steps. The hair, flesh and membrane would need to be scraped away, leaving only bare skin. Then a mixture of animal fats and/or brain would be rubbed into the skin, followed by soaking and then stretching the hide. During the stretching and drying is when they could change the color of the hide by smoking it or adding pigment. While the overall steps of tanning a hide is consistent amongst many tribes, the hide color choice could certainly be an identifying characteristic.

To watch a documentary about Native American trading networks and hide processing, please click the link: Sheep Eater –Trading and Tools

Another aspect of the beaded pouch that could be used to identify tribal origin is the beadwork itself. This particular beaded pouch uses small decorative beads, sometimes called seed beads. The glass seed beads are significant as they are evidence that the item was made after trade contact with European settlers was established. Beads can thus help identify the date of a craft good as well. The seed beads first became very common to Plains Indians around the mid-1800s, this is not to suggest that the pouch was certainly made then, but that it is unlikely that it could have been made before. The color of the beads and the design they create on the bag are also potential identifying marks.

Bags similar to the one in the Institute of Texan Cultures collections are known from the Ute tribe (see National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution [24/4225] here), Sioux tribe (see Brooklyn Museum, Accession Number: 32.2099.32549, here) and Southern Cheyenne (see Nelson-Atkins Museum, Accession number 2006.40, here). All of these are examples of beaded bags from Plains Indian tribes. All of the bags are rectangular and taper slightly up to the opening of the bag. There is also fringe and beadwork on each bag, and each uses the lazy stitch technique to apply the beads. This technique is anything but lazy. Instead of sewing on one bead at a time, you thread several beads to stitch on all at once. A time consuming task especially, when trying to create a pattern or design. The Ute example also has a four-flap opening with tie off at the top. Each is similar in style and design to the beaded pouch we are discussing, however, based on the bead design and the mouth flaps we believe the ITC pouch is a Cheyenne bag.

There are many other characteristics of craft goods that we can use to identify the tribe they belonged to. Material, bead design and how the item was made are just some of the first things to consider. Museums and archaeologists have collaborated over time to build a wealth of knowledge to aid in the exploration and identification of objects. Each object has a story and history waiting to be told. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

Additional Reading:
Blumberg, J. (2007). Beading the Way. How Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty created one of the centerpieces for the National Museum of American Indian’s “Identity by Design” Exhibition. Smithsonian Magazine.

Duncan, K. (1991). So Many Bags, so Little Known: Reconstructing the Patterns of Evolution and Distribution of Two Algonquian Bag Forms. Arctic Anthropology . Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Vol. 28, No. 1, Art and Material Culture of the North American Subarctic and Adjacent Regions (1991), pp. 56-66.

Gallagher O. & Powell L. (1953). Time Perspective in Plains Indian Beaded Art. American Anthropologist. New Series, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1953), pp. 609-613. Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

Palmer, William R. 1970. “Indian medicine bag”. Utah Historical Quarterly. 10.

Sutton, Mark Q., Brooke S. Arkush, and Joan S. Schneider. 1998. Archaeological laboratory methods: an introduction. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub.

Vanstone, J. 1997). An Ethnographic Collection from the Northern Ute in the Field Museum of Natural History. Fieldiana. Anthropology. New Series, No. 28, An Ethnographic Collection from the Northern Ute in the Field Museum of Natural History (August 29, 1997), Published by: Field Museum of Natural History. pp. i-iii, 1-48.

Object: Club

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United States
20th Century
Materials: wood, beads, threads


Pre-contact Ute tribes. Map via: University of Utah, http://www.utefans.net

Native Americans have a rich history in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the Ute consisted of eleven nomadic tribes, spread throughout what is now he states of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. These tribes were allies, but lived separately in different regions of their territory. All of the tribes were nomadic and would travel within their region based on the seasons, in order to find the best areas for hunting and gathering at any given time of the year. As a result, each tribe adapted to living in different environments with slightly different customs and ways of life.

In 1868 the Ute tribes signed a treaty with the United States in which the Ute agreed to give up their territorial claims, and live in a reservation. Two government agencies were established inside the reservation as a home base for the US government agents, who were appointed to ensure that the tribes complied with all the provisions of the treaty. The Ute tribes were divided between the two agencies, one on the White River and the other on the Rio de los Pinos. Each agency included building for a store-room, an agency-building for the residence of the agent, a mill, a school and buildings for a carpenter, farmer, blacksmith, and miller. Today there are three Ute tribes still recognized today, the Northern Ute, the Mountain Ute and the Southern Ute.

