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PREHISTORIC EATING HABITS IN TEXAS
DIET DEBATE --- Which is the best diet?
  • This is page two - from the hunter-gatherer perspective.
  • Also see page one - from the vegan perspective.

  • Are we natural vegetarians or natural meat-eaters?
    Or perhaps omnivores?
    Comanche
    Texas Comanche warrior
    According to archaeology there is no doubt we humans have been hunter-gatherers for 2 million years plus. And that a a severe health decline started with beginning of agriculture.

    Texas is a very interesting example - only 200 years ago Texas' inhabitants were 'prehistoric' stone-age peoples.
  • What did their lifestyle look like?
  • What did they eat? Vegetation or animals or both?
  • Were they healthy?
  • And what happened to their health when they had to abandon the hunting-gathering lifestyle?
    (Perhaps the devastating epidemics were due to deteriorating food quality, instead of germs?)

    DIET DEBATE --- Your choice:
  • Ok, so we have been hunter-gatherers - but wasn't this just an unhealthy deviation from our true vegetarian nature?
  • Ok, so we once ate like vegetarian monkeys - but since then, hasn't millions of years of hunting and meat-eating affected us (look at brain size)?

  • Most of following facts about primitive diets in Texas from the 1500's to the 1800's are from a book that has made at least 11 printings, plus 10 paperback printings - "The Indians of Texas" By W.W. Newcomb (1961, University of Texas). The maps are approximate interpretations of info from this book.
    Apache on horse

    GUESS - which Texans had following eating habits?
    Choose from Karankawas, Coahuiltecans, Atakapans, Caddoes, Wichitas, Kiowas, Jumanos, Lipan Apaches, Tonkawas, Comanches.
    map of Texas native peoples
    1. few living creatures were overlooked as source of food .... spiders, ant eggs, rattle snakes, rotten wood, deer dung
    2. captives were often roasted and eaten (ceremoniously)
    3. then for a month they ate blackberries
    4. wild turkeys were eaten, but other birds were not considered edible
    5. wolves and coyotes were avoided for religious reasons - dogs were eaten
    6. garden produce - corn, pumpkins, melons - more important than meat
    7. bears were killed for the skin and fat, the flesh was not eaten
    8. coarse corn meal was used for soups and gruel - fine corn meal for tortillas
    9. fishing, hunting, beach-combing and gathering - e.g. shellfish, bird eggs, alligators
    (For answers, see text below.)

    GUESS - which Texans were hunting-gathering? Vegetarians? Farmers?
    See the map at bottom of this page for an answer.

    GUESS - about which Texans was this said?
    1. the tribes here called each others "Tayshas", "friends" , - giving name to "Texas"
    2. the men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue
    3. aimed at a bear in the top of a tree ... the arrow went through its body and was propelled 40 to 50 yards beyond
    4. in winter they go out naked in early dawn to take a bath ... breaking the ice with their body
    5. a man near seven feet in stature ... runs down a buffalo on foot, and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side
    6. large villages - well fortified with stockade and moat, and forcing even Spanish soldiers to withdraw
    7. men had the hair in two braids and a top scalp lock, but all other body hair was plucked out, even eye brows and lashes
    8. difficult to kill .... traversed by an arrow ... does not die but recovers from his wound
    9. had elongated heads, tapered off towards the top, by cranial deformation
    (For answers, see text below.)


