Reconstructing the Mexican state's native past
John P. Schmal
The state of Tamaulipas is located in the northeastern portion of the Mexican Republic. It shares common borders with the Mexican States of Nuevo León (to the west), San Luis Potosí (to the southwest) and Veracruz (to the south). It also shares its northern boundary with the American state of Texas. On the east, Tamaulipas also has a 458-kilometer long coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.
Published on LatinoLA: February 4, 2014
With a total of 80,249 square kilometers, Tamaulipas is divided into 43 municipios and occupies 4.1% of the national territory. However, Tamaulipas' 3,268,554 inhabitants make up only 2.9% of the national population of the Mexican Republic. The capital of Tamaulipas is Ciudad Victoria. The northern, central, eastern and southeastern regions of Tamaulipas mainly consist of hills and coastal plains that expand westward into the Sierra Madre Oriental. Only the western and southwestern regions of the State include the high mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental.
Origin of the Name
There are several theories about the origins of the name Tamaulipas, the most accepted of which states that Tamaulipas means "high mountain." The name is believed to derive from the Huasteca word, "Tamaholipa." Tam means "in" or "the place of." While some say that Tamaulipas means "the place of high mountains," others historians believe it means "the place where people pray a lot."
The investigator Gabriel Saldívar y Silva theorized in "Los Indios de Tamaulipas" (Institute de Instituto Panamericano de Geografia e Historia Publication No. 70: Distrito Federal, 1943) that the indigenous peoples of Tamaulipas represented an Eastern branch of Paleo-Americans that had probably arrived in the region from New Mexico, Coahuila and Texas thousands of years ago.
Conquest of the Huastecas
The first Spanish expedition to reach Tamaulipas was led by Hernández de Córdoba and Juan Grijalva (1518). A few years later, after taking control of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) and the Aztec Empire in August 1521, the Conquistador Hernán Cortés marched toward Huasteco territory on the Gulf Coast with a large force of Spaniards and Mexica auxiliaries. The Huasteco Indians, who speak a form of the Mayan language, today occupy 55 municipios in the modern-day states of Veracruz, San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo, as well as smaller regions of southern Tamaulipas and Querétaro. It is believed that they were isolated from the rest of the Maya and evolved separately and may have arrived in the area as early as 200 A.D. Under Aztec rule, the Huastecos occupied two Aztec provinces, Atlan and Tochpan.
After meeting with considerable resistance, Cortés defeated the Huastecos and founded the Villa de San Esteban in 1522. However, subsequent revolts by the Huastecos in October-December 1523 and 1525-26 were put down with great cruelty. In spite of their battles with both the Mexica and the Spaniards, the Huastecos continue to survive today, maintaining many aspects of their traditional culture and language. In fact, Huastecan music and dancing have influenced the musical folklore of Mexico.
After the conquest of the Huastecas, the Spaniards explored the Tamaulipas coastline up to the Rio Grande during the late 1520s. Then, in 1530, Franciscan missionaries began their work in the southern area of Tamaulipas, creating the first mission for the Huastecan and Pame Indians. In the decades that followed, Spanish slaving parties ranged northward into what they called "Chichimec" territory in an attempt to find natives for the profitable trade in Indian slaves. The slaving activity reached a crescendo in the 1580s and was continued later in a disguised form under the system of "congregas" by which entire rancherías were rounded up and transported to Nuevo Leon.
However, native attacks eventually pushed the Spaniards back to the Tamesí River in southern Tamaulipas. For the next century-and-a-half, the Spanish authorities became more focused on subduing other areas of Mexico and paid little attention to most of this area. Not until 1747 did extensive European colonization begin with the founding of the "Nuevo Santander" colony.
The Seno Mexicano
By the end of the Sixteenth Century, Spanish settlement was moving northward along the western slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental toward the Rio Grande River that today represents the border between Texas and Tamaulipas. The Spanish movement became even more targeted in the early Seventeenth Century when Spain recognized that the French advance down the Mississippi River represented a threat to its colonial empire. This prompted the Spaniards to establish missions and presidios in east Texas in 1716. Two years later, the mission of San Antonio de Valero (later known as "The Alamo"), was established.
However, according to Hubert J. Miller, in "Jose de Escandon: Colonizer of Nuevo Santander" (1980), the Spanish advance into Texas bypassed the area called the "Seno Mexicano," which extended from the Pánuco River at Tampico to the Nueces River in Texas. Inland, it stretched to the Sierra Madre Oriental, a distance that ranged between 100 and 150 miles. This region encompassed nearly all of present-day Tamaulipas and the southern triangle of Texas below the Nueces River.
