WHO ARE THE KARANKAWAS?
There are five commonly-held groupings of Karankawas: the Carancaguases (from whom the label of Karankawas is derived), Cocos, Copanes, Cujanes, and Guapites. Their borders rested from roughly Matagorda Bay to Baffin Bay. As semi-nomadic Indians, the Karankawas migrated following the availability of food sources. These migrations typically aligned with the changing of the seasons. Buffalo, deer, and fish made up the most calorically-dense items in their diverse diets.
Prior to European contact, the Karankawas likely numbered more than eight thousand. They thrived. After European contact, the Karankawas remained in control of their Gulf Coast territories and advantageously played would-be colonizers off each other. Foiled by these coastal Indians, Europeans depicted the Karankawas as the most savage First Peoples in Texas—a myth that persists to this day.
Over time the Karankawas’ population dwindled from appropriation, disease, displacement, and warfare. In the middle of the nineteenth century, after being forcibly removed from their homelands, the Karankawas were either tracked down and killed or compelled to integrate into Mexican and Anglo-American society. Even so, surviving Karankawas peoples retained and passed down aspects of their culture generation after generation. In the twenty-first century, the Karankawa Kadla (mixed Karankawas) formed to gather and organize individuals who identified as being partially Karankawa. The Karankawa Kadla has since revitalized the Karankawan language, worked with local authorities to protect burial sites, and developed education programs that combat traditional Anglo education. After centuries of strife, Karankawas remain on their homelands as a persistent people.