Teyas Indians

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Teyas were a Native American people living near Lubbock, Texas who first made contact with Europeans in 1541 when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado traveled to them.

Lubbock, Texas City in Texas, United States

Lubbock is the 11th most-populous city in the U.S. state of Texas and the county seat of Lubbock County. With a population of 256,042 in 2015, the city is also the 83rd most-populous in the United States. The city is located in northwestern part of the state, a region known historically and geographically as the Llano Estacado and ecologically is part of the southern end of the High Plains, lying at the economic center of the Lubbock metropolitan area, which has a projected 2020 population of 327,424.


The tribal affiliation and language of the Teyas is unknown, although many scholars believe they spoke a Caddoan language and were related to the Wichita tribe, whom Coronado encountered in Quivira. Apparently, Teyas was the name they were called by the Rio Grande Pueblo Indians. [1]

Quivira is a place named by explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1541, for the mythical "Seven Cities of Gold" that he never found. The location of Quivira is believed by most authorities to be in central Kansas near present-day Lyons extending northeast to Salina. The Quivirans were the forebears of the modern day Wichita Indians and Caddoan tribes, such as the Pawnee or Arikara. The city of Etzanoa, which flourished between 1450 and 1700, is thought to be part of Quivira.

Rio Grande river forming part of the US-Mexico border

The Rio Grande is one of the principal rivers in the southwest United States and northern Mexico. The Rio Grande begins in south-central Colorado in the United States and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, it forms part of the Mexico–United States border. According to the International Boundary and Water Commission, its total length was 1,896 miles (3,051 km) in the late 1980s, though course shifts occasionally result in length changes. Depending on how it is measured, the Rio Grande is either the fourth- or fifth-longest river system in North America.

The Puebloans or Pueblo peoples, are Native Americans in the Southwestern United States who share common agricultural, material and religious practices. When Spaniards entered the area beginning in the 16th century, they came across complex, multi-story villages built of adobe, stone and other local materials, which they called pueblos, or towns, a term that later came to refer also to the peoples who live in these villages.

Identity of the Teyas

Scholars differ in their guesses as to the identity of the Teyas and their language. Some anthropologists and historians speculate that they were Apache. Other scholars believe they were related to the Rio Grande Pueblos, perhaps speaking a Tanoan language. They may have later become known to the Spanish as the Jumano. It is possible, however, that Jumano was only a generic description of Plains Indians rather than referring to a distinct tribe.

The Apache are a group of culturally related Native American tribes in the Southwestern United States, which include the Chiricahua, Jicarilla, Lipan, Mescalero, Salinero, Plains and Western Apache. Distant cousins of the Apache are the Navajo, with which they share the Southern Athabaskan languages. There are Apache communities in Oklahoma, Texas, and reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. Apache people have moved throughout the United States and elsewhere, including urban centers. The Apache Nations are politically autonomous, speak several different languages and have distinct cultures.

The Teyas had close trade relations with the Pueblos, but Coronado was told that, in the 1520s, they destroyed several Pueblo villages in the Galisteo Basin near present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico. That implies that the Teyas were numerous, powerful, far ranging and that they participated in the politics of the Pueblos, thus strengthening the case that they were Tanoans. [2]

Santa Fe, New Mexico State capital city in New Mexico, United States

Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and the seat of Santa Fe County.

A narrow plurality of experts, however, believe that the Teyas were Caddoan language-speakers related to the Wichita peoples whom Coronado found in Quivira in central Kansas.

Kansas State of the United States of America

Kansas is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States. Its capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, with its most populated county being Johnson County. Kansas is named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the (south) wind" although this was probably not the term's original meaning. For thousands of years, what is now Kansas was home to numerous and diverse Native American tribes. Tribes in the eastern part of the state generally lived in villages along the river valleys. Tribes in the western part of the state were semi-nomadic and hunted large herds of bison.

