• In style! Not all Indians wore moccasins on their feet. In Texas and the Southwest, many wore prehistoric flip-flops—sandals made of woven plant leaves, such as yucca.
Sandals worn by prehistoric Indians of Texas.

  • When someone dies, it's common to place flowers on the grave. But did you know that many prehistoric Texas Indians also placed burial offerings inside the graves of loved ones? They laid beads and pendants, tools, and other special items such as rattlesnake rattles, sea shells, and deer antlers alongside or on the bodies. Archeologists have discovered many of these ancient burials in cemeteries in south Texas. Some sites were used by hunter-gatherer peoples for thousands of years.
Native families gathered to bury a loved one at a cemetery in south Texas roughly 4,000 years ago. The body has been covered in deer hide with red ocher paint. Beautiful shells, deer antlers, and stone tools also will be placed in the grave.
  • Recycling paper, glass, and aluminum cans is an important part of conserving resources. But did you know that thousands of years ago, native Texans were recycling some of their everyday tools, such as arrow points, knives, and spearpoints? These tools were made from flint, or chert, a valuable stone resource which is scarce in some areas of Texas and worth recycling. A good flint-knapper could resharpen or re-work a flint tool, turning it into something completely different. For instance, a broken dart point might be sharpened into a knife or even a tool for drilling holes.
Indians often recycled dart points, such as the one on the left, into other tools. The long, narrow drilling tool on the right was made from a dart point after it was broken.
  • The first cowboys in Texas were Spanish and Indian vaqueros who rode horses and worked with cattle in south Texas missions. Mission Espíritu Santo, established by Spanish priests in 1749 to convert the Aranama Indians to Christianity, was the first great cattle ranch in Texas with more than 40,000 head of livestock! At this mission near Goliad, and at others like it, the Spanish vaqueros taught the Indians to ride, rope, and brand cattle. What we associate with cowboys—such as saddles, chaps, ropes, lassos, spurs, bandanas, and the rodeo (round-up)—comes from Spanish vaquero traditions that developed at south Texas missions and at family ranches along the Rio Grande.
An Indian vaquero, or cowboy, herds a wayward cow on a south Texas mission ranch. Mission ranches were the birthplace of the Texas cattle industry. Spanish and Indian workers were the state's first cowboys.
  • Playa lakes come and go, depending on the weather. These circular depressions in the earth formed tens of thousands of years ago on the Great Plains. Close to 20,000 of them can still be seen scattered throughout the Texas Panhandle! A playa (which means “beach” in Spanish) holds water for months or even years in wet periods, but dries up completely during droughts. Playa lakes provided water for the millions of buffalo that once roamed the Panhandle, and the Indians who hunted them. Today the playas are important water sources for Panhandle farmers and ranchers.
A playa lake in the Texas Panhandle. These lakes come and go, but are an important water source for cattle and migrating birds.
  • Did you know that the oldest construction in North America is right here in Texas? More than 13,000 years ago, ancient Clovis people built a stone floor in a muddy rock shelter to make it a more comfortable living space. (Who wants to camp in the mud?) They probably covered the new floor with layers of leaves and animal skins to make it softer. Archeologists found the floor buried under layers and layers of dirt in Kincaid Rockshelter near Uvalde. Jump on Dr. Dirt’s Time Travel Machine to learn more or check out Kincaid Shelter.
Clovis people hauled stones from the river to make a floor inside muddy Kincaid Shelter in the Texas Hill Country.
  • Yuck! If you think this looks like a dried-up cow patty, you’re not far off. Actually, this “patty” is prehistoric poop left by ancient peoples living in a rockshelter in southwest Texas. Archeologists found hundreds of these dried remains, called coprolites, in what must have been the bathroom area at the back of the shelter. Sounds gross but, by studying coprolites, scientists can learn what early people ate. Some coprolites contained rat bones, lizard scales, and rodent hair. This tells us people sometimes ate the animal whole—bones, fur, and all! Get more scoop on poop with Dr. Dirt in Solve an Ancient Mystery, or learn more about the archeological excavations at Hinds Cave.
This coprolite (prehistoric poop) can tell you what an ancient Texan had for dinner!
  • Prehistoric Indians on the Plains sometimes hunted buffalo by stampeding herds over a steep cliff. They waved blankets and torches to frighten the animals and make them run toward the cliff edge. By hunting in this way, the Indians could kill many more animals at once and get much more meat, skin, and other important items from the buffalo than when they hunted them one by one. Archeologists have found the locations of some of these "jump" sites. One, in southwest Texas, is called Bonfire Shelter. Want to know more?
Shouting and waving torches, Indians stampede buffalo over a cliff.

