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The history of the Karankawa Indians

The Indians who lived along the Texas coast were known as the Karankawas. Matagorda was at the heart of their coastal territory which ranged from the west end of Galveston Island to present-day Corpus Christi. Much of their history is lost and making things worse they were the favorite targets of many false myths. One myth is that they were cannibals. Yes, they did eat captured enemies and leaders after a war; however, they did not do this for food. Almost all Indian cultures shared this custom, but only the Karankawas are labeled cannibals.

When the Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, was shipwrecked in 1528, the Karankawas treated him very well. De Vaca lived with one of the Karankawa bands for several years and joined the band. The Karankawa warriors were over six feet tall (giants for the time) and good fighters so they were feared by European settlers who wanted their lands. It is said the Indians would show up in their canoes, seemingly from nowhere to attack with their long bows and arrows made from cane. They would then disappear into the swampy woods where Europeans had difficulty following.

Early on, Spanish slave traders cruised along the Texas coast and captured Karankawas by force or trickery and made slaves of them. Later, the French, under the explorer, La Salle, were very unfriendly.

The bands of Karankawas fished the shallow coastal bays for redfish, drum, flounder, oysters and clams during the winter months. When the fish moved offshore in the summer, the Indians moved inland a bit to hunt deer, rabbits, turkeys, turtles, bear, and other edible animals and berries. They traded sea shells with inland tribes for ocher and buffalo robes during the winter months. They made and used very simple pottery and an abundance of tools made of stone, bone, sea shells, wood and cane. They also wove baskets and were very fond of tattoos and body piercings. Men and women would tattoo themselves head to foot with bold designs.

Here at Karankawa Village we embrace the memory of these big and colorful early “Matagordians” and hope that your stay here at The Lodge will also be large, colorful and comfortable.


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