Indigenous Tribes of San Antonio, Texas

Yanaguana or “Land of the Spirit Waters”, now known as San Antonio, is the ancestral homeland to the Payaya, a band that belongs to the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation (pronounced kwa-weel-tay-kans). The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation is a collective of affiliated bands and clans including not only the Payaya, but also Pacoa, Borrado, Pakawan, Paguame, Papanac, Hierbipiame, Xarame, Pajalat, and Tilijae Nations. The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation populated lands across what is now called Northern Mexico and South Texas. Although these tribes are grouped under the name Coahuiltecans, they spoke a variety of dialects and languages. Some of the major languages that are known today are Comecrudo, Cotoname, Aranama, Solano, Sanan, as well as Coahuilteco.

The Coahuiltecans were hunter-gatherers, and their villages were positioned near rivers and similar bodies of water. In the late 1600s, growing numbers of European invaders displaced northern tribal groups who were then forced to migrate beyond their traditional homelands into the region that is now South Texas. Northern newcomers such as the Lipan Apaches, the Tonkawa, and the Comanches would also eventually encroach Payaya territory. Conflict between rival tribes as well as with European colonizers, combined with newly introduced European diseases, decimated Indigenous populations. 

Indigenous Peoples' way of life was further diminished by the arrival of Franciscan Missionaries, who founded missions such Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima de Acuña, and the San Antonio de Valero Mission in 1718, or what we now know as The Alamo. As is the case for other Indigenous Peoples across North and South America, the Coahuiltecans were ideal converts for Spanish missionaries due to hardships caused by colonization of their lands and resources. 

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a large group of Coahuiltecan Peoples lost their identities due to the ongoing effects of epidemics, warfare, migration (often forced), dispersion by the Spaniards to labor camps, and demoralization. Coahuiltecans as well as other tribal groups contributed to mission life, and many began to intermarry into the Spanish way of life. Missions in South Texas became a place of refuge for the Indigenous populations in South Texas as well as where many Coahuiltecans adopted European farming techniques.

 It was not until the signing of the Acto de Posesión that three San Antonio missions - Espada, Concepción, and San Juan Capistrano - would be owned by the Native populations that inhabited them for centuries.

Despite forced assimilation and genocide at the hands of European colonizers, Coahuiltecan culture persists. In the mid-nineteenth century, Mexican linguists began to classify some Indigenous groups as Coahuiltecan in an effort to create a greater understanding of pre-colonial tribal languages and structures. 

The area now known as Bexar County has continued to be inhabited by Indigenous Peoples for over 14,000 years. Today, San Antonio is home to an estimated 30,000 Indigenous Peoples, representing 1.4% of the city’s population. Members of the Coahuiltecan tribe are still fighting for representation and inclusion. In 2001, the city of San Antonio recognized the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation as the first Tribal families of San Antonio by proclamation.

Organizations such as American Indians in Texas (AIT) at the Spanish Colonial Missions continue to work to preserve the culture of Indigenous Peoples residing in South Texas. As stated on their website: “The Mission of the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions is to work for the preservation and protection of the culture and traditions of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation and other Indigenous People of the Spanish Colonial Missions in South Texas and Northern Mexico through education, research, community outreach, economic development projects, and legislative initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels.” 

AIT has also fought for over 30 years for the return of remains of over 40 Indigenous Peoples that were previously kept at institutions such as UC-Davis, University of Texas-San Antonio, and University of Texas-Austin for reburial at Mission San Juan. Although the reburial is progress for the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation, more work is required to preserve the burial ground and rewrite the narrative imposed by colonial influence. It is important to note that due to the division of ancestral tribal lands of the Coahuiltecans by the U.S./Mexico border, Coahuiltecan descendants are currently divided between U.S and Mexico territory. Descendants are split between Southern Texas and Coahuila. 

Information on how you or your organization can support the Indigenous People of San Antonio: 

To learn more about the Indigenous Peoples of San Antonio please check out the following resources:

Tribal nations:

Additional online resources: