Deer

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were another component of the large game hunted by the inhabitants of the Texas coast. Like the bison, deer also provided a complete package: meat provided an ample protein source, bones were manipulated into tools, hide was sewn into clothes and pouches, antlers were used to carefully work lithic or shell resources, and sinews were used for cording. Even dung was used as fuel and food during hard times, according to accounts by the Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca, who lived among the coastal peoples in the early 1500s.

At several sites (41GV53, 41GV66, and 41WY50) deer bones modified to make awls and needles were recovered. Additionally, grease and marrow were harvested from bones to supplement Native diets. Antlers must have had powerful symbolic, or ritual, significance, based on antler racks found as grave inclusions in south Texas cemeteries. For the peoples of the coastal prairies and marshlands, white-tailed deer were the most important terrestrial protein source.

Among indigenous peoples hunting is a very sacred act and often required the intervention of supernatural forces to ensure a successful hunt. Gatschet's ethnographies recall peyote ceremonies associated with deer hunting among the Rio Grande Comecrudos. This ceremony was accompanied by music from drums and rattles and dancing from elaborately dressed shamans. After the deer was ritually killed, hunters would go into the grasslands and marshes with a supernatural blessing.

Deer hunting strategies varied greatly across space and time. Typically, deer prefer forested areas and emerge during twilight to graze on forbs and to drink water. Collective hunting bands would chase herds into enclosed areas using torches or stalk them and strike with a calculated bow and arrow shot. Historic accounts indicate that after the Spanish arrival, coastal inhabitants hunted deer with bow and arrow from horseback. Accounts of the Mariame in south Texas indicate they consumed deer only sporadically, but occasionally killed them in mass, as many as 200 to 500 at a time. According to Cabeza de Vaca's travel writings, the Mariame would also spread abreast in a wing formation and run deer into bays where they would meet their demise. He also makes note of hunting deer in a surround. In this method, hunters encircle the deer, slowly driving them into a mass to be easily exploited.

Deer crossing an estuary lake above Matagorda Bay
Deer crossing an estuary lake above Matagorda Bay less than 24 hours before Hurricane Ike came ashore less than 75 miles away. The impending storm apparently trigged frenzied animal behavior, bringing to mind Cabeza de Vaca's account of witnessing (and likely participating in) group “hunts” to drive deer into bays and cause them to drown. Deer only run against the wind as to outrun the smell of an ensuing predator. Since the wind on the Texas coast often blows inland from the South, the coastal natives were often aided by Mother Nature in deer hunting strategies. Anonymous photographer.
A deer pauses watchfully in thick marsh grasses
A deer pauses watchfully in thick marsh grasses near bay edge. These mammals provided a concentration of goods and food for the coastal Native peoples. Photo courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Deer antler and bone were an important raw material for tools
Deer antler and bone were an important raw material for tools. This tine, painted with a curvilinear design made with asphaltum, was recovered from the Kirchmeyer site near Corpus Christi. Deer tine were often used in final stages of tool manufacturing in order to pressure flake with precision.
Hunters in a surround formation
Hunters in a surround formation drive deer into an ever-smaller circle, making it easier to dispatch their prey. Painting by Ted DeGrazia, courtesy of the DeGrazia Foundation.