    THE COAHUILTECANS
    inhabited the inland brush country in south Texas - between San Antonio River and the Mexico border - an arid rocky semi-desert plain with thorny shrubs, mesquite trees and cacti. The famous Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca lived with the Coahuiltecans for eight years from 1538.
    Apache Of all Texas natives the Coahuiltecans lived the harshest, most difficult life. They led a roving life, starved in winter, and there seems to be very little they failed to eat that could be eaten. Large animals were scarce - there were occasional deer, antelope, javelina pigs - plus rabbits, rodents, reptiles, birds and bugs. Some tribes had access to pecans, some mesquite beans, others fish. "Few living creatures were overlooked as source of food .... spiders, ant eggs, worms, lizards, snakes (incl. rattle snakes), earth, rotten wood, deer dung. Second harvest ... removing seeds and the like from human feces, grinding them up, roasting and eating them." "Fish were ... set aside for eight days .... until larvae and other insects had developed in the rotting flesh ... then consumed as an epicure's delight, as also the remaining flesh."
    The principal food was vegetables: agave bulbs, mountain laurel beans, peyote cactus, prickly pears, mesquite beans. Wars between Coahuiltecan peoples were common, dead captives were often roasted and eaten (ceremoniously), powdered bones from own tribe members were eaten (with hallucination-inducing peyote). Tools were made from wood and flint.
    " The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue." "De Vaca was impressed by the fact that they were so difficult to kill .... traversed by an arrow ... he does not die but recovers from his wound."
    (After Spanish missions were established from the 1670's diseases rapidly diminished the native population. In 1800 most had disappeared.)


    THE KARANKAWAS
    inhabited the Gulf coast from Galveston down to Corpus Christi, mainly coastal prairie grassland, cut by streams and occasional forests. Cabeza de Vaca described the Karankawas as tall (6 ft common), well-built, muscular, the men stark naked, with lower lip and nipples pierced, covered in alligator grease (against mosquitos), happy and generous, with amazing physical prowess. "... they go naked in the most burning sun ....- in winter they go out in early dawn to take a bath ... breaking the ice with their body...". With cedar bow and arrow: "... aimed at a bear in the top of a tree ... the arrow went through the body and was propelled 40 to 50 yards beyond ..."; "though impelled nearly 200 yards, the arrows were driven to the feather in the alluvial bank."
    Apache girl From the gulf waters - using dugout canoes - they took oysters, clams, scallops, mollusks, turtles, fish, porpoises, alligators and underwater plants. Deer were hunted, occasional buffalo, bear, peccary, smaller mammals, ducks. Berries, nuts, seeds and other plants were gathered. No foods were continously plentiful, when the harvest was good they gorged at repletion. "unique in their gluttony .... they eat locusts, lice, even human flesh ... raw meat, bear's fat .... passion for spoiled food ...". In spring they might subsist exclusively on oysters, "then for a month they ate blackberries".
    Fires for cooking were built in willow pole shelters. Trade with the inland tribes: conch shells in exchange for skins, red ocher, flint, and deer hair (for tassels).
    A sidenote about atrocities like cannibalism attributed (by European immigrants) to the Karankawas: "... it is much easier to slaughter men and appropriate their land if you can convince yourself that they are despicable, inferior and barely human ..."
    (The first Spanish mission was built 1726, but the proud Karankawas resisted and preferred their own culture and religion. Introduced diseases and other by-products of the European invasion reduced the Karankawas to a remnant, and they were finally exterminated. Some of the last were killed by a party of Texas ranchers in 1858.)



    THE TONKAWAS
    Tonkawa inhabited the central Texas' plains, along streams and rivers on the bison-poor Edwards' Plateau. The Tonkawas wore clothing as protection and not to indicate status - but were painted, tattooed, had earrings and braided hair. They used bison hide tepees, small, squat and crude in typical southern plains fashion, and used dogs as pack animals.
    Deer, bison, rabbits, skunk, rats, tortoises, rattlesnakes, turkey were hunted with bow and arrow. Unlike typical Plains indians, the Tonkawas ate fish and oysters. Wolves and coyotes were avoided for religious reasons - but dogs might be eaten. Most meat was roasted, the surplus preserved as jerky or pemmican (= ground meat and pecan meal). It is alleged that they ritually consumed the flesh of their enemies, probably to acquire the enemy's courage, braveness and spirit.
    (Introduced diseases was probably the major cause of their decline. Scattered remains of Tonkawas survived into the 19th century.)


