Big Bend National Park


Late Paleo-Indian Period (ca. 8000 - 6500 B.C.)
At the end of the last Ice Age, the climate was much cooler and wetter, and woodlands covered much of the Big Bend. Since about 9000 B.C. the climate has gradually become warmer and drier, and there has been a gradual influx of heat- and drought-adapted plants. Evidence of Paleo-lndian presence has been recorded in the park but no studies have been done that explain local human adaptation during this period. The earliest inhabitants lived a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle that was adapted to the cooler and wetter climate that prevailed in that age. Throughout the Paleo-lndian period, people hunted large game animals as their primary source of materials for food, clothing, and shelter.

Archaic Period (ca. 6500 B.C. - A.D. 1000)
After the last glacial episode, woodlands gave way to arid-adapted plant communities at lower elevations. The slowly changing climate caused a decline in the numbers of large game animals, primarily bison. Native American groups of the Archaic Period adapted to the changing climate by developing a hunting and gathering lifestyle so successful that it remained virtually unchanged for about 7,500 years. The Archaic Period people hunted smaller game with a spear that was propelled by a spear-thrower, called an atl-atl. This period is characterized by a strong dependence on plant foods, and a more structured social organization. People learned skillful ways to exploit the environment and developed a rich material culture that involved the intensive use of available plants and animals. More than 200 plant and animal foodstuffs were here for the taking, but the vastness of the desert necessitated that people be semi-nomadic to take advantage of them. Their diet included walnuts, persimmons, the fruit and blossoms of yucca, the fruit and young pads of prickly pear, and mesquite beans. They fashioned baskets and sandals from lechuguilla fiber and yucca leaves. We know that some of Big Bend's desert springs have been flowing for thousands of years, because Archaic Culture sites are commonly concentrated around today's springs. These sites may include rock shelters and hearths, or fire rings. A higher density of late Archaic sites indicates a more efficient adaptation and a larger, denser population. An expansion of the Jornada Mogollon culture from southeastern New Mexico into extreme West Texas occurred at the close of the Late Archaic.

Late Prehistoric Period (ca. A.D. 1000 - 1535)
By 1000 A.D. the native people of the Big Bend had come under the influence of the Jornada Mongollon, with its ceramics, agriculture, and sedentary lifestyle. During the Late Prehistoric, Indians of the Big Bend began using the bow and arrow, and groups northwest of the area were producing pottery. Agricultural villages existed near present-day Presidio, Texas, and horticulture or simple agriculture was practiced by Indian groups in the area that is now the park. In most areas to the east, the Late Archaic hunting and gathering lifeway persisted into the Historic Period. The period is characterized by increased interregional trading.

The Historic Period (ca. A.D. 1535 - present)
In the 1500s, the Spaniards enslaved the Indians and substantially changed their culture. In the 1640s the major Indians here were the Tobosas, Salineros, Chisos, and Tepehuanes, who fought Spanish encroachment and enslavement. Spanish horses enabled the Mescalero Apaches to expand their range and dominate the area by the 1740s. They became the Chisos Apaches. By the 1840s, the Comanches, also with Spanish horses, dominated an enormous range focused on the Big Bend. The Comanches supplemented their desert-derived lifestyle by annually raiding Mexican and later Anglo-American settlements and wagon trains. The gold discoveries in California in the mid-1800s hastened the Comanches' decline. When Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845, the U.S. military became the Indians' antagonist. Military forts were built along the route that passed through here to California gold fields.

In the 1930s, many people who loved the Big Bend country saw that it was a land of unique contrast and beauty that was worth preserving for future generations. The State of Texas passed legislation to acquire land in the area, which was to become the Texas Canyons State Park. In 1935, the Federal Government passed legislation that would enable the acquisition of the land for a national park. The State of Texas deeded the land that they had acquired to the Federal government, and on June 12, 1944, Big Bend National Park became a reality.


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