Texas Hill Country Native Americans: A Forgotten History

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Texas history did not begin with Spanish missionaries coming to Texas. People lived in the state for thousands of years before that, but many have forgotten these original inhabitants. Since many of the tribes in Texas lived nomadic lives, evidence of great cities don’t exist, but that does not mean their influence on the state was any less. In fact, for many groups in the Texas Hill Country, this wayward life contributed to how they later interacted with Europeans who settled the land. Texas Hill Country Native Americans remain a part of the state’s heritage and a part of history that should not be forgotten.


Texas Hill Country Native Americans included the Lipan Apache like this warrior on a horse

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The group known to many as Apaches in the Hill Country were technically one of two Apache groups in Texas, the Lipan Apaches. The second group, the Mescalero Apaches, lived in far West Texas. The Lipan Apache had the distinction of having tightly knit family groups, to the extent that a widower would live with his in-laws and acquire a new wife from that family after his first wife passed away. Perhaps this close community was needed as the Lipan Apaches were nomads who followed buffalo herds throughout the Hill Country. When European settlers came to the area, the Lipan Apaches were most accepting of even the Spanish missions, as they needed protection from the Comanches who’d recently started coming into Texas from the north. But this alliance with Spanish missions and later with settlers would not last.

Though before 1842, the Apaches embraced the help from Texas settlers, even going so far as to become Texas Rangers, an unsolved murder of Chief Flacco the Younger escalated tensions to the breaking point. The Apaches moved south to Mexico but raided Texas for years until 1873, when a U.S. army colonel invaded the Apache villages and sent anyone left to a New Mexico reservation, ending the raids and their influence in Texas.


Texas Hill Country Native Americans included the Comanche

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the most feared groups of Texas Hill Country Native Americans were the Comanche. These Plains Indians were not originally from the state but moved south from their northern lands as they followed the buffalo. This was the group the Lipan Apaches feared, leading the Apache to form alliances with the Spanish and later Texans. Comanches would raid Lipan Apache groups, and when the Apache moved on, the raids were done to the Texas settlements. When white settlers hunted buffalo to near extinction levels, the Comanche fought back, trying to secure their way of life that was intrinsically tied to hunting buffalo with their horses. Republic of Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar saw the raiding done by Comanches and attempted to relocate them outside of Texas. Though it worked, the action required heavy force and loss of life to put forth.

Years later, the final expulsion of the Comanche occurred in the 1870s, when the United States Army forced all Native Americans east of the Pecos River into Indian Territory. The Red River War finished when the Comanche’s horse herd was destroyed. No longer able to ride, the Comanche moved to Indian Territory and a new way of life outside of Texas.


Texas Hill Country Native Americans This shows where the Tonkawa lived in Texas

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though settlers often were at odds with Texas Hill Country Native Americans, the Tonkawa were an exception. This tribe came from multiple groups that decided to come together in the 1700s as the Tonkawa. Though they denounced the Spanish missions, they did strike an alliance with Stephen F. Austin and his settlers. Almost from the beginning, the Tonkawa forged a friendship with Texas colonists in the area after the Spanish missionaries. In fact, many Tonkawa served as Texas Rangers. Diseases and raids from their enemies, which included anti-Indian whites, reduced their population dramatically, and those that were left eventually moved to a reservation in Oklahoma in the late 19th century.


Texas Hill Country Native Americans like the Waco likely lived near the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though among Texas Hill Country Native Americans, the Waco were one of the least-remembered people, they still had a lifestyle in the area. This group was related to the Wichita from northern Texas, and the majority of the Waco lived near the present-day city named after them, but a smaller group lived right in the Hill Country near New Braunfels. Like many other tribes in the area, they followed buffalo herds, but rather than living a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle, they did establish short-term places where they could grow crops during the warmer months. The group lived near water, but fishing never became part of their culture. But the floodwater enriched soil near the river would prove a good spot for growing crops.