Hasinai Indians

By: Russell M. Magnaghi

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: November 9, 2020

The Hasinai Indians belong to the Caddoan linguistic stock, a large family that includes the Arikara, Pawnee, Wichita, Kitsai, and Caddo Indians. The southern group included the Kadohadachos and Caddos proper, as well as the Nanatsoho, Nasoni, upper Natchitoches, and Cahinnio Indians of Arkansas and, in east Texas, the Hasinais. The last group was composed of eight tribes: Hainai, Neches, Nacogdoche, Nacono (Nacao, Naconish), Namidish, (Nabiti, Nawidish), Nasoni, Anadarko, and perhaps Nabedache. The Hasinais occupied a compact area in the middle Neches and upper Angelina valleys and were seen as the socially most advanced and historically the most important group in the region. The names Texas and Hasinai were used interchangeably. The term Texas or Tejas was the Indian form of greeting which meant "friend" (see TEXAS, ORIGIN OF NAME). The term Hasinai or its variations (Aseney, Asinai, Asinay, Assinais, or Iones) means "our own people." Today among the descendants of these Caddoan people in Oklahoma the term Hasinai has been revived.

Archeologists continue to study the Hasinai origins, and their work is inconclusive. The George Davis site (Cherokee County), an early Caddoan site (ca. A.D. 780–1260), appeared suddenly as a major regional center with a substantial residential population. The number of Caddoan settlements in central East Texas increased after about A.D. 1300–1400, but none was as large as the Davis site. The cultural core of the Caddoan region was characterized by intensive horticultural pursuits based on maize, beans, and squash. At the Davis site was found a village composed of oval to circular shaped houses that were probably covered with mats or grass thatch like later Hasinai dwellings. The temple and interment mounds and the lack of them elsewhere indicate that this was a politico-religious ceremonial center that was accompanied by a hierarchy within the social system. These people planned such centers, directed construction, utilized them, and then were given elaborate burials. The evidence available suggests a theocracy. The origin of Hasinai ceremonialism could have been indigenous, but it could have also come from outside sources. Some aspects were probably indigenous and brought from the east. Other aspects might have been from indigenous interaction with ideas from Mesoamerica. Those ideas would relate to temple mounds, inclusion of polished and engraved ceramics as grave goods, and the manufacture and use of certain nonutilitarian objects. Before the advent of Europeans the culture exhibited some regional variations, and the area occupied by the Caddoan-speakers was slightly constricted. There was also a lessening of the Southeastern Cultural Complex with its elaborate ceremonialism and mound burials. At the same time, there was an infusion of cultural traits from the Plains. In the seventeenth century, when the French and Spanish first visited the Hasinais, they found an agricultural people living in riverine hamlets or rancherías, who augmented their traditional diet with small game, fish, bear, and buffalo.

The Hasinai Confederacy was centered in the Hainai village and was headed by the chenesi (xinesi), a religious leader regarded as the head civil chief. Subordinate to him were the chiefs or caddis of the individual tribes, who were assisted by administrative functionaries called canahas (or cayahas), chayas, and tammas. Important business of the tribe was transacted in councils of the principal men. There were also elected war chiefs whose authority was confined to the period of campaign. The visible unit of the Hasinai village was the household; eight to ten families lived in a lodge. A clan organization existed among the Hasinais, but the details are lacking. Many economic, religious, and social activities were of a communal nature. The Hasinai believed in a creator whom they called the Caddi Ayo or Great Chief, and they had other gods or deities whom they called upon for help in their daily lives. They maintained an elaborate ceremonial religion centered around a main fire temple cared for by the chenesi. Coninisi (two boys) acted as intermediaries between the chenesi and the Caddo Ayo.

During the Spanish and French regimes the Hasinai people survived by using the best of both colonial powers. By the 1790s disease, alcoholism, cultural decline, and the intrusion of White and Indian settlers caused the decline of these people. The Hasinais were forced out of their homeland at the end of the Cherokee War (1839). With the Caddos and smaller tribes they migrated to the west and northwest and eventually settled in the vicinity of Fort Worth. Caught between the advancing White frontier and the hostile Plains Indians, they were eventually removed to Oklahoma in 1859 by Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors. Today they live in Caddo County, Oklahoma.

Herbert Eugene Bolton, The Hasinais: Southern Caddoans as Seen by the Earliest Europeans, ed. Russell M. Magnaghi (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). Hiram F. Gregory, ed., The Southern Caddo: An Anthology (New York: Garland, 1986). Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540–1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). Russell M. Magnaghi, "Changing Material Culture and the Hasinai of East Texas," Southern Studies 20 (Winter 1981). William W. Newcomb, The Indians of Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961). Dee Ann Story, Cultural History of the Native Americans, in Archeology and Bioarcheology of the Gulf Coast Plain (Research Series No. 38, Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archeological Survey, 1990). John R. Swanton, Source Material on the History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 132, Washington: GPO, 1942).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Tribes (Other)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Russell M. Magnaghi, “Hasinai Indians,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hasinai-indians.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 9, 2020