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A Little Basic Anthropology.

by R. Edward Moore

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Woah!!! Anthro- WHAT ??? This word is WAY to big. Hey guys I didn't invent it. OK? Read on and I WILL tell you what it means and make it pretty simple. Just hang in there with me and you too can amaze your friends (and your parents and teacher ) by using the word anthropology, and even some other words just as big and complicated. NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Well how about if I show you how to pronounce these words too? Now that is a deal you cannot pass up so read on and learn.

Read this first?  Why? Because it has definitions for new words -- because it explains a lot of basic things you are going to need to know to better understand the rest of this web site -- and, because you will learn some neat things.

Notice I keep saying cultures instead of tribes? Most Texas Indians did not live in tribes. All Texas Indians were part of one or another culture. There is more on the difference between tribes and cultures in this chapter. What do we mean when we say culture instead of tribes? Here is a short definition of culture.

Culture, the common beliefs, values, material things, and language shared by a particular defined group of people.

Just because Indians speak the same language, dress the same, live in the same kind of houses and eat the same kind of foods and use them same kinds of tools does not make them all part of a tribe. It does make them part of the same culture. The word tribe has a special meaning when used to describe Indians, but more on that later.

When we study Indians, or Africans, or Mexicans or any other large group of people we are studying another culture of people. The study of other cultures is called Anthropology. That is a very big word. Here is what it means. Anthro is Greek and means man. ology is Greek too. It means the study of something. So, anthro + ology = man + study or, the study of man. Anthropology is the study of humans. Doctors study people too, so how is anthropology different from medicine? Anthropology studies human culture. In anthropology, human culture has special meanings. Anthropologist split the definition of culture into two major subgroups. Material and non-material. Material culture is the stuff you can touch and see; tools, buildings, clothes, foods and designs. Non-material culture is made up of things you cannot see or touch; like language, music, stories, science, customs, and religious beliefs. Each of these things, like a language or a certain tool, is a part of the culture of a particular human group. Every Texas Indian cultural group, like a tribe or band, had its own set of material cultural goods and non-material culture. American culture has its own material and non-material cultures too. A Ford car or a hamburger would be part of American material culture. Rock and Roll music and the English language would be part of American non-material culture.

There are different levels of culture within other cultures. These smaller cultures within a larger culture are called subcultures. We have a distinct African American subculture that is a part of a bigger American culture. There are also Hispanic and Asian subcultures within American culture. America has many subcultures.

Cultures are invented by and defined by their members over time. New things are added and old things are left behind and forgotten. Cultures also borrow from other cultures. Americans like pizza and tacos so much they are now a part of American culture. But, pizza is from Italian culture and tacos come from Mexican culture. Americans have borrowed pizza and tacos and made them part of their culture. The Texas Indians who farmed got their first corn and the know how to grow it from Mexico. They borrowed the corn and skills to grow it from Mexico.

Culture is transmitted to new members by the older members of a culture. Babies and kids are one kind of new members of a culture. Parents, teachers, friends, almost everyone in a culture teaches kids the language, rules, music, stories and much more. So culture is taught and culture is learned.

Anthropologists are the persons who study cultures. They learn all they can about the culture of a particular group of people and then write about, teach, and report what they find. I, the author of this book, am an anthropologist. Much of what we know about Texas Indians comes from anthropologists who study Indian culture. Most of the cultures anthropologists study are still here or are part of recent history. What about the past human cultures? Now for another big word.

Archeology. Here is what it means. Archeo means "the past" in Greek. You already know what ology means. So, arche + ology = the study of the past. Archeologists study the distant past. Usually they study the parts of the past we know nothing about because no one wrote them down. When the story of the past is written down it is history. Archeologists are like detectives. They dig up very old places where humans once lived. Then, they take everything they find ( material cultural items, right? Ever try to dig up words or music? ) and try to figure out what happened there. They want to know about the people and the human cultures of the past. So they are like anthropologists. In fact, most archeologists are also anthropologists too. Once they find out the who and what about the past they write it down and the story then becomes a part of history.

