Social and Cultural Influences on Texas History

Many know Texas today as the home of the thriving, proud, ever-changing culture that has amalgamated into a melting pot of numerous ethnicities, values, and belief systems. The earliest of Texas’ inhabitants, however, surely found it difficult to notice much other than the harsh climate and inhospitable terrain provided by the territory.

Whether it is ancient migrants having crossed the Bering Strait, Native Americans settling throughout the pre-colonized territory, or even the European explorers colonizing and “Christianizing” Texas throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, Texas’ unforgiving landscape forced its inhabitants to use social and cultural interaction to overcome many hardships presented in their respective environments. When the archaic nomads began dispersing across today’s North and South America between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago, the social and cultural development of such groups were likely in their infancy stages.

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As different bands of settlers began populating Texas’ vast expanse over time, each group was compelled to adjust to their surrounding environment’s particular climate, landscape, sources of food, and other nearby collections of people. Along with this unavoidable adaptation followed the diverse formation of many distinct characteristics among each society, including (but not limited to) different languages, types of housing, food dependencies, religious sects, political organizations and social groups. Many times family units would assemble and rely upon one another for strength.

In scenarios such as this, usually a single chieftain – an elected leader often given power due to war bravery, senior wisdom, or religious custom – would be elected to make important decisions and act as the leading representative of his group. This type of cultural development most closely resembles that of the Native Americans who inhabited Texas hundreds of years before European colonization. Social and cultural interaction amongst Texas’ neighboring Native American tribes shared both friendly and brutal consequences.

One example of societal leaders from numerous different tribes allowing social nteraction to fortify their vulnerability to the unforgiving region was the formation of the famous League of the Iroquois. Although the Iroquois had created a reputation for their ferocious style of battle, this intertribal agreement was highly successful in negating the perpetual battling and bloodshed amongst its participants. This undoubtedly allowed for a more tranquil state of existence for the member tribes and families north of the Aztec empire. On the other hand, some tribes, such as the Comanche, ruled social interaction by waging war and death on rival tribes.

With unrelenting aggression, the Comanches drove many substantial groups such as the Apache and the Tonkawa out of their homes and progressively further south, claiming the abandoned land and all of its spoils for themselves. Still, not all fighting that transpired between tribes was out of savagery and rivalry; for instance, the Caddo (a culture not heavily influenced by war) allowed for attacks on nearby tribes frequently as a rite of passage for young men looking to rise the social ranks among their own social piers.

When European colonists began settling Texas, cultural and social interaction with the Native American tribes was crucial to their success in settling the area. Many of the missions built in north Mexico during the late 16th century would have been erected in futility had the Europeans not taken the necessary steps to establish good relations based on cultural interaction with the Native American tribes of the area.

Such rich interaction included: bartering of furs, food, animals and other goods; the mutual education of the particular idiosyncrasies and useful methods integrated into each culture; and the “Christianization” effort to convert friendly Native Americans to Catholicism, a practice which had been implemented by the Spaniards during the Reconquista. The missions and presidios built by the Spaniards in their missionary efforts were beneficial in two ways.

Not only did these strongholds provide shelter, religious teachings, and friendly relations with the surrounding Native American tribes, but they also served as military outposts and fortified the grasp their country claimed on the nearby region. The latter consideration was of utmost importance in the midst of a massive inter-European movement characterized by exploration and colonial settlement starting in the 15th century.

When considering the comparison between the social interactions employed by Texas’ first nomadic settlers and those of the “New World” European xplorers, it is evident that a few stark differences existed. Namely, the original settlers used social contact mostly as a means of empowering themselves against the hostile climate and terrain. Again, this was a necessary and logical step for these groups of people, as they would most assuredly be underprepared to survive such conditions on an individual basis. On the other hand, European explorers had already surmounted most of the difficulties inherent to nature by the time of colonization, and likely used social and cultural relations to satisfy their personal and national desires.

For instance, Hernan Cortes was greeted openly by Montezuma II when he and his army arrived in the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan; however, after months of Aztec hospitality and generosity (even given gifts in the form of gold), Cortes plundered the capital city and held his host Montezuma hostage in his own kingdom. In the same manner, as the European immigrants began gradually tightening their grasp on the Native American way of life, exchanges between the separate parties usually turned from mutual friendliness to begrudging violence.

When Texas’s unforgiving climate proved itself as an immense force to be reckoned with, early groups of settlers were compelled to congregate, establishing political, religious, and social groups to band together and find refuge from the critical environment. As time progressed and mankind’s handle on nature’s provisions became stronger, social and cultural assimilation became less of a necessity for survival and more of a means for accomplishing certain goals.

Within certain tribes or cultures, examples of the impact these social interactions held included raising social status amongst piers, claiming land for personal and national glory, and the acquisition of gold and other forms of wealth. The shift in the intention for mutual benefit from social interaction was an inevitable transition that stemmed from both the development of distinct characteristics and environmental adaptations within separate groups of people, as well as mankind’s eventual surmounting of Texas’s ruthless conditions over the course of time.