    THE COMANCHES
    came relatively late to the Texas plains from the north-central plains, probably around 1700. They were the most warlike of the Texas natives - nomadic and mounted warriors who struck swiftly, looted, killed and withdrew. They successfully battled the Spaniards, Mexicans, immigrant Europeans for many years. Their success started with the introduction of the horse in the 17th century - earlier they were poor wandering tribes in search of roots, seeds, jack rabbits, insects and similar.
    Comanche With the horse, the buffalo became the main source of food. Large-scale communal hunts (using bow and arrow, and lances) were common, with dances before the hunts. Elk, antelope and bears were also killed for food - as well as long-horn cattle and mustang ponies. Comanches did not eat fish, fowl, dogs or coyotes - unless starving when they ate anything - rats, skunks, lizards, grasshoppers, decayed meat. They collected a considerable number of wild plants - plums, grapes, currants, juniper berries, mulberries, persimmons, tunas (cactus) - berries and nuts were mainly used to flavor the meat. Meat was often eaten raw, else roasted to some degree. Pemmican (dehydrated ground meat) was popular. Delicacies were: bone marrow, raw liver flavored with gallbladder contents, warm fresh blood, milk and blood sucked from slashed udders of buffalo, antelope, bear, deer, elk.
    Comanches ate a light meal in the morning and a heavier meal in the evening and during the day when they felt hungry.
    Men tattoed face and body, wore silver and brass ear rings, had the hair in two braids and a top scalp lock, but all other body hair was plucked out, even eye brows and lashes. Knee-high bison skin boots, leggings, breech clouts, skin shirts and robes were worn in winter - a small apron in summer.
    (The destruction of the Comanches parallells that of the Kiowas. Harried mercilessly by troops until 1875, when the survivors were settled on an Oklahoma reservation. This in 1892 was divided into private lots.)



    THE LIPAN APACHES
    were geographically widespread, from Arizona to the Texas Panhandle. Warriors cut the hair short on the left side - on the right side it grew long, almost reaching the ground, usually folded and tied with a string. They plucked out beard and eyebrows, and smeared face and body with red and other color paint.
    Apache Buffalo-hunting took place from fall to spring. Deer, antelope, rats, javelinas were hunted to a lesser degree. Wild turkeys were eaten, but other birds were not considered edible. As soon as a big animal had been killed, the hunters ate the raw bloody liver. Other intestines, heads and marrow bones were roasted in pits and eaten. In the women's gardens the raising of maize, beans, squash and pumpkins was an important, if secondary, subsistence, until the 18th century when warfare from Comanches and Spaniards wreaked destruction on any gardens. Some apaches traded meat and salt for maize, pottery and blankets from the pueblos in New Mexico.
    (The eastern Apaches were fragmented and dispersed from the 18th century on when their traditional enemies acquired firearms, and they were unable to. Some sought refuge among the Pueblo peoples and the Kiowas, some disappeared into Mexico.)


    THE KIOWAS
    and the associated Kiowa Apaches were relatively recent invaders of Texas from north, e.g. from South Dakota. Kiowa war-raids covered greater distances than even the Comanches. Warriors cut the hair short on the right side - to display various ear ornaments - on the left side it grew as long as possible, usually wrapped or tied. A scalp lock was also left hanging down behind. Women had the hair in two braids, high moccasins and dresses of deer skin.
    Kiowa Kiowas hunted mainly buffalo, sometimes with the age old driving-animals-over-cliff method. Deer, antelope and small game hunting was minor. They did not eat bears, birds or fish. Wild fruits, berries, roots and nuts were used to break the monotony of the largely meat diet. About Kiowa's hunting skills: "one man near seven feet in stature ... runs down a buffalo on foot, and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side."
    Their bison hide tepees were often decorated with paintings of remarkable artistry. All little Kiowa boys were automatically members of "The Rabbits", and were instructed and drilled in their duties by two grown-up men. Rabbits wore on the back of their head a piece of elk-hide with an erect feather. Later they were invited to join one of the adult warrior societies.
    (The Kiowas fought and resisted until 1875, when they were settled on a Oklahoma reservation. In 1892, this land was divided into private lots, and the Kiowas finally disappeared.)