  • How do archeologists dig underwater? Well, it's not easy. To excavate the Belle, a 300-year-old ship wreck, archeologists worked inside a cofferdam, a huge, airtight structure placed in the waters of Matagorda Bay off the Texas coast. It was like digging inside a big room! A big, muddy, wet room. After they carefully scraped away the layers of dirt and sand from the wreck, the archeologists brought their wondrous finds to shore to be studied. Find out more at https://www.thc.texas.gov/blog/la-salles-many-horizons
Inside the cofferdam in Matagorda Bay, archeologists dig through the wreck of the Belle, the ship of famous French explorer La Salle.

  • Did you know that people in Paris, France, during the 1700s wore clothes made out of deer skin from East Texas? French traders traveled thousands of miles to meet with Indians in the Texas piney woods, where they exchanged guns, beads, and metal pots for deer hides. The hides were made into sleek leather clothes that the French people found very fashionable! Find out more.
Gen. Robert E. Lee.
French traders brought guns and metal tools to trade with East Texas Indians for deer skins.

  • Buffalo jerky, anyone? Jerky, or jerked (dried) meat, was invented by prehistoric peoples long ago as a way of preserving meat for long periods of time (they had no refrigerators to keep the meat fresh). Strips of buffalo, deer, or other animal meat were dried over a smoky fire until dry. It made a great "fast food," especially good to take on the trail.
Obsidian, a black glass from volcanoes.
Women cut buffalo meat into strips to dry for jerky.

  • Caddo Indians in East Texas built huge earthen mounds upon which they built wooden temples for ceremonies. Other mounds were burial places for their leaders. To create these mounds they needed lots of dirt. Since they had no metal tools such as shovels, they dug up what they needed with pointed sticks. Lacking machinery such as bulldozers to help them move the dirt, they hauled tons of dirt, bit by bit, in tightly woven baskets. Talk about hard labor! Want to learn more about the Caddo and ancient mounds?
Caddo Indians moved tons of dirt in baskets to build their enormous temple mounds in East Texas.

  • Indians of historic times often had tattoos on many parts of their body. French and Spanish explorers drew pictures of these so we know what they looked like. Some tattoos were on faces and chests in patterns of dots and circles. Tattoos were made by piercing the skin with a sharp object like a heavy thorn or sharp flint chip, then rubbing a dark substance such as charcoal or mineral pigment into the skin.
A Kichai Indian with tattoos.
A Kichai Indian with tattoos.

  • Prehistoric Indians—and some early white settlers—knew many uses for plants. Many of those we stay far away from today, like poison ivy, cactus, and yucca, were used to make dye, sandals, mats, and rope. Parts of the cactus and yucca can be eaten and were important foods for prehistoric peoples.
Prickly pear pad pouch with a carrying loop. Large pads were split or hollowed out and used as containers.
Prickly pear pad pouch with a carrying loop. Large pads were split or hollowed out and used as containers.

  • A beautiful black glass that comes from volcanoes was used by Native Americans to make arrowpoints and tools-whenever they could get it. Called obsidian, it comes from mountain sources in New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and other places a long way from Texas. Want to know more?
Obsidian, a black glass from volcanoes.
Obsidian, a black glass from volcanoes.

  • General Robert E. Lee of Civil War fame spent several years commanding a cavalry unit in Texas—he served at Camp Cooper near Abilene, Fort Mason, and at other Texas forts.
Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Gen. Robert E. Lee.
  • At the end of the Last Ice age, about 13-15,000 years ago, several species of horses roamed the plains of North America. By 11,000 years ago, they had become extinct, victims of climatic change and possibly Clovis hunters. Want to know more?
Ice-age horses, now extinct.
Ice-age horses, now extinct.

  • Horses returned to North America with the Spanish explorers in the 1500s. By the early 1700s some Native American groups like the Comanche had become expert horsemen and had large herds of horses.
  • Native Americans and later pioneer settlers made a beautiful red dye from a bug that lives only on the pads (leaves) of prickly pear cactus. These insects, called cochineal bugs, were also used to make body paint and, later, lipstick.
Cochineal bugs on a prickly pear cactus.

  • Indians made musical instruments in the past-not just drums made from hide but rasps and flute-like instruments out of bone and cane. On Galveston Island archeologists found several beautifully decorated flutes made out of the leg bones of the now-endangered Whooping Crane. A more common musical instrument was the turtle-shell rattle.
Some kind of rodent chewed on this painted cane flute.
Some kind of rodent chewed on this painted cane flute.

Texas Beyond History
TBH WebTeam
2 May 2007

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