Jumano Indians

By: Nancy P. Hickerson

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 27, 2019

Between 1500 and 1700 the name Jumanos was used to identify at least three distinct peoples of the Southwest and South Plains. They include the Tompiro-speaking Pueblo Indians in Salinas, a nomadic trading group based around the Rio Grande and Río Conchos, and the Caddoan-speaking Wichitas along the Arkansas River and Red River basins. Although they ranged over much of northern Mexico, New Mexico, and Texas, their most enduring territorial base was in central Texas between the lower Pecos River and the Colorado. The Jumanos were buffalo hunters and traders, and played an active role as middlemen between the Spanish colonies and various Indian tribes. Historical documents refer to Jumana, Humana, Sumana, Chouman, Xoman, and other variants of the name; but Jumano has been the standard form in twentieth-century scholarship. Other names mentioned in connection with the Jumanos, as closely allied or subordinate groups, include Cíbolos, Jediondos, and Caguates. Early scholars pondered the mystery of their virtual disappearance from the historical record around 1700. Further, the scattered distribution of the Jumanos, in bands, rancherías, and villages at widely separated locations led to disagreement about their identity. This has been termed the "Jumano problem." One solution, widely accepted since 1940, was to draw a distinction between "true" Jumanos-the nomadic bands in the South Plains-and other groups who also practiced facial painting and were therefore called Jumanos. However, this idea now appears simplistic, since many interconnections, suggestive of a shared cultural and linguistic identity, appear to link most, if not all, of the groups. There are no substantial records of the Jumanos' language, and their linguistic identity has been the subject of considerable debate. An early scholar believed that they were Caddoans, ancestral to the Wichitas. Others have suggested a Uto-Aztecan or Athabascan affiliation. A recent study has argued that the Jumanos spoke a Tanoan language. If they did, this would link them with the eastern Pueblos of New Mexico and would imply that their ancestral ties lay within or near the Rio Grande valley. Although few direct connections between historic and prehistoric sites have been demonstrated, clues of geographical distribution and cultural similarity suggest that the Jumanos were descendants of a prehistoric Jornada Mogollón population indigenous to this region.

Spanish explorers sometimes referred to the Jumanos as "naked" Indians because their breasts and genitalia were not covered. However, both men and women did wear garments and shoes (probably moccasins) of tanned skins. Women had brief skirts or aprons and short sleeveless tunics, and both men and women used capes or cloaks for protection against the weather. Men cut their hair short, decorated it with paint, and left one long lock to which the feathers of various birds might be tied. Women may have worn their hair long or in braids. The Jumanos were characterized as a rayado (striped) people because of a distinctive pattern of facial marking in horizontal lines or bars. The medium may have been tattooing or some combination of scarification and paint. This practice, probably an adaptation to their traditional role in intertribal trade, made them immediately recognizable. Nomadic Jumanos used skin tepees. Stone circles near La Junta de los Ríos and elsewhere have been tentatively interpreted as evidence of this type of housing. Those living at more permanent rancherías built houses of reeds or sticks, while those in the pueblos of New Mexico had masonry houses. The Jumanos hunted with bow and arrow. Spaniards remarked on the strength of their "Turkish" bows (reinforced with sinew). In war, they used clubs, or cudgels, of hardwood. Jumano traders supplied arrows, and perhaps bows as well, from La Junta to the Indians of central and eastern Texas. Evidence of trade from the Tompiro region of New Mexico may be seen in the large quantities of potsherds, of local types such as Chupadero black-on-white, found over a wide region of the South Plains. Jumanos supplied corn, dried squashes, beans, and other produce from the farming villages, in exchange for pelts, meat, and other buffalo products, and foods such as piñon nuts, mesquite beans, and cactus fruits. Other trade goods included textiles, turquoise, exotic feathers, mineral pigments, shells, salt (from salines in New Mexico and near the lower Pecos), and possibly hallucinogens (including peyote, which was available at La Junta). The Jumanos obtained horses early, probably via their connections in Nueva Vizcaya, and may have been instrumental in introducing their use to the Caddo, Tonkawa, and other Texas tribes.

