Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Jumano is the standard ethnonym applied by scholars to a Native American people who, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, were variously identified as Jumano, Humana, Xuman, Sumana, and Chouman. Modern interest began in 1890, when Adolph Bandelier observed that the Jumanos, evidently an important Indian nation during the early days of Spanish exploration north of Mexico, had virtually disappeared from the historical record by 1700. Scholars have since ranged far and wide in pursuit of the identity and the fate of the Jumanos: Frederick W. Hodge believed them to be Caddoans, ancestors of the Wichitas; Carl Sauer favored a Uto-Aztecan affiliation, linking them to the Tarahumaras and other Mexican Indians; Jack D. Forbes argued that they were early Apacheans. In 1940 France V. Scholes and H. P. Mera proposed that "Jumano" was simply a generic term that Spanish colonists had used to designate all Indians who painted or tattooed their faces with horizontal lines; in view of the diversity of opinion, it is not surprising that this suggestion found wide acceptance. Recently, Nancy P. Hickerson has reopened the discussion, citing inferential evidence that the Jumanos' language (never recorded) was actually Tanoan, closely related to that of their trading partners in the eastern Pueblos of New Mexico.

Bandelier's data provided no clues to Jumano prehistory, nor did he speculate about their linguistic or cultural links with other tribes. During the intervening century, archival and archeological research has revealed a fuller–if still incomplete–picture of their adaptation and possible origins. The Jumanos ranged from south of the Rio Grande to the Southern Plains. Within this territory they were essentially nomadic, although there were permanent enclaves at La Junta de los Rios (near present-day Ojinaga, Chihuahua), in the Tompiro Pueblos of New Mexico, and perhaps elsewhere. Their eastward movements were timed to coincide with seasonal rains and prime bison hunting in the Plains; the return trip brought the Jumano bands back to spend the winter at or near the communities of their trading partners. There, meat, hides, and other trophies of the hunt were traded for agricultural produce. Such a relationship of reciprocity between related farmers and hunter-gatherers has many parallels and often develops as an adaptation to changing ecological conditions.

The historical importance of the Jumanos rests primarily on their role as intertribal and interregional traders. This role undoubtedly developed as a consequence of their pattern of seasonal migration. The Southern Plains was a hunting area shared by many Native American groups–Caddoan, Tonkawan, Coahuiltecan, and others. The Jumanos established a close relationship with the Caddos and their neighbors (the "Tejas" alliance) and became active agents in trade between these tribes and those along the Rio Grande. Their routes followed and linked several river systems, including the Pecos, Canadian, Brazos, and Colorado of Texas.

The Jumanos' trade sphere expanded when they adopted an equestrian way of life, and it changed in character as they began to deal in horses. Records of French explorer La Salle's visits to the Ceni (Caddos) reveal the impact of the Jumano trade, which provided the Caddo elite with Spanish clothing, swords, religious artifacts, and many horses; on the return trip, hides and peltries were carried for sale in New Spain. At this time the Jumano traders were, in effect, serving as Spanish surrogates in promoting friendly relations between the "Nations of the North" (the Caddoan confederacies) and the Spanish Crown.

Even as their interregional trade reached its height, the Jumanos' territorial base was increasingly under attack. Apaches and Jumanos were in contention, both for hunting grounds and for trade access along the Rio Grande. In 1540 Coronado's expedition witnessed the enmity between Querechos (Apaches) and Teyas (probably Jumanos). By 1600 the Apaches had taken control of the trade at Pecos Pueblo, and they dominated a wide area east of that site. In the Tompiro region, farther south, the Jumano population was augmented by refugees from the war in the Plains. When the Tompiros also came under attack, around 1660, the Jumanos abandoned New Mexico for good; thereafter, La Junta de los Rios was their only foothold on the Rio Grande. The Jumanos' trade continued from La Junta following a route along the lower Pecos and Colorado Rivers. This route was broken around 1690, when Apache bands pushed eastward to the upper Colorado and the Brazos. Thereafter, the Jumanos had no intact territorial base, and their activities as traders came to an end. Remnant groups around La Junta evidently joined forces with their conquerors after 1700, when Apache occupancy extended southward along the Rio Grande below El Paso.

Throughout the seventeenth century there were several occasions in which Jumano leaders acted as spokesmen for their own and allied tribes, seeking Spanish assistance in defending their territories and trade routes. In 1682 the Jumano chief Juan Sabeata addressed such an appeal to New Mexican authorities at El Paso and escorted a party of soldiers and Franciscan friars to meet with representatives of more than thirty Indian nations on the upper Colorado of Texas. When this effort failed, a remarkable transregional economic and political alliance came to an end, and the Jumanos effectively vanished from the history of the Southern Plains.

Nancy Parrott Hickerson

Texas Tech University

Hickerson, Nancy P. The Jumanos: Hunters and Traders of the South Plains. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Kelley, J. Charles. "Juan Sabeata and Diffusion in Aboriginal Texas." American Anthropologist 57 (1955): 981-95.

Scholes, France V., and H. P. Mera. "Some Aspects of the Jumano Problem." Contributions to American Anthropology and History 6 (1940): 269-99.

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