    THE JUMANOS
    on the southwestern border with Mexico were geographically divided into two distinct groups:
    Apaches (1) the settled gardeners in the Rio Grande valley raised corn, beans, squash, vegetables and cotton, and gathered wild mesquite beans, agave bulbs, and cactus fruits like the tuna. Men went on seasonal hunting expeditions, even far away to hunt bison. (2) The nomadic hunters to the east beyond the Chisos and Davis mountains hunted buffalo and other animals on the southern plains.
    Jumanos built flat-roofed stand-alone houses of timber and mud. Putting hot stones in calabashes with water was a common method to boil the food. Men cut their hair very short up to the middle of the head - from there left it two inches long and curled it with paint to resemble a small cap.
    (Pushed from the north and south, the Jumanos finally had to abandon their villages and culture. Some became wageworking Mexicans, others merged into the Apache population.)



    THE WICHITAS
    migrated southward into east-central Texas as far south as Waco from Kansas during the 17th century, pressured by the Osage peoples and the Europeans.
    house Garden produce - corn, pumpkins, melons, beans, squashes - was more important than meat - bison and other wild game. The gardens were extensive and produced bumper crops, allowing the Wichitas to aggregate in large villages - well fortified with stockade and moat, and forcing even Spanish soldiers to withdraw. The circular houses were erected using cedar posts, willow poles and grass bundles and were surrounded by arbors and platforms for drying meat and vegetables.
    The Wichitas outdid most other native Americans in tattoing face and body. Men were e.g. tattoed on the eyelids, and a horizontal line extended from the outside corner of the eye - and short lines downward from the corners of the mouth. Their name for themselves was "racoon-eyed people". Women were tattoed with numerous zig-zag lines and triangles, and had concentric circles around breasts and mouth. Clothing was loincloth and moccasins for men - prettily garnished skin skirts for women.
    (Tremendous population reduction was caused by ravaging epidemics and 'difficulties' with the Europeans. Survivors ended up in the Oklahoma Wichita reservation from the 1850's.)


    THE ATAKAPANS
    occupied the south-east corner of Texas (around Houston) between Louisiana and San Jacinto river, and along eastern Galveston Bay.
    Wichita girl The coastal tribes lived similar to Karankawas from fishing, hunting, beach-combing and gathering - e.g. shellfish, bird eggs, alligators, oysters, lotus/chinquapin seeds and rhizomes. To kill fish, bone-tipped darts and spears were flung from dug-out canoes, or poisons were sprinkled on the lagoons. Fish were baked in pits or smoked.
    The more inland Atakapans were agricultural with maize as the main crop. Hunting was also important inland, together with gardening - mostly deer was hunted, and a number of smaller animals were trapped. Bears were killed for the skin and fat, the flesh was not eaten.
    Atakapans made conical huts from poles and interwoven vines. Some tribes practised ritualistic cannibalism of killed enemies, and some had deformed heads, possibly from cradle-binding.
    (Epidemics and Spanish agents reduced the Atakapans from 1770, a few intermarried with the Koasatis who are still at the Alabama-Coushatta reservation north of Houston, a few escaped to Oklahoma.)


