University of Texas at Austin wordmarkCollege of Liberal Arts wordmark
Texas Beyond History
TBH Home
Plateaus and Canyonlands Main
Prehistoric Texas Main

Gueiquesale

Led by charismatic leader Don Esteban, a force of nearly 100 Gueiquesale warriors comes to the aid of Spanish priest Fray Manuel de la Cruz, who had been threatened by other Native groups north of the Rio Grande. Watercolor by Mark Mitchell, depicting circa 1670s event in Texas described in Spanish diary.

The Gueiquesale (pronounced guey-kay-sally) were one of the large native groups whose territory included the southern portion of the Plateaus and Canyonlands. They are one of the many, lesser-known native peoples who were a casualty of the calamitous changes during the Historic period. In that sense, their story represents the fate of many native groups who once roamed Texas: extinction and near oblivion.

Although the Gueiquesale actually may have occupied or ranged over a much larger region, they are not discussed in Spanish documents with any depth until the 1670s, when they began to solicit the help and protection of the Spanish. By that time, the Apache were pushing south off the Southern Plains due to Comanche intrusion into their former homeland. In their wake, many native groups were also pushed southward. Gueiquesale territory at that time was centered on the general vicinity of modern Del Rio and north into the Canyonlands as well as south into Coahuila.

Although much of the Plateaus and Canyonlands had not been explored by the Spanish prior to the 1670s, word of unrest of various native peoples in the general region had reached northern Mexican towns in the 1660s. Some reports indicated that as early as 1658 native peoples from north of the Rio Grande were asking the Spanish for missions and presidios and actually petitioned the government to settle close to Saltillo. The petition was denied, but it and other requests prompted Father Juan Larios, a Franciscan friar, to travel north toward the Rio Grande where he stayed for three years.

Upon his return, natives were again petitioning for settlement. This time the petition included a number of groups (Babane, Jumano, Bobole, Baia, Contotore, Tetecore, and Momone). The petition also asserted that these groups would be joined by two other very large groups: the Gueiquesale and the Tiltic y Maigunm. One Gueiquesale was brought before the court. He testified that his people wished to settle in pueblos (towns).

The motives of the petitioners are important in understanding subsequent events. The smaller of these native groups said they needed to band together with larger groups. Another factor was that several years past some native peoples had aided the Spanish in battles against the Cacaxtles and others. Likely, they were concerned about reprisals from the Cacaxtles or allies of the groups that had been attacked. They were equally concerned about the continuing Spanish raiding of their rancherías for slaves. Although Spain’s official policy outlawed slave raids, unofficially they continued. The native people in the Plateaus and Canyonlands practiced a hunting and gathering lifestyle, requiring them to move frequently from place to place. Their small, temporary encampments (rancherías) left them vulnerable to the raids. Living among larger groups would make them less vulnerable, particularly if the settlements contained missions and presidios.

Permission was given in early 1674 for the larger settlements to be established in northern Coahuila. Priests, including Fray Larios and Dionysio de Penasco along with Fray Manuel de la Cruz, and soldiers under the command of Captain Elisondo, traveled north to northern Coahuila where they founded two settlements. Santa Rosa de Santa Maria was located on the Sabinas River. San Ildefonso de la Paz was 14 leagues (36 miles) north of the Sabinas and about 50 miles south of Del Rio. Gueiquesale were the largest group at San Ildefonso, numbering over 500, but other Gueiquesale were also among the natives at Santa Rosa. These settlements were the first of several in this general area, all aimed at bringing natives of northern Coahuila and the Plateaus and Canyonlands south to live in settlements, learn to farm, and become peaceful communities. Their successes and failures over the next several years illustrate the reality was less than desired.

Traveling north of the Rio Grande, the friars persuaded many groups to go south and settle with them in the two settlements. As many as 3,200 natives were reported living in clusters near Santa Rosa in June of 1674. However, their presence had as much to do with the large prickly pear fields that were also near Santa Rosa. Reports from the friars state that the natives were eating the ripe prickly pear tunas, but they also reported concern that the natives would leave when the harvest was over. Their fears were well grounded. Having no stores of food in the settlement, the natives and priests left Santa Rosa to find other food. In their absence, natives destroyed the settlement that same summer.

Other settlements and missions were established over the next century, some ending like Santa Rosa, others having limited success. As late as 1762, 26 Coetzales (Gueiquesale) were living at San Miguel de Aguayo of Monclova. While the efforts of priests and soldiers to establish settlements for the Gueiquesale and other groups did not meet with the successes they hoped, they left behind a number of Spanish documents with details about the Gueiquesale and their allies, the foods they sought, as well as some details about their family and spiritual lives. Those details are summarized below.

Alliances with other Native Peoples

Like other native peoples, the Gueiquesale had alliances with other groups. Spanish documents are far from perfect in telling us about those alliances, but the repeated presence of the Gueiquesale with certain other groups (and not with certain other native peoples) strongly suggest their friendship with them. Hence, we suspect that they were close to the Manos Prietas, Babane, Jumano, Bobole, Baia, Contotore, Tetecore, and Momone because these groups included the Gueiquesale as among the peoples who wanted to establish settlements in northern Coahuila.

