Numerous native groups still persisted in some traditional lifeways, but incorporated elements of European culture, such as guns and clothing. Prickly pear cactus with ripe fruits, or tunas. The plant was gathered seasonally by natives of the lower coastal area and throughout south Texas.
Image courtesy Alston Thoms. With bow and arrow ready, a Karankawa man in a dugout canoe watches for passing fish off the Texas coast. Peoples of the Central Coast The central stretch of the Texas coastal shores and inland grassy plains was the domain of the Karankawa, the overarching name given to at least five distinct groups of native peoples who shared a common language and culture—the Carancaguases, Cocos, Cujanes, Guapites Coapites , and Capoques.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, these names were recorded, with numerous variations in spelling, by Cabeza de Vaca and other Europeans who encountered them as they traveled through the region. Farther inland lived the Mariames and other small groups whose names and cultures largely have been lost to history. Karankawa Historic maps depict the central coastal region and part of the upper coast, extending from Corpus Christi Bay to Galveston Bay, as the home of Wandering Tribes, and this aptly describes the Karankawa and many other groups, as well.
In a long-established and successful adaptive pattern—perhaps extending back some 3, years in time—Karankawa groups migrated seasonally from the mainland area to the coastal bluffs and barrier islands as resources became available. This mobile lifestyle was accomplished in part through use of dugout canoes in which fishermen plied the bays and estuaries and ventured inland along rivers and streams.
Crudely built but sometimes large, some vessels reportedly accommodated entire families and their possessions in moving between camps. Each year, during the fall and winter months, groups of Karankawa familes gathered together in large fishing camps along the coast to harvest a variety of fish and shellfish, make tools, and other perform maintenance tasks. Their temprary homes were huts of thin poles, brush, and hide which could be easily packed and moved to the next camp.
The cooler months are prime times to catch schooling fish such as redfish as they head into the deeper waters of the Gulf. According to historic accounts, fishermen used weirs placed at tidal passes to trap fish as they moved seaward. Based on archeological ebidence, we know they used a variety of other types of fishing gear as well —spears, bows and arrows, and even baited shell hooks—to procure a successful harvest. Shellfish, too, such as Rangia cuneata clams, oysters, and conch, were gathered from the muddy bottoms and banks of shallow bays and estuaries.
These provided both food and hard shell to make into tools and ornaments. In spring and summer, the group split into smaller parties to hunt deer and buffalo and gather roots and fruiting plants in the coastal prairies. Based on archeological evidence from both coastal and prairie sites, Karankawa territories appear to have extended inland some 40 kilometers roughly 25 miles from the upper bays along the coast. Beyond this boundary, other native groups with quite different cultures and languages made their home, and it is likely that the various groups maintained trade relations, if not social networks.
Karankawa bands were typically composed of some 30 or 40 people and were headed by "chiefs. Both roles were reserved for men. As in many other native groups of the time, women had a lower status and performed the most tedious tasks in camp. According to Cabeza de Vaca, their labors included erecting and taking down huts, cooking, and collecting firewood. The Karankawa were prolific pottery makers, crafting distinctive coiled-clay vessels known to archeologists as Rockport ware. Vessel types included large ollas used for holding water and perhaps dry foodstuffs such as seeds, as well as bowls and widemouth jars used for cooking and serving.
The interiors of some pots were coated with asphaltum to seal and waterproof the container. The tar was also used to decorate vessels with dots, lines, and other designs and to repair cracks. Both peoples used similar tool kits and are distinguished primarily by their pottery.
Toyah folk made a thin-walled, bone-tempered pottery termed Leon Plain. A large number of archeological sites in the region have been attributed to the Karankawa see the Guadalupe Bay and the Kirchmeyer exhibits. To learn more about the Karankawa, both in historic as well as prehistoric times, see the Ethnohistory section of the Mitchell Ridge site.
Louis and Mission Espiritu Santo site exhibits provide more information on Spanish attempts to "Christianize" the Karankawa. The Mariames Unlike the Karankawa, the Mariames did not frequent the coastal bays or barrier islands. They moved their camps every few days, probably going up and down the river through modern Refugio, Calhoun, and Victoria counties. Much of what we know about the Mariames comes from the accounts of Cabeza de Vaca. Traveling down the coast around January, , Cabeza de Vaca found his lost companions, Dorantes and Esteban, at the River of Nuts living among the Mariames, and his other comrade, Castillo, living with their neighbors, the Yguases.
For nearly two years, the Spaniards lived with these native groups, and their accounts provide a fairly intimate glimpse of how they lived. Cabeza de Vaca makes similar statements about their limited menu when the Mariames were in the tuna fields, harvesting the fruits of prickly pear cactus: Their food supply is principally roots of two or three kinds and they look for them through all the country….
They [the roots] take two days to roast and many of them are bitter, and on top of this is with great labor that they are dug out.
Cabeza de Vaca makes it clear that the Mariames and other native groups did not always have adequate food to eat, saying that they moved their camp every two or three days to look for food. So great is the hunger that those people have that they cannot do without them [the roots again], and walk two or three leagues looking for them.
Sometimes they kill some deer, and at times, they take some fish. But this is so little and their hunger so great that they eat spiders and ant eggs and worms and lizards and salamanders and snakes and vipers that kill the men they bit, and they eat earth and wood and whatever they can get, and the dung of deer and other things which I refrain from telling, and I believe truthfully that if in that land there were rocks, they would eat them.
