Article Title

Caprock Canyonlands Archeology: A Synthesis of the Late Prehistory and History of Lake Alan Henry and the Texas Panhandle-Plains: Volume II


Douglas K. Boyd


Archeological investigations at Lake Alan Henry, in Garza and Kent Counties, Texas, between 1987 and 1993 generated much archeological data relevant to interpreting late Holocene human activities. This review goes beyond the project boundary to synthesize the late prehistory and history of the Texas Panhandle Plains, with special emphasis on the north-south band of rugged canyons found along the Caprock Escarpment, herein defined as the Caprock Canyonlands. This synthesis looks at the human past from an ecological perspective, correlating shifts in subsistence, technology, and settlement patterns with inferred changes in paleoclimate, flora, and fauna. Past fluctuations in bison population size, undoubtedly related in many complex ways tn changes in climate and grassland biotic communities, are emphasized as critical ecological factors affecting long-term patterns of human habitation in the Southern Plains. In addition, other factors identified as having affected human subsistence and settlement are the region's highly seasonal food supply, participation in inter- and extraregional exchange networks, and intercultural conflicts.

With climatic conditions more or less comparable to those of today, Late Archaic (2000 B.C. to A.D. 200) peoples adopted a mobile hunting lifestyle and roamed across the vast grassland prairies of the southern High Plains and Rolling Plains in search of bison. Exotic burial artifacts indicate that these nomadic bands were involved in a vast exchange network extending at least as far as the Texas Gulf Coast and the mountainous regions of western Oklahoma and/or Trans-Pecos Texas. Beyond their heavy reliance on bison, however, not much is known about these peoples whose remains are defined archeologically as the Little Sunday complex. Their lifestyle disappeared or changed when bison populations dwindled during the transitional Archaic (A.D. 200 to 500).

During a mesic interval spanning the Late Prehistoric I period (A.D. 500 to 110011200), Native peoples adopted a foraging strategy centered around intensive procurement and processing of wild plant foods, perhaps supplemented by limited horticulture, and accompanied by hunting of deer and smaller game. Presumably because of less-favorable grassland conditions, bison populations were so low that bison hunting was not a viable economic pursuit. There appear to have been at least two main groups of people inhabiting the Panhandle-Plains at this time. One group, archeologically recognized as the Lake Creek complex, may have originated from the westward spread of Plains Woodland peoples or ideas, while the other, called the Palo Duro complex, represents the eastward spread of Jornada Mogollon influence among Panhandle-Plains peoples. Burial evidence suggests that the peoples of these two divergent cultural traditions were hostile toward each other.

Concomitant with a drying episode evident over all of the Southern Plains and much of the Greater Southwest, large numbers of bison returned to the Texas Panhandle-Plains around A.D. 1100, and Native peoples once again adopted bison hunting lifestyles during the Late Prehistoric II period (A.D. 1100/12001541). While peoples along the Canadian River in the northern Texas Panhandle adapted to the drier climate by incorporating horticulture and bison hunting within a Plains Village tradition, at least two groups living in the Caprock Canyonlands practiced nomadic bison hunting-foraging lifestyles. Defined archeologically as the Tierra Blanca and Garza complexes, either or both of these groups may represent new arrivals in the Southern Plains. Intersocietal exchange with sedentary Anasazi farmers became an important economic pursuit for the bison hunters during this period. Although complex and still poorly understood, the Panhandle-Plains groups continued to intensity their bison hunting and Pueblo trading activities throughout the Protohistoric period (A.D. 1541-1750). Increased mobility and hunting efficiency due to the acquisition of ho,rses, along with increasing Spanish demand for bison products, further intensified the Plains-Pueblo exchange. Competition for hunting territory and trade alliances with sedentary peoples may have exacerbated hostilities between the two main groups of nomadic Southern Plains bison hunters.