As a volunteer at the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg, I am privileged with time to spend looking deeper into the artifacts and displays there. As I have long been interested in the day to day lives of people in all eras of history, the marvels of the museum provoke my informed imagination. Neil Cassady

Museum volunteer

It’s A Hard Luck Life

Purchased from Alamy Stock Photo

How hard is it when you live in the Stone Age, but have no stones?

It was hard luck for the Lower Rio Grande Valley Coahuiltecans that they lived in a Stone Age world, but had no stones. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is no valley at all, as those of who live here know. It is the Delta of the Rio Grande River. But, in the early 1900s the term delta held many negative images in the minds of many Americans. Visions of swamps filled with alligators and mosquitoes swam in their middle American heads. Yellow Fever and Malaria were endemic in deltas like the Mississippi Delta at New Orleans. So, the land hustlers of the early 20th Century called this a valley.

Photograph of a stone point picture on an old Pan American University CHAPS poster owned by Neil Cassady

Anyway, our Coahuiltecans lived on a delta with no stones. As the Rio Grande flow slowed on flatter ground, the larger rocks fell to the river bed. The final stones to fall out of the flow were gravel pebbles. By the time the river reached the Lower Valley, silt was its only freight; no stones.

 

The material for Stone Age success was easy for their neighbors to the South and West to find, just by looking around. But Lower Valley Coahuiltecans had to buy objects made from that material. Stone projectile points were the (sorry) cutting edge of hunting technology. Our local Indians needed to trade for them, but with what, and how did they do that? The truth is we really don’t know. But, if the Valley Coahuiltecans operated like nomadic forager cultures which were described by 19th and early 20th Century explorers and ethnographers, we can imagine what and how they traded for these valuables.

I imagine that our local bands traded luxury or vanity goods for the very practical knapped flint/chert projectile points and blades. What items would be considered luxury or vanity goods? Each society decides what goods express status or ego. Among Coahuiltecans, those status or ego goods would, of necessity, be small and light because, as they moved from place to place, they carried everything they owned. Large and heavy items would be impractical to own. What goods would our resource-deprived locals have had to trade? Possibly, rare colorful bird feathers, or Jaguar fangs and claws, or ocelot hides, or maybe sea-shells traded inland from the coast. Perhaps, some local handicrafts were traded. Woven or carved items made by the Lower Valley Coahuiltecans may have been exotic goods with a high “cool factor” further up river somewhere. We really don’t have a definitive answer.

Green Jay / pixaby.com

So, how did their trade network function? I, personally, really can’t imagine some trading magnate at the head of a long line of men bearing goods like a line of safari porters in a bad 1950s adventure movie. Each band of people needed every member, every day, questing for food and water. There was , simply, no time for this trade trek. I think trade was an ad hoc, individual, enterprise that took place with a little fore-thought on the part of individual persons.

Safari Porters / Smithsonian National Museum of History

Coahuiltecans were intelligent and crafty people. They had to be to survive in a world that shifted seasonally. The seasonal pattern of their lives was, also, effected by climatic events such as Rio Grande River floods, hurricanes, droughts, and prairie fires. These people knew what effects those events had on their life resources and changed their migration routes to best maintain their livelihood. During the migration, there were times when their paths crossed with other groups. If the groups were not hostile, a sort of reunion might occur. Old friends would talk. Young men and boys would hold various competitions to show off for young ladies and girls. Marriage opportunities might be discussed by parents. During these encounters, I think, is when trading would commence. All manner of things would be haggled over and deals made or not.

Coahuiltecans / Texas Beyond Histor

After the reunion, both groups would move on following their separate migration routes. At another place, they would run into another group and the reunion, match-making, and haggling would begin, again.

 

People go on.