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The Bidai Indians

The Bidai Indians lived nestled along Bedias Creek at the confluence of the Trinity and Brazos rivers in southeast Texas, at the modern-day junction of Grimes, Madison, and Walker counties. Little is known about the Bidai tribe as there is a lack of conclusive evidence about their culture, but what remains illustrates their interactions and relationships with the geography of the land, neighboring tribes, the Spanish government, and French travelers.

Bedias Creek was essential to the forming of Bidai identity, who were named using the Caddo word for “brushwood” after the local geography. They grew maize and hunted bison and deer and may have occasionally ventured to the coast to fish, though they most likely remained in their wooded villages. The creek contains manning infused clay that was used for a variety of pots and containers that were coated inside and outside with thick layers. Some consider the Bidai Indians to be the oldest tribe in Texas, in part to diary entries written by General Mier y Terán, who explored the area in the 1820s for the Mexican government. The Bidai themselves claimed to be the original inhabitants of the land on which they lived and Terán wrote that all other tribes were “foreign” except the Bidai. He also described them as a “relic to an ancient tribe” due to having a much different language than surrounding tribes. Frenchman Jean Louis Berlandier, who accompanied Mier y Terán on his expedition, concurred with this idea, describing the Bidai as “undoubtedly the oldest of the native peoples to Texas.”

The Bidai are first referenced in written records by a Spanish missionary in 1691. Once the tribe was discovered by the Spanish, who controlled the region, considerable bartering began between the two, despite colonial Spanish laws prohibiting trade with Native Americans. The French explorer Francois Simars de Belliste wrote about the tribe in 1718 when he came across the “first village of the Bidayes” who gave him “what they had to eat”. The Bidai Indians and the French engaged in illegal trading of animal skins for European weapons and ammunition until the late 1770s. The Bidai then supplied the Lipan Apache tribe with French firearms that were used in conflicts between the Apaches and both the Spanish and other native tribes. The Bidai were known to be at both the San Francisco Xavier de Horcasitas and the San Ildefanso missions along the San Gabriel River in the 1740s, primarily to end trading with the French, but their stays were short due to lack of resources at the missions. The Bidai also interacted with English traders who came to the area.

The Bidai Indians had extensive relationships with the neighboring Native American tribes. The Bidai are considered to be a branch of the Atakapan Indians, who lived in both Louisiana and Texas. Their settlement at Bedias Creek was surrounded by the Karankawa, the Tonkawa, the Hasinai, and the Akokisa tribes. They intermarried with other tribes and were often linked to the Caddos because they spoke a common language. By the mid-1800s most of the Bidai Indians had been eliminated by epidemics from European diseases. From this point, the Bidai became a “coalescent society” because they banded together with other nations once their tribal structure collapsed. Some merged with the Akokisa, who then joined the Atakapa in Louisiana. The Bidai who were left were rounded up with the Caddo Indians in 1854 and relocated to the Brazos Indian Reservation in north central Texas. They were later permanently relocated to the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. It is believed the Bidai language became extinct in the late 19th century, and only one remaining person of “probable” Bidai descent was located in Texas in the early 20th century.

While the Bidai are relatively unknown in Texas history, their legacy is important to the state. They were once an important tribe, whose alliances throughout the region helped create the identity of Texas as it evolved from a Spanish territory to the 45th state in the Union. According to Mier y Terán, the Bidai were the “architects” of the Caddo Mounds near Nacogdoches, and they are the namesake of Bedias Creek and other locations in southeast Texas. The trading relationships developed by the Bidai allowed them to successfully co-exist among larger, more formidable tribes, and their friendships provided opportunity to merge with tribes when necessary for survival.

Images

Bidai Indian
Bidai Indian Illustration of a Bidai Indian. Source: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/bidai-tribe/
Nuevo Mexico and Louisiana.
Nuevo Mexico and Louisiana. Spanish map showing locations of Native American tribes in the region of present-day southeast Texas and Louisiana. Date: 1733
The Bedias Indians Historical Marker.
The Bedias Indians Historical Marker. Source: https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=100258 Creator: Photograph by Jim Evans. Date: 2007
Texas Map.
Texas Map. Mexican map showing rivers in the southeast region of Texas. Date: 1822-1835
Manning Fused Glass.
Manning Fused Glass. Natural glass occurring mainly in Walker Country, Texas, and used by the Bidai Indians. Source: https://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/theme/tools/images/Lithics-MB34.html

Metadata

Brianna M. Wilcox, “The Bidai Indians,” East Texas History, accessed May 26, 2024, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/389.