Documentary evidence focuses three geographical regions for the Jumanos: Nueva Vizcaya, New Mexico, and Texas. In 1535 Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca visited the "People of the Cows," believed to have been a Jumano group, near La Junta, in Nueva Viscaya. The earliest recorded use of the name Jumano, in 1581, was Antonio de Espejo's reference to villagers at La Junta. However, modern scholars do not agree on the nature of the Jumano presence there. Both Hernán Gallegos, in 1581, and Diego Pérez de Luxán, in 1582, indicated that the population at La Junta included two distinct groups, speaking different languages: the Abriaches (or Cabris), whose settlements extended up the Río Conchos from La Junta, and the Otomoacas (or Amotomancos), whose language was similar to that of the Caguates, their upstream neighbors. According to Pérez, the nomadic Jumanos of the lower Pecos were similar in language, clothing, and appearance to these Patarabuey villagers, with whom they had trade relations. It appears that the situation at La Junta may have been analogous to that in New Mexico, where nomadic Jumanos from the plains periodically visited, and sometimes lived among, their village-dwelling trading partners and kin. After the return of the Espejo-Beltrán expedition, little is known of the La Junta region for roughly a century. In 1684, at the instigation of the Jumano chief Juan Sabeata, Franciscans from New Mexico founded the missions of La Navidad en las Cruces and Apostol Santiago, to accommodate the La Junta tribes and refugees from Apache depredations elsewhere. Over the next decade Sabeata evidently resided at La Junta and led annual trading expeditions to conduct "trade fairs" with Indian groups of central and eastern Texas, including the Tejas (Caddo) Indians. For at least part of this time, Juan Sabeata was a Spanish-appointed native governor, and the Jumanos and Cíbolos under his command served as scouts and mercenaries in fighting against rebellious Tobosos and Chisos.

In 1598, Juan de Oñate received oaths of loyalty from caciques of three Jumano villages of Genobey, Pataoece, and Cueloce, located in the second geographical focus, Tompiro Province, adjacent to the Salinas of New Mexico. The two smaller pueblos may soon have been evacuated and the Jumano population consolidated at the larger pueblo of Cueloce, which came to be called "the pueblo of the Humanas" or simply "Las Humanas" (now the Gran Quivira ruins). In 1601, Vicente de Zaldívar led a punitive expedition to this site to put down a rebellion, instigated by the Jumanos but also involving other pueblos of the region. The Jumanos still had a reputation for rebelliousness in 1627, when Fray Alonso de Benavides began active missionizing of the Tompiro Province. The church of San Isidro was built at that time, and was briefly supervised by Fray Francisco Letrado. Las Humanas was then a satellite of the Abo mission until 1660, when Fray Diego Santander became resident priest and built the large church of San Buenaventura. Las Humanas was a frontier trading center frequented by nomadic Jumanos, who in 1629 petitioned Fray Juan de Salas to visit their rancherías in the plains. When these rancherías were subsequently evacuated, the Franciscans resettled the refugees in the Salinas, near the missions of Quarai and Las Humanas. Las Humanas became increasingly inaccessible to Jumano traders, as their Apache enemies came to dominate the plains to the east. New Mexican colonists then began to make annual trading trips to the Jumano base on the Río Nueces. This site was also visited by military parties from New Mexico in 1650 and 1654. During a famine in the 1660s, more than 400 people died of starvation at Las Humanas. In the same years, Apache raiding became endemic to the region. The Tompiros were deserted by 1670, and the remaining Jumano population was reportedly removed to the newly founded mission of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, south of El Paso. In October 1683, Juan Sabeata led a delegation of Indians to El Paso to petition Fray Nicolás López, the Franciscan padre custodio, and Don Gironza Petris de Cruzate, governor of New Mexico, to send missionary and military assistance for the Jumanos and their allies at La Junta and in Texas.

