|Tonkawa camp, undated. From the Tonkawa Tribe's website as well as Texas Beyond History.
|Let's just get this out of the way first - the jury's still out if the Tonkawas, a hunter-gatherer tribe that was original to central Texas, were
man-eaters. The Comanches, Wichitas, and Caddos accused them of cannibalism, and European accounts have verified this custom. This
practice may have been ritualistic instead of a dietary preference. However, their reputation as cannibals made the Tonkawas outcasts
among other tribes, and this aversion to them, coupled with Tonkawan allegiance to the Americans, led to their near-annihilation.
The Tonkawas called themselves Títskan wátitch, "the most human people," but their Anglo name derives from a Wichita term meaning
"they live together." This might be because they had their own linguistic group and did not seem to be kin to any of the other Texas tribes
except for the disorganized tribes they absorbed. They lived along the Balcones Fault in Texas, around today's Austin, and down into San
Antonio, and ranged from the Trinity River to the Nueces River. They may have been pushed out of their original homelands in the plains
by larger tribes like the Comanches and Wichitas. Or, they may be an original Texas group, like the Karankawas, who lived at the shores of
the Gulf Coast when the Europeans made contact with them, and were also reputed to be man-eaters. Both the Tonkawas and the
Karankawas (who were completely annihilated by the Anglo Americans prior to the Civil War) ate fish and oysters, which differed from the
larger tribes. For some reason, the Caddos, Wichitas, and Comanches did not eat seafood, even though their areas abounded with the
food source. The Tonkawas and the Karnakawas may have had linguistic kinship, and both also practiced a form of kinship called
"levirate" (taken from biblical descriptions of the Hebrews) which meant that brothers married their dead brother's widows. As the
Tonkawas were matrilineal and the men joined their wives' clans upon marriage, this may have been a practice that kept family ties strong
as well as a prevented of possible cousin marriages, as this was a great taboo.
The Spanish opened missions for the Tonkawas, but instead of salvation, the Tonkawas found disease and mistreatment; they were
enslaved at the missions and faced hostile attacks from other tribes as well. The Tonkawas began destroying the missions. According to
Spanish accounts, the Tonkawas, together with the Comanches and Taovayans, specifically targeted the San Saba mission that had been
designated for the Lipan Apaches in 1756. However, Americans recorded that the Comanches were at continuous war with the Tonkawas,
and that the Tonkawas allied themselves with the Lipan Apaches against the Comancheria.
The American period aided the Tonkawas as both cultures were at war with the Comanches. Tonkawa men became scouts and joined
Republic of Texas militias against the Comancheria, and they continued to do so after Texas became a state, though their fidelity to the
Anglo Americans was not rewarded. They removed willingly to the Brazos Indian Reservation in 1858, where Tonkawa men became trusted
allies. However, Anglo Texan settlers did not differentiate between friendly and enemy tribes, and they attacked the reservation. Thus, in
1859, the U.S. government moved the tribe to the Caddo/Wichita reservation near Anadarko.
It was at the Anadarko where annihilation warfare visited the Tonkawas. The Caddos, Wichitas, Shawnees, Delawares, and other tribes
massacred the Tonkawas, leaving over 300 of them dead - the tribe never recovered from this extermination attempt. The reasons for this
attack vary. Some scholars believe that sectional differences between the North and South led to the massacre, while (more likely) the
enmity rested on ancient tribal disdain for the Tonkawas as well as their roles as military soldiers and scouts for the Texas army.
I agree with Dunlay (1981) that the Wichitas and Caddos may have been so hostile to the Tonkawas because they continued to practice
what other tribes had left behind, such as ritualistic cannibalism. The mini-ice-age of the 14th century may have led to the decentralization
of the big cities and the southern movement of the tribes associated with the high culture who then, in return, pushed other, less
organized tribes further south. Warfare during these invasions may have been incredibly brutal, and may have included consuming the
enemy once he was vanquished. The Tonkawas may have simply continued a tradition that had become less acceptable to more settled
After the massacre, the Tonkawas returned to Texas to settle around Fort Griffin, but marriage into other tribes led to declining numbers.
By 1890, the Tonkawas once again moved to Indian Territory, but not under any official tribal organization or treaty. The 1934 Indian
Reorganization Act led to the Tonkawas once again becoming a recognized tribe, who now live mostly in northern Oklahoma.
|The site of the devastating massacre against the Tonkawas by the Caddos and Wichitas can be seen from a ledge near the now-defunct Indian
City at Anadarko.I have no explanation for the strange streak in this photograph.
"Friends and allies: Tonkawa Indians and Anglo-Americans, 1823-1884" by Thomas W. Dunlay, Great Plains Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3, Summer 1981, pp. 147-158.
Handbook of Texas, Tonkawas
"Notes on the History and Material Culture of the Tonkawa Indians" by William K. Jones, Smithsonian Research online. doi.org/10.5479/si.00810223.2.5
"The Indian Policy of the Republic of Texas" by Anna Muckleroy, The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 25, July 1921 - April, 1922.