The following video is a demonstration of the traditional Ute bear dance by the Southern Ute tribe.

Native Americans made many different types of weapons. Some were used to hunt animals, others for fighting, and others served largely ceremonial purposes. Clubs, like the one at the Institute of Texan Cultures, were only one of these weapons. They are simple weapons usually made of wood with a stone, or other weight, at one end. There have been a number of different styles of clubs used by Native American tribes. The style and construction of these weapons varied over time and certain types were more common in specific areas. While war clubs like this one are no longer used as weapons they are still produced for use at traditional pow wow gatherings throughout the United States, and for sale as craft items.


Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock) beaded boots. Image via: http://www.powwows.com

Beadwork, like seen on our Ute War Club, is a longstanding tradition throughout nearly all Native American groups. The materials used to make beads have changed over time. The earliest beads were handmade from shells, bones and seeds. After European trade goods became available ceramic, glass, and metal beads were quickly adopted to add new colors and textures to the designs. Beadwork is applied to many objects using a variety of different techniques. Common styles of beadwork include: gourd stitch, lazy stitch, applique stitch, and loom woven beadwork. The style used on an object would depend on the shape, size and  type of materials the object was made of. Certain beadwork designs were traditional to specific tribal groups or regions but over time the number and variety of designs has greatly expanded as Native American beadworkers continue to develop this art form. [Abby Goode, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Simmons, V. M. C. (2000). The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Niwot, Colo: University Press of Colorado.

United States, & Perry (1888). Southern Ute Indians. Washington, D.C.: G.P.O.

D’Amato, J., & D’Amato, A. (1968). Indian crafts. New York: Lion Press.

Object: Coprolite


Native American
Hinds Cave, Texas
4000 BC – 200 AD
Materials: Fossilized feces


Photo via: Eleazar Hernández, UTSA Sombrilla

Archaeologists study ancient and recent human history through material remains that are left behind. These materials could be from trash piles, buildings, burials, etc. Archeologists look for both man-made objects like pottery, jewelry, weapons, etc. and organic materials, such as plants, bones, and human or animal waste. These materials are generally referred to as artifacts. Archaeologists systematically collect these artifacts while carefully recording where and how each piece was found. After recording all of this information they can use it to help decipher the story of the people who came before. The artifact above was located in West Texas at Hinds Cave.

Val Verde Texas map

Val Verde county is highlighted, this is where Hinds Cave is located.

Research began in Hinds Cave to gather more knowledge and data about the people who had lived in the area during the Archaic period, which was from 8,000 to around 2,000 B.C.E. They are believed to have been hunter-gatherers, and may have been nomadic. Nomadic people travel from site to site rather than live in permanent settlement, like a city. They move based on the seasons, their food sources (e.g. bison or other animals), or the availability of water. As the archaeologists excavated (systematically remove layers of soil) and analyzed the objects that were found in the cave; they were able to discover information about the people that lived there.

These individuals utilized the resources in the area to survive. Among the items found were plant remains; fiber sandals, netting and beds; and human coprolites. Coprolites are fossilized fecal matter. Coprolites provide evidence of what the people in the area ate and give hints as to what the environment would have been like. These items also provided evidence of when these people were living in the cave.

The people of Hinds Cave lived very differently than people do today. These peoples lived off what they could forage or hunt. They tended to live in family groups consisting of about 10 to 25 people. These individuals would move throughout the land in search of better resources depending on the season. In some areas of the Lower Pecos Canyon-lands there is evidence of rock art made by the ancient people who lived there. [Abby Goode, edited by Jennifer McPhail]

The following video discusses how archaeologists excavate sites to recover historical objects.

Additional Resources:
Bryant, Vaughn M. 1974. Prehistoric diet in Southwest Texas the coprolite evidence. Menasha, Wis: Society for American Archaeology.

Bryant, Vaughn M., and Glenna W. Dean. 2006. “Archaeological coprolite science: the legacy of Eric O. Callen (1912-1970)”. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 237: 51-66.

Dean, G.W. 2006. “The science of coprolite analysis: The view from Hinds cave”. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 237 (1): 67-79.

Reinhard, Karl J, and Bryant, Vaughn M., Jr. 1992. Coprolite Analysis: A Biological Perspective on Archaeology. DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/natrespapers/46.

