Our Lipan ancestors were traditional hunters and gatherers who practiced a limited form of agriculture. Once they began to have contact with the Spanish at the Pecos Pueblo of New Mexico and at San Antonio, Texas, they began to trade buffalo and deer hides for sugar, tobacco and chili peppers. However, the Spanish refused to arm the Lipans so that they could defend themselves against their Comanche enemies, so the Lipans were forced to create a shadow economy in order to obtain the guns and ammunition that were crucial to tribal survival. The Lipans established trade alliances with many Indian tribes of east and southeast Texas and traded stolen horses and cattle for guns which were provided to these tribes by French traders along the Red River. After Spain took control of southern Louisiana and began to provide east Texas tribes with Spanish weapons, the Lipans continued their covert horses-for-guns trade with east Texas tribes in order to acquire Spanish weapons with which to defend themselves.
By 1800, Lipans, particularly the bands which inhabited south Texas, had transitioned to a cash economy. Many of the old Indian allied tribes with which the Lipans had conducted their shadow trade had been decimated by disease or brought into Spanish missions. The Lipans, however, who had long been well-known for their abilities to break wild horses, began to conduct a cash trade in horses with south Texas Hispanic settlers.
As wars and revolutions convulsed the Rio Grande region throughout the 1800’s, Lipans also formed strong covert trade relations with many Mexican citizens. Once the Rio Grande became an international border in 1848, Mexican smugglers and warlords formed alliances with the Lipan Apache and funneled horses stolen by the Lipans in Texas through the marketplaces of Mexican towns. In turns, these towns--particularly Zaragosa and Santa Rosa, Coahuila--protected and sheltered the Lipans.