Preserving Native American heritage in Texas
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Preserving Native American heritage in Texas

Nov. 29, 2023

By Ryan LaFontaine

AUSTIN — To help honor and preserve the rich Native American history in Texas, TxDOT maintains a close relationship with tribes across the state sharing their history and consulting with them on projects.

As part of TxDOT’s transportation planning and environmental process, the department consults with 28 federally-recognized tribes that have ancestral ties to Texas going back thousands of years.

In early 2023, TxDOT published Texas & Tribes: A Shared Tradition to tell the stories of those tribes and their role in Texas history and culture.

“Every day, TxDOT cultural resources staff learn more about Texas history and the people that made homes here, including Native American history, as part of our environmental planning,” said Rebekah Dobrasko, TxDOT’s cultural resources director. “We wanted to publish Tribes & Texas to connect people with Texas history and show how Native American tribes played key roles in our history and culture.”

Little known pieces of history fill the new book. Hundreds of different tribes lived in Texas for at least 15,000 years before the arrival of Europeans, and Texas & Tribes includes stories of many of them, including the Caddo, Comanche, Apache, Kiowa, Choctaw, Kickapoo and Tonkawa. Today, we share many of their early traditions, including transportation routes, culinary practices and ways of life.

“We believe it is critical to work with tribal leaders on this history, because knowing these important cultural stories and historic places can help TxDOT plan to avoid them during our transportation projects,” Dobrasko said. “Sharing and honoring this history is important to tribes, and TxDOT is committed to deepening our relationship with our tribal partners.”

According to Texas & Tribes, Santa Anna’s forces were ready to continue their offensive following the battle at the Alamo. Many Texans, fearing the Mexican army would soon arrive in their towns, hastily gathered what they could and headed east towards Louisiana.

The Texans crossed into the Big Thicket, a wooded area home to the Alabama and Coushatta tribes, where the raging waters of the Trinity River threatened to block their escape from the Mexican army.

Coushatta Chief Kalita led his people to their rescue. The Coushatta removed the wheels from the Texans’ wagons and attached poles under them, allowing them to navigate the wagons across the river safely.

After the crossing, the Alabama and Coushatta tribes gave the Texans food and shelter. Their assistance saved countless lives. The tribes’ bravery and generosity are remembered as part of the Alabama-Coushatta’s identity. Members of the tribe continue to live in Texas, some of them descendants of Chief Kalita.

Learn more about these Native American tribes and what TxDOT is doing to preserve their rich history, archeology and culture by visiting a tribal reservation or cultural center, or by exploring tribal history through TxDOT’s website.