Indigenous Groups in the Seno Mexicano
According to Miller, there were an estimated 80 Indian tribes that occupied the Seno Mexicano prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonists in the mid-Eighteenth Century (the Nuevo Santander settlement). Studies indicate that some thirty dialects were spoken, many of them closely related to one another and probably originating from a trunk language. The more advanced tribes tended to live in communities consisting of four to five hundred persons.
Early observers noted that these small tribal groups appeared to be at war with each other a great deal and had minimal contact with native groups outside of their immediate areas. Most of their languages have been lost to history. The primary sources of information available about these Tamaulipas indigenous groups are:
• Gabriel Saldivar, "Los Indios de Tamaulipas" (Mexico City: Pan American Institute of Geography and History, 1943).
• J. R. Swanton, "Linguistic Material from the Tribes of Southern Texas and Northeastern Mexico" (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1940).
• Rudolph C. Troike, "Notes on Coahuiltecan Ethnography," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 32 (1962).
• Thomas N. Campbell, "Coahuiltecans and Their Neighbors," in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 10 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1983).
According to Saldivar, when the Spaniards arrived, they found four cultures in the area of present-day Tamaulipas. Each of the four groups are discussed below.
Grupos del Norte (the Coahuiltecans)
The Groups of the North were primitive, nomadic groups that lived mainly in the area between the Purificación and Bravo Rivers (The Río Bravo is known as the Rio Grande to Americans today). These numerous small northern Tamaulipas tribes appeared to speak closely-related languages and shared the same basic culture. Because the Spaniards did not initially take an interest in describing individual native groups or classifying them into ethnic and linguistic groups, major dialectic and cultural contrasts went unclassified for a long time.
The first attempt at classification was based on language, and came after most of the Indian groups had already gone extinct (or assimilated). Eventually, scholars constructed the so-called "Coahuiltecan culture" by assembling bits of specific and generalized information recorded by Spaniards from widely scattered parts of the region.
Today, we recognize that the Coahuiltecans were made up of hundreds of small, autonomous, distinctively named Indian groups that lived by hunting, gathering and fishing. It was their practice to move from one traditional campsite to another, following herds of migrating animals and tracking seasonal changes. The Coahuiltecans were tattooed and wore a breechcloth or hide skirt, fiber sandals, and, in bad weather, they covered themselves with animal hides. Animal teeth, bones, feathers, stones, and seeds were worn as jewelry and sometimes woven into their intricately braided hair. Shelter consisted of small temporary huts of brush or grass, sensible structures given their way of life and the climate of the area over which they ranged.
The Coahuiltecans ranged through a large area that included most of present-day Coahuila, Nuevo León, northern Tamaulipas and southern Texas (north to San Antonio River). A large number of the small tribal groups or bands belonging to the Coahuiltecan stock remain unknown to this day and even their locations – in many cases – is not clear.
Grupos de la Sierra Madre (i.e., Janambres, Pizones, Pames, Anacah)
The Groups of the Sierra Madre – such as the Pizones and Janambres – were semi-sedentary groups who occupied caves and projections within the mountains. They lived by hunting and practiced a very rudimentary form of agriculture. The groups of the Sierra Madre were very belligerent and initially opposed the Spanish incursions, but eventually were assimilated.
A more detailed discussion of the Coahuiltecan Indians can be accessed at the following link:
Grupos de Tamaulipas (i.e., Contetunas, Tagualilos, Maguagues, Caramiguay)
The Tamaulipas groups included some sedentary peoples who were dedicated to agriculture, with well-structured religious practices. The Tamaulipec groups were mainly small tribes that occupied the central and southeastern parts of the present-day state. Today, it is believed that the so-called Tamaulipecan family was related the Coahulitecans. Through their Coahuiltecan ties, it is believed that the Tamaulipecs were part of the Hokan language group, but very few fragments of their languages survive today. However, Miller notes that "there is evidence that some of their words may still be present in the language of the Mexican American people in the south Texas area." It is likely that the Tamaulipecs also have some connection to the Karankawan and Tonkawan groups to the north of them (in Texas).
Grupo de Hauxteco (Huastecos)
The fourth Tamaulipas group, the Huastecas – discussed in more detail earlier – were a more advanced group that extended through much of Veracruz and merely occupied the southern portion of the present-day State of Tamaulipas. Miller referred to the Huastecas as "the cultural heirs of the Olmec civilization." The Huasteca cultivated cotton (which they supplied to the Aztec Empire), maintained trade with other indigenous groups to the west, built artificial terraces and raised domesticated animals.
A list of some of the Coahuiltecan and Tamaulipecan groups and their locations is shown below:
• The Anachiguaies were located around Escandón.
• The Apostatas were in the vicinity of Burgos.
• The Aracanaes were found near Altamira.
• The Atanaguaypacam were a Coahuiltecan group that lived on the Gulf Coast near the mouth of the Rio Grande. In the middle Eighteenth Century their settlements were reported to be along the shores of the numerous small bays and islands near the mouth of the Rio Grande.
• The Borrados occupied the area near Dolores.
• The Cacalotes inhabited the area around Mier.
• The Cadimas occupied the area about Guemes.
• The Camaleones lived near Santillán.
• The Carrizos lived around Camargo.
• The Comecamotes lived near Soto la Marina.
• The Comecrudo – known to the Spaniards as "raw meat eaters," were a Coahuiltecan people who lived along the south bank of the Rio Grande near Reynosa and hunted and gathered wild plant foods on both sides of the river. At times the Comecrudo Indians were also referred to as Carrizo, a Spanish name applied to many Coahuiltecan groups along the Rio Grande below Laredo. In 1886 the ethnologist A. S. Gatschet found a few elderly Comecrudo near Reynosa who could still speak their native language. Gatschet's Comecrudo vocabulary and texts helped to establish the linguistic affiliations of many Indian groups of southern Texas and northeastern Mexico.
• The Inocoplo – also known as Barroso, Mesquite, Mulato, Serrano and Sincoalne, originally lived in along the Purificacion River near Hoyos in Central Tamaulipas. However, when their area was brought under Spanish control during the second half of the Eighteenth Century, the Inocoplos moved northward. Some of them entered the San Antonio de Valero Mission of San Antonio in 1784-85 under the names Gincape (Inocoplo) and Mulato.
• Cuero Quemado (Spanish for "burnt skin") was applied to a Coahuiltecan-speaking band that ranged both sides of the lower Rio Grande during the second half of the Eighteenth century. Cuero Quemado may have been a local Spanish name for a downstream group of Tepemaca Indians, who occupied the Rio Grande valley in the area between Laredo and Rio Grande City.
• The Cotoname (also known as Catanamepaque, Cotomane, Cotonan) lived on both sides of the Rio Grande below the sites of Camargo and future Rio Grande City, where they were sometimes called Carrizo, a Spanish name applied to many Coahuiltecan groups along the Rio Grande below Laredo. In 1886 a few Cotoname Indians were still living at La Noria Ranch in southern Hidalgo County and at Las Prietas in northern Tamaulipas.
• The Cootajanam (Cootajan), apparently a Coahuiltecan group, reportedly had settlements on the north bank of the Lower Rio Grande in the area of present-day Cameron and Hidalgo counties.
• The Concuguyapem (Couguyapem), apparently a Coahuiltecan group, lived on the north bank of the Rio Grande between present Zapata and Rio Grande City.
• The Lugplapiagulam (Hueplapiagulam) lived along the lower Rio Grande in the area between present Rio Grande City and the mouth of the river. Their name is said to mean "ground chili pepper." The maps of Jiménez Moreno and G. Saldivar place this group in the area of present Zapata County.
• The Mariguanes lived near Horcasitas in Southern Tamaulipas.
• The Masacuajulam (Imasacuajulam) lived along the lower Rio Grande somewhere between present-day Zapata and the mouth of the river in the middle Eighteenth Century. Their name is said to mean "those who travel alone."
• The Mayapem (Mallopeme) – a Coahuiltecan tribe – ranged on both sides of the Rio Grande in southern Texas and northern Tamaulipas during the Eighteenth Century. In the latter half of that century they entered missions on the south bank of the River: San Agustín de Laredo at Camargo and San Joaquín del Monte near Reynosa.
• The Parampamatuju (Parammatugu) lived along the Rio Grande between Camargo, Tamaulipas and the mouth of the River. The maps of Jiménez Moreno and Saldivar place the Parampamatujus on the north bank of the Rio Grande in modern Hidalgo County. The name is said to mean "men who are painted bright red."
• The Perpepug lived below the present Rio Grande City along the Lower Rio Grande. The maps of Jiménez Moreno and Saldivar show them on the north bank of the river in what is now Zapata County. The name is said to mean "white heads," which suggests some distinctive form of head decoration, perhaps painting or a special kind of head dress.
• The Perpacug (Pexpacux) may havge lived on the north bank of the Rio Grande near the Gulf Coast, probably in what is now Starr County.
