ESSENTIAL SOURCES ON THE KARANKAWAS
The Talon Brothers’ 1698 Brest, Paris interrogation
Jean-Baptiste and Pierre Talon
In 1685, in the Texas Gulf Coast region, the Karankawas encountered roughly three hundred French invaders building an isolated fort. During the next three years, these invaders dwindled to forty-six men, women, and children. Sensing weakness within the fort, the Karankawas gained entry in the winter of 1688 and annihilated the remaining survivors—save six children who the Karankawas abducted and adopted. Jean-Baptiste Talon, a ten-year-old and one of the six adoptees, lived with the Karankawas for two and a half years. Talon’s testimony of life among these coastal First People is the best first-hand accounting of the Karankawas culture known to scholars. This source is indispensable in the study of the Karankawas.
Historic Native Peoples of Texas
My first copy of Historic Native Peoples of Texas was loaned to me. I had to withstand outrageous urges to highlight and underline passages until I got my own copy which has now turned into more of a coloring book. I am a big fan of William C. Foster and everything he has done for Gulf Coast History. With this book, Foster fastidiously lists the great number of tribes that made their home in Texas, all the while giving an accurate and insightful History speckled with fun little facts about Texas First People. Most everyone praises Foster’s work, but I know he has received some critique in that his book is too Gulf-centric (see Tate). That is an upside when studying the Karankawa.
The Karankawa Indians of Texas
The Karankawa Indians of Texas gives an authoritative depiction of life on the Gulf Coast as well as the range, migratory patterns, and lifeways of the Karankawas. I recommend Foster’s Historic Native Peoples for anyone looking to casually learn about the Karankawas. However, the first and last two chapters of Ricklis’s Karankawa Indians do give quite a good summary of the Karankawas history. In terms of historical and archaeological significance, Ricklis’s book is the most important on this list.
Relación & The Joint Report
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and Andrés Dorantes de Carranza
In 1536, three survivors of the disastrous Narváez expedition—Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, and Andrés Dorantes de Carranza—detailed their experiences traveling across North America in an account known as the Joint Report. The original copy of the Joint Report has been lost, but a reproduction exists in the Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés Oviedo’s Historia general y natural de las Indias. In 1542, Cabeza de Vaca wrote an independent version of the expedition. This is widely referred to as the Relación (Account). In the Joint Report and the Relación, the lifestyle of the Karankawas ancestors are described in great detail.
Béranger’s Discovery of Aransas Pass
In 1720, the Governor of Louisiana ordered Captain Jean Beranger to reconnoiter Matagorda Bay in search of a feasible French settlement site. Captain Beranger accidentally sailed past his intended destination (unwittingly passing the marooned and miserable Simars de Bellisle) and entered Aransas Bay. Beranger stayed in the area for an undocumented amount of time to repair his ship and Biscayan launch “that were springing many leaks.” In the process of these repairs, Beranger became friendly with a large group of Karankawas. With cordial relations between both parties, the Karankawas served as Beranger’s guides around Aransas and Copano Bays and helped the French Captain acquire the materials needed to repair his vessel. In turn, Beranger provided the Karankawas with valuable trinkets and documented their language and way of life. There are embellishments in Béranger’s recollection of events, but there exist few first-hand sources documenting the Karankawas culture, therefore, his account is well worth reading.