Manataka American Indian Council

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Honoring The Tula

People of the Great Water


The Tula vanished sometime between 1541 and the 1600's presumably as a result of disease brought by the Spanish.  It was suggested by Swanton that the Tula assimilated into Caddo tribes, meaning their descendants would be enrolled in the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma  today.


Today in the center of Caddo Gap, Arkansas stands a large bronze figure of an Indian nine feet in height, mounted on a tall pedestal of native stone. The Indian has his right hand raised, giving the friendship sign, but history tells a different story. The inscription on the marble tablet in the face of the pedestal reads: 


"De Soto 1541-A.D. Here De Soto reached his most westward point in the United States. Here was the capitol of the warlike Tula tribe of Indians who fiercely fought De Soto and his men. Relics found in this vicinity suggest the romance of past centuries about which history will ever be meager and incomplete. Arkansas State History Commission, 1936."


In May 1937 Chief Benito Gray Horse, an Apache and a later-day Keeper of Manataka living in Gulpha Gorge at the foot of the great Manataka Mountain in Hot Springs, gave an Indian benediction at the raising of the bronze statute at Caddo Gap commemorating the achievements of the Tula people. 



The Tula and Hernando De Soto

According to indigenous people encountered by the Conquistadors after they crossed the Mississippi River in 1541, the Tula were very rich and powerful, known as the keepers of a "great water".  The Tula were also known among many southern tribes to be fierce fighters who often used battle tactics completely unknown to other tribes.  The most ferocious tribe on the southern plains were the Osage who often ventured south to raid peaceful Caddo villages near the Tula.  The Osage kept a wide-berth around the Tula.   


The Tula maintained many small scattered villages and farms of individual families stretching several miles east along the Caddo and Ouachita rivers leading to their main village. (called Caddo Gap today).  East along the Ouachita river (called Anilco in Spanish chronicles) the Tula kept overnight lodging and supply stations that were used during frequent trips to the great waters of the hot springs (Manataka - a Tula word).  As the Ouachita river neared the area of the hot springs, about 40 miles east of their main village, the Tula maintained a large work village to process the valuable whetstone (novaculite) and house people who came to bathe in the hot springs.  That work village was located at the foot of Hot Springs (Manataka) Mountain on Hot Springs creek near Indian Mountain.


As the arrogant Conquistadors worked their way west along the Caddo River after leaving the rugged Zig Zag Mountains, (also described in the narratives) they robbed and enslaved several people from small scattered Tula farming areas before coming to the main village.  There the headmen and women of the Tula told the Conquistadors that they must return all that was stolen.  The Conquistadors refused and a battle began. 


The first day of the battle the Tula were nearly decimated.  The Tula had never seen the frightening spectacle of men on horseback.  The Tula had never seen men-beasts wearing metal helmets and breastplates that easily repelled their arrows and lances.  The Tula had never felt the sting of bullets or heard the roar of cannon fire. The Tula warriors carried long pole lances that proved very effective against Conquistador cavalry. Many Tula warriors were lost on the first day of battle. 


That evening the head men and women of the Tula decided to change battle tactics and planned a guerrilla campaign to sabotage and slow the Spanish.  Tula warriors used the mountainous terrain to hit-and-run against the Spanish and lured a number of Spanish to an area beneath the river gorge and rolled massive whetstone slabs and boulders down on top of the Spanish and their horses.  By sundown of the second day, it was evident the Conquistadors lost many men and horses. The Tula tasted the blood of their new enemy and knew who he was from prophesies of old.  That night, Tula leaders decided not to send their warriors back into battle against the Conquistadors. 


Before dawn the next morning, rifle shots, cannon fire and screaming were heard by Tula warriors as they emerged from the lodges that was coming from the direction of the Spanish encampment.  Surprised, they went to the battle area and saw Tula women who were charging Spanish battle lines.   The Conquistadors became confused and demoralized at the sight of fearless, screaming, mostly nude women coming at them in battle.  The Spanish turned tail and ran.  It was the first time the Conquistadors retreated during their long adventure in North America.  After being defeated after a three-day battle with the Tula at Caddo Gap the Conquistadors made a u-turn and retreated along the Ouachita River to discover the "great waters" of the hot springs several days later, some say ten days later they found the great hot springs waters. 


