Native American

What you didn’t know about El Paso’s Native American heritage

Modern travelers that drive the long lonely I-10 rode from San Antonio, Texas, through El Paso, Texas, and end up in Los Angeles, California most drivers have had the same thought, “Who the heck lived in this empty godforsaken desert land before civilization arrived?”


23,000 BC – 1500 AD

It would be interesting to learn that Native American people who lived, hunted, and survived the harsh desert environment for centuries before the Spaniard’s arrival. Who were these people? How did they survive? What was their population?

El Paso Downtown i-10 1969
El Paso Downtown i-10 1969

Modern travelers that drive the long lonely I-10 roads from San Antonio, Texas, through El Paso, Texas, and end up in Los Angeles, California; most drivers have had the same thought,

“Who the heck lived in this empty godforsaken desert land before civilization arrived?”

The first people in what was to become the Southwestern United States, arrived between roughly 23,000 and 10,000 B.C.E. In about 9500 B.C.E. people hunted mammoth, giant bison, and other significant game species now extinct. By around 5000 B.C.E., human activity had switched to hunting small desert animals and gathering seeds and wild plants.

When driving through the Southwest road, drivers can often come across different types of Native Americans living in small towns and farms.


Navajo girls at Marble Canyon Rodeo
Navajo girls at Marble Canyon Rodeo

Long before the Spaniard’s arrival to the Southwest, various tribes lived in the area. The Navajo Native American people were a tribe that lived in New Mexico and Arizona (AD 100 to 1600) who traded maize (or corn crops) and woven cotton items such as blankets for things like bison meat and various materials that they could use to make tools and weapons in the early 1500s. The word Navajo comes from the phrase “Tewa Navahu” meaning highly cultivated lands. The Navajos lived in homes made of wooden sticks, mud, and tree bark that were called pueblos.

Pueblo Native Americans Tribe
Pueblo Native Americans Tribe

Another tribe known to be very peaceful resided in a large area that is now New Mexico, and Arizona was known as the Pueblo Native American people. They are world-renowned for their beautiful art, painted pottery and many other traditions in their culture that mostly centered on their religious beliefs.

The Southwest can become very hot making driving difficult during hot summer days. Strangely, the winters can also make driving difficult especially when driving on icy, slippery roads.

Despite its low moisture content, coarse texture, and occasional salty patches, the soil of most of the Southwest is relatively fertile. Higher elevations, support scrub and pinyon-juniper woodland, rattlesnakes, rabbits, coyotes, bobcats, and mule deer. At lower elevations, the plateau also supports grasses and antelope. In areas where River valleys exist, the area supports clusters of cottonwood, willow, mesquite, and sycamore trees, and mule deer, fish, and waterfowl. These allow Native American people who lived in the region as early as c. 7000 BC to acquire the ability to survive, by adapting the hunting and gathering culture whose diet emphasized plant foods and small game.


Drivers will often come across small groups of Native Americans scattered between San Antonio, El Paso, and Los Angeles, yet, there was a time when the Native American population covered a large segment of the Southwest.

Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon
Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon

The Southwest Native American tribes grew large and developed elaborate social interactions between tribes as well as centers of production and exchange of goods. One example is the Navajos’ Pueblo Bonito, the largest town in Chaco Canyon. The canyon located in northwest New Mexico, which rim held twelve large planned towns on the north side and 200 to 350 apparently unplanned villages on the south. The total population was probably about 15,000. The centers were abandoned when shortages of water and arable land and other consequence’s of climatic or demographic change occurred. Most Navajo people dispersed in small groups, joining other tribes to form new communities in locations with sufficient rainfall.

Another example of the Native American in the Southwest handling a growing population is the Gila Cliff Dwellings. They were created by the Mogollon culture that lived there from 1280’s through the early 1300’s. The dwellings are located forty-four miles north of Silver City, New Mexico. About 42 rooms were constructed from local stone and wooden beams. The Cliff Dwellers departed their homes and abandoned their fields by about 1300, long before the coming of the Spaniards.


The shift of population helped develop new patterns of trade. Some Native Americans tribes would trade bison meat and hides and other products from the southern Great Plains to semiannual trade fairs at Taos, Pecos, and Picuris pueblos in exchange for maize, cotton blankets, obsidian, turquoise, and ceramics as well as shells from the Gulf of California. Commerce and trade, between Native American tribes, existed well before the arrival of Europeans.

By the arrival of the Spaniards, new Native American tribes were found and resided in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. They were: Havasupai, Hopi, Lipan, Mohave, Paiute, Papago, Pecos, Pima, Tewa, Walapai, Yavapai, Yuma, Zuni the Tigua tribe. The following Indian tribes later develop deep hatred toward Spaniards, white people, and Mexicans when the European culture on the Native American. They were the Apache, Comanche, Jemez, and Mohave. Spaniards, known as ‘conquistadores were assisted in their colonization and missionary effort by some Native American tribes, while others fought and resisted. The clash between two great Nations was yet to come.


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