In several documents from the 1670s, Don Esteban, a Gueiquesale leader, appears to have been the leader of a coalition of people who included the Gueiquesale, Manos Prietas, and no less than 22 other native groups. Leaders like Don Esteban were charismatic individuals who tended to make decisions that enhanced the well being of the larger group. When such a leader emerged, other, often smaller groups, sought friendship with the leader’s group. During stressful times, such allies could be called upon to come to their aid. Certainly, the large numbers of groups under Don Esteban’s leadership together with the Gueiquesale population estimates of more than 700 must have made his a fairly powerful and well-respected coalition.

Alliances among groups were not static. Like similar arrangements among countries today, they shifted as situations changed. Reports about Spanish efforts to settle the Gueiquesale document that another group—the Yorica—sought an alliance with the Gueiquesale. The manner in which this alliance was sought—cautiously through an intermediary and with gifts—may represent the way alliances were formed among different people in the Plateaus and Canyonlands. In 1674, one of the priests pressed north of the Rio Grande to encourage the Manos Prietas to move south. The Manos Prietas were already likely allies of the Gueiquesale.

Earlier that year, Captain Elisando met with leaders of groups who wanted to settle, and the Gueiquesale and Manos Prietas were among those leaders. When Fray Penasco found the Manos Prietas in the Plateaus and Canyonlands, they told him of another group, the Giorica or Yorica, who lived just to the north. Here, the Manos Prietas acted as intermediary. It is interesting that the Yorica first approached the priest rather than the numerous Gueiquesale who, at that time, were enjoying the prickly pear tuna fields near the Sabinas River. Perhaps this was simply because the priest was there and interested in meeting new peoples he could encourage to move into the settlements. On the other hand, it may reflect the caution of the Yorica, a way to illicit information about other groups yet still be able to retreat if necessary.

Regardless, Fray Penasco sent ambassadors to the Yorica. During the ensuing diplomatic exchanges, they released to the Manos Prietas a captive Gueiquesale boy. This was the gift. The Yorica likely knew of the alliance between the Manos Prietas and the Gueiquesale, and were told during the diplomatic exchanges the Manos Prietas were going to travel south with the priest. Giving up the captive boy was an offering of good will. The offering was accepted and sealed by a ceremony to celebrate the boy’s return. In the end, 300 Yorica traveled with the Manos Prietas to Santa Rosa where they were peacefully settled among the other residents, including the populous Gueiquesale.

Gueiquesale Life and Families

According to records written by the priests, the Gueiquesale subsisted on mescal, tunas of prickly pears, acorns and other nuts, fish, deer and buffalo. At one point the friars were out of food and ate the same sotol, lechuguilla, and tule reeds as the natives.

When the Gueiquesale and their allies lived in the settlements, they did learn to farm, successfully raising a few crops. However, the settlements did not have the resources to sustain large numbers of people indefinitely nor year round. Because of this, the people would return to the settlements when crops were ready for harvesting, then travel north to the Plateaus and Canyonlands to hunt deer and buffalo or other resources during the rest of the year.

Spanish documents inconsistently report on the family lives of native peoples. Each author reported on things that seemed important to him. Thus, we glean information from small bits and pieces. For peoples like the Apache, seen over a broad territory and a long time, the small bits and pieces eventually add up to a bigger picture. Not the whole picture, but certainly a better one. For the Gueiquesale, the picture remains small, but it is tantalizing.

We know that the Gueiquesale were relatively numerous. Persons pleading for native missions near the Rio Grande specifically say that the Gueiquesale are one of two much larger groups. We learn from another document that the settlements near the Rio Grande had 512 Gueiquesale there. Another document states that over 700 Gueiquesale were in a camp north of the Rio Grande. Given their hunting and gathering lifestyle, it is doubtful that all Gueiquesale families would move en mass. The Chihuahuan desert in which they resided was limited in resources and would have made such large camps difficult to feed.

On the other hand, when the priests traveled with them in 1674, their reports suggest that smaller groups traveled parallel to one another, separated by several leagues. Such a pattern would have allowed them to keep in touch while finding sufficient food to feed the people who traveled in the individual group. Each group moved when local food resources were depleted. Seasons of plenty would likely have encouraged many of these smaller groups to come together. Such seasons would have been when prickly pear tunas ripened in some of the areas where it grew in abundance and when the Gueiquesale cooperated to hunt bison. In addition to providing sustenance, these large group gatherings would have renewed friendships and other ties that bound the Gueiquesale together as a unified whole.

We know that they cared for one another. When the Spanish tried to settle the Gueiquesale into one of the Coahuila settlements in 1674, they declined because their people were ill and they wanted to take them away to care for them. They promised to return when the sick ones were better. The men showed great valor in battle. When one of the priests, Fray Manuel, was concerned for his life while he was north of the Rio Grande, Gueiquesale warriors came to his aid, embracing him. Their scouts found the enemy group nearby, and the Gueiquesale warriors declared to the priest they would die before they would abandon him. Together, these actions suggest a loyal, close-knit people.

