Indian Women In Texas, 1500s To 1800s


Written by Teresa Palomo Acosta
Read by Susan Castle

In approximately 1500, among the Apache in present-day south and west Texas, females known in as "Painted Woman" and "Child of Water" were revered as creators of the world. Indian women used spiritual means and traditional medicine to heal the sick. They also initiated divorce in agricultural-based tribes.

In the 17th Century, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca reported that Indian women served as mediators and emissaries, helping establish diplomatic relations with other Indian peoples. In 1686, a woman chief governed the Caddo, and women wielded power by helping determine whether they went to war or remained at peace. In 1763, the Caddo recognized a female god called Zacado who they believe appeared on earth to tell them how to survive.

During the 18th Century, Apache women regularly traveled between their own and Spanish settlements, serving as negotiators for the release of Apache captives. By 1768, a woman named Sanate Adiva was a governor among the Caddo. In 1772, a woman led the Comanches into San Antonio de Béxar, bearing a white flag and a cross as an initial step in peace negotiations between her people and the Spanish.

Well into the 19th Century, Indian women continued to have important economic roles as professional traders between their tribes and other groups. As Indian peoples were increasingly pushed out of Texas, Caddo women continued to hold tribal leadership roles.


Timeline at

Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

Audio Source Information

Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.