The Atakapans are a hard group to find
out much about. The first Europeans to come in contact with them did not
bother to write down much about them. Later Europeans did the same, so
almost no record from eye witness accounts is available to us today. The
accounts we do have are often second hand and appear to have some racial
bias mixed in to them. Almost all of the more recent written material about
them is in obscure archeological reports in filing cabinets at state agencies
Here is some of what is known. Atakapan
is a language and not really a tribe. There were several tribes, or maybe
just bands, who lived in the same geographical area and spoke Atakapan.
The Atakapan language seems to be part of the larger Tunican language family.
If this is so it would link the Atakapan speakers of Texas with the Southeastern
Indians to the east of Texas. The other Tunican speakers are found in south
eastern Arkansas going down along the Mississippi river to Natchez Mississippi.
Atakapan itself is a Choctaw word that means "man eaters".
The several tribes and bands lived in
an area starting around modern Houston and going east into Louisiana.
In fact, some Louisiana Atakapans are still living there. Swanton places
the Atakapans as far east as the Lake Charles area of Louisiana. Some of
them lived along the coast and others lived father north going up to the
Caddo Indian territory. Most of the villages and campsites in Texas are
near the major rivers in this area, the Trinity river and Sabine river.
This area has several very different environmental zones and the zone a
band lived in made a difference in how they lived. Click
here to see a map of east Texas Indian lands.
Near and along the Gulf Coast there
were smaller bands who lived very much like the Karankawa.
The name of the main band near the coast was "Akokisas". They
were also sometimes called the Han. The Akokisas were hunter gatherers.
This means they would catch fish, crabs and clams in the gulf and hunt
birds and small game like rabbits. They also hunted bear and deer a little
farther inland. They gathered lots of plant for food. If you do really
know what a hunter gatherer is you should go to the "Read
me First" page and look it up.
The Karankawa had large shallow inland
bays of water in their territory. The coastal Akokisas did not have these
large bays except for the eastern edge of Galveston bay. During
the winter lots of fish come into the bays so the Karankawa would make
large seasonal camps near the bays so they would be near this good supply
of food. Without bays, the Akokisas seem to have done just the opposite.
They would camp in temporary camps near the Gulf in the summer and move
around a lot. In the winter they moved inland and made more permanent camps.
In the fall there are a lot of ducks and geese that migrate though the
coastal plains and marshes in this area. The land along the coast here
is marshy and is not any good for growing corn or beans or any of the other
crops the Indians had back then. So, the Akokisans did not farm.
This area is part of the Texas Coastal
Plain. It is low lying grassy land with few or no trees. There are many
marshes and wetland areas here. It often floods. Because there were so
few trees the Akokisans did not make much in the way of shelter. They made
very simple wind brakes and lean to shelters in the summer. In the winter
they would move inland to where a few trees were available. They would
then make small dome shaped crude huts. This kind of hut is called a wickiup.
We built a wickiup and took pictures. Click here
to see how a wickiup is built. They would bend flexible sapling trees
over and make a simple frame. Then they would then throw bear skins and
maybe grass on top of the frame to make a crude hut.
This is NOT an Akokisian hut. It just LOOKS
a lot like a Akokisian hut might have. It is the same shape and type of
construction. An Akokisian hut might use animal skins instead of the grass
mats like you see here. This is really a Kickapoo hut. I wanted you to
see what this kind of hut looks like.
To the north of the Akokisans were other
bands and tribes of Atakapan speakers. These were the Patiris, Bidais,
and Deadoses. The Patiris lived along the Trinity river and that is about
all we know about them. The Bidias were part of the Hasinais Caddo confederacy
and some people thought they were Caddo. But they were not Caddo. The Bidias
did live much like the Caddo. They farmed and lived in permanent villages.
This means they were sedentary farmers. They grew the same crops as the
Hasinais Caddo and lived in huts like the Hasinais. Sounds to me like looking
up the Caddo page would be a good idea, HINT, HINT.
They grew corn, beans and other crops. They also hunted when they could
The area they lived in was on the southern
edge of the East Texas Piney Woods. The land here is good enough to farm
and grow crops so the Bidais were sedentary farmers and not hunter gatherers
like their relatives the Akokisans just south of them. They also had more
trees than the Akokisans did so they made huts like the Hasinais. See the
Caddo page for pictures of this kind of huts.
Because they lived near so much water
in the rivers and marshes all of the Atakapans made and used dugout canoes.
A dugout canoe is made from a tree trunk that is hollowed out.
It is said that the Atakapans were short
stocky and dark skinned. They did put tattoos on their bodies, a widespread
custom of all the tribes around them. They wore very little, but eyewitness
accounts of how they looked are so rare and sketchy we cannot be sure of
what their clothes looked like.
All the Atakapans are gone now. They
died out or were absorbed into other tribes in the middle 1800s. It is
a shame we know so little about them.
Copyright by R Edward. Moore and Texarch
Associates,1998, 2000, all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or
reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted
in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.
Back to the Texas Indians