There is much confusion about the heritage of the Jumano Indians because they were not all living in the same area when the Europeans reached the New World. In fact, anthropologists say that there were three or more separate Jumano groups. A main group was living near the Rio Grande and Rio Concho Rivers in West Texas, as well as Old and New Mexico. A second lived on the Southern Plains, and a smaller one resided between these two areas. To make identification more difficult, the Jumanos moved from area to area. For example, some actually traveled clear across what is currently the state of Texas.
The origins of the Jumano are still being debated, since the Jumanos adapted the positive attributes of a variety of cultures. It has long been believed that the Jumano Indians were primarily related to the Apaches. Recently, linguistic studies indicate that some of the Jumanos may have been associated with the Apache, but others have ancestors with the New Mexico Tompiro Pueblo Indians. Because they were nomadic, the Jumano had contact with many different tribes, and thus it may be more appropriate to consider them a mixed group rather than a specific tribal unit with its own distinct language and culture. The Jumanos can be compared to the Americans, Canadians and English today. They all speak English and have some cultural similarities, yet they are individual nations and governed separately. Similarly, the Jumanos shared many cultural traits but had separate governments.
The Jumanos are usually divided into three groupings: Jumano Apache, Jumano Plains and Jumano Pueblo. Some Jumanos joined other Indian tribes after the United States was formed, while others retained their cultural heritage in Texas. The name of the Jumanos presents another problem with identification. Historical documents called this group of Indians a wide variety of names, from Jumana to Xoman. The name Jumano became the standard in 20th century scholarship. Most of the information about the Jumanos come from incomplete Spanish documents, which are still being studied. Much additional work has to be completed in order to have a full understanding of the Jumanos' past.
The Jumanos in the Rio Grande area were Pueblo Indians because they lived in communities called pueblos. Unlike some of the Indian tribes in other geographical areas, those living in what is now Texas did not have materials such as buffalo hides to build their homes. Instead, they used dirt, rock and straw to make adobe homes in pueblo villages. To make adobes, mud and straw are mixed together and then dried. The result is a very strong material that looks like a brick. These are piled one on another to make the external walls. Mud is put between the adobe bricks for protection from the elements, such as wind and rain, as well as insects and pests. The roof, which is held up by wooden posts, is covered with sticks, grass and mud plaster. An entire family lived together in one room, and this room was much smaller than those in most houses today. These Jumano Indians farmed the land and raised beans, corn and squash. They used handmade pottery to store the food and wove their clothes and blankets out of cotton.
The Jumanos who lived on the plains did not live in adobes. Instead, they were often semi-sedentary and moved from one place to another. They would live and farm in one location for a while and then travel to another area when all the food was harvested. While traveling, they were hunter-gatherers, eating whatever berries and animals they could find. They followed buffalo herds and used the animals for food, clothing and building their tepees.
Because the Jumanos traveled and often lived near other Indian tribes, they frequently acted as traders. They put goods in large baskets, which they carried on their backs. They traveled long distances and traded with many different groups of people. When the Spanish came to the New World, they also used the Plains Jumanos for trade. In fact, there are still some old Indian and Spanish trails in Texas.
Today, there are some people who say they are from the Jumano culture. Unfortunately, many of the Indians in the Texas and New Mexico area died while the Spanish held the territory. Thousands of Native Americans from different tribal groups were victims of the Spanish conquest. Some Indians were converted by missionaries, while others were sold into slavery to work the Mexican silver mines. Many died from the diseases brought to America by the Spanish and French. Smallpox and measles destroyed entire villages. Other Jumano groups were raided by Apaches or were absorbed into the Apache culture.
When the United States annexed Texas, many of the Indians lost their homelands to the colonists. After the Civil War, the Texan and Mexican Indians were moved into reservations. In 1887, the Dawes Act broke up the reservations. One hundred sixty acres were given to each reservation family, 80 to every single adult, and 40 to each minor. The act drastically cut the amount of Indian land. For example, in 1901, the Comanche-Kiowa reservations were allotted to 2,759 Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache members, and approximately 550,000 acres were set aside for tribal use. The rest of the reservation, about 2 million acres, was opened for American settlement.