What follows is a collection of sources that relate to diseases and the Karankawas. Mark Goldberg has written a wonderful book on how Native Peoples percieved diseases, see Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands. In sum, Karankawas likely associated these outbreaks with “bad spirits.”

[1684-1687] The La Salle Expedition to Texas: 1684-1687

Author: Henri Joutel

Written In: ~1691

Description: Henri Joutel served as a trusted lieutenant during Sieur de La Salle’s attempt to establish a military settlement deep within the Karankawas’ territory in 1685. When French settlers and the Karankawas first encountered each other, they maintained cordial relationships. Trouble began when one of La Salle’s ships Aimable became grounded and split-up in the Bay. Some days after Aimable grounded, La Salle’s men saw the Clamcoehs (Karankawas) with goods from the shipwreck. A small number of hot-headed Frenchmen went to the Karankawas’ camp with their weapons on display and started a war. The Karankawas proved adept at ambushing and killing stray Frenchmen. The French proved less adept at ambushing and killing the Clamcoehs.

With La Salle’s colony floundering, the cavalier decided to traverse a thousand miles northward to Canada and acquire aid. Before doing so, La Salle made peace with the Karankawas. Forty-six of the original two-hundred and eighty colonists remained. Sixteen men accompanied La Salle, including Joutel. Twenty-five men, women, and children remained at the colony. Moreover, four deserters (or men purposefully left by La Salle among Native Americans groups) lived among the Caddos and Coahuiltecans.

On La Salle’s trip north, his men murdered him and would have murdered Joutel had they not been calmed by La Salle’s brother, Jean Cavelier. Joutel and those who did not participate in the assassination traversed to Canada and returned to France in late 1688. His journal is widely considered the most accurate source concerning the La Salle colony. 

Relevant Information:

(1) La Salle’s first encounter with the Karankawas is mutually friendly. They swim to his ship, he provides clothing and food and asks about his location. Karankawas return to the beach and invite the French to land, but with seas too rough, La Salle continues further down the Texas coast. Karankawas follow his progress (72-75). This is key because often historians blame Karankawas for “immediately beginning depredations upon the colony.” Kathryn Stoner O’Connor, Presidio La Bahía (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones Co, 1966), 3. Instead, the Karankawas treated the newcomers with respect.

(2) In search of the Mississippi, La Salle lands his men on Matagorda Island and has them march along the coast until they encounter the river. On this march, they notice that the Karankawas had previously burned the prairie—likely to drive out game and attract buffalo to new sprouts (83, 139). Moreover, men are anxious about Karankawas. Not because of anything the Karankawas had done, but rather the European idea that Natives were inherently “savage” (84).

(3) The Karankawas second major encounter with La Salle is, again, quite favorable (88-89). Joutel describes the Karankawas’ sign language. Specifically, “demonstrating friendship by putting their hands over their hearts” (88).

(4) Karankawas invite a few of La Salle’s men to their village. Joutel describes their  settlement in detail (89-90).

(5) La Salle’s ship Aimable wrecks (91-92). La Salle’s men spotted some Karankawas with bolts of Normandy blankets from the wreckage (93). A group of men, unwisely chosen by La Salle, recklessly march into the Karankawas’ camp with their weapons on display, causing most Karankawas to flee. These Frenchmen reclaimed their goods and in turn, stole canoes and other items from the Karankawas. They started a war. Karankawas ambush and kill two of these men shortly after (94).

(6) Karankawas are watching the French in their fort (98-106). They are keeping the men anxious and unable to stray too far. In short, they are making the living experience horrendous.

(7) La Salle makes a sweeping attack against the Karankawas. He and his men killed four and captured three women (117). One woman died from her wounds. A young girl was baptized and then shortly after perished (136). What became of the last woman is unknown. 

(8) Karankawas kill six men in revenge (120).

(9) Another skirmish with the Karankawas takes place (141-142).

(10) Yet another skirmish is recorded, one Karankawa is wounded, presumed possibly dead (147-148).

(11) La Salle is preparing to leave for French-Canada, but before doing so he tries to make peace with the Karankawas so they will no longer attack Fort Saint Louis (155-159). Joutel writes, “if these precautions of [peace] had been taken from the moment we arrived in the country, the natives would not then have killed so many of us” (157).

Access: Henri Joutel, The La Salle Expedition to Texas: 1684-1687, ed. William C. Foster, trans. Johanna S. Warren (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1998). Unfortunately, educational fair-use only allows me to post 10% of this text. If you have the means, this source is well worth acquiring. There is a great deal of additional information that I wish I could upload. And more generally, Joutel’s account is plain fascinating. If additional context is required, contact me.