Riley, Tim. 2012. “Assessing diet and seasonality in the Lower Pecos canyonlands: an evaluation of coprolite specimens as records of individual dietary decisions”. Journal of Archaeological Science. 39 (1): 145-162.

Sobolik, Kristin D. 1988. “The Importance of Pollen Concentration Values from Coprolites: An Analysis of Southwest Texas Samples”. Palynology. 12: 201-214.

Object: Necklace

I-0432c (3)
20th Century
Materials: Glass, plastic, and leather

alabama-coushatta tribal seal

The tribal seal of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. Image from the Tribe’s Facebook page.

This item is a necklace made by a member of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of East Texas. It is made of multi-colored glass beads, plastic “hairpipe” beads, and leather. The Alabama and Coushatta are actually two separate tribes, who came together after Europeans forced them out of their homelands. Even before they officially came together, the Alabama and Coushatta were closely related through intermarriage and shared customs. While the native language of each tribe is different; they developed from the same root language. Alabama and Coushatta are called Alibamu and Koasati in their own languages. Alibamu derives from the words for “vegetation gatherers” and “Koasati” is thought to contain the words for “cane” and “reed,” important plants for the Native Americans.

The Alibamu and Koasati were farmers who heavily depended on crops. To support their agricultural life, both tribes and other Native Americans lived near rivers, lakes, and streams. Their main crops included maize, squash, and beans. They also hunted and gathered wild vegetation, which is more efficient near water. Because they lived near the coast, the Koasati had contact with Europeans early on. Their first encounter with Europeans was when Hernando de Soto and his men passed through Koasati territory while following along rivers and streams.

De Soto was a Spanish Conquistador who arrived off the coast of Florida in 1539 with over 600 men (including priests and slaves) and nearly 250 horses. Their goals were to explore the New World, discover gold, and gather slaves. For three years they traveled across the American Southeast. After traveling 1,600 miles they finally reached the Panuco River in Mexico. During the expedition the explorers documented their adventures and experiences with the natives. These documents are still read today and help scientists better understand Native American lifestyle and the historic territories of some tribes. They also give eye witness accounts of certain ceremonies and architecture, helping us link together different American Indian cultures.

De Soto

Engraving of Hernando De Soto by John Sartain (1808-1897), prior to 1858. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

De Soto and his crew came across both the Alibamu and the Koasati during the expedition. They actually were welcomed as guests by the Koasati upon their first encounter. After some of De Soto’s men stole the tribe’s maize, the Koasati attacked the Spaniards. Because De Soto had no back up during the attack he pretended to be on the Koasati’s side. He supposedly beat his own men to make it seem like he was upset with their actions. The chief believed his trick and stopped the attack. De Soto offered to take a walk with the chief and some council members to apologize for the theft. Once De Soto had the Koasati men alone he kidnapped the Native Americans and ordered that his men be appointed a guide for their travels.

After the De Soto expedition Europeans kept coming back, eventually forcing Native Americans to migrate. Later on Europeans began to settle America, further pushing out tribes. Ultimately, the Alibamu and the Koasati began to move westward. Unfortunately, the warfare with the Europeans and the introduction of European diseases killed many of the Native Americans. In fact, after De Soto and other early expeditions, 80% to 90% of Native Americans in some areas of North America were killed by European diseases alone. Due to the extreme conditions, many new alliances were formed and some tribes permanently merged. This is how the Alibamu and Koasati became the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. They were eventually granted land in Texas where they built a reservation called the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, outside of Livingston. The Alabama-Coushatta is one of only three remaining Native American tribes in the state of Texas. (McKayla McCarty, edited by Jennifer McPhail)

Additional Resources
Jacobson, Daniel, Howard N. Martin, and Ralph Henry Marsh. 1974. (Creek) Indians Alabama-Coushatta. New York: Garland.

Martin, Howard N. 1977. Myths & folktales of the Alabama-Coushatta Indians of Texas. Austin, Tex: Encino Press.

Sloan, David. 1992. “The Expedition of Hernando De Soto: A Post-Mortem Report”. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. 51 (1): 1-29.

Sloan, David. 1992. “The Expedition of Hernando de Soto: A Post-Mortem Report Part II”. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. 51 (4): 297-327.

Shuck-Hall, Sheri Marie. 2008. Journey to the west: the Alabama and Coushatta Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.


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