Indigenous tribus in the region

The history of indigeneity in El Paso/Juárez border is above all fragmented, weathered by time, and layered by colonial powers, but persistent to this very day before us. From the limited fragments scoured by archeologists to the historical narratives penned by callous European settlers, missionaries, and modern academics, and to the oral histories and ceremonies passed down between generations, all this living history exemplifies Native American’s resiliency and significance to the Paso del Norte region. 

Paleo-Indian period (~23,000 to 8,000 years before the present)

Some of the major archeological sites and debitage left behind during the so-called Paleo-Indian period indicate certain stone tool assemblages identified with the Clovis complex[1] This material culture left behind in a variety of kill sites and butchering stations, as well as other procurement sites in relation to ancient lakebeds and ponds surrounding the Paso del Norte region. The oldest of these sites is adjacent to the ancient lakebed of Lake Otero in White Sands (about 95 miles north of present-day El Paso, Texas) dating approximately to 23,000 years ago. This discovery completely overturned the Bering Strait theory of early human migration that erroneously placed humans in the New World at around 14,000 years ago. Still, the wide distribution of these artifacts and fossilized footprints suggests a highly mobile hunting-gathering strategy for early humans in this region. 

Towards the end of this Paleo-Indian period, around 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, a more diverse set of lithic traditions emerged- collectively known as the Plano tradition– whose use of these instruments was primarily for big game hunting, such as bison. During this time, there is also evidence of increased labor specialization by using labor-intensive hunting techniques involving larger social groups. Lastly, evidence of the climate warming during the Last Ice Age (occurring 12,000 to 8,000 years ago) can help explain the gradual shift from hunting-gathering to a specialization of hunting techniques and agriculture patterns thus leading to the emergence of early single-family pithouses typical of early Jornada Mogollon peoples.[2]

Archaic/Formative- Emergence of the Jornada Mogollon (8,000 to 2,000 years before the present)

What characterizes the so-called Formative period is a major shift from dispersed hunting-gathering to an increased population and specialization of labor. This shift is evidenced by hunting techniques involving larger social groups, along with increased variability in projectile points and lithic instruments, as well as sedentary living quarters such as early pithouses and early pueblo structures. Another important innovation during this Formative Period was the introduction of domesticated plants, particularly of importance in this region were the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), as well as the Yucca plant, Creosote bush, Amaranth grains, Chenopodium herbs, and other local flora. Sustainability for these early peoples of the Paso del Norte region, whether as mobile foragers or dwellers in pithouses, depended upon a symbiotic relationship between humans, the climate, and animal migratory patterns. 

[1] Name given to the first arrowheads discovered in the North American continent near Clovis, New Mexico, which dates to about 13,000-12,000 years ago; then in Folsom, New Mexico, which dates to about 7,000-6,000 years ago.

[2] This section is mostly taken from David Carmichael, et al. Archeological Excavations at Two Prehistoric Campsites Near Keystone Dam, El Paso, Texas (A Report Prepared for the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District, New Mexico, Contract DACW47-84-C-0006, Report No. 577: December 1984), for more information on adaptive strategies see, chapters two and three. Information for this section was also obtained from John A. Peterson, Roy B. Johnson, and Mark Willis, Archaeological Survey of the Clint Landfill in East El Paso County, Texas (Texas Antiquities Committee, Jan. 2000); as well from Historic Native Peoples of Texas, ed. William C. Foster (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008), see chapter five for Jornada Mogollon peoples; and finally from Matthew R. Bennet, et al. “Evidence of Humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum” in Science, Vol. 373, No.6562 (Sept. 24, 2021)

This so-called Formative period was also characterized by increased variability in the aesthetic and cultural production of ceramics and architecture. Beginning with simple monochrome brown (also known as El Paso Brown) or black on white pottery and evolving into more aesthetically complex polychrome pottery with intrinsic geometric patterns and anthropomorphic images, the Jornada Mogollon peoples began to permanently alter the cultural landscape across the Paso del Norte region. Archeologists have categorized four distinctive cultural and aesthetics styles for ceramics and architecture: the Mesilla (900-1100 CE), Doña Ana (1100-1200 CE), El Paso (1200-1400), and Post-Pueblo (1400-1530s) styles. In short, the origins of urbanicity within the Chihuahuan desert is one of the main legacies left from this Formative period. It is important to note however, that by 1450, most of these settlements were abandoned due to prolong drought and increased competition from newcomers, most notably western European colonial powers.[1]

European contact and the Historic period (1450 – present) 

Native American tribes that roamed the region during this prehistoric and early historic period were the Sumas (known for their tattooed faces), Mansos, Jumanos, Piros, Caquate, Tanpachoa, Raramuri, and then later the Apaches and Tiwas.[2] Most of these early groups had been engaged in seasonal trading activities with neighboring Native American tribes such as the Caddos to the east, and the Casas Grandes people near the Paquimé/Casa Grandes complex to the southwest. In fact, extensive archeological evidence dating between 700-1450 CE points to a robust trade network that extends as far north as the Four Corners region of the North American states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico (particularly in the Chaco Canyon ceremonial complex) to Paquimé and all the way south into central Mexico, as well as east into the Mound Building cultures of the Mississippi River Valley and west into the coastal peoples of present-day California. In short, early peoples from this region were economically and culturally interconnected with peoples across the entire continent known to Native peoples as “Turtle Island.”