Further Reading: Robert Weddle has written prolifically on the La Salle expedition. See particularly: Weddle, The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle (College Station: Texas A&M University Press), 2001; Weddle, Wilderness Manhunt: The Spanish Search for La Salle (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973); Weddle, “La Salle’s Survivors,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 75, no. 4 (April, 1972): 413-433.

Tags: Appearance, Canoes, Disease, Dress, Environment, Hunting, Shelter, Sign-language, Trade, War


[1689] Alonso De León’s First Expedition

Author: Alonso De León, the younger; Damián Massanet

Written In: 1689 (Alonso de León), 1690 (Father Massanet)

Description: Spanish captain Alonso de León is sent to locate and destroy La Salle’s military settlement. De León finds Fort Saint Louis already destroyed by the Karankawas. Smallpox and a war that the French began served as motivation for ransacking Fort Saint Louis. I cover this expedition in my thesis, see pages 15-38. I am also writing an article on this event that I will link to after its publication.

Two authors are represented in this entry. Alonso de León, who kept a detailed diary during his entrada (pages 388-404), and Father Massanet, who accompanied de León and wrote a letter about his experiences after this expedition occurred (pages 357-366). Of note, both chroniclers thought very little of the other. Both de León and Massanet discuss an “old Frenchman” who helped guide the expedition. That Frenchman is Jean Henri. These sources also discuss the “Tejas,” these Indians are Caddos, not Karankawas.

Relevant Information: 

(1) Discovery of Fort Saint-Louis. See page 362 (Father Massanet), page 397-399 (Alonso de León Diary).

(2) Discussing how Natives in the region “dig wells for drinking water.” Page 363 (Father Massanet).

(3) Interior Indians, perhaps Caddos, telling Alonso de León that the Karankawas had killed the French settlers and that an epidemic of smallpox had broken out when the killings occurred. Evidence that the Karankawas likely correlated the break out of smallpox with the French settlers. Page 395 (Alonso de León Diary). Also see Teran’s entry, “relevant information” point two.

(4) Alonso de León tours the Karankawas’ country, but only encounters an abandoned seasonal village of theirs. Pages 389-401 (Alonso de León Diary).

Access: Herbert E. Bolton, Spanish Exploration in the Southwest: 1542-1706, (New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 1908), 357-366; 388-404. 

Further Reading: Lola Orellano Norris, General Alonso de León’s Expeditions into Texas: 1686-1690 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017). Bolton’s version has numerous errors. Lola Orellano Norris’s recent translations are the best available. She also gives fantastic background information on the expeditions. Bolton’s version is nonetheless represented because the document is in the public domain. To see the path De León took, see William C. Foster, Spanish Expeditions Into Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 17-33.

Tags: Disease, Environment, Migrations, Shelter, War


[1689-1690] Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 1630-1690 

Author: Juan Bautista Chapa

Written in: ~1690

Description: Chapa accompanied Alonso de León on his 1689 expedition. Although Chapa was not part of the 1690 expedition, he provides additional information on the entrada. Chapa and the De León family were quite close, therefore his history is biased in their direction.

This document describes “a Frenchman” who serves as a guide. This Frenchman is Jean Henri (Jean Géry, Jean Jarry), a possible deserter of La Salle’s colony. Chapa provides a great deal of information on Henri, but for the sake of this entry, and the limited amount of pages I can share under educational fair-use, I have not included this information. I am in the process of writing an article about Henri. Upon completion, I will post it here.

Relevant Information:

(1) De León’s expedition learns that “coastal Indians” (Karankawas) killed most of the Fort Saint Louis settlers (pg 127).

(2) De León’s expedition arrives at Fort Saint Louis and records the destruction (pgs 128-136).

(3) Two Frenchmen are captured living among the Caddos: Jacques Grôlet and Jean L’Arcjevêque. Both recount the Karankawas’ attack on Fort Saint Louis and the outbreak of smallpox (pgs 137-139)

(4) Chapa describes the abduction of three Talon children (Marie-Madelaine, Robert, and Lucien Jr. Talon) from the Karankawas. It seems that Chapa almost certainly had access to De León’s 1690 journal because his account is almost exactly parallel (pgs 153-154).  Jean-Baptiste Talon’s testimony (see Jean Baptiste Talon’s entry, page 241) is likely the most accurate accounting of this incident.

Access: Juan Bautista Chapa, Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 1630-1690, ed. William C. Foster (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008) 127-139, 152-154.

Further Reading: For more on the Talon Children and Jacques Grôlet and Jean L’Arcjevêque see, Robert Weddle, “La Salle’s Survivors,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 75, no. 4 (April, 1972): 413-433; Weddle, The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001), 254-262. 

