History of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo
First Encounters  
The Emergence
Founding of Pueblos  
Building Ysleta del Sur  
Defending the Frontier  
Travel Down the Mission Trail
Scholars' Bookshelf
Missions Bibliography
Ysleta Bibliography
Roster of El Paso Area Tribal Leaders
Native American Water Use Chronology
Tigua Military History
Early Accounts & Bibliography
Tigua Participation at Texas State Fair
Travel Links & More
Ysleta Land Grant Chronology
Acknowledgments / Resources
The Emergence

According to Tigua legend, long ago, the Ancestors emerged from “The Sipapu” or “Place of Emergence” from Mother Earth. The tribal ceremonial chamber, known as the Tus-La (Kiva), symbolizes the emergence. We hope that you “emerge” from this historical introduction with an understanding of the contributions that the tribe has made and is making to the region and nation.

Pleistocene Big Game Hunters and Gatherers

The Native Americans in the Southwest during the Pleistocene, major geological era (wet period: 30,000 to 10,000 years ago), were hunters of large game. During this epic the region received abundant rainfall. The lush grasslands attracted large grazing animals such as the mammoth and the giant sloth. The people moved seasonally in small family groups and often made temporary camps near large lakes that attractive fish, animals and fowl. They hunted with spear-throwers and made sandals from native plants.
"Passing Traditions" Damacio Colmenero,
 Tigua Cacique & his grandson,
Santiago Valdéz, 1941

Ancient Desert Culture

The Tigua Indians are descended from an ancient Desert Culture that evolved in the Southwest over ten thousand years ago during the late Pleistocene when a major drying period altered the region’s flora and fauna. The drier climate gradually transformed the grassy savannas into deserts with cacti and mesquite. The lakes receded and became pools and salt beds. Smaller animals, such as prairie dogs, deer, antelope and rabbits, replaced the larger ones.

Skilled hunters and plant gatherers of the Desert Culture replaced the tradition of the large game hunters of the Pleistocene Era. The Desert Culture people tracked small game and gathered grass seed, cacti fruit and mesquite and Tornillo beans. They hunted with bows and arrows, made sandals from native grasses and wove baskets. They lived in small family groups and camped at seasonal locations. They constructed pit houses that were covered with brush and grass. They exploited an arid environment, similar to that the present-day Southwest, that included deserts, river valleys, plateaus and mountains.   

Transformation from Desert Culture Hunters & Gatherers to Farmers in Permanent Villages

About a thousand years ago, the descendants of the hunters and gatherers of the ancient Desert Culture acquired agriculture and pottery making skills that were introduced from Central Mexico. Agriculture increased the food supply and made it possible to live in permanent villages, that later were called Pueblos by first Spanish explorers who arrived in the Southwest in the 16th century.

Pueblo Indian Agriculture and Settlement Pattern

The Pueblo farmers grew corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, melons and cotton and augment their subsistence by hunting and gathering. They developed sophisticated irrigation systems (canals, or in Spanish known as acequias) to bring water from streams and rivers to their crops. They developed a complex social organization composed of tribal, family and clan groups. They were also expert weavers and potters. They traded throughout the Greater Southwest in pottery, basketry, shells, hides, bird feathers, turquoise and salt.

The Pueblo people constructed large housing blocks with plazas and ceremonial chambers. The buildings were made from available resources such as rock, timbers, sticks and mud. Many pueblos were organized by clan organizations. The Tigua clan was matrilineal, or through the maternal line, and determined a person’s religious associations and residence. The life-way was intimately associated with the spiritual or religious realm. There was no separation between the so-called real and the sacred world. Clans conducted important religious observances in ceremonial chambers (Tus-lahs or Kivas) that were subterranean or above ground.

Language and Culture

The Tiwa Language belongs to the Kiowa-Tanoan Family that includes Tiwa, Tewa, Towa and Piro and Tompiro. The closest relatives of the Tigua of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (El Paso, Texas) are the Tiwa Indians of Isleta and Sandia Pueblos, located just north and south of Albuquerque, and the Tiwa Indians of Taos and Picuris Pueblos north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The old Spanish spelling was retained by the Tigua of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Today, the Ysleta Indians speak English and Spanish and some tribal members are familiar with the Tiwa Language. The songs and chants are nearly all in the Tigua Language.

Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo