We know very little of the people who inhabited South Texas prior to Cabeza de Vaca’s time. Fortunately, De Vaca and other Spanish explorers were devoted note takers. Their accounts provide the earliest historic record of men in this part of the world.
Prehistory by definition means that no written reports are available from that time. What we know of the prehistoric era comes from archaeological studies. Governmental requirements for uranium mining permits as well as for the use of Federal government grants prompted most of these studies and thus they lack the depth of scholarship one would hope. Regrettably, the scientific language used in reports of these archaeological digs does not make them easily understood by lay readers. Still, they provide the only resource available for this period.
Fossil remains found in the Duval County equus beds are the earliest references to people inhabiting this area of Texas. The remains date to the mid Ice Age when mammoths roamed the Texas countryside. As the temperatures warmed, the mammoth and giant bison became extinct. The vegetation and animal life in the area changed but remained plentiful.
Archaeological digs in areas around Seven Sisters, San Diego, Rosita and north of Hebbronville have yielded artifacts mostly from the Archaic Age, or from 1,000 to 7,000 years before historic times. These artifacts point to a people that used spears to hunt big game.
From very earliest times, the people that lived in the Duval and Jim Wells counties were hunter-gatherers. They never established towns or communities but traveled about the countryside in family groups or bands, staying for short periods in campsites. Aboriginal people often used these temporary sites as work areas where they built tools or processed their kills. On other occasions, they were in fact kill sites, where the natives used spears to bring down their game food. The game was plentiful in vegetation that included lush savannas.
With plenty of game and plant foods to gather, the aboriginal people had no use for farming. This way of life continued through the next seven millennia. Cataclysmic changes in the environment began to occur as the Europeans began to arrive.
The Spaniards began to push the natives north and the Americans pushed the warlike natives south. Caught in the middle were the docile hunter-gatherers that belonged to the Coahuiltecan family of natives. Before long foreign dieases and intermarriage with the Spanish and the raiding by Lipan Apache and the Comanche exterminated these people
Just as the native people became extinct, so too did the fertile vegetation in the area give way to a more barren environment. Cattle and sheep raising, as well as European style farming caused the natural grasslands to give way to a semi arid environment where thorny brush dominated.
It was to this less inviting setting that the residents of modern day Duval and Jim Wells counties came. Like their predecessors, they had to fight off the Apache and Comanche; unlike their predecessors, they were successful in eliminating the menace. Moreover, unlike their predecessors, the ancestors of today’s South Texans found a way to live with the new desert like surroundings.