Historic Indian Groups of the Choke Canyon Reservoir and Surrounding Area, Southern Texas




Campbell, T. N.
Campbell, T. J.

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Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio


One of the principal objectives of the study reported herein has been to identify and present descriptive information recorded by Europeans about Indian groups who at various times during the historic period lived in or ranged over the area immediately surrounding the projected Choke Canyon Reservoir of southern Texas. This reservoir, located about 60 miles south of San Antonio, is associated with the lower Frio River above its junction with the Nueces River and lies within the northern parts of McMullen and Live Oak Counties. It has been the focus of recent archaeological investigation by the Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio. The Choke Canyon Reservoir locality was not on any common route of European travel, particularly during the early historic period; and it is therefore difficult to identify by name very many of the Indian groups who, as hunters and gatherers, actually ranged over the lands that are to be inundated. The best that can be done is to discover the names of Indian groups seen or reported in the general area between the year 1528, when Europeans first penetrated the mainland of southern Texas, and the mid-nineteenth century, when the area was virtually cleared of all Indians that were either native to the area or were refugees from other areas. In order to define a target area for documentary research, a circle with a 50-mile radius was drawn on a map of southern Texas, the modern community of Three Rivers serving as its center (Fig. 1). This inscribed circle includes all of Bee, Live Oak, and McMullen Counties and parts of all adjacent counties. An effort was made to examine enough historical documents to discover the names of all Indian groups who at various times were reported in or fairly close to the encircled area, and then to assemble such information as was recorded about them before their ethnic identities were lost. The route (Fig. 1) of the earliest European traveler, Cabeza de Vaca, from the lower Guadalupe River southwestward to the summer prickly-pear collecting grounds of the Mariames and other Indian groups, appears to have crossed the peripheral portion of the target area in its southeastern quadrant. If the route interpretation is correct, it is possible to identify and plot the relative locations of certain Indian groups for the years 1534-1535. But it was not until the 1680s that Spaniards again visited this part of southern Texas, leaving a gap of approximately 150 years in the written records and making it especially difficult to establish continuities for its earliest known Indian groups. Actually the target area was seldom visited by Europeans until Spanish missions began to be built at San Antonio in 1718 and at Goliad in 1749. By this time, the general Indian population decline and territorial displacement by immigrant Spaniards and Apache Indians had disrupted the earlier group distribution patterns. The eighteenth-century documents are frequently vague about group locations and say very little about languages spoken or cultural similarities and differences. After 1780 the truly aboriginal groups of southern Texas slowly disappear from primary records. except those which refer to remnants of various Indian groups still living at a few Spanish missions. Since there is such a large time gap between the few Cabeza de Vaca documents and the more numerous documents of the later Spanish Colonial period, this report is presented in two parts, one covering the groups known to Cabeza de Vaca, the other covering Indian groups known after the Spanish settlement frontier had moved into what is now northeastern Mexico and southern Texas.


This volume is the first in a series to be published on the archaeology, history and ethnohistory of the Choke Canyon Reservoir area in southern Texas.


Texas History, Indians of North America--Texas, Choke Canyon Reservoir (Tex.)--Antiquities, Live Oak County (Tex.)--Antiquities, McMullen County (Tex.)--Antiquities, Texas--Antiquities