[1] This section is mostly taken from “Who or what is Mogollon?” Archeology Southwest- Fact Sheet Series (May 2013) and from personal notes from a visit to the El Paso Museum of Archeology located at 4301 Transmountain Road, El Paso, TX, 79924. For more information visit their website:

[2] Except for the Tiwas-Tewas-Tiguas, who came at a much later date from Santa Fe into the Paso del Norte region. In fact, the Apaches entered this region around 500-1,000 years ago from Athapaskan-speaking peoples of Canada/Alaska while the Tiwas permanently settled in the Paso del Norte region after the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 which decimated the Spanish colony of Santa Fe with its survivors migrating south to the Piro-Manso region of El Paso del Norte.

This history of indigenous people in the Paso del Norte region violently changed when the Spanish first walked along the Paso del Norte Region. The official colonization of this region was initiated by Juan de Oñate’s campaign of conquest that intensified from 1581 to 1598, taking formal possession of the entire territory along the Rio Grande River for the Spanish Crown. 

It would be about fifty years after Oñate’s brutal conquest until the first mission, by the Franciscan Order, was officially established in the Paso del Norte region: the Misión de Guadalupe de los Mansos de Paso del Norte was erected in 1659, which still stands today in downtown Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. However, most of the missions throughout this region were established as a response to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 that occurred in Santa Fe, New Mexico, briefly enabling Indigenous peoples to regain power of the northern Rio Grande valley[1]. For instance, Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de los Piros del Socorro, was erected in 1682 as a sanctuary for displaced Puebloan peoples (some Piros, Tano, and Jemez) who had allied with the Spanish during this revolt[2]. It was this series of missions and presidios throughout the Rio Grande in the wake of the Pueblo Revolt, then followed by the invasion of México by North American forces in 1848 that would all but ensure Anglo-European dominance of this region from the mid-19th century onwards.[3]

Indigeneity, Modernity, and Resilience in the El Paso del Norte region (1882-present)

Although most historians contour the history of indigenous people as caught between the processes of elimination and assimilation once European contact commenced and railroads reached this region in 1882[4], yet an oft forgotten facet of indigenous history is the resiliency of Native American life that flourishes right before our eyes. For instance, many individuals throughout the El Paso-Juarez borderlands can trace and identify with their Native American ancestral past. Just look around this corridor in Socorro Road and the resilience and beauty of Native American life will be readily apparent.

[1] Misión de Corpus Cristi de San Antonio de la Isleta del Sur (Ysleta Mission) was established in 1680. Ysleta was known to Native population as “Chiawipa.” St. Anthony was the patron saint of the Isleta mission and of the migrating Tiwas signifying loss and recovery; for more the Ysleta Mission see Laura Thomas, A Short History of Ysleta, Texas (El Paso: Department of Planning, 1966), 2. 

Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de los Piros del Socorro del Sur (Socorro Mission) was established in 1680. Nuestra Señora del Pilar y de Glorioso San José (San Elizario Mission) was established in 1684. For more on El Paso Missions, visit:

[2] In fact, the word “Socorro,” the namesake of the mission and township means “sanctuary/help” in Spanish.

[3] Information for this section is taken from Historic Native Peoples of Texas, ed. William C. Foster (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008); and Brian DeLay, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), as well as from personal notes taken during a visit to El Paso Museum of Archeology.

[4] The southern intercontinental railroad greatly enabled the capture of Chiricahua Apache leader, Geronimo, which occurred on April 4th, 1886, at Fort Bowie near the Arizona-New Mexico border. According to the mainstream narrative, Geronimo was the “last” Native American to surrender to the US Army. For more on Geronimo, see Edwin R. Sweeny, From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012).


Bennet, Matthew R. et al. “Evidence of Humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum.” Science, Vol. 373, No.6562 (Sept. 24, 2021)

Campbell, Howard. “Tribal Synthesis: Piros, Mansos, and Tiwas through History” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12, No. 2 (June 2006), 293-311

Carmichael, David, et al. Archeological Excavations at Two Prehistoric Campsites Near Keystone Dam, El Paso, Texas. A Report Prepared for the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District, New Mexico, Contract DACW47-84-C-0006, Report No. 577: December 1984

DeLay, Brian. War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009

Foster, William C., ed. Historic Native Peoples of Texas. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008

Fox, Anne A. and Kristi M. Ulrich. A Guide to Ceramics from Spanish Colonial Sites in Texas. San Antonio: Center for Archeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio, Special Report #33, 2008

Houser, Nicholas P. “The Tigua Settlement of Ysleta del Sur” Kiva, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter 1970), 23-39

Jackson, Lora. Prehistoric Indians of the El Paso Area. El Paso Museum of Archeology, 2005

Martínez, Oscar J. The First Peoples: A History of Native Americans at the Pass of the North. El Paso Community Foundation, 2000

Miller, Carol Price and David L. Carmichael. “A Pass to the Future: The Keystone Site.” Password, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring 1999)

Peterson, John A., Roy B. Johnson, and Mark Willis. Archaeological Survey of the Clint Landfill in East El Paso County, Texas. Texas Antiquities Committee, Jan. 2000

Rodríguez, Roberto Cintli. Our Sacred Maiz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2014

Schilz, Thomas F. Lipan Apaches in Texas. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1987

Sweeny, Edwin R. From Cochise to Geronimo: The Chiricahua Apaches, 1874-1886. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012

Vierra, Bradley J., Richard C. Chapman, and June-el Piper, eds. Searching for Piros near the Old Socorro Mission: Phase IIB Excavation at 41EP2986 and the Phase II/IIB Monitoring Program. Albuquerque: Office of Contract Archeology, University of New Mexico, 1997

“Who or what is Mogollon?” Archeology Southwest – Fact Sheet Series (May 2013). Courtesy of El Paso Museum of Archeology

Wright, Bill. The Tiguas: Indians of Texas. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1993