When we think about contemporary Lubbock, it may be difficult to imagine a place without traffic, housing developments, and department stores. Five hundred years ago, the city we know as Lubbock did not exist. Lubbock was part of a larger network stretching across the Southern High Plains. Spanish explorers traveled through the Llano Estacado, finding a vast grassland with abundant bison but thought to lack water. These explorers crossed paths with Native American groups laden with bison hides and meat on their way to trade with distant populations. By 1883, Lubbock consisted of a little trading post on the banks of Yellowhouse Draw that indicated the beginning of the Americanization of the Southern High Plains and the commencement of an emergent local, national, and international commercial enterprise.

The Southern Plains sits at the southern region of the Great Plains, primarily in eastern New Mexico, western Texas, and western Oklahoma. The Llano Estacado (also referred to as the Southern High Plains) is part of the Southern Plains. It is a flat grassland of approximately 40,000 sq. miles from the northern boundary at the Canadian River to the southern boundary of the Edwards Plateau.

In 1884, the Llano Estacado was transformed into free range cattle country. Ranching was made possible by the introduction of the windmill and its ability to provide water for cattle. Soon after, it was replaced with fenced ranching. Ranching enclosures brought several advantages to the ranch landowner: a reduction in the size of the labor force, better control and care of the herd, and controlled feeding by shifting the cattle from pasture to pasture in a planned grazing program.

You can learn more about the benefits and problems involved with fencing off the Llano Estacado rangeland by going to the lessons page and clicking on Natural Resources Use Lesson.

Animals:The Big Store

Native Americans on the Southern Plains used almost every part of the animals they hunted. Both ancient and modern bison were the main source of meat and other life necessities. We often take non-industrialized technologies for granted. Explore ways you can make the items listed below from different parts of this very generous animal. Where do you get that needed blanket, and how would you make it?

glue preparation - bows - thread - arrow ties - cinches

sinew for sewing - bowstrings

arrow points - cups - fire carrier - powderhorn - spoons - ladles - headdresses - toys - medication

headdresses - pad fillers pillows - ropes - ornaments hair pieces - halters -
bracelets - medicine balls
moccasin lining - doll stuffing - moccasin tops

soups - puddings - paints

water containers - cooking vessels


meat wrappings - buckets - collapsible cups - basins - canteen

fleshing tools - pipes - knives - arrowheads - shovels - splints - sleds - saddle trees - war clubs - scrapers - quirts - awls - paintbrushes - game dice - tableware - toys - jewelry
yellow paints - pouches - medicine bags

choice meat

rattles - containers

glue - rattles - spoons

fuel - diaper powder

tallow - soaps - hair grease - cosmetic aids

containers - shields - buckets - moccasin soles - drums - splints - ropes - sheaths - saddles - saddle blankets - stirrups - masks - parfleches - ornaments - lariats - straps - caps - snowshoes - shrouds - quirts

immediate use - sausages - cached meat - jerky (dehydrated) - pemmican (processed)

hide preparation (tanning) - food

medicine prayers - rituals


tanning agents

cradles - moccasin tops - winter robes - bedding - shirts - belts - leggings - dresses - bags - quivers - tipi covers - tipi liners - bridles - backrests - tapestries - sweatlodge covers - dolls - mittens

Plants: You Can't Eat That!

Oh yes you can! We consider many of the plants that grow in the West Texas countryside, farm lands, and even our own backyards to be weeds, a nuisance to be pulled out or plowed under. But what we call weeds today, were essential to a balanced diet in times past. Wild plants were a significant food source to complement the meat diet of Native peoples, providing starches, vitamins, and minerals. Many wild plants also have medicinal uses. In fact, most of today's modern medicines have sources in the wild. Native peoples ate all parts of plants just as we do today.

narrowleaf yucca (Yucca angustifolia)
Yucca, sometimes called soapweed, is an extremely durable plant with many uses. Its long spiny leaves are a prefect material for use in making items such as baskets, nets, bags, rope, and even sandals. The flower stalk that emerges in the spring can be roasted and eaten like asparagus. The buds and cream-colored flowers are quite tender and can be eaten raw, like lettuce. Young seed pods can be cooked and eaten, but once they turn to seed they are not considered edible. The root is used to make soap, and is also a remedy for head lice.

Netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata)
Hackberrys are small trees with egg-shaped leaves and small red, round fruits. Archaeological evidence indicates that they have grown in this region for over 10,000 years. The fruits contain a large seed, are collected after they ripen in the fall. The entire berry can be ground and shaped into cakes, used fresh or stored for the winter. It makes a good seasoning for meat.

Mesquite (Prosopsis julifera)
Mesquites are spiny shrubs and small trees. They have delicate leaves that camouflage sharp spines. The pods are similar in shape and size to string beans, and grow in drooping clusters. The mature beans or pods of this plant are eaten by cattle, or made into syrups, ground meal, and jelly by humans. The wood has traditionally been used as fuel, and for barbecues as it burns extremely hot and imparts a flavor to meat. The ground meal can be used in bread or stored for the harsh winter. The pods are highly nutritious, furnishing protein, carbohydrates, sugars, minerals, calcium and iron.
Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
People began cultivating sunflowers as far back as 3,000 years ago, and today we commonly eat the large seeds that come from huge plants. But wild sunflowers have seeds that are equally as tasty and nutritious. The fruits (what we call seeds) are harvested in the fall and eaten raw, cooked, roasted, or dried and ground. Flower buds collected during the summer can be boiled and used as a coffee substitute.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia)
A member of the sunflower family, purple coneflower is as popular today for its medicinal properties as it was in the past. It has narrow, lance-shaped leaves, and long ray petals that range in color from light pink to pale purple. The center is a large, brownish-purple disk. The root is the most sought after part of the plant, and is used for everything from snakebite to sore throats. Colds, coughs, toothache, arthritis, stomach cramps, measles, and mumps have all been relieved by ingesting the roots either raw or boiled as a tea. It has a long contemporary medical history, and is very popular today. Check out the shelves in your local health food store and see how it's marketed for today's consumers.

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus)
Amaranth is a hardy plant that grows throughout the Great Plains. We call it careless weed, but the leaves of this plant can be harvested in the spring when young, then boiled and eaten like spinach. They are high in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and vitamins A and C. In the fall, the abundant seeds can be collected, cleaned, and ground into a meal which is often mixed with cornmeal for flour, or cooked as cereal or mush. Many groups cultivated amaranth, among them the Aztecs of Mexico.

Buffalo gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima)
Buffalo gourds are members of the cucumber family. They have rough triangular leaves, yellow trumpet flowers in the spring and summer, and round green-striped fruits, or gourds. They have a sharp, foul odor, and the fruits are extremely bitter. The seeds contain high amounts of oil and protein and were often used for food. The root, which can weigh up to 90 pounds, has a high starch content and can be used to make a pudding similar to tapioca.
Silverleaf nightshade (Solanum eleagnifolium)
Sometimes called horse nettle, or trompillo, silverleaf nightshade is best identified by its star shaped, purple flower with bright yellow anthers that stand erect in the center. Its leaves are prickly, oblong, and have wavy edges, and it produces round, yellow berry that turns a dark gold as it ages. Though its fruit is poisonous to cattle and humans, the berries can be crushed to extract a compound called rennet, which curdles milk and aids in making cheese. The crushed berries can also be used to treat sore throat and toothache.