The Manso Indians are an indigenous people who lived along the Rio Grande, near Las Cruces, New Mexico, from the 16th to the 17th century, and were the one of the groups settled at the Guadalupe Mission in what is now Cd. Juarez, Mexico. Some of their descendants remain in the area to this day.
The Mansos were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers who practiced little if any agriculture although farming Indians lived both upstream and downstream from them. They had a life style similar to the Suma and Concho Indians who lived nearby.
Only a few words of their language were recorded. Various theories have been put forth concerning the relationship of their language, including that they spoke a Uto-Aztecan, Tanoan, or Athabaskan (Apache) language. The scant facts about their language indicate that they spoke the same language as the Jano and Jocome peoples who lived to their west. The evidence that exists indicates they spoke a Uto-Aztecan language related to the Cahitan languages of northwestern Mexico.
The first account of the Mansos is from the expedition of Spanish explorer Antonio de Espejo in January 1583. Traveling up the Rio Grande in search of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, Espejo encountered a people he called Tampachoas below El Paso. "We found a great number of people living near some lagoons through the midst of which the Rio del Norte [Rio Grande] flows. These people, who must have numbered more than a thousand men and women, and who were settled in their rancherias and grass huts, came out to receive us…Each one brought us his present of mesquite bean…fish of many kinds, which are very plentiful in these lagoons, and other kinds of food…During the three days and nights we were there they continually performed …dances in their fashion, as well as after the manner of the Mexicans."
However, The Chamuscado and Rodriguez Expedition had passed by the same lagoons in July 1581 and had found them uninhabited. The inference is that the Manso were nomadic, living only part of the year along the Rio Grande and passing the remainder of the year hunting and gathering food in the surrounding deserts and mountains. They seemed to have lived along the Rio Grande from El Paso northward to Las Cruces, New Mexico and in the nearby mountains. They may have shared their range with the Suma who's history parallels closely.
Espejo's Tampachoas were probably the same people who Juan de Oñate found in the same area fifteen years later in May 1598 and called Mansos. Onate and his large expedition forded the Rio Grande near Socorro, Texas assisted by 40 "manxo" Indians. Manso meant “gentle" or "docile" in Spanish. Their name for themselves is unknown.
In 1630, a Spanish priest described the Mansos as people "who do not have houses, but rather pole structures. Nor do they sow; they do not dress in anything particular; but all are nude and only the women cover themselves from the waist down with deer skins." In 1663, a Spaniard said of them, "The nation of Manso Indians is so barbarous and uncultivated that all its members go naked and, although the country is very cold, they have no houses in which to dwell, but live under the trees, not even knowing how to till the land for their food." The Mansos were also said to eat fish and meat raw. But they were described somewhat favorably as "a robust people, tall, and with good features, although they take pride in bedaubing themselves with powder of different colors which makes them look very ferocious."
During the 1660s, hundreds of Mansos had converted to Christianity. The Spanish established a mission among the Mansos but they were of minor concern until the 1680s when the survivors of the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico took refuge in the new settlement of El Paso. In El Paso the Manso established close relations with the refugee Piro and Tiwa (Tigua) Indians. The stress on the region of supporting the 2,000 Spanish and Indian refugees was doubtless considerable and the Manso soon belied their “peaceful” name. The Manso living at the Mission may have been a minority of the tribe as they were also mentioned as being "trouble-makers" along with the Apaches and Sumas still living in the mountains and the deserts.
In 1682, the Governor in El Paso reported that the Manso and the Suma had revolted and attacked Janos. On March 14, 1684, friendly Tiwas and Piros told the Governor Domingo Jironza Petriz de Cruzate of a Manso plot to kill all the Spaniards in El Paso. The Mansos were “tired of everything having to do with God and with the church, which is why they wanted to do what the Indians of New Mexico had done.” The Spanish took prisoners the ringleaders of the plot, who included an Apache and a Quivira Indian (probably a Wichita). Ten of them were executed and later, in November, the Spanish garrison of 60 men plus friendly Indians was used to attack a gathering of hostile Indians who apparently intended to carry out the plot.
Following the revolt the Manso increasingly melted into the de-tribalized atmosphere of El Paso. Disease and Apache raids decimated their numbers, although many may have joined the Apache. By 1765, El Paso had 2,469 Spanish inhabitants and only 249 Indians, tribes unspecified. In 1883, however, Adolph Bandelier found a dozen families of Mansos living across the Rio Grande from El Paso. The Manso have survived as members of the combined Piro-Manso-Tiwa (PMT) tribe. In the 19th century members of the group migrated to Las Cruces, New Mexico from where members helped found the Pueblo of Guadalupe in 1910. There are two groups claiming descent from the Mission Indians of Paso del Norte who have applied for federal recognition as an Indian Tribe: the Piro/Manso/Tiwa Tribe of San Juan de Guadalupe and the Piro/Manso/Tiwa Tribe of Guadalupe. In 2000, there were 206 members of the PMT tribe of San Juan de Guadalupe.