Tags: Disease, Environment, Trade, War


[1691-1692] Governor Domingo Téran de Los Ríos’s Expedition

Author: Domingo Téran de Los Ríos, Damián Massanet

Written in: 1691-1692

Description: The Spanish state felt as if French demons still lurked near Fort Saint Louis despite Alonso de León razing it to dust in 1690. The Church, seeing demons of a different sort, was entranced with the Caddos who seemed receptive to the Faith. Therefore in 1691 the Viceroy issued Governor Domingo Téran de los Ríos and Fray Damián Massanet—representatives of state and church—to jointly conduct a third entrada into Texas. The entrada included numerous veterans of De León’s 1689 and 1690 expeditions, but De León himself did not participate because of his untimely death. See pages 3-10 for the seventeen point list of instructions laid out for this entrada.

Two authors are represented in this entry. Domingo Terán de los Ríos, who kept a detailed diary during the entrada (pages 10-48), and Father Massanet’s, who also kept a journal (pages 48-67). 

Relevant Information:

(1) Captain Francisco Martinez leaves Téran’s entrada and heads to the coast in order to capture the three children (Jean-Baptiste Talon, Eustache Bréman, and an unnamed girl) still living among the Karankawas. Téran’s diary does not describe Martinez’s expedition. Martinez kept his own journal, see entry below. Ultimately Martinez brought back two boys—the girl disappears from the European historical record. Page 16 (Téran journal), Pages 62-63 (Father Massanet).

(2) Father Massanet discusses that the Caddos lost an incredible number due to disease. That this disease affected surrounding Indian groups, including Karankawas, is unquestionable. In fact, the disease may have originated from the French at La Salle’s colony. Page 67 (Father Massanet).

(3) Téran’s expedition heads to Fort Saint Louis to link-up with their reinforcements coming by sea commanded by Captain Gregorio de Salinas Varona. Along the way, Téran gives a description of the land to the coast. Téran also encounters two Indians he believes to be Karankawas, but it seems that these Indians are Natives that accompanied Captain Salinas from Upper Mexico and who were sent by Captain Salinas to locate Téran’s expedition. Pages 20-24, (Téran journal).

(4) After traveling with Téran for months, the Talons accompany him on his voyage by sea to Veracruz. Pages 47-48, (Téran journal).

Access: Mattie Austin Hatcher, “The Expedition of the Don Domingo Terán De Los Rios Into Texas,” Texas Catholic Historical Society 2, no. 1 (1932): 3-67. This source includes both Téran’s and Father Massanet’s journals. 

Further Reading: If a better description of this expedition is required, I suggest reading William C. Foster, Spanish Expeditions Into Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), 51-77.

Tags: Disease, Environment


[1829-~1850] Reminiscences of Mrs. Annie Fagan Teal 

Author: Annie Fagan Teal (need to write one)

Written in: 1897

Description: At the age of 83, Mrs. T.C. Allan interviewed Annie Fagan Teal, an early settler of Texas. A transcript of this interview has yet to be uncovered (it’s unlikely one exists). Allan edited her conversation with Teal into this piece originally published in a local Victoria magazine called By The Way. This source, then, is far removed from the time in which the events described occurred. And moreover, we are receiving information second-hand. Nevertheless, Teal accurately describes that the first settlers of Texas had multiple positive interactions with Karankawas. This is important because later historians and colonists depicted Karankawas as inherently hostile at the first sign of Whites.


(1) Annie Teal enters Texas in 1829 at the age of 15. Around this time she is welcomed in a near-by Karankawa camp and drank “beer” with these Peoples. By beer, she could plainly mean any sort of alcoholic beverage or perhaps a caffeinated drink that the Karankawas made out of the yaupon leaves. [317, 320]

(2) Cholera broke out among those living in Texas. Without a doubt, it affected Native Peoples. [318]

(3) Teal is married in 1833 at the age of 19. Invited to her wedding is the Karankawa chief Prudencia. [320]

(4) Teal describes Karankawas finding work among the early settlers. It also discusses Karankawas drinking whiskey. [321]

(5) Discusses a custom of Indians of the area sending a young child to the houses of colonists asking for lodging to test the true “friendship” of the colonizers. I have not found any corroboration of this elsewhere. [321]

(6) Teal says that “Mexican hirelings” killed a Karankawa child and that the Karankawas took revenge by killing six. When militia followed the Karankawas, they turned back when the Karankawa chief Antonique (Antonio) readied to fight them. [322]

(7) Teal tells that Tonkawas killed eleven Karankawas when the Karankawas planned to attack the De León colony. I have also not found any validation for this story, but that the Karankawas had a conflict with De León is well-known. So too that De León had crafted a strong relationship with the Tonkawa Peoples. [322-323]

Access: T. C. Allan, “Reminiscences of Mrs. Annie Fagan Teal” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 34, No. 4 (Apr., 1931): 317-328.

Further Reading: Ana Carolina Castillo Crimm, De León: A Tejano Family History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003). 

Tags: Antonio, Appearance, Customs, Disease, Dress, Prudencia, Trade