• The Peupuetem (Peupuepuem) probably lived on the north bank of the Lower Rio Grande in the middle Eighteenth Century, somewhere in the area present-day Cameron and Hidalgo counties. The name is said to mean "those who speak differently."
• The Pinto Indians lived on both sides of the Rio Grande at locations that included San Fernando, Tamaulipas and the area of present-day Reynosa-McAllen. In 1757 there was a Pinto settlement in what is now southern Hidalgo County. Some Pinto families entered the missions of San Fernando and Nuevo Santander in northern Tamaulipas. A few descendants of the Pinto Indians were still living near Reynosa as late as 1900.
• The Sainoscos lived near Padilla.
• The Salapaque (Alapagueme, Saulapaguet, Talapagueme, Zalapagueme) were a Coahuiltecan band that lived on both sides of the lower Rio Grande but mainly on the south side at various points between Matamoros and Reynosa in northern Tamaulipas. Some entered missions at Reynosa and Camargo, where they remained until well after 1800.
• The Segujulapem – who spoke a Coahuiltecan language – had settlements on the north bank, had settlements on the north bank of the Rio Grande in what is now Cameron and Hidalgo counties. The name is said to mean "those who live in the huisaches" (shrubs).
• The Sepinpacam lived on the north bank of the Rio Grande in what is now Cameron and Hidalgo counties. The name, which is said to mean "salt makers," suggests that this was one of the Coahuiltecan bands that produced salt at La Sal Vieja, a salt lake at a nearby site, later in Willacy County.
• The Serranos lived along the Rio Purificacion near Santa Barbara.
• The Sibayones lived near Aguayo and Río de los Infantes in southern Tamaulipas. They were also identified with the Pizones.
• The Sumi are probably the same as the Samacoalapem, who lived on the south bank of the Rio Grande between Camargo and Mier, Tamaulipas.
• The Tejón (Texón) Indians is a Coahuiltecan band whose name is Spanish for "badger." They lived along the south bank of the Rio Grande in the vicinity of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, when it was founded in the middle of the Eighteenth Century. After Reynosa was settled, some Tejóns moved to the Río San Juan about twenty-five miles from Camargo, where they remained until after 1800. Along with other Coahuiltecan bands on the lower Rio Grande, the Tejóns were sometimes referred to as Carrizos. In 1886 a group of Carrizos, apparently including a few Tejóns, was living near Charco Escondido about twenty miles south of Reynosa, and as late as 1907 some Tejóns still lived near Reynosa at a community known as Las Prietas.
• The Tepemacas – a Coahuiltecan-speaking group – ranged along both sides of the Rio Grande in the area between Laredo and Rio Grande City and also along the Río Alamo upstream from Mier. The Tepemacas appear to be closely related to the Cuero Quemados, who lived farther down the Rio Grande, and it has been suggested that both names refer to the same people.
• Clancluiguyguen: this Coahuiltecan band – also known as Tlanchuguin – lived on the north bank of the Rio Grande between present-day Zapata and Rio Grande City.
• The Uscapem (Iscapan) Indians, who were probably Coahuiltecans, lived on the lower Rio Grande. In the middle eighteenth century their main settlements were east of Reynosa, Tamaulipas. They also foraged and camped on the Texas side of the river, particularly in the area of Cameron and Hidalgo counties.
• Unpuncliegut (Hunzpunzliegut) Indians, who probably spoke Coahuiltecan, lived on the southern part of the Texas coast. In the middle eighteenth century their settlements were along the mainland shore of the Laguna Madre in the area of present Cameron and Willacy counties.
• The Tortuga Indians, who were probably Coahuiltecan in speech, are believed to have lived near the Tamaulipas-Nuevo León boundary about halfway between Mier and Cerralvo. One source (Uhde) also links the Tortugas with the Texas coast, particularly the section between the Nueces and the Rio Grande.
• Tugumlepem Indians were probably Coahuiltecan-speaking Indians who lived on the extreme southern part of the Texas coast. In the middle eighteenth century their settlements were between the sites of present Port Isabel and Brownsville in eastern Cameron County.
In 1742, José de Escandón, Lieutenant General Captain of the Cerro Gordo District, carried out three expeditions through the mountains of southern Tamaulipas and helped friars to establish 11 missions there. Then, in September 1746, Escandón received word that he had been appointed to head the colonization project known as "Nuevo Santander" – the establishment of small settlements along the Rio Grande that would commence in the next year.
