Society for the History of Discoveries

Bolton, Herbert Eugene, edited and introduced by Russell Magnaghi. The Hasinais : Southern Caddoans as seen by the Earliest Europeans. Norman : The University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. 194 p. ISBN 058517038X. 

The Hasinais were a native American tribe of hunters and gatherers with some agriculture. Ethnologists classified them with southern Caddos. They lived from 1690 until 1790 between the lower Red River and the Pecos, a distance of six hundred miles, in what is now the northeastern corner of Texas. The Hasinais were called “ Texas,” as Bolton points out, and this is one origin of the State’s name. Bolton’s research on the Hasinais was done from 1907 to 1909. He examined Relaciones, Documentos, Visitas, and other records from the Archivo General de Nación, Historia. John Swanton, Bureau of Ethnology, was interested in the Indian tribes that had become extinct in Texas. The Bureau was compiling a Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico and Bolton was commissioned $13.33 per 1000 words to write on the Hasinais. Bolton had written 40,000 words in 1909, but never submitted it for publication. The reason is that Bolton transferred from the University of Texas to Stanford, and began and completed major publications on the Franciscan missions in California. Noted anthropologist Alfred Kroeber examined the Hasinais manuscript in 1927 and wanted the University of California to publish it, as did Leslie Spier of Yale in 1936 for Yale University Press. The University of Oklahoma secured the copyright in 1987. Russell Magnaghi edited the manuscript, wrote an introduction, and Red River Books published it in 2002. One wonders what took so long.

The book is very much as the title says, “The Hasinais as seen by earliest Europeans;” a superficial catalogue of the material culture and social organization of the Hasinais as ethnocentrically evaluated by missioners and wayward travelers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Bolton and Magnaghi have culled through these travelers’ accounts to produce a valuable book. The chapters follow the Handbook’s format with chapters on Social and Political Organization, Economic Life, Housing, Hardware, and Handicrafts, Dress and Adornment, Religious Beliefs and Customs, War Customs and Ceremonials. These are followed by a useful bibliography. This book could be used for grade schoolers to show them how Texas Indians once lived. It is simplistic in its descriptive, observational style and is, as the book was intended, an entry into The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, a passing description of a vanquished and vanished tribe.

But its value is great and it deserves serious study. In this world of many billion, only 250,000 people remain hunters and gatherers, discounting the “Street People.” Consider that before agriculture, around 10,000 BP, all peoples were hunters and gatherers. The Hasinais provides the reader with a glimpse into how an early American tribe subsisted in Northeastern Texas environments, how they built villages and managed their politics, and how they related to the environment in friendly and not-so-friendly ways (buffalo hunts). Texans in general pride themselves in possessing the land, but they might do well to reflect on who The Texans were in the first place. 

Joseph W. Bastien
The University of Texas at Arlington

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