The Karankawas: An Extinct Indian Tribe that Lived and Walked in the U.S.

I am reading a book entitled Empires, Nations, and Families: A New History of the North American West.  It is non-fiction and a nice break from my run of James Patterson and Eric Jerome Dickey Novels.  It is a tough read and focuses on some families that were instrumental in attaining fortunes and helping to 'settle'  present day America west of Saint Louis.  I hate the world settle because it makes it seem like the land wasn't settled before encroachment of Anglo-American settlers.

I am amazed by the number of Indian tribes mentioned in the book.  I remember the Comanches, Navajos, Apaches and Cherokees from watching western movies while growing up.  I am presently reading a chapter in which it mentions Osage tribes.  I want to recount a number of other tribes which all have a history that should be told in this country: Umpqua, Clatsops, Cocos, Wacos, Wichitas, Tonkawas, Pawnees, Arapahos, Pascagoulas, Alabamas and Choctaws.  It is amazing the number and
variety of Indian tribes that lived here for centuries before the first 'settlers' arrived here at Plymouth Rock.

The Karankawas were mentioned a number of times in the book.  I wanted to learn more:

Karankawa (also Karankawan, Carancahua, Clamcoƫhs, and called in their language Auia) were a group of Native American peoples, now extinct as a tribal group, who played a pivotal part in early Texas history.

The term Karankawa has been popularly applied to a group of Native American tribes who had a common dialect and culture. These people can be more specifically identified as the Capoques[1] (Cocos), Kohanis, Kopanes, Kronks, and Karankawa (Carancaquacas) bands. They inhabited the Gulf Coast of Texas from Galveston Bay in the present-day Greater Houston area, then south toward Corpus Christi Bay.
Exposure to new infectious diseases, loss of control over territory, conflict with the newly arrived Europeans, and war brought them to extinction before 1860.

I am totally dumbfounded by the term extinct.  It's almost like we are talking about a species of bird.  Extinct indicates that not one of them will ever walk the earth again.  The loss of territory was a major blow to the identity of this tribe.  As Americans, we saw taking land, signing treaties, and then taking more land as manifest destiny.

Here's a few more facts:

The Karankawa were a heavily tattooed, pierced, and painted nomadic people. They made a strong impression on the Europeans who wrote of encounters. The men were strikingly tall, described as between six and seven feet (180–213 cm). They were tattooed and wore shell ornaments. Many greased their bodies with shark liver oil to ward off mosquitoes and other biting insects. The men pierced each nipple, as well as the bottom lip of the mouth, with small pieces of caneaax.
Men wore their coarse hair long–down to their waist. The Karankawa practiced head flattening.[3]

I would have loved to have met some of these tribesmen.  They were tall and probably carried themselves with a great degree of confidence.  They lived at one with the land and mastered fishing and were adept at warfare before guns became the norm.  I would have been amazed at the tattoos in relation to the ones that are worn today.  I also would have wanted to sample how they made their cuisine.  Oysters, mussels, sea turtles and shell fish were some of the foods that were mentioned in the Wikipedia article describing their diet. I love seafood and would have been checking out their spices.

A few more facts:
Stephen F. Austin founded a settlement in their territory in 1823. The settlers frequently fought with the Karankawa. The tribe sided with Mexico in the Texas War of Independence. In that war, the Karankawa chief, Jose Maria, and most of his 20 warriors were killed.[3]
In 1858 Juan Nepomuceno Cortina attacked and killed a band of Karankawa.[3]

Stephen F. Austin is an icon in American history.  He was able to gain an advantage because of his Anglo ancestry.  Many people who met him wondered why he never married.  It was standard practice in the early 19th century to have an Anglo wife and a Native wife.  It made trading and Indian relations easier.  When some of the characters mentioned in the book besides Stephen Austin died, Pierre Choteau for example, it never mentioned children produced by these unions.  Another example of historians bending history to reflect adapted values.

The author of this book is Anne F. Hyde.  I don't know how long it took to write it but it is an awesome read.  I might be finished in three weeks.  I will have more to write about.  This book covers the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of Texas.  I am glued to the facts that are outlined.  I pray for the souls of the Karankawas and the land that they once fished and hunted on. I would not have known about them if I didn't change my reading preferences.  I will be back to a good book of fiction after this dose of reality.

 



 

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