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This is a short Tonkawa page. A longer
one is coming. We are working on it. Finding good source material on this
tribe is surprisingly hard for such a prominent and important tribe. I
did not want to repeat all the junk material that is out there and have
tried to go to better sources and use them. There is a lot source material
on the history on this tribe after the Texas revolution. The ethnological
material is the material that is so poor and wanting. So, I have left out
most of the history and tried to include the cultural information. I will
be adding more of the history later.
The Tonkawa lived in central Texas near
modern Austin. Their historical territory was along the Balcones Escarpment
between Austin and San Antonio. Originally the Tonkawa had a larger territory
that included the hill country around Llano and Mason Texas. This is the
Edwards Plateau region west of Austin and San Antonio. See the map below.
They would roam all the way over to the Brazos river. Later, around 1600,
the Apache and even later, around 1750, the Comanche moved into the region
and pushed the Tonkawa out and east of the Edwards Plateau. This is where
they were in most of the Spanish period and all of the Texan/ American
periods of history. They lived just to the east of, and along, the Edwards
escarpment. They were friendly with the Karankawa and shared the
lands between the Karankawa homelands and their homelands. The Spanish
often found these two tribes camped out together in these shared lands.
They also shared land with the Coahuiltecan tribes to the south of them.
Bexar county (San Antonio) was a mix of Tonkawa in the north and Coahuiltecan tribes in the south. Travis and Williamson counties
shared land with the Wichita tribes.
The Tonkawa also seem to have been hosts
for many other tribes. At the springs in San Marcos and New Braunfels a
dozen or more tribes from all over Texas were found by Spanish travelers.
These were trade camps where the Caddo, Jumano and Coahuiltecan tribes
would come to camp with the Tonkawa for several months in the summer. While
there they would hunt buffalo on the blackland plains just to the east
and trade goods and news. This region the Tonkawa lived in was a sort of
crossroads between the tribes from north east south and west. All this
means the Tonkawa were friendly and wanted to get along with other peoples.
Later, this can be seen in the way they seem to have been able to get along
with the American settlers better than the other tribes. See the map to
find the modern counties were they lived.
Tonkawa means, "the people of the
Wolf". The Tonkawa claimed they were all descended from a mythical
wolf. For this reason the Tonkawa would never kill a wolf. This way of
claiming an animal or thing as a first ancestor is called a totemic belief
system by anthropologists. As in most societies with totemic ancestors,
the Tonkawa were divided into clans. Each clan had a mythical animal or
spirit they believed guarded them.
The Tonkawa Wolf Dance. Drawn in the
They refused to farm because they said
they were wolves and wolves hunted for food and did not farm. So they got
their food by hunting and gathering. This makes them hunter gatherers.
They lived in a region with lots of animals to hunt. This region is still
one of the best deer hunting regions in Texas. The blackland prairies at
the base of the Edwards Plateau had lots of buffalo. There are huge and
beautiful springs in the region too. www.texasindians.com The springs at
New Braunfels and San Marcos are so big they turn into rivers. In Austin
Barton Creek springs and others are huge. San Antonio also has a number
of good springs. The Colorado and Guadalupe rivers run right through the
Tonkawa lands. These rivers and springs have fish, crawfish and clams and
mussels in them. Pecan trees grow along the rivers and streams and all
over this region. So with all the animals to hunt, fish to catch and pecans
to pick up the Tonkawa did not need to farm. All the springs and rivers
also means there are plenty of plant foods like blackberries roots. The
the Tonkawa had a good supply of food from hunting and gathering. Here
is a list of the food sources from the paragraph above; deer, buffalo,
fish. crawfish. mussels, pecans. blackberries, roots. Can you think of
Did you know the the San Marcos, Comal
and Guadalupe rivers used to have a species of crawfish in them that was
as big as a lobster? These crawfish, also called prawns, were so good to
eat the Anglo settlers caught almost all of them. They are now extinct
in the Guadalupe and Comal rivers. A few still live in the San Marcos river.
I have seen some of these and they are so cool I had to say sumthin about
them here. Makes you think about how how fragile our environment is when
we can almost wipe out a species like this.
The Tonkawa lived in both huts, wickiups
and tee-pees. If you do not know what a wickiup is go
here and take a look. Be sure and come back! You better know what a
tee-pee is without a picture or me telling you!!! If you don't know go
to the Comanche page and look at the picture of tee-pees. The huts described
by Americans were probably wickiups. The Tonkawa wickiups were described
as being very crude and covered with brush and anything available.
The Tonkawa tattooed their bodies and
faces. They would have black tattooed lines all over their bodies. The
Karankawa, Wichita and Jumano also tattooed themselves in the same way.
This caused the Spanish to confuse these tribes when they based their identification
on appearance. This makes Spanish records hard to use as sources to identify
tribes for works like this one.
They were friends and allies with the
Caddo, Karankawa, Jumanos and Coahuiltecans. They were enemies of the Comanches
and Apaches. They were friendly
with the Anglo - American settlers or at least they were not very aggressive.
In the mid 1800s they were moved to a reservation in north Texas. Later
they were moved to reservations in Oklahoma.
The Tonkawas would often ally themselves
with the Anglos against the Comanches and Wichita. Remember it was the
Comanches who pushed the Tonkawa out of their land in the hill country.
They acted as scouts and troops for the Texas Rangers and the U S Army
on several occasions. The most notable time they allied with the Texans
was at the battle of Plum Creek against the Comanche Indians.
In the 1960s there were only 35 Tonkawa
left in Oklahoma. But, I understand there are still some Tonkawa living
secretly up around Bastrop east of Austin.
Copyright by R. Edward. Moore and Texarch
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