Stephen F. Austin's Texas

Animals in Texas History    Native Americans and Animals     A Thanksgiving Custom   Time Machine

Animals in Texas History

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Can you imagine the Texas plains so thick with bison, that a traveler could travel on horseback for three days as the herd stretched from horizon to horizon? Seeing thousands of deer in a single day? Prairie chickens so abundant that they blocked out the sun as they flew overhead? Prairie dog towns twenty-five miles in diameter? This is what Stephen F. Austin and his group of followers found when they first arrived in Texas over 160 years ago.

The rich woodlands of East Texas, also known as the Big Thicket, once supported the greatest diversity of wildlife in North America. With so much wildlife, early Texas settlers felt no need to limit their hunting.

Bison was once the major source of food and clothing for Native Americans Indians. The U.S. government asked hunters to destroy the large herds of bison, so that the Native American Indians would be forced to move elsewhere in search of food and clothing.

Following the Civil War, Texas ranchers brought millions of dollars to the bankrupt state by exploiting wild herds of cattle. This led to the birth of the American cowboy. Cattle quickly took over the Texas plains and pushed out the native wildlife. Ranchers in West Texas extirpated bears, wolves, and other predators on site. Farmers in East Texas shot ducks, geese, and Carolina parakeets, which feasted on grain and fruit crops.

The story of the "taming" of Texas goes on and on. Finally, in 1907, Texas formed a game department, which established hunting seasons and set limits on the number of animals people could legally kill. However, some species, such as the highly persecuted cougar, are still unprotected today.

These days many Texans realize the importance of protecting all species to preserve the delicate balance of nature. We must do all we can to educate others and to protect the species that still remain in the great state of Texas!

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Native Americans & Animals

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People lived in Texas long before Stephen F. Austin and his followers arrived. These people were Native American Indians. Apache, Atapaka, Caddo, Comanche, Kichai, Kiowa. Lipan, Natchez, Tawakoni, Tonkawa, Waco, and Wichita were some of the many tribes that once thrived in Texas.

The Native American Indians insured that the plants, and animals they depended on for their survival would be around for seasons to come, by taking only what they needed. Before, during, and after each hunt, special rituals were performed in order to honor and thank the animals for providing them with food, clothing, and other necessities.

Native American Indians were and still are successful at living as one with nature because they have learned about, understand and respect the balance of nature. Today, many Native American Indians are named after animals, whose qualities they respect and admire. You may have heard of the names "Sitting Bull" and "Crazy Horse".

1.  If you were a Native American Indian what animal would you want to be named after? Why?



2.  Name two qualities that you admire about the animal you have chosen.



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A Native American "Thanksgiving" Custom

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To thank the Great Spirit for a plentiful harvest, Native American Indians hung three ears of corn, and a hollowed out gourd containing food scraps and seeds outside their teepees for the birds. When the birds came to eat the scraps and seeds, they represented HIM from the heavens accepting the people’s gift.

Students can revive this old custom by offering "gifts" to the birds outside the classroom. Have students make natural bird feeders to hang in the branches of trees as a way of saying "thank you" for the fall harvest. It is from the fall harvest that you and your family get fruits and vegetables to eat during the many months before the next fruit and vegetable crops can be harvested.


Pine Cone Feeder: Spread peanut butter on all sides of a pine cone and roll it bird seed. Hang it on a tree branch where birds will be able to perch while they are eating.

Dried Fruit Garland: Using a blunt needle and dental floss, string some dried figs, apricots, apples, fresh cranberries and toasted oat cereal. Drape the garland on a tree.

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Time Machine

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If you could travel back in time, 100 years ago, what would you change about how the Earth has been cared for?



List items that we have today that our ancestors would not have owned.



Share your thoughts and list of items. Sit together and discuss your thoughts about life then and now.

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