De Soto's secretary, Rodrigo Ranjel described the Tula as, "the best fighting people that the Christians met with."  Battles with the Tula convinced De Soto to turn around and find the easiest egress to the south and the ocean.


The Spanish version of the battle with the Tula is different than stories told by Tula survivors.  According to the Spanish version, they lost only a few men and horses and they voluntarily decided to turn back because the Tula advised them there was nothing beyond Caddo Gap.  Spanish narratives tell a tale about a Tula chief who came begging for relief and gifted the Spanish with buffalo robes and other gifts.  The Spanish decided to spare him and his people. 


Travels of De Soto's Spanish Conquistadors and the Tula People


Origins of the Tula

Several historians refer to the Tula as being from Caddo stock, but there is little evidence to support this claim.  The Tula lived in far northern frontier regions of Caddo territory and far beyond the western frontier of the Quapaw.  The Osage lived far to the north and when their hunting parties raided the peaceful local farming villages of the Caddo, they conspicuously avoided the Tula The Tula were like other North American Indians in many ways, but they were unique among all their neighbors.


There were at least four small Caddo bands in the area and contrary to comments of some historians, the Tula were not Caddo.  Yes, the Tula spoke some of the Caddo language, but they did so for trade purposes and as result of inner-marriage with people from nearby villages.  But, their primary language was not Caddo and remains unclassified.


Unlike any tribe in North America, the Tula raised ducks and domesticated turkeys. They planted  Amaranth and Yam Beans, a turnip-like root, that were unknown to any local tribe.  The Tula also built religious structures like sweat lodges and meeting places were built in the shape of a pyramid!


Another bit of evidence that the Tula were not Caddo is that local tribes were horrified by the deformed heads of the TulaThe 16th century Spanish chroniclers wrote that the Tula practiced cranial deformation and tattooed their bodies. They fought with large spears. Intentionally elongated or flattened skulls are associated with several ancient Mesoamerican cultures such as at Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellers, the Inca of South America, and the Toltec of Central America.  The Tula tightly bound the heads of infants so that their heads became pointed or flat. 


Some historians say that the Tula were ancestors of the Spiroans - (Spiro Mounds of Oklahoma) or the Tunica of Mississippi, or the Wichita Indians of Texas.  There is little evidence to support this notion and none of these assumptions are correct.


It is our opinion the Tula were descendants of the Tula de Allend in the Tula Valley, in what is now the southwest of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, northwest of Mexico City. The inhabitants of Tula were called Toltecs,


Tula (Tollán) near the present-day town of Tula de Allende (about 50 miles north of Mexico City) lie the remains of Tollán, the ancient capital city of the Toltec empire that thrived from 900 CE to 1170. The Tula were the ancient teachers of the Toltec and the Maya people.



(A Mississippi valley house and a Temple Pyramid in the back- ground. From the American Museum of Natural History.)


The primary distinction of the Tula is not their origin, lifestyle, customs, or appearance, but the important role they played as the Keepers of Manataka.   As a fierce and independent people the Tula could have easily closed all paths to this sacred site.  Yet, in their wisdom and strength, the Tula welcomed all tribes in peace and helped their brothers and sisters during their stay.  They served as guides and spiritual guides to other realms.


The word "Tula" and "Manataka" are words forever etched into the sacred ceremonial centers of the Toltec.


There is strong evidence that shows the Tula were the ancestors of the Toltec and ancient teachers of the Maya. The Tula regularly sent emissaries across the continent, north and south to many far outposts and became prominent in those communities.  The Tula of Caddo Gap were originally from Central America.


The Tula named the hot springs, Manataka (The Unbroken Circle) and were the sacred Keepers of Manataka.




Hernando De Soto - Manataka Commemorative Plaque Desecrated

Travels of De Soto's Spanish Conquistadors and the Tula People

Honoring The Tula - People of the Great Water


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