Population of the East Texas Indians

It is easy to gain an exaggerated notion of the numerical strength of the native tribes. Popular imagination, stimulated by the hyperbole of writers for popular consumption, has peopled the primitive woods and prairies with myriads of savages. Students however, have shown that this is an error, and that the Indian population has always been, in historical times, relatively sparse. In their efforts to counteract these exaggerated notions, they, indeed, have leaned too far in the opposite direction.

The Hasinai, apparently one of the most compact native populations within an equal area between the Red River and the Rio Grande, numbered only a few thousands at the coming of the Europeans. What I have already said about the nature of their villages has, perhaps, prepared the reader to believe this assertion. While our statistical information on this point does not constitute entirely conclusive evidence, it does, nevertheless, give us a basis for plausible conjecture.

The earliest estimate that might be called general is that contained in a mémoire of 1699, printed by Margry, and based apparently upon the report of one of the survivors of the La Salle expedition. The mémoire states that from “Bay Saint-Louis, [Matagorda Bay] going inland to the north-northwest and the northeast there are a number of different tribes. The most numerous is the Cenys and Asenys, which, according to the opinion of a Canadian who has lived several years among them, form but one village and the same nation. He estimates that they do not exceed six hundred or seven hundred men. The Quélancouchis [Karankawa], who live on the shores of the sea about Bay Saint Louis, are four hundred men.” 1

It would seem that in this passage the term “Cenys et Asenys” corresponds closely with the term Hasinai as I have used it, unless, as is probable, the Nasoni are excluded; but, since this is not certain, the estimate, though based on long experience, would not be conclusive without corroborating testimony. This we get in 1716. Ramon tells us that the four missions founded by his expeditions, which were within easy reach of all the tribes described, “would comprise from four thousand to five thousand persons of all ages and both sexes.” In the same year Espinosa recorded in his diary his opinion that the Indians grouped around the three Querétaran missions, not including the mission among the Nacogdoche and the Nacao, would number three thousand; and after a residence there of some years he estimated the number of persons within range of each mission at about one thousand. 2 This estimate must have had a good foundation, for we are told that the padres kept lists of all the houses and of the persons in each. 3

Assuming that the mémoire, Ramon, and Espinosa include the same tribes in their estimates, it will be seen that the first is somewhat the more conservative. This fact strengthens the probability that, like other early reports, the mémoire did not include the Nasoni in the Hasinai.

So much for general estimates for the whole group. Detailed information concerning some of the individual tribes appears in 1721. When Aguayo in that year re-established the missions that had been abandoned some two years before, he made a general distribution of presents and clothing among the Indians at the different villages. At the mission of San Francisco de los Neches he gave the Neche chief the Spanish baston, token of authority, and “clothed entirely one hundred and eighty-eight men, women, and children.” Never before had they received “such a general distribution.” West of the Neches Aguayo had been visited by a hundred Nacono from down the river. At the mission of Concepción he requested the Hainai chief, Cheocas by name, to collect all his people. This took some time, as they were widely scattered, but several days later they were assembled, and Aguayo gave clothing and other presents to four hundred, including, possibly, eighty Kadohadachos, who happened to be there on a visit. Similarly, at the Nacogdoche mission he provided clothing “for the chief and all the rest,” a total of three hundred and ninety; and at the Nasoni mission for three hundred. 3 This gives us a total of less than fourteen hundred Indians who came to the missions during Aguayo’s entrada to take advantage of the ever welcome presents. This number apparently included the majority of the five most important tribes, and probably included some from the neighboring smaller tribes attached to the missions.

The conclusion is that the estimates of Ramon and Espinosa, which put the total number of inhabitants included in 1716 in the ten or more tribes about the four missions at four or five thousand are sufficiently liberal. If this conclusion is true, the tribes could not have averaged more than three or four hundred persons each.

The territory then occupied by perhaps four thousand Indians now supports one hundred thousand people. 4 Kept down by epidemics, crude means of getting food, and to some extent by war, the number of these natives was small. But few then, they are incomparably fewer today, for the descendants of all these tribes, now living on the reservations, do not exceed two hundred or three hundred souls. 5

Bolton, Herbert E. The Native Tribes About The East Texas Mission's, Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, April 1908.

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  1. Mémoire de la Coste de la Floride et d’une partie du Mexique, in Margry, op. cit., IV 316.[]
  2. Derrotero, in Mem. de Nueva Espana, XXVII, 160.[]
  3. Crónica Apostólica, 439.[][]
  4. Peña, Diario, in Mem. de Nueva Espana, XXVIII, 36, 39, 41, 43, 44.[]
  5. The surviving Caddo and Hasinai together numbered 551 persons in 1906 (Data given by Dr. Mooney in a communication of April 23, 1908).2 Estimate based on the United States Census for 1900.[]

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