One of the most common questions asked about the rock art of the Lower Pecos region is "who were the people who painted them - Comanches? Apaches?"
Most casual observers of the rock art are not aware that the named tribes, known to us from history books and Western movies, did not arrive in the Lower Pecos until the 18th century when the Great Pueblo Revolt of 1680 drove the Spanish colonists out of New Mexico. Deprived of their favorite prey, the cattle and horse herds of the Euro-Americans, the Apaches moved south and east, targeting the equally productive ranches of Coahuila and Chihuahua.
The first Spaniards to cross the Rio Grande in the vicinity of the Lower Pecos encountered native groups whose names are unfamiliar to the majority of Texans - Boboles, Guyquechales, Tiltiqui, Mayhuam. Later, the Spanish were kept informed about events in East Texas by Jumano and Cibolo traders who traveled from Presidio (del Norte) to the Caddo villages and back. The Cibolos (buffalos) lived along the Rio Grande in and below the Lower Pecos and reported that French explorers had canoed up the river from the Gulf of Mexico to a point below modern day Del Rio/Ciudad Acuna. Miriam Lowrance of Sul Ross University suggested that the Jumanos were the painters of the Red Monochrome style rock art found in the Big Bend area as well as the Lower Pecos. Either the Cibolos or the Jumanos may have been responsible for the earliest pictographs that show Spanish artifacts or people - like the various scenes of churches, domestic livestock, and uniformed men found at Vaquero Shelter (Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site), Caballero Shelter (Dolan Springs), and Missionary Shelter (formerly in Rattlesnake Canyon, now destroyed).
In 1729, when Jose de Berroteran was heading north to punish hostiles who raided into Coahuila from Texas, he was warned not to harm the peaceful Cibolos. He replied to the viceroy that in all his years along the border he had never heard of such a tribe. The Apaches were in firm control of the Rio Grande. Although none of the historic pictographs are clearly Apache in origin, the painting at Live Oak Hole is identical to one in the Black Hills of South Dakota and must have been made by a displaced Plains Indian during the 1700s. A horse in battle armor at Meyers Springs is also attributed to the early 18th century, during Apache hegemony. Dancing figures accompanied by shield motifs, there and at Bailando Shelter, are other typical early Plains scenes.
The Apache domination was short-lived. Bitter warfare with their traditional enemies, the Comanches, drove them into the mountains of Mexico and the arms of the Spanish who sought their help in combating the combined Comanche-Kiowa menace to their settled communities and ranches. The Spanish military even served as escorts when the Apache went on winter bison hunts along the Devils River. There are bison hunting scenes at Dolan Springs that may belong to this time period. The height of artistry in the Plains Biographic tradition is found however at two sites - Hussie Myers and El Caido - both depict mounted warriors with hair that sweeps to the ground, their horses sporting war paint, and their opponents vanquished in variations on the coup that proved both the valor and the vulnerability of the Plains guerrilla fighters. The pointed helmets of the soldiers shown at Hussie Miers date these panels to the 1870s, during the last few years before the extirpation of Native Americans in Texas. The artists were probably Kiowas who, during that time period, fought fierce battles at nearby Kickapoo Springs and Howards Well when their allied Kiowa-Comanche raiding parties were confronted by the U.S. Military from Fort Clark and Fort Lancaster.
So - we can attribute some of the paintings in the Lower Pecos to the Cibolos or Jumanos and some to the influx of Plains Indians after 1680. But - no one knows what the people who painted the Pecos River or Red Linear style called themselves or were called by their neighbors. Generically, the people of northern Mexico and southern Texas are often referred to as Coahuiltecans, the name referring to a language group rather than a specific
tribe or band. It is clear that the Archaic people were not directly related to the tribes of historic times, all of whom came from the Plains, but it is quite possible that their genetic strain is perpetuated in some of the modern people of northern Mexico and southern Texas.
I have written a much more detailed account of the Spanish contact period in the Lower Pecos in Iconography of Contact, an article in a Smithsonian Institution book named "Columbian Consequences", Volume 1: Archeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands West, edited by David H. Thomas. If your local library doesn't have this book, contact the RAF for a reprint.