In 1747, Escandón engineered a seven-point penetration from southern Tamaulipas with a convergence of all the expeditions at the mouth of Rio Grande. On June 1, 1748, he was officially appointed the Governor of Nuevo Santander, named for his home province in Spain. In a period of seven years, Escandón would establish 23 settlements and 15 missions with 1,337 families (6,000 colonists) along the Rio Grande in Tamaulipas. The whole colony was settled with remarkable speed. For the first time, viceregal officials relied on colonists rather than missionaries and soldiers to settle a new territory. Many of the settlers of Nuevo Santander are, in fact, the ancestors of today's Tejanos whose roots originated with those settlements along the Rio Grande.
Tamaulipas represented a large portion of the Spanish province of Nuevo Santander, which was founded in 1748 as a part of the Nueva España Kingdom. It became part of the "Provincias Internas" in 1777 until Mexican independence in 1822. On October 3, 1824, Tamaulipas became an independent state.
According to the 1895, 1900 and 1910 Mexican census schedules, no inhabitants of Tamaulipas spoke any indigenous languages. At least no one admitted to speaking such languages, although it is likely that there may have been bilingual speakers.
In the unusual 1921 Mexican census, residents of each state were asked to classify themselves in several categories, including "indígena pura" (pure indigenous), "indígena mezclada con blanca" (indigenous mixed with white) and "blanca" (white). Out of a total state population of 286,904, only 39,606 persons (or 13.8%) claimed to be of pure indigenous background. A large portion of the population – 198,990, or 69.4% –classified themselves as being mixed, while 38,845 (13.5%) claimed to be white.
Not until 1930 did any speakers of indigenous languages turn up in the census. In that year, 185 persons were classified as indigenous speakers who also spoke Spanish. This figure reached 306 in the 1940 census. By the time of the 1950 census, Tamaulipas had one monolingual speaker of indigenous languages and 695 bilingual speakers.
The 2000 Census
According to the 2000 census, the population of persons five years and more who spoke indigenous languages amounted to 17,118 individuals. The primary groups were: Náhuatl (8,407 speakers), Huasteco (4,083), Totonaca (1,321), Otomí (530), Mazahua (467), Zapoteco (432), Maya (226), and Mixteco (200).
The 2005 Conteo
According to Mexico's 2005 census count (conteo), 20,221 persons five years of age and older spoke indigenous languages in Tamaulipas. The three languages most represented in the population were:
• Náhuatl (7,605 speakers – 37.6% of the indigenous speakers)
• Hausteco (3,825 speakers – 18.9%)
• Totonaca (1,735 speakers – 8.6%)
Other languages represented in the population were the Mazahua, Otomí, Zapotec and Mixtec.
In the 2010 census, Tamaulipas was ranked 27th among the Mexican states and the Federal District for the number of persons 5 years and older who speak indigenous languages. A total of 23,296 residents of the State represented 0.8% of Mexico's indigenous speakers. Only Colima, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Coahuila had smaller percentages of indigenous speakers. In the 2010 census, the three most represented language-speakers in the Tamaulipas population were:
• Náhuatl (10,029 speakers)
• Hausteco (4,707 speakers)
• Totonaca (2,215 speakers)
Huasteco is the eleventh most spoken language in Mexico – with 161,120 Huasteca speakers in all the states 2010, representing 2.41% of Mexico's indigenous speakers five years of age or more.
Ciudad Matamoros has been recognized by the National Population Council (CONAPO) as a major center of attraction for migrants from other Mexican states. Tampico and Matamoros are both the destination for Nahuas from various states, especially Veracruz, Nuevo León and San Luis Potosí.
Mexicans Considered Indigenous
The 2010 census also included a question that asked people if they considered themselves indigenous, whether or not an indigenous language was spoken. The results of this question indicated that 15.7 million persons 3 years of age and older identified themselves as "indigenous." By comparison, 6.9 million people in the same age bracket were tallied as indigenous speakers, meaning that approximately 8.8 million Mexicans aged 3 and older did not speak an indigenous language but considered themselves to be of indigenous origin.
In this category, Tamaulipas – with 3.9% percent of its people 3 years of age an older considered indigenous – is ranked 30th among the Mexican states and Distrito Federal. At the present time, Tamaulipas continues to attract indigenous language speakers from other states, but its overall population of native speakers is relatively small compared to many of its sister states in the Mexican Republic.
Copyright © 2014, by John P. Schmal.
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John P. Schmal:
John P. Schmal is a market analyst and a genealogist. He lectures on Mexican-American genealogical research and Mexico's indigenous past.