The Waco were first encountered by Spanish settlers who first wrote of an encounter with them in 1772, when Athanase de Mesiere, then Governor of Lousiana, noticed two villages during his trek up the Brazos River.
Speaking a Caddoan language, the tribe’s livelihood centered on agriculture, growing melons, pumpkins, lima beans, and corn.
They lived in beehive-shaped houses, with pole supports, typically covered with rushes, but sometimes buffalo hides. The houses stood 20 to 25 feet tall. During planting and harvesting seasons, they resided in their permanent village which consisted of beehive-shaped dwellings that were constructed from poles and thatched with grasses and willow. After harvesting the crops in the fall, the Waco Indians traveled the plains, hunting deer and buffalo in order to feed the tribe. While hunting, they lived in makeshift, temporary teepees.
As white settlers began to encroach upon their territorial lands in the early 19th century, tensions rose and the Waco began to raid white settlements. Though Stephen Austin wanted to attack the village to prevent further raids and establish a colony on their lands, the Mexican government denied this request.
In 1824, Austin sent a delegation to meet with the Waco and, after some negotiation, established a peace treaty. At that time Austin described the Waco village, standing on the site of present-day Waco, Texas, as consisting of 33 grass houses, occupying about 40 acres, and inhabited by about 100 men. About a half a mile below was another village of 15 houses, built close together. The Waco were then cultivating about 200 acres of corn, enclosed with brush fences.
The Waco were included in the treaties made between the United States and the Wichita in 1835 and 1846, and also in 1872 when their reservation in present-day Oklahoma was established. In 1902 they received allotments of land and became citizens.
Today, many of their descendants are members of the federally recognized Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, headquartered in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Their dialect originally spoken is extinct today.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated, January 2019.