Archeologist are important sources of information about Texas Indians because the Indians did not write down anything about themselves until very recently. To get the whole story about Texas Indians we have to combine what the anthropologist know about Texas Indians of today and of history with what the archeologists have found out about the Texas Indians of long ago.

Tribes, bands, groups, kings and chiefs
When studying other cultures it is important to be accurate in describing how they are organized and what kind of leadership they have. When we talk about Indians we like talk about Indian as living in tribes. But we are using the word culture instead of tribe. This is because the word tribe describes one way cultures organize themselves politically. There are other ways cultures organize themselves that are not tribes. In the past some Texas Indians were organized as tribes. But, most Texas Indians were not organized as tribes. So calling some Indian cultures tribes may be wrong. So why do so many people do it?

As a European based culture we like to think of people organizing themselves like we do. We think of the way countries like America, England and Mexico organize themselves. In European cultural organization each country has one leader. It used to be a king, now it is often a President or Prime Minister. When the Europeans first met the Indians they assumed the Indians had countries and leaders like kings too. They expected each Indian culture to be what they called a tribe. And, they wanted each tribe to have a chief and only one chief, just like each European country had one king. So, when they first met the Indians they tried to classify them into tribes with one chief for each tribe. As you will see in this book, this was wrong. We still talk about all Indians as being in tribes because the first Europeans called all Indian cultures tribes. Some Texas Indians were in tribes. Most were not. They organized themselves in several different ways. To understand and learn about Indians we need to learn and understand the different ways they organized themselves.

When is a tribe of Indians not really a tribe? The answer is, when the Indians are a band or a group. Only a few of what we call Indian tribes in Texas are really tribes. A tribe is one way of organizing and grouping similar people together. There are other ways people organize themselves that are not real tribes. Only after the Europeans came were the Indians forced into todays tribes. When we call a Indian culture a tribe we are not always right. Confused? Read on.

What is the difference between a group, a band, and a tribe? Well, a group is small and a tribe is big and a band is in between in size. But that isnt a very good definition is it? These are all ways for people to organize themselves. Each can have a leader and followers. Many Texas Indian tribes are not tribes at all, they are really bands or groups. To understand lets start with the smallest level of cultural organization, the group.

A group is, well, it is a group. A group is more than two people but not a whole lot of people. A class room of kids and their teacher is a group. All the kids in a big school are not a group. One way of defining a group is that all the people in a group know each other by name. They all share a common identity as members of the group. Members of a group share values and customs of the group. In the Indian cultures a group is usually made up of all the members of one or several families who all live together. This would be the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins from one big family or several related families all living together. There would be from 5 too 30 people living in the group. Much more than 30 and it is too big to be a group any more. The most capable man would usually lead the group.

Example of group organization.
The Lipan Apache Indians were organized into groups and there was not really an Lipan Apache tribe. There were no Lipan Apache leaders higher than the leader of each group. All the Apache groups spoke Apache, dressed in similar clothes and ate the same kinds of food. So all the groups were Apache and all these Apache groups together are what we should call the Apache culture. But, people who dont know better still call the Apache a tribe. Now you know they are wrong. Sometimes the groups would BAND together to fight a common enemy. When this happened they might appoint a temporary leader over several groups and group leaders. With the Apaches this leader was always temporary. As soon as the fight was over the band would separate back into groups again. The Apaches were not the only Indian culture in Texas organized into groups. There are several others as you will see.


The next level of cultural organization is the band. A band is made up of several groups that stay together under one leader. The leader of the band would then be what we call a chief. Many tribes were organized as bands.

Example of band organization
The Comanche Indians were organized as
bands, not as groups or as a tribe. Each band had its own name. Each Comanche band had its own leader. There were groups of families in the bands. In the Comanche, groups or families could leave one band and join another. But, there was no one leader or chief over all the Comanche bands. Each band did what it wanted to when it wanted to. The bands might join together to fight a common enemy too big for just one band to fight. Sometimes several bands would camp together for a while. The Comanche were not the only Indian culture in Texas organized into bands. There are several others as you will see.


