Fort Worth District
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Native Americans of the area
Wanderers from the high plains, the first men, termed Paleo-Indians by archeologist, arrived in the San Gabriel River Valley at least 10,000 years ago following mammoth, bison, and other large mammals. On foot, the Paleo-Indian hunters relied greatly upon ambush tactics, fire and natural traps to disable the large and dangerous prey. These early people traveled in small family groups and preferred upland campsites. They had no permanent homes and few personal possessions, but they could quickly pick up camp to keep within striking distance of their quarry. They often camped near perennial springs.
8,000 years ago a warming trend of the Ice Age had changed the Texas first encountered by Paleo-Indians. The climate was drier. Coniferous forests had given way to prairies and oak savannahs. The North American mammoth, sloth and camel were gone forever. The bison shifted north, out of reach of the people who called Central Texas home.
The people of the San Gabriel Valley, like others in the United States, has responded to the changing conditions by following the streams, seeking out deer and smaller animals, collecting a variety of plants as they came in season, and hunting bison whenever their erratic migrations brought them south. This foraging existence marked the beginning of the Archaic Period, a way of life that continued for 7,000 years. The changing lifestyles are evident in the proliferation of projectile points styles during this time. Angostura points are one of the last lanceolate forms, followed by stemmed and barbed points such as Gower, Jetta, Hoxie, Uvalde, Calf Creek, and Triangular. Large barbed points are associated with the use of atlatls, or throwing sticks, as weapons. Since deep penetration cannot be assured, the barbs make certain that the point remains lodged in the wound, tearing and cutting.
The people developed patterns of movement that involved using many of the same campsites season after season. They cooked in earth ovens lined with rock, which was discarded after use because the hot coals caused it to fracture. Through the millennia the discarded burnt rock accumulated into middens, or mounds of burned rock, discarded or lost artifacts, plant and animal remains and soil. While some small middens formed on the uplands or on river terraces, most were at the base of the canyon slope at the edge of the river valley. Projectile points associated with this time period include Nolan, Travis, Buverde, Pedernales, Marshall, Williams, Castroville, Lange, Montell and many unnamed forms. Almost all of the burned rock middens along the San Gabriel River have been destroyed by construction and by vandals digging arrowheads for private collections.
After the major burned rock midden building period, archaic peoples began camping more and more on the river terraces closer to the river, and sometimes in rock shelters, or overhangs, overlooking the river. They built rock-lined hearths, which tend to be isolated and buried in deep deposits. Common projectile points associated with these people include Marcos, Ensor, Fairland and Darl.
1,400 years ago the beginning of the Late Prehistoric Period was signaled by the arrival of the bow, a technological innovation that had swept across North America from Asia. However, this was neither the first or last idea to reach the people of the San Gabriel Valley. Small arrow points, such as Scallorn and Perdiz, replaced the larger projectile points. Pottery appeared and exotic shells adorned necklaces. Manos and metates served as mulitpurpse tools for preparing nuts, plant products, pigment, bone tools and tempering agents for pottery. In spite of these additions the basic way of life, dependency on the produce of the river valley, remained unchanged. Like the Late Archaic people, these people occupied the river terraces and an occasional rock shelter.
Tichanwatic , or the most human of people, are better known by their Waco Indian name, Tonkawa, meaning they all stay together. They were one of the historic inhabitants of Central Texas when Europeans first ventured into the region. Before European expansion 300 years ago the Tonkawa consisted of several independent, seminomadic groups who shared a common language. These groups were the Tonkawa proper, Mayeye, Yojuane, Sana, Ervipiame, Emet, Cavas, Toho and Tohaha. Depending primarily on deer and bison, these people also ate rabbits, squirrels, skunks, rats, tortoises, fish, mussels, prickly pear tunas, pawpaws, acorns, pecans and edible roots. Rattlesnakes were considered a delicacy. In later years many of the Tonkawa served as guides for army campaigns against the Comanche. Today the Tonkawa reside in Tonkawa, Oklahoma. For more information on the Tonkawas visit www.tonkawatribe.com
Help keep our past secure!
The rate of archeological site destruction in Williamson County is so fast that few will survive the decade. Each of us has a responsibility to conserve our cultural heritage for future generations. We can do this by refraining from removing or damaging artifacts, historical structures and archeological sites and by reporting those who do. It is violation of law punishable by up to $250,000 to damage or destroy an archeological site or feature at Lake Granger.
To report violations contact park rangers at 512/859-2668. To learn more about the history and prehistory of Texas and Williamson County see the following websites.
Southern Texas Archeological Association www.staa.org
Texas Archeological Society www.txarch.org
Texas Beyond History www.texasbeyondhistory.net
Texas Historical Commission www.thc.state.tx.us
Three-Legged Willie -- The History and Genealogy of Williamson County