The Karankawa Indians lived along the Gulf of Mexico in the coastal bend. Their
territory ranged from the west end of Galveston bay southwestward to Corpus Christi bay.
Contrary to popular belief the Karankawa were not cannibals. They did like many other Texas
Indian tribes eat their captured enemy warriors and leaders to gain their strength or courage but
never for food. The name Karankawa was given to many bands of Indians in the area including
the Cocos, Copanes, Cujanes, Guapites, Carancaguases (the source of the name Karankawa).
In 1528 a survivor, named Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, of the failed Spanish expedition
of Panfilo de Narvaez and some others landed on the west end of Galveston Island. The
Karankawa gave them food and shelter. Cabeza de Vaca gave us the first recorded accounts of
the Karankawas. Cabeza de Vaca lived with the Indians for several years and eventually joined
them. He talks about what it was like living with them and how the different bands interacted
with one another. During the winter they would move near the water because of large schools of
fish would stay in shallow waters making them easier to catch. They caught fish such as red fish
and drum. There were also lots of oysters and clams that were easy to get and could only be
safely eaten during the winter months. During the summer they would move in land because the
fish would move back to deeper waters that their canoes were not suited for and shellfish were
no longer safe to eat. They would hunt many types of animals such deer, rabbits, turtles, turkeys,
alligators and other edible animals. They would also split up into smaller bands to gather plants
and roots. Cabeza de Vaca tells of how sometimes food was hard to come by and they’d go
hungry for days on end. He provided us with in-depth and invaluable ethnological accounts of
the Karankawa Indians. Mrs. Alice W. Oliver also provided us with invaluable eyewitness
accounts, one of the best because they are not biased. Her father Capt. Thomas Bridges owned a
ranch in Karrankawa territory, he let them camp on his land and let his daughter Alice spend
time with them. She had spent much time with the Karankawa in the 1830s that she learned their
ways and she was even able to learn their language. Cabeza de Vaca’s account is one of the most
important because it was with all aspects of their life and the first time they were recorded into
history. After Cabeza de Vaca it would be more than a 150 years before Europeans and
Karankawas would meet again.
In 1685 Sieur de La Salle or Rene Robert Cavalier had set up Fort St. Louis at Gracitas
Creek near Matagorda Bay. Which was right in the middle of Karankawa territory. La Salle’s
men had stolen two canoes and when the Karankawa asked that they be given back they refused.
After La Salle and some men had left for help for the dwindling colony, the Karankawas
attacked the last of the settlers and took six...