Sunday, August 9, 2009
Part III: What does Navasota mean? NABASOTO!, Do you still care?
Back to the origin of the name “Navasota.”
First of all, note the one lasting evidence in the Navasota Valley of all these early European adventurers. Bones. Lots of them. French bones, Spanish bones, and some buffalo bones. And no doubt a few Native American bones.
Joutel, the priestly scribe who accompanied La Salle and buried his bones, told of a southwestern tribe called the “Nabedache,” one of many tribes that met with La Salle’s party during their ill-fated march across Texas rivers. One historian offers that these were the ancient “salt people,” from one of several possible “San Pedro” communities in South Texas, yet associated with the Caddo Confederacy. During La Salle’s visit, they were ranging in East Texas, but they were nomadic salt traders and ranged all over Tejas, probably basing their operations from the prolific salt springs near present day Salado. And this may be all we know about them.
One possible candidate for kinsmen of this Texas tribe is the Yaqui Indians, who are an extraction of the Aztec-Tanoan family, and who may have once ranged from northern Mexico into South Texas. Their homeland in northwest Mexico is a valley whose river leads to the Rio Grande Valley, the ancestral trading destination of the Nabedache. If we look for traces of the Yaqui, indeed we have a nearby tributary of the Brazos called “Yegua” Creek, perhaps a related word. Yagua was a name of a Calusa village in Florida. They too were probably kin linguistically to the Yegua tribes here. Yaguara is the Native American word for Jaguar, who were once native here and the king of all animal spirits in the ancient Mexican pantheon.
It is postulated that centuries before, sea going Caribbeans came to a site called Poverty Point in Louisiana, and spread their gens and languages and panther cult on the Gulf Coast in all directions. The Yaqui speak a language called Yoeme/ Yuma and were most likely a part of a larger group we know as “Yuman” culture. They were fierce and never really tamed, finding refuge deep in Mexico in canyons with no names. They gave the Navajo tribe, an unrelated and isolated language group who arrived from far away in the Canadian Rockies, their name, meaning “prickly pear town”. So it is in the English - Yoeme dictionary where we find some cognates for Navasota worth considering. Ironically, or amazingly, Navas + Ota means “prickly bones” or skeletons. This possible translation may just be a coincidence, but is fascinating never the less, given the history of the area. Not only had European adventurers left many of their bones here, but Native Americans had slaughtered legions of buffalo along the banks of the Navasota for eons. Soto ote means to make pottery. Soto i = pot or kettle. Coincidentally, The red clay banks of the Brazos and the Navasota rivers made clay digging convenient and pottery making possible. The “muddy Brazos” and her little sister, the Navasota River were in fact the domain of one of Texas’ few pottery making tribes, the Caddo, who were famous for their earthenware.
Even the early Texans established a brick making operation here during the Republic years. So in another Yoeme phrase, Nava-soto would mean something like Prickly Pears and Pots! Or, more to our understanding, [where one can find and eat] “potfuls of cactus” This is exactly how native Americans named things, by the apparent characteristics. And as far as Native Americans were concerned, Nava Soto meant Wal mart! We cannot dismiss the importance of the possible relation of Navasota to the Yoeme word Navaho... Before you object too loudly, check out the massive prickly pears growing in the area. There are two different species.
Early naturalists traveling in Texas noted that this very area was where they first came upon old friends once observed in the Arizona territory... that is prickly pears, the ancient symbol of the Aztec empire. The presence of a these two major natural resources at the junction of the Navasota and Brazos rivers, had been historically important for thousands of years. The cactus may have been planted by the ancients on their timeworn trails through here, as a territorial marker. So PERHAPS the name Navasota stems from the Native American language of northern Mexico and connotes something to do with cactus, or pottery or both. Or even more interesting, the name meant an ancient killing field, a place where the ribs of great beasts and trespassers poked through the grass in profusion. That’s not bad for starters. And there is much much more!