Tigua Indians

By: Bill Wright

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: August 12, 2020

The Tigua (Tiguex, Tiwa, Tihua) Indians of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo of El Paso are descendants of refugees from the Río Abajo or lower Rio Grande pueblos who accompanied the Spanish to El Paso on their retreat from New Mexico during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The settlement established for them was named Ysleta del Sur, or Ysleta of the South, to distinguish it from their former home in Isleta, New Mexico, near what is now Albuquerque. Their original language was Tiwa, which is almost extinct. The New Mexican pueblos where the original language is spoken include Isleta, Sandia, Taos, and Picuris. Some scholars believe the Tiguas at Ysleta were not all originally descended from the mother pueblo of Isleta, New Mexico, but probably represented two contingents-one group from Isleta and the other from Quarai, one of the Salinas pueblos to the southeast that was abandoned in the 1670s as a result of persistent drought and Apache depredations. At the time of first contact by the Coronado expedition the Tiguas were situated in thirteen or more villages, of which at least three comprised 200 or more houses. At the time of the revolt the population of Isleta, New Mexico, was estimated at 2,000. Approximately 317 Tiguas accompanied the Spanish on their retreat to El Paso del Norte. The Tiguas were first mentioned in Carlos E. Castañeda's account of the Coronado expedition as residents of the Tiguex villages encountered by the expedition as it approached the Rio Grande in what is now New Mexico. Later expeditions renewed the contact, and the Tiguas were finally subjugated by Juan de Oñate in 1601, when he established the Spanish colony in Santa Fe. Continued repression of the Tiguas' traditional practices resulted in several conflicts with the Spaniards and culminated in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which drove the Spaniards to El Paso del Norte. The Spaniards launched several unsuccessful counterattacks until the new governor, Antonio de Otermín, reconquered the pueblos in 1692. After the reconquest, some of the refugees returned to Isleta from Ysleta, while others remained in their new home. A census taken in 1750 by Fray Andrés García recorded 500 Indians and fifty-four Spaniards at Ysleta. The census of 1787 listed sixty-three Tigua families or 195 persons. Tribal rolls in 1994 listed 1,463 members of one-eighth blood quantum or greater.

In 1751 the king of Spain made a grant to the Indians of Ysleta pueblo, which was protected by the Spanish and Mexican governments and subsequently recognized by the state of Texas in the 1854 Ysleta Relief Act. The grant comprised thirty-six square miles and surrounded Corpus Christi de la Isleta Mission, which was constructed in 1682. Through various acts of the Texas legislature and unscrupulous land promoters, however, the Tiguas lost all of their land; not until the 1871 Incorporation Act was land specifically made available to them. They were recognized as a tribe by the state of Texas in May 1967 and placed under the jurisdiction of the Commission of Indian Affairs. In 1969 the tribe filed legal action to claim the Ysleta land grant, as well as land in El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Presidio, and Jeff Davis counties, which they claimed was traditionally used for hunting, food gathering, and religious purposes.

Tigua tribal organization follows the Puebloan or Spanish model. The cacique, elected by the tribal council for life, is the religious leader, and the governor, elected by the tribal council, is the administrative officer. Other officials include lieutenant governor, war captain, alguacil, captains, mayordomos, and council members, who are elected by the men of the tribe. Since 1967 a few women have been elected to council positions, but traditionalists resist women as tribal officers. Traditional Tigua kinship was matrilineal; the home and land belonged to the mother's clan group. By the turn of the century, this traditional kinship pattern was replaced by the Hispanic patrilineal system. Marriage ceremonies were formally Catholic in nature, but recently there has been an increasing recognition of the native religion, and some weddings are a blend of both. There is also a small but growing evangelical Protestant movement. For those who take an active role in the traditional rituals of the tribe, puberty rites are performed in secret meetings by the tribal elders. The Tiguas of Ysleta are increasingly interacting with other tribes through various organizations. The Isleta group of the Tiguas has officially recognized the Ysleta group, but some of the former continue to harbor suspicions that the Ysleta group's blood quantum is so diluted that the tribe is completely Hispanicized.

Today the Tiguas of Ysleta del Sur occupy about twenty-six acres of trust land and live in housing built by government loans on the reservation or in the El Paso community. On ceremonial occasions the men don calico-fringed jackets, which resemble the old leather jackets in historic photographs, and the women wear pueblo dresses adopted during the Spanish period. The Tiguas' principal public celebration is Fiesta de San Antonio, held on June 13. Many tribe members work for the tribe in various administrative and service jobs, including staffing the gambling facility permitted by the state of Texas. In 1993 the Tiguas began the process of establishing high-stakes bingo on the trust land at Ysleta. They were denied permission by the state of Texas to also offer additional forms of gambling such as blackjack and slot machines. The tribe responded by filing a cause of action against the state. The resulting judgment, though favorable to the tribe, was held pending results of an appeal by the state of Texas. See also YSLETA DEL SUR PUEBLO MUSEUM, and YSLETA, TX.

Dallas Morning News, January 29, 1989. Rex E. Gerald, ed., Aboriginal Use and Occupation by Tigua, Manso, and Suma Indians (New York: Garland, 1974). Frederick Webb Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1907, 1910; rpt., New York: Pageant, 1959). Joe S. Sando, The Pueblo Indians (San Francisco: Indians Historian Press, 1976). Bill Wright, The Tiguas: Pueblo Indians of Texas (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1993).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Tribes (Major)

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

Bill Wright, “Tigua Indians,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/tigua-indians.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 12, 2020