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Native Americans and God in Texas!

Thank you for your supportive comments about my blog on Texas history. It has been my intention to tell true stories that explain how God impacted the people of early Texas. Covering this subject without special mention of the native indigenous tribes would be a mistake. Thousands of years before the Spanish explorers came to Texas, the Native Americans claimed the land for themselves. At least 70 tribes either lived in Texas permanently or migrated through the countryside on an annual basis. It is estimated that about 130,000 Native Americans were permanent residents when the Spanish began exploring. However, when the migratory tribes arrived, that number grew to over 600,000!

The major tribes in Texas at that time included the Apache, Kiowa, Coahuiltecan, Karankwa, Cherokee, and Sioux. Lesser known tribes included the Adaes, Coco, Bidai, Sanipoos, Tonkawa, and Anadarko. Many Texas cities are named after various tribes like the Waxahachie, Nacogdoches, Waco, Wichita, Carrizo, Comanche, Nacona, and Caddo. Some of the famous Indian leaders of early Texas included Big Foot, Black Wolf, Yellow Bear, Chief Bowles (Duwali), Big Mush, Buffalo Hump, Santa Anna, and Quanah Parker. Today, only three reservations exist in Texas. The Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation is just east of Livingston. The Tiguas (Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo) live near El Paso, and the Kickapoo live near Eagle Pass.

Most tribes had their own unique religious structure that often ascribed divinity to natural creations like the sun, moon, owls, coyotes, fire, or snakes. The Caddo Tribe of East Texas had a “Grand Caddi” that served as their tribal leader, and a “Chenesi” who led the spiritual rituals. The Karankawa Tribe of the Gulf Coast participated in ceremonial cannibalism and had rituals that included dancing, smoking of mesquite beans, and the use of various hallucinogens such as peyote. The Apache had shamans (diyins) who led rituals. The name for their main god was Ussen, whom they recognized as their life-giver, the omnipotent deity, and the source of all supernatural power.

The Jumano Tribe of West Texas was encountered in history as early as 1581. They were steeped in a religious culture that included dances and hallucinogens such as peyote. When the Spanish first came and presented Christ, the Jumano Tribe were already interested. They had a fascinating legend about the mysterious and beautiful “Lady in Blue” who had brought them the message of Jesus many years prior. Coincidently, around 1620, a Catholic mother superior named Maria de Jesus, claimed that she was transported by angels from her home in Spain to the Jumano Tribe in Texas, and told them to listen to the missionaries who would be coming. When the Jumanos heard about Jesus from the Spanish missionaries, many of them were already prepared to accept Him.

The Spanish missionaries were the first to come to Texas with a mandate to lead the natives to Christ. They built missions and tried to teach farming, crafts, and the European way of life. But their mixture of religion, politics, and desire for personal gain hindered much of their outreach. For the most part, the Native Americans rejected Christianity preferring their life-long customs and culture. As they lost their land to incoming settlers, the tribes were forced to leave Texas unless they converted to Christianity, or intermarried with the immigrants. Many of them fiercely defended their land, only to be overwhelmed by superior weapons and technology.

One common denominator among many of the Tribes of Texas was the use of Peyote in religious ceremonies. Peyote is a small, spineless cactus, with the hallucinogen mescaline being the principal active ingredient. From earliest recorded time, peyote has been used by natives in northern Mexico and the south-western United States as a part of their religious rites. Some of the Tribes considered the eating of peyote more sacred than the teaching of the Lord’s Supper by missionaries. Ancient religious rites and rituals that included the use of peyote became a major roadblock to making a full conversion to Christ. Even today, in the 21st Century, peyote is as popular as ever, and is used heavily among many Tribes.

One of the Tribes that made the most open commitment to Christ was the Alabama-Coushatta. After they had migrated to Texas, Sam Houston took a special interest in their continued existence, and provided land in East Texas for them to settle. As the Tribe suffered many setbacks, the Presbyterian mission established a ministry in Polk County in 1881. Early missionaries were nurses, doctors, teachers and ministers. The loving approach of these Presbyterian missionaries continues to bless the Tribe to this day.

The Bible admonishes us to be careful in the presentation of the Gospel message. 1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV – “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” To stubbornly foist your beliefs upon others without having passionate love and respect for them, is to totally miss the meaning of the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Texas was a mission field in 1800. But many lives were hurt and embittered by misguided zeal. Hopefully, we have learned to be better at sharing our Faith in this present day.

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