Changing Worlds

The world of the Gueiquesale and other native groups in the Plateaus and Canyonlands underwent drastic changes beginning in the 1600s. We know that the Gueiquesale and their allies wanted the protection and aid of priests and soldiers. While they clearly did not understand the Catholic or other European religions, they did witness firsthand native groups in Saltillo and other Spanish communities, finding some measure of protection after ascribing to a belief in the European religion. We also know that these groups were under increasing pressure from the Apache advance south into their territories. Strange new diseases, such as smallpox and measles, entered their territory at the same time as these Europeans and those diseases killed their friends and families.

We cannot fully understand how the Gueiquesale interpreted these changes. But, we do know that several rock art panels in Val Verde County show mission-like architecture. One has a stick-like European figure in front of such a structure with his hands raised. Given that it is generally believed that rock art represents expressions of a group’s spiritual life, could these represent an effort to reach out to this new religion of a people unaffected by the Apache intrusion or the diseases? We may never know for certain, but these rock art panels are few and unique.

Another aspect of spiritual life and tradition is provided in the description of their battle with other groups. As described above, when Fray Manual feared for his life, 98 Gueiquesale warriors led by Don Esteban went to his rescue. Apart from their bows and arrows, hide-covered shields, and a small loincloth of deerskin, they also wore body decoration—streaks of red, yellow, and white across their chests and arms. In addition, they wore headdresses made of vines, mesquite leaves, and feathers.

Since we know that none of these body adornments would be used as weapons, we must assume that either they were ways to ensure that in a battle one could easily tell who was an ally and who was an enemy, or they were ways to ward off death. Before the battle, the priest showed the warriors a cross, or image of Christ, and told them that God would help them overcome the superior numbers of enemies they faced. When this same priest was taken to their ranchería, a village of some 700 people, the Gueiquesale women danced to express their pleasure at his visit. Apparently, this was their custom when visitors they wanted to see came to their villages.

follow Native Peoples link

The Gueiquesale were also known as Coetzale, Gueiquesal, Gueiquechali, Guericochal, Guisole, Huisocal, Huyquetzal, Huicasique, Quetzal, Quesale, among other names.

photo of Rio Grande river
The Rio Grande River near its juncture with the Pecos River. The area, near present-day Del Rio, was the center of Gueiquesale territory in the 1670s, extending north into the Canyonlands and south into Coahuila The towering cliff on the right marks the mouth of the Pecos River canyon. Photo from ANRA-NPS archives at TARL.
photo of diary
Diary of Fernando del Bosque, who traveled into the interior of Texas with Father Juan Larios in 1677 to investigate unrest among native peoples. Photo courtesy of the Center for American History (Documents for the Early History of Coahuila and Texas: 2Q259-836, Vol.4, p.380).

The native people in the Plateaus and Canyonlands practiced a hunting and gathering lifestyle, requiring them to move frequently from place to place. Their small, temporary encampments ( rancherías) left them vulnerable to raids by the Spanish, who sought slaves in spite of bans on such practices, and attacks by other native groups. Living among larger groups would make them less vulnerable, particularly if the settlements contained missions and presidios.

drawing of map
Settlements established by Spanish priests in northern Coahuila (Mexico) in the mid-1600s. Native peoples, including the Gueiquesale, sought protection by banding together into larger groups in "pueblos," or small towns such as Santa Rosa, shown with red dot. Click to enlarge.
photo of prickly pear cacti
Ripening of fruits (tunas) of prickly pear cactus annually beckoned native peoples out of missions and settlements and into the fields for harvesting and celebrations. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Deaprtment.

As many as 3,200 natives were reported living in clusters near Santa Rosa ( Mexico) in June of 1674. However, their presence had as much to do with the large prickly pear fields that were also near Santa Rosa. Reports from the friars state that the natives were eating the ripe prickly pear tunas, but they also reported concern that the natives would leave when the harvest was over.

Cattails or tule reeds were used by native peoples both as a nutritious food source and as thatch for their shelters. One account of a Gueiquesale encampment

At one point the friars were out of food and ate the same sotol, lechuguilla, and tule reeds as the natives.

photo of acorn
Acorns, one of the many nuts and fruits harvested by native peoples on the Edwards Plateau.

Seasons of plenty would likely have encouraged many of these smaller groups to come together. Such seasons would have been when prickly pear tunas ripened in some of the areas where it grew in abundance and when the Gueiquesale cooperated to hunt bison. In addition to providing sustenance, these large group gatherings would have renewed friendships and other ties that bound the Gueiquesale together as a unified whole.

photo of desert
Desert lands in southwest Texas, with typical scrubby growth of lechuguilla and other arid-adapted plants. Native peoples, such as the Gueiquesale, were able to subsist in harsh conditions by moving frequently to other areas as fruits and nuts ripened and by roasting the hearts, or bases, of plants such as lechuguilla, sotol.
photo of rock art
An orange-red church and a lone rider in European garb, the work of an unknown historic-period native artist, loom from the shelter wall in a Lower Pecos canyon. Perhaps native peoples painted these and similar images as a means of recording events and to help make sense of a rapidly changing world. Photo from site 41VV343, TARL archives.