This article is a history of the historical works about the Karankawas. Recently, the Karankawas’ image in the historical record has improved greatly, but I argue there is still an immense amount of work to do. Scholars need to better integrate Karankawa historical actors into their work. Authors need to start their histories of Native Peoples prior to European contact. And finally, Karankawas are alive today—the writing of their history requires their voice. Continue reading “Historiography of the Karankawa Indians”
A message from the Karankawa community:
MCGLOIN BLUFF SITE (41SP11) DISTURBANCE BY PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT
Request for all Karankawa Kadla & Allies to address the Army Corps of Engineers regarding Development near Historic Karankawa Camp Site
Houston, TX March 7, 2020- On March 6, 2020 representatives from the Karanawa Kadla Nation received notice from the Ingleside On The Bay Coastal Watch Association (IOB-CWA) that MODA Mainstream LLC, has submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers & the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a proposal for work (SWG-1995-02221). The proposal for work is to build a new pier next to the existing pier located on Arleigh Burk Rd. The second pier would extend from Wisconsin Rd and stretch the distance into the coastal waters matching the existing pier.
The proposed development of the land and the construction of the second pier may disturb and affect an archaeological site (41SP11), a site proving prehistoric occupation by the Karankawa prior to European colonialism. The site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and is also eligible for designation as a State Archeological Landmark. An archeological investigation was performed in 2008 by the TRC Environmental Corporation & sponsored by the Port of Corpus Christi Authority, which produced evidence supporting the theory of occupation by the Karankawa. This investigation produced more than 39,000 sherds of pottery, 11 fragments of ceramic pipes, 103 arrow points and a variety of other items specific to the Karankawa culture and way of life. The earliest recording of our inhabitants of that camp came from the French explorer, Jean Beranger in 1720, who after anchoring his ship in Aransas Pass, noted that an encampment existed housing at least 500 persons in a dozen large round huts.
We request all Karankawa, and allies, to immediately email the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request a public hearing in order to establish protective measures of the historic site, which is a part of the Karankawa’s little remaining history.
Please send your request via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments made in reference to a public notice should include your name, address, phone number and the Department of the Army permit number referenced in the public notice (SWG1995-02221)
To whom it may concern,
[An introduction as to who you are]. I am writing to request that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work with the Karankawas to protect the archaeologic site located on McGloin Bluff—a significant settlement site for these First Peoples and scholars.
There exists a multitude of eminent Karankawa men and women in history: Mateo, Jose Luis María, Manuel Alegre, Prudencia, Llano Grande, the daughter of Big Chief, to name a few. In past writings about these coastal Indians, authors often neglect to highlight these Natives.
In an on-going effort to reorient the Karankawas’ history away from the “Whites'” perspective and back to the Karankawas’, I have written an encyclopedia entry on Joseph María, the most prominent Karankawa figure during the Spanish-Karankawa war in the late eighteenth century. Joseph María united different Karankawa Peoples and demonstrated that the Karankawas held the most outstanding power on the Texas Coastal Bend.
In 1767, Fray Gaspar José de Solís toured the faltering missions of Texas. When he visited the mission of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, which the Spanish built to convert the Karankawa Indians to Christianity, he wrote a lengthy report on their cannibalism in his journal: “Dancing and leaping and with sharp knives in their hands, they draw near to the victim, cut off a piece of their flesh, come to the fire and half roast it, and, within sight of the victim himself devour it most ravenously.” Despite captivating readers for generations, Padre Solís’s account of the Karankawas’ cannibalism has a major problem—it is almost certainly fictitious. Although the Karankawas did, in fact, practice a rare exo-cannibalism, this disgruntled priest likely fabricated an exaggerated version of the custom. He has tarnished the image of the Karankawas for the past two-hundred and fifty years. This article explains why Fray Solís’s account, a source utilized by numerous scholars, should be used selectively and with caution.
I published this article as a guest post. To view its entirety, visit Texas History Notebook.
Recently I wrote an entry for the Handbook of Texas on Nicholas de La Mathe. I have included the encyclopedic entry below with attached source footnotes.
LA MATHE, NICHOLAS DE (?-?). Nicholas de La Mathe lived as an Indian trader, a rancher, and a militia captain in Spanish Louisiana and Spanish Texas. He made overtures of peace with the Norteños, he smuggled goods from Louisiana into Texas, and he proposed an unsuccessful plan to exterminate the Karankawa Indians.
A wealthy merchant of Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, La Mathe acquired a passport to enter Texas in 1775 to collect debts at the virgin settlement of Nuestra Senora del Pilár de Bucareli. Supposedly having a fondness for the town’s namesake saint, La Mathe offered to construct an impressive church for which he hired two workers to build in 1776. While some historians believe that La Mathe’s religious fervor alone “moved him” to erect this sumptuous church, in all likelihood it served as a means of forging a positive reputation for future smuggling operations among the citizens of Bucareli and its leader, Antonio Gil Ibarvo, whom La Mathe had traded with for several years prior. While in Bucareli, La Mathe acquired a small herd of cattle by selling an enslaved black child. He increased his cattle, mustang, and mule holdings in Texas until he had accumulated over 700 stock animals by 1779. Continue reading “Nicholas de La Mathe: Handbook of Texas Entry”
After two years of work, I have finally finished my senior honors thesis. The full document is included below and I will be adding its content to this website over the summer.
Abstract: In 1688, the Karankawa Peoples abducted and adopted an eight-year-old Jean-Baptiste Talon from a French fort on the Texas Gulf Coast. Talon lived with these Native Americans for roughly two and a half years and related an eye-witness account of their cannibalism. Despite his testimony, some present-day scholars reject the Karankawas’ cannibalism.
Academics believe the custom of anthropophagy is a colonial fabrication because of an abundance of farfetched and grisly accounts made by Spanish priests, bellicose Texans, and sensationalist historians. Facing a sea of outrageously prejudicial sources, these scholars have either drowned in them or found no reason to wade deeper. Underneath the swamp of disinformation, historical truth is discernible: the Karankawas practiced a community-oriented, post-mortem, rare, and ritualistic cannibalism that colonizers embellished and used as a mechanism to destroy the Karankawa Peoples.
Historians may believe that “cannibal” is a term too tainted by colonial rhetoric to hold any semblance of truth, but to outright deny or overlook this cultural trait washes away Native American history and agency. Fully treating First Peoples as human means that as historians we must recognize that Indians, like Europeans, had cultural practices that some consider stomach-churning.
A surprising number of historians consider the Native Americans that saved and later enslaved de Bellisle to be the Karankawas. Instead, these First Peoples are almost certainly the Akokisas, the north-eastern neighbors of the Karankawas. This mistake is somewhat understandable. The Native Americans who resided on the Texas coast, although having widely different cultures, lived nearly identical migratory lifestyles and to Europeans—the primary writers of the most accessible History—all “savages” looked the same. Expressing the Europeans frustration is the interrogator of Jean-Baptiste Talon, who lived with the Karankawas as a child:
All the different nations of savages in this whole country live in a rather uniform manner and resemble each other so much that it is very difficult, not to say impossible, to distinguish them except with respect to their different dialects and the different geographical regions inhabited by those who have villages.