In 1540 the Coronado expedition found "Querechos" (Apaches) and "Teyas" at war in the plains east of the northern Pueblo villages, in what is now Texas. The Teyas may have been Jumanos, though some scholars insist they were Caddos. In 1598, Zaldívar learned of the ongoing Jumano-Apache war near Pecos Pueblo. Three years later Oñate's expedition encountered a large settlement of people, called Jumanos by the accompanying New Mexican Indians, near the Arkansas River on the southern frontier of Quivira; this group is usually assumed to have been part of the Wichita tribe. In his Memoir of 1634, Benavides stated that the Apaches controlled the plains east of New Mexico for a distance of more than 100 leagues. By midcentury, refugees from the plains were sheltered in New Mexico, and others had withdrawn to the Río Nueces (the region of the upper Colorado and Concho, near the site of San Angelo). Spanish expeditions traveled there by descending the Pecos. However, this route was early abandoned by the Jumanos, probably because of the Apache occupancy of the Guadalupe Mountains. The Río Nueces was linked to La Junta by a chain of Jumano settlements on the lower Pecos, Toyah Creek, and the Davis Mountains. In January 1684, after founding the missions at La Junta, Nicolás López was joined by Capt. Juan Domínguez de Mendoza and twenty New Mexican troops from El Paso. The soldiers and friars were escorted toward the Río Nueces by Juan Sabeata and a mixed party of Indians, to meet with representatives of more than thirty tribes and bands. Lists of these Indian "nations," as given by Sabeata and by Domínguez de Mendoza, include the "kingdoms" of Quivira and the Tejas as well as the Emets, Tohojos, Acanis, Papanes, and many whose names are not now recognizable. The Indians hoped to make an alliance with Spain in order to halt further Apache advances into their territories. However, en route to central Texas, Domínguez de Mendoza broke off relations with the Jumano governor, and the expedition became, in effect, a Spanish buffalo-hunting trip. Thereafter, most of the Indian representatives failed to appear, to the disappointment of López, who had hoped for a new mission field in Texas to replace that recently lost in New Mexico. During the last decades of the seventeenth century, Spaniards from Coahuila encountered mounted Jumanos at locations including the Guadalupe River and Anacacho Mountain, near Eagle Pass. Members of La Salle's colony also became acquainted with the Jumanos while visiting and trading with the Hasinais. Their accounts document the role of the Jumanos of this period as middlemen in supplying Spanish goods and horses to the tribes of central, southern, and eastern Texas.

Much of what has seemed mysterious or problematical in reference to the Jumanos becomes less so when they are seen in the larger context of intergroup relations in the greater Southwest. On the western edge of the plains, bands of Jumano hunter-gatherers had long-established dealings with related farming villages in the Rio Grande valley, maintained through reciprocal exchange of food and other products. These relations were initially disrupted when the eastern Apaches, relative newcomers to the Southwest, began to extend their range into the South Plains. There, they competed with the Jumanos for hunting territories and for control of trade with the village tribes. But the trade in New Mexico was only a segment of an extended network, in which the Jumanos were also trading partners and allies of the distant Caddos and Wichitas, as well as numerous small groups of central and southern Texas. Their war with the Apaches was, in part, a defense of territory but was also a struggle to control trade routes and to preserve the integrity of this regional system. The Apache invasion of the South Plains was already under way in the sixteenth century, when Spanish entradas into the region began. Over the course of the following century, Apache dominance increased and the Jumanos were forced to retreat. Colonists in New Mexico and Nueva Vizcaya traded with the Jumanos, who became middlemen in supplying Spanish goods to the eastern tribes, while providing buffalo pelts and furs in exchange. The presence of Spanish forces in New Mexico may have served to stabilize relations between the Pueblos and Apaches to a degree. However, repeated Jumano efforts to secure Spanish aid in defense of their territories in the plains were ineffective. By the end of the seventeenth century, when Apache dominance extended into the lower Rio Grande valley and reached eastward to the upper Brazos and Colorado Rivers, the Jumanos had lost their entire territorial base, their trade routes were broken, and they ceased to exist as an identifiably distinct people. In the west, many Jumanos-like members of other defeated groups-were eventually incorporated into Apache bands. In central Texas, Jumanos were found among the detribalized Indians of the Ranchería Grande, and others may have taken refuge among their eastern allies. Finally, it is possible that a segment of the Jumanos-perhaps the horse-herding people of the Río Nueces-survived to become the nucleus of the Kiowa Indians, who appeared in the central plains toward the end of the eighteenth century.

Herbert E. Bolton, "The Jumano Indians in Texas, 1650–1771," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 15 (July 1911). Charles W. Hackett, ed., Pichardo's Treatise on the Limits of Louisiana and Texas (4 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1931–46). Nancy Parrott Hickerson, The Jumanos: Hunters and Traders of the South Plains (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994). J. Charles Kelley, "Juan Sabeata and Diffusion in Aboriginal Texas," American Anthropologist 57 (October 1955). F. V. Scholes and H. P. Mera, "Some Aspects of the Jumano Problem," Contributions to American Anthropology and History 6 (1940).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Tribes (Major)

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

Nancy P. Hickerson, “Jumano Indians,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/jumano-indians.

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April 27, 2019