Deer

Deer delivered enormous “bang for the buck” to native peoples. They not only provided large sources of protein in one kill, they also contributed bones and antlers for tools, sinew for cording, and hides for clothing and coverings. Native peoples often processed the bones of deer and other large animals intensively to obtain marrow and fat, an essential part of their diet.

The native peoples of the Trans-Pecos hunted mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and Carmen deer (Odocoileus virginianus carminis), a subspecies of white-tailed deer confined to the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend. In the faunal assemblages of lowland sites deer is usually second in frequency only to rabbit, and in rockshelters in the mountains deer is often the dominant animal represented. At Fresnal Shelter, for instance, mule deer makes up 99% of the Late Archaic faunal assemblage and a similar percentage of assemblages from other periods.

In addition to economic utility, deer had ritual significance for the native peoples of the Trans-Pecos. A deer hoof tinkler was recovered from a child’s burial at Granado Cave and numerous painted deer scapulae were found at Cueva Pilote. Both deer themselves and their antlers are popular motifs in rockart across the region, including that at Alamo Canyon and Hueco Tanks.

photo of a Carmen deer int he Chisos Mountains
Carmen deer in the Chisos Mountains. Carmen deer is a subspecies of white-tailed deer found only in the Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend. Photo by Raymond Skiles.
photo of a mule deer in the Davis Mountains
Mule deer in the Davis Mountains. Deer not only provided native peoples with large sources of protein in one kill, they also contributed bones and antlers for tools, sinew for cording, and hides for clothing and coverings. In many Trans-Pecos sites, the remains of deer are second in frequency only to rabbit. Photo by Steve Black.
pictograph of a deer from a rockshelter
Pictograph in Deer Shelter (41CU408) in southwestern Culberson County. In addition to economic utility, deer had ritual significance for the native peoples of the Trans-Pecos. Both deer themselves and their antlers are common motifs in rockart across the region. Photo by Andy Cloud.