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Karankawa Indians Preserved the Island We Call Home

Updated 1217 days ago

The Karankawa people who inhabited Galveston – indeed the Texas Gulf Coast from Galveston Bay all the way south to Corpus Christi Bay - were enterprising people.

In the winter months large schools of fish entered the shallow water of the bays, which made the fish easy to catch and there were lots of them, according to They caught red fish and drum, along with oysters and clams in the shallow bay waters.

The Karankuwa built huts for villages of several hundred people, and were well known for their fierce hunting skills to snag deer, rabbits, turtles, turkeys and other prey.

If you were friendly towards them, they could be your best friend. Bring some mess, and they were more than willing to let you know the time of day with their imposing bows and arrows. They were not little people, either, as points out:

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. They were tattooed and wore shell ornaments. Many greased their bodies with alligator 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 cane. Women wore their coarse hair long–down to their waist.

And provides more insight into these indigenous Texans:

They had bows almost as tall as they were and shot long arrows made from slender shoots of cane. It is said they would suddenly show up in their canoes, seemingly out of nowhere, to attack. They would run away and retreat or escape the same way.

Sadly, there are few historical records of the Karankawa people, whose descendants now make their homes in Louisiana and the Corpus Christi area. In interviews with, they all share the same story: Many of their women were married to black men and bore their children.

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They said they are from slaves captured by the Karankawa before the Civil War. They said that the White men massacred the Karankawa men. The children and the women were captured and made slaves to the White people in the area. The Karankawas women got married to Negro men. So their ancestors were both Black and Indian. Some of them were Mexicans. And their families still remember about the Kawakawa Indian blood and they remember about the slaves.

History has not been too kind to these fiercely independent Native Americans. Consider that Cabeza de Vaca and other European settlers who arrived often made up myths and stories about them.

One of the most prevalent stories is that they were cannibals. Again, sets the record straight:

Yes, they sometimes ate the captured enemy warriors and leaders after a battle or war. They did not do this for food. They did it to get the magic power of the dead warrior or leader. Almost every other Texas Indian tribe did the same thing. This cannibalism is presented as one of the most important things about the Kawakawa. That is not fair. Even though other Indian cultures did the same thing, it is not the first or most important thing you find out about them.

European diseases killed quite a few of the Native Americans. As many as 80 percent of the Karankuwa people died – and very quickly. The Spanish slave raiders may have given these diseases to the Karankawa, and de Vaca and his contingent also spread their share of germs, according to

So, the next time you’re strolling along Galveston’s beaches or fishing the Gulf waters, remember the folks who were here first. We owe the Karankawas a debt of gratitude for being one with nature and for passing on – albeit reluctantly – this beautiful place that we call home.


"Karankawa Indian Campsite Marker in Jamaica Beach, Texas" by nsaum75 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Article written by Robert Stanton - Isle Guy

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