Tigua (Native Americans of the Southwest)

This tribe lives on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, "Isleta of the South," a reference to the ancestral Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico. The Pueblo was formerly known as Reservation. The word "pueblo" comes from the Spanish for "village." It refers both to a certain style of Southwest Indian architecture, characterized by multistory, apartmentlike buildings made of adobe, and to the people themselves. (See also Isleta Pueblo.)

Location Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is located within the southern boundary of El Paso, Texas.

Population The original—late-seventeenth-century—population of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo may have ranged from 500 to about 1,500. In 1990, 211 Indians out of a total population of 292 lived at Tigua. Tribal enrollment in the mid-1990s was around 1,500.

Language The native language of the Tigua people is Southern Tiwa.

Historical Information

History Ysleta del Sur Pueblo was founded in 1682 by Pueblo refugees from the rebellion of 1680. Its original inhabitants included Indians from Isleta Pueblo as well as Piro, Manso, Apache, Suma, and Tompiro Indians, none of whom joined the revolt. These Indians retreated south with the fleeing Spaniards. They built a church at Tigua, dedicated to Saint Anthony, in 1682. Following the 1692 Spanish reconquest, in which these Indians participated, Governor Diego de Vargas planned to resettle them in their New Mexico homelands, but most preferred to remain. The Piros eventually became absorbed into Tigua Pueblo or the local Spanish-American population. At some point, the Ysleta Indians received a land grant from the king of Spain.


For the next two centuries, Tigua people practiced farming on irrigated fields. Tiguas scouted for El Paso settlements against Comanche and Apache raiders. Tiguas also scouted for the Texas Rangers and the U.S. cavalry during the Indian campaigns. After 1848, however, Tiguas were subject to "legal" and extralegal abuses from rapacious Anglos, and much of their land was lost. When President Lincoln acknowledged the New Mexican Pueblo land grants with a second set of silver-headed canes, Tigua, standing in the Confederacy, was ignored. In any case, since Texas retained its public lands, the U.S. government was unable to create a reservation for the Tigua.

In the late nineteenth century and into the 1920s the tribe virtually faded away, mixing with the local populace and living in extreme poverty. In 1967, the state of Texas recognized the Ysleta Indian community; federal recognition followed the next year. The receipt of federal money and recognition revitalized the tribe and provided the means through which it was able to reclaim its identity.

Religion Tiguas practice Catholicism, with some native elements. The Pueblo’s patron saint is Anthony, who was the patron of Isleta Pueblo before the 1680 revolt. A small core of people practice a more traditional religion, featuring a katsinalike entity known as the awelo, or grandfather, who oversees all behavior. The tribe also possesses buffalo awelo masks and an ancient ceremonial drum.

Government The tribal government is Spanish-style civil. There is a cacique, a cacique teniente (lieutenant cacique, or governor), an alguacilor sergeant at arms, a capitdn de guerra or war captain, and four assistant captains. Except for the first and the last, all are elected annually. Ysleta del Sur Pueblo also possesses the old Spanish canes, symbols of political authority, that were carried by the original settlers.

Customs Tribal ceremonial items are stored in a tusla, generally the home of a tribal officer, where celebrations are often held. There is a high rate of intermarriage with outsiders, particularly with Mexicans and other Indians. The Tigua enjoy a close relationship with Isleta Pueblo, New Mexico, 250 miles away. They are also associated with the Tortugas community of Las Cruces, New Mexico, a Tigua community founded in the late nineteenth century and composed of Tigua, Piro, and Manso Indians. The Tiguas also have relatives in Mexico, at the former Piro pueblo of Senecu, near Juarez. There may have been a clan system in earlier days.

Dwellings Originally, adobe houses were arranged around a church plaza. The general neighborhood is shared with Mexican American and Anglo neighbors.

Diet Traditional crops included corn, beans, and squash. The people also hunted buffalo and other wild game.

Key Technology Women made pottery into the twentieth century. They also made willow baskets, and men wove blankets and braided rope.


Trade Tiguas traded corn, wheat, fruit, and salt as well as crafts. Most arts and crafts were sold in El Paso and Juarez, although some were traded in Chihuahua City.

Notable Arts Women made pottery until the last traditional potter died in 1930. Before the early twentieth century, men wove blankets and braided rope, and women made willow baskets.

Transportation Baskets were used to transport goods.

Dress Men wore cotton kilts and leather sandals. Women wore cotton dresses and sandals or high moccasin boots. Buckskin and rabbit skin were also used for clothing and robes.

War and Weapons Tiguas supplied soldiers to help the Spanish reconquer New Mexico in the 1680s and 1690s. They also fought against Comanches and Apaches during most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, established in 1682, contains 66 acres. The state of Texas is trustee for all tribal lands. Men elect all officials including the cacique, war captain, and governor. There is no constitution.

Economy Most people work in El Paso and surrounding cities. Some beadwork, pottery, and other crafts are produced and sold to tourists. Texas has initiated a program to turn the reservation into a tourist attraction. A Tigua tribal museum, restaurant, and gift shop already exist. Gaming is seen as the way of the future.

Legal Status Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is a federally recognized tribal entity. A land claims case for prehistoric Huenco lands, of great religious significance to the Tigua, is pending.

Daily Life The Tigua community is an urban enclave. In the early 1900s, Spanish largely replaced Tiwa on the Pueblo, with English as a second language. Some tribal revitalization has occurred since the 1960s, including ceremonies, language, and hunts, but the population is overwhelmingly assimilated. Tribal rolls closed in 1984 with 1,124 certified members. The Tiguas use their tribal drum, brought from New Mexico 300 years ago, on the Feast of Saint Anthony.

The officially unrecognized Tortuga community (Gualalupe Indian Village) still exists in Las Cruces, on 40 acres owned by their own incorporated organization. Land is privately owned. No one speaks the native language, but several traditional ceremonies, such as the Rabbit Hunt, attended by the people of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, are still performed.

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