The next level of organization is when several bands stay together under one leader. When this happens it is called a tribe. A tribe is a group of bands under one leadership. The leader is usually a chief, but in some tribes a council of band leaders would lead. A tribe has several hundred people in it. This is how we usually think of Indians, living in tribes with one chief. The truth is until the Europeans came most "tribes" were not tribes at least not from the Indians point of view. They were bands or groups that shared a common language and culture but, they were not true tribes. This is a special use of the word tribe that tells you something about the organization level of the Indians.

Example of a tribe
The Caddo Indians lived in tribes. There were several different tribes of Caddo in the distant past. Each Caddo tribe had a chief. But, the Caddo also organized their tribes into an even larger organization called a confederacy or paramount chiefdom.

The confederacy / paramount chiefdom

There is one more level of Indian organization in Texas. The confederacy. When talking about Indian confederacies the words paramount chiefdom are often used. A paramount chiefdom and confederacy are basically the same thing. A confederacy is a group of semi independent tribes that share a common larger leadership. In a tribal confederacy each tribe has a chief. Then, over these chiefs, there is a bigger chief. This bigger chief is called a paramount chief. Paramount means the most important . So a paramount chief is the most important chief out of all the chiefs. He is higher than the other chiefs. Think of the United States. Each state has its own chief, the Governor of the state. Then, each state is a part of the United States and the President leads over the governors. The President of the United States is more important than the governors so he is like a paramount chief over the governors of the states.

Example of a confederacy or paramount chiefdom
The Caddos of East Texas were a confederacy of tribes led by a paramount chief. Each of the Caddo tribes was independent and had its own identity. Each Caddo tribe had its own chief. They chose to cooperate together in a confederacy because they wanted to, not because the paramount chief made them. The Caddo paramount chief was leader over the other chiefs. A Caddo tribe could leave the confederacy and sometimes a tribe would leave for a time.


Chiefs and leadership
There are two ways Indian chiefs and leaders get to be a chief or leader. One way is for the son of a chief to become the next chief. This is also the same way European kings became kings. The kings oldest son becomes the next king when the king dies. Only a few Indian tribes did this. This can be bad for the Indian tribe ( or European country ) because the son may not be very smart or a very good leader. Another way to chose a leader is to make the smartest and the most experienced man the leader. This is what most of the groups, bands and tribes of Texas Indians did.

Farmers, Hunters and Gatherers

Now that we know something about groups, bands, tribes and confederacies we can ask; why did some Indians choose to be organized as bands, and some as groups, and some as tribes? This is an important question. Before you read on stop and try to think of some reasons why the Indians did not all just use the same kind of organization? Part of the answer is; they used the kind of organization that was best for them. OK, why is being in a band better for the Comanches and being in a group better for the Apaches and being in a confederacy of tribes better for the Caddo? To get a big clue ask yourself another question? What is the easiest way for each of these Indian cultures to get a reliable source of food? Indians did not have supermarkets to get food at. They had to get food from the land around where they live. The kind of environment people live in has a lot to do what kind of food is available. Using these Indian cultures as examples, lets look at the kind of environment where each of these cultures live.

The Apaches lived in the desert environment of far West Texas. In the desert, it does not rain very often. When it does rain, it does not rain very much. Deserts do not have much water. Plants and animals need water to live. Because there is not much water there are few food plants and food animals for Indians to find and eat in the desert. The plant and animals in the desert are spread out and there are not many of them in any one place. Even a few people hunting food and gathering plants will find and eat all the food in one place in a short time. Then they have to move on to a new place to find more food. If there were a lot of people living together they might not be able to find enough food to live on. They would starve and some people would die. This is why the Apaches organized into small groups and did not organize into larger bands. A group ( a small number of people ) can live in the desert because a small number of people do not need very much food. A band with many more people would not be able to find enough food in a desert.

The Apaches hunted and gathered food. They were not farmers. They did not plant crops like corn. Anthropologists call people who hunt and gather get ready hunter gatherers. Hunter gatherers hunt wild big animals and gather wild plants and very small animals for food. When they have caught and found all the food in an area they have to move on to a new place. People who move all the time and have no permanent homes are called nomads or nomadic people. Almost all hunter gathers are nomadic.

