Battle with Cacaxtle

In this area, members of a large Spanish military expedition battled with Cacaxtle Indians in 1665.

Cacaxtle was the name given by the Spanish to hunter-gathering groups that ranged from the Rio Grande northeastward to present day Kinney County during the latter part of the 17th century. The name derives from the Nahuatl language and is a term used to describe carrying packs, such as the netted wooden pack frames carried by native peoples while gathering plant foods and other items.

Scant information about these groups is available with the exception of a history of Nuevo Leon written by Juan Bautista Chapa in the 1690s. In it, he includes an account of two attacks perpetrated by the Spanish on the Cacaxtle people. According to Chapa, in 1663 and 1665, Spanish military expeditions departed from Monterrey in search of Indians who had persisted in raiding Spanish settlements along the border. The Indian groups they encountered may or may not have been responsible for any raids, but the resulting battles provide a rare glimpse of native strategy and traditions.

The first battle occurred in1663 and is estimated to have taken place 180 miles north of Monterrey. Here, the Spanish came upon a Cacaxtle encampment and attacked. According to Chapa's brief account of this expedition, approximately 100 Indians were killed and 125 were captured.

In this area, the second of the battles occurred, some 60 miles beyond the battle two years prior. This time, the Cacaxtle may have been aware of the approaching Spanish and prepared for battle. Chapa noted that the Cacaxtle had surrounded themselves with a defensive structure made from piles of tree trunks, branches and prickley-pear pads. This defensive strategy delayed Spanish victory for some time. Throughout the battle, an elderly Cacaxtle woman played a flute, perhaps to buoy the spirits of the Cacaxtle warriors. The battle resulted, according to Chapa, in the deaths of approximatley 100 Indians and the capture of 70 more. Of the Spanish, 22 were reportedly wounded.

Prior to battles with the Spanish, the estimated maximum Cacaxtle population was about 500 individuals, a figure consistent with most hunting and gathering groups in the area. After 1665, their populations had been decimated by 80 percent having lost around 400 individuals over the past three years. The remaining Cacaxtle likely merged with other Indian groups losing their ethnic identity in the process. This Indian group "never recovered from this shock" and has become one of the only hunting and gathering groups to be decimated solely by Spanish conflict.

What little is known about the Cacaxtle culture stems largely from Chapa's account of these battles. We find they utilized defensive ramparts, carried distinctive packs on their backs for which they were named, and that a woman, perhaps of some rank or spiritual signifigance, played a role in the battle. These characteristics are not reported in accounts of other Indian groups in the area.

References

Campbell, T.N.
1984 The Cacaxtle Indians of Northeastern Mexico and Southern Texas. La Tierra 11(1):4-20.

Foster, William C.
1997 Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 1630-1690. University of Texas Press. Austin.

Battle between the Cacaxtle Indians and Spanish soldiers in the area of Kinney County in 1665. Drawing by Mark Mitchell (from Campbell 1984).

Read the article,
The Cacaxtle Indians
of Northeastern Mexico
and Southern Texas
by T.N. Campbell.
Courtesy of La Tierra.
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An elderly native woman reportedly played a flute throughout the battle to buoy the spirits of the Cacaxtle warriors.
The Territorial Range of the Cacaxtle from 1663-1693 (map based on Campbell 1984: Fig. 1).