Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 3, Summer 2009, pp. 241-242
Texas has traditionally been viewed as an expansive landscape occupied by a relatively small and widely scattered Indigenous population. Modern studies by Todd Smith, Robert Ricklis, Nancy Hickerson, Mariah Wade, MartIn Salinas, and Morris Foster have questioned this simplistic view by focusing upon the larger stories of Caddo, Wichita, Jumano, Tonkawa, Coahuiltecan, Karankawa, Comanche and other groups who occupied parts of Texas for a long period of time. Now William Foster attempts to synthesize the broader picture for all Indigenous peoples who lived within the state boundaries between 1528 and 1728. This long period, beginning with Narvaez's beleaguered expedition landing on Galveston Island, and ending with creation of a Spanish missionary frontier in East Texas, produced a rich collection of reports by Spanish and French officials. Foster draws upon more than forty of these eyewitness chronicles and subjects them to new ethnohistorical techniques to produce credible cultural histories of each group.
The book's organization is based upon a spatial rather than tribal approach, as was previously used by W. W. Newcomb in his classic 1961 overview, The Indians of Texas: From Prehistoric to Modern Times. Foster divides the state into eight geographic regions and describes the tribal cultures and their prominent village sites within them. He identifies well over two hundred subtribal populations as recorded in the nomenclature of early Spanish and French travel accounts. These Native Americans lived in diverse environments ranging from dense forests to expansive grasslands, and even to mountain and desert terrains in the extreme western areas. Amid these distant landscapes sprang forth a vast array of cultures, sometimes engaged in raiding against each other, but more often involved in long-range trade networks and cross-cultural exchange. These sophisticated societies reached far beyond the attainments of simple hunting and gathering societies that earlier stereotypes belie.