The Comanches did not live in a desert. The Comanches lived on the plains. A plain is an environment with a lot of open grass land. There are trees in spots and along the rivers and streams in the plains. The plains get regular rain and there is enough water for lots of grass, plants, and animals to live on. All the grass and water supported large herds of buffalo. With so many buffalo they are a good source of lots of food. Because there is a lot of food and water on the plains the Indians could live in larger bands and not in smaller groups. The Comanches were nomadic hunter-gatherers. They were nomadic because they followed the big herds of buffalo around. They were hunter - gatherers because they hunted buffalo and gathered some plants when they could. But, hunting buffalo was the best and easiest way to get lots of food on the plains. Crops like corn can be planted and grown along the rivers and streams in the plains. Some Indian cultures north of Texas did plant corn and crops on the plains. But, most hunted the buffalo because hunting buffalo was a easier way to get food on the plains of Texas than planting and raising crops.

Most of East Texas is a forest of trees with openings of grassy fields in the forest. The Caddo Indian tribes lived in East Texas. A forest has lots of plants and animals that people can eat. In a forest there are things like nuts and berries and deer to eat. But the Caddo got most of their food by planting corn and other crops. The Caddo were farmers, not hunter gathers. East Texas has lots of streams, rivers lakes and springs for water. It also rains often in East Texas. The openings in the forest have rich soil and are good places to raise lots of corn, squash, beans and other crops. Raising crops like corn was the easiest way to get lots of food. The Caddo did hunt some deer and turkeys and they did gather some wild plants for food when that was easy. But, they did not move where they lived to hunt and gather. They stayed put in one place and farmed because where they lived it was easier to get lots of food by farming.

Farmers have to stay with their crops to tend them. They have permanent houses and stay in one place. This is called sedentary. Sedentary people do not move around all the time in search of food. Sedentary cultures stay in one place. Modern Americans are sedentary.

Sedentary and nomadic cultures have different kinds of material cultures. Remember material culture is made up of things like houses, tools and weapons. Because they live such different kinds of lives, sedentary and nomadic cultures have different kinds of material cultures.


Ok, one last thing to add to all this anthropology stuff, language. We all speak English or at least most of us do. So do the people in England and Australia and Canada. That makes all those countries part of the family of English speakers. Just because Americans or Canadians speak English does not make them citizens of or even part of the country of England. Remember the Comanche bands? All the Comanche bands spoke Comanche, but they did not see themselves as part of a big tribe called the Comanche. Now lets make things more confusing. The Comanche language is Shoshonean. The Shoshonees were a Indian culture found way up north in Wyoming and Colorado. The Comanches once lived with the Shoshonees and were a part of Shoshonee culture. The bands we now call Comanche left Wyoming and moved south and became the Comanches we all know. Just because the Comanches speak a form of Shoshonee we do not call them Shoshonees. We call them Comanche. Now lets get real confusing. Shoshonee is a part of an even larger language family, the Uto-Aztecan language family. So is the Apache language, and the Navaho, and several other Indian cultures. These are all Uto-Aztecan. This means that once, a long, long time ago all these Indian cultures were once living together and were the same. They split up and moved apart a long time ago. After they were away from each other their languages started to change. After hundreds of years the languages changed so much they became very different from each other. Apaches and Comanches can understand some words from each others language, but they cannot hold a conversation. Language is one important way of telling when Indian cultures are related and how closely they are related. Anthropologist use language as one way to group Indian cultures together. So a book might say a Indian culture is in the such and such language family. One last example. The Caddo language is not just the language spoken by the Caddo of Texas. There is a Caddo language family. The Pawnee Indians and the Wichita Indians all spoke forms of the Caddo language family. This means they are all related. It does not make the Pawnee Indians Caddo Indians. It is important to give the language and language family when doing a report or telling about any Indian culture.

Copyright by Rolf E. Moore and Texarch Associates, all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.

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