The Teyas may have not been full-time nomads of the Plains; they may have also inhabited farming villages further east. Agrarian tribes of the region commonly ventured onto the plains for extended buffalo hunts. Archaeologists have found the remains of many farming villages of the time (Wheeler phase, believed to be Caddoan), near the Washita River in southwestern Oklahoma. The proximity of the Teyas to the Washita villages suggests a relationship. [3] The description of the Teyas as painted and tattooed also points to them being Caddoans, since Wichita were called "Raccoon People" for their custom of tattooing around their eyes—a custom the Teyas shared. [4]

Washita River river in the United States of America

The Washita River is a river in the states of Texas and Oklahoma in the United States. The river is 295 miles (475 km) long and terminates at its confluence with the Red River, which is now part of Lake Texoma on the Texas–Oklahoma border.

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.

Although most authorities believe that the name "Teyas" derives from a Pueblo word, there is an intriguing similarity with "Tejas" the Caddoan word that means "friend" and is the origin of "Texas." [5]

The Teya may have been none of the above but instead may have been a Coahuiltecan or Tonkawa group. Most of these tribes resided in southern and central Texas. The old man who said he met Cabeza de Vaca gives credence to a southern origin of the Teyas.

The ethnic identification of the Teyas may never be determined, but, if so, it would be most useful in untangling the complexities of the protohistorical period on the Southern Plains. The later Escanjaque Indians, Aguacane, and Iscani may be descended from the Teyas.


In 1541, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado led an expedition onto the Great Plains from the Rio Grande pueblos in New Mexico. Coronado’s objective was to find a rich country called Quivira.

Traversing the Texas panhandle Coronado met two groups of Indians: the Querechos and the Teyas. The Querechos were nomadic buffalo hunters, almost certainly Apaches, and they inhabited the Llano Estacado. The Teyas lived in the canyons below the escarpment on the eastern edge of the Llano. The Querechos and Teyas were enemies. The discovery of Spanish artifacts from an archaeological site 35 miles northeast of Lubbock makes Blanco Canyon near the headwaters of the Brazos River the likely place where Coronado first encountered a large settlement of Teyas. [6]

Culture of the Teyas

The Teyas were described as nomadic buffalo hunters who lived in tents. However, they had additional resources. The canyons had trees and flowing streams and the Teyas grew or foraged for beans, but the Coronado chroniclers state they did not "sow corn, nor eat bread, but instead raw meat." The Spanish noted the presence of mulberries, roses, grapes, nuts (probably pecans) and plums.

After this first contact, Coronado traveled an additional four days and encountered a settlement called Cona that extended for three days travel along a small river in a canyon two or three miles wide. It is unclear whether Coronado followed the Brazos downstream or journeyed to a different canyon to visit Cona.

"The country was well occupied," said the chroniclers.

The Coronado chroniclers described the Teyas as intelligent and formidable archers. One of them shot an arrow that passed through both shoulders of a bison, "which would be a good shot for a musket." The women were well-dressed and modest, covering their whole bodies by wearing a petticoat beneath a fringed cloak with sleeves. One of the women was "as white as a Castillian lady except that she had her chin painted like a Moorish woman." Coronado commented that they "tattoo their bodies and faces, and are large people of very fine appearance." [7]

One of the intriguing events was Coronado's meeting among the Teyas an old blind bearded man—a beard being a rarity among Indians—who said that he had met four Spaniards far to the south. He was probably talking about Cabeza de Vaca who with three shipmates made his way across southern Texas nearly a decade before Coronado. [8]

What happened to the Teyas?

The Teyas, or at least their name, disappeared from history soon after Coronado encountered them. Their likely fate was to be pushed out of their west Texas home by the advancing Apaches. If their descendants were later met by the Spaniards at a different location they were not recognized as the people Coronado encountered. [9]

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  1. Flint, Richard. No Settlement, No Conquest, Albuquerque: U of NM Press, 2008
  2. Riley, Carroll L. Rio del Norte. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995, pp. 191–92
  3. Flint, 157; Drass, Richard R. and Baugh, Tomothy, G. "The Wheeler Phase and Cultural Continuity in the Southern Plains." Plains Anthropologist, Vol. 42, No. 160, 198-200
  4. Dorsey, George Amos. The Mythology of the Wichita, Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1904
  5. http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/tejas/index.html
  6. Flint, 158
  7. Winship, George Parker (Ed. and Translator), The Journey of Coronado, 1540-1542, from the City of Mexico to the Grand Canon of the Colorado and the Buffalo Plains of Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska, As Told by Himself and his Followers. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co, 1904, 69-71, 215
  8. Winship, 232
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2010-03-14.