    THE CADDOES
    in the piney woods of east Texas, from Houston north-eastwards, were highly successful agriculturalists and achieved the highest cultural development among Texas peoples. The tribes of the Caddo confederacies called each others "Tayshas", "friends" , - giving name to "Texas". Examples of tribe names are: Nacogdoches, Natchitoches, Anadarko.
    Comanche In the river valleys in the dense forests the Caddoes raised corn, two crops per year, many varieties of beans, squash, sunflower seeds, tobacco. Coarse corn meal was used for soups and gruel - fine corn meal for bread and tortillas. In season in the hardwood forests, nuts were collected - pecans, acorns, chestnuts, etc. - and wild fruits - plums, cherries, mulberries, blackberries, grapes, etc. - and roots and tubers.
    The only domesticated animal were dogs, and these were used to hunt buffalo and bears. But meat was a subsidiary part of the food supply. Deer were hunted by attracting them through imitation. They hunted wild hogs, prairie chickens, ducks, turkeys, other birds, rabbits, mice, snakes - and fished using trot-lines, very similar to today's trot-lines.
    The Caddoes had elongated heads, tapered off towards the top, by cranial deformation - and were tattoed using charcoal, and painted. They used breech clouts and moccasins from deer skins, and women made dresses from grass and straw. The Caddoes are well known for their fascinating and varied pottery. They had elaborate war preparations, and allegedly practised ritualistic cannibalism of dead enemies. Many sports and games were played for amusement. Women could be tribal chiefs.
    (Epidemics in the 19th century caused such a rapid collapse of these once rich splendid theocracies, that the onrushing American frontier hardly took notice of the remaining Caddoes. Some survivors ended up in the Oklahoma Wichita reservation.)



    Texas map of hunter-gatherers


    CONCLUSION:
    what happened to the Garden? - This is the Slaughterhouse of Eden - eat whatever it takes to survive....
    People were omnivores no doubt - and pretty tall, and seem to have been strong, and fast runners - probably in good shape healthwise. Of course we couldn't find out how long their lifespan was on average.

  • One conclusion must be that it must have been virtually impossible to be a vegetarian in Texas - unless occasionally, like in berry-season.
    The Texas climate is warm, and ranges from (west to east) extremely dry to extremely wet, half-desert to forests, inland to coastal, plains to hill-country. In spite of this diversity there seems to be no place for the Garden of Eden, no place for fruit-vegetable-eaters to survive... If not here - where could it possibly be found?? - The tropics?
  • Another conclusion is that the epidemics may very well have been caused by the new deficient devitalized (high-carbohydrate?) European-style diet that was forced on people - since the sickness and deaths didn't start for many hundreds of years in spite of contact with European germs (from 1500's until the 17 or 1800's).
  • All that exercise must have contributed to good health - but could not be the cause of the tall people (6 ft common, at least among some people). Tallness could be caused by animal proteins. Or was it just genetics of peoples that are now extinct... (It would be interesting to see what happened if the survivors went back to their hunter-gatherer diet again - would the next generations become taller?)
  • Don't you get a hunch that the gardeners were a tiny bit more successful surviving the epidemics? The Coahuiltecans, Karankawas and Tonkawas seem to have died off first - and none were into gardening.... The gardening Wichitas and Caddoes survived on the Wichita reservation into the 20th century. Was this just accidental - or were the gardeners a little bit better adjusted to higher-carbohydrate diets? Was their diet better? Or perhaps they just could easier survive on less property? (Or were they just more acceptable to the Europeans, and therefore not exterminated?)
  • It is interesting to see that the coexistence with dogs obviously started extremely early - in Texas there seems to have been no other domestic animals. Dogs and humans hunted together, that must have been the major reason for the cooperation. And dogs were used for carrying and hauling - in prehorse times.

    What is the best diet?
    The Natives of Texas seem to tell you that animal proteins in abundance can give excellent health - and that abandoning this diet causes sickness and death (esp. according to archeology).
    Most contemporary science is now saying exactly the same thing. Plus, it seems many vegans are abandoning their former all-vegetarian fare because of health problems -- see e.g. this book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith -- here is the first chapter.



    See Dr. Bass website for more on (low-carbohydrate) hunter-gatherer diets, and the problems of (high-carbohydrate) agricultural diets.
    Hygienic physician Dr. Bass was a vegetarian for 50+ years, but is now testing the hunter-gatherer concept in his research.
    He has for a long time warned about high-fruit diet problems, high-carbohydrate vegetarian diet problems and the dangers of veganism.



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