They keep the fine bones of the fish that they eat and of the snakes and other things, in order to grind it all later and eat the powder from it. On their trek to the tuna fields, they did not have food for several days, but the Mariames did not seem discouraged. They, to cheer us up, would tell us not to be sad, that soon there would be tunas and that we would eat many and would drink their juice and would have our bellies very big.
For them the best time that they have is when they eat the tunas, because then they are not hungry and all the time they spend dancing, and they eat them night and day all the time that they last. Brides were never selected from within the Mariames or Yguases groups. They were always obtained from their enemies by trading their best available bows or, if that was not possible, a net for the brides.
If the union produced a female baby, it was killed. When asked why they did so, the Mariames said: First, enemies are regarded as powerful people on the horizon: They may have other qualities—mean, cruel, ugly, terrible—but by definition an enemy is someone with the power to hurt you or your kin.
If they did not have this power, they would not be feared and not an enemy. Therefore, a bride who comes from such a fearful group would be expected to bear male children who would be as powerful as the enemy.
Yet, brides reared and taught by the enemy may have a darker meaning: Men, then, had the right to dissolve marriages, but women did not. When it was dissolved, it is not clear what happened to the woman.
Mariame women were described as hard workers and carried most loads: The women are very hard workers and capable of a great deal, for of 24 hours that there are in a day and night they have only six hours of rest and all the rest of the night that they spend in stirring their ovens in order to dry those roots that they eat.
And, from dawn they begin to dig and to bring wood and water to their houses and to put in order the other things of which they have need.
Mariame men had the job of hunting, and Cabeza de Vaca notes they were capable of running all day in pursuit of a deer. They also often hunted in larger groups, using torches to herd deer into groups and dispatching them within the circle. Using this strategy—hunting in a surround—they reportedly could kill at a time on occasion.
Often, as not, however, none were killed, and hunters or the women and children depended on trapping rodents. Peoples of the Upper Coast The upper coast was home to the Akokisa, Bidai, and other smaller groups of Atakapan speakers, whose territories bordered those of the Karankawa Cocos , the Caddo to the north, and Southeastern groups to the east. It is believed that the Akokisa and Bidai shared a common linguistic and cultural tradition with the Atakapa of south-central and southwestern Louisiana.
The Akokis and Bidai are assumed to have spoken a Western Atakapan dialect, while the peoples living in the Lake Charles area of Louisian spoke an Eastern Atakapan dialect. Some have suggested that the eastern and western groups spoke their own language in addition to a common second language.
Unfortunately, so little is known of the Atakapan language family that the precise linguistic relations may never be known. Archeologist Lawrence Aten believes the historically known Atakapan-speaking tribal groups are part of the Mossy Grove culture pattern that extended over a large swath of the upper coast and prairie region from southwestern Louisiana to roughly the Brazos River in Texas.
Aten holds that the ancestors of the Akokisa and the more inland Bidai shared for an extended time period—perhaps as long as years—many cultural, technological, and linguistic similarities that were fairly distinct from surrounding ethnic groups, such as the Hasinai Caddo. Coastal Mossy Grove peoples and their descendants appear to have been hunter-fisher-gatherers whose subsistence was based on game, fish, wild plants, and shellfish taken from in and around the estuaries, bayous, lagoons, and bays along the upper coast.
These long-established subsistence patterns as well as traditional territories slowly began to change as Europeans came into the country, with influences and disease transmitted in advance of their actual entry to the region. Shipwrecked Europeans, including Cabeza de Vaca and the Frenchman De Bellisle, arrived on the upper coast, but remained only until they could escape or move to another native group. Their presence may have had little impact on local peoples, but their accounts provide remarkable insights into day-to-day native life.
Cabeza de Vaca, shipwrecked in on what was likely Galveston Island, describes being found by a handful of natives carrying bows and arrows; within a half-hour, he was captive in an armed group of more than According to his accounts, the native peoples were dependent on marine and terrestrial resources of the island in fall and winter months fish, roots, and rats and staples of the mainland and estuaries deer, small game, rangia clams, berries and other plant foods in the spring and summer months.
As was the case for Indians of the central coast, this dual mobility strategy at times involved the use of dugout canoes to travel across deep water and gain access to many bodies of water with soft muddy bottoms that very difficult to cross by foot.
Likewise, while barrier islands are relatively large land masses easily visible from the mainland, are often separated by bay areas and tidal passes that are difficult to cross without boats.
Other than the few hapless visitors, native groups of the upper coast had very little contact with Europeans until the s, after which time the region increasingly was the scene of intense rivalry between the French and Spanish who vied for control of trade with native groups.
Rumors of incursions by the French into New Spain, such as the ill-fated La Salle Colony in , had prompted the Spanish to send a series of expeditions along the Texas coast as far north as Galveston Bay.
The Spanish found substantial reason to be concerned about their interests in the area. In the s both the Bidai and Akokisa Orcoquisac were participating in an illicit trade relationship with French traders.
In exchange for deer hides, furs, and bear grease, they received a variety of European goods, including guns, brought from New Orleans. To deal with this encroachment, the Spanish government began establishing a greater presence in southeast Texas. In , the Spanish established a presidio and mission for the Akokisa on the east bank of the Trinity River, a site they called El Orcoquisac. Although this establishment served to hamper trade with the French, the Spanish were less successful in forming their own relationships with the Indians.
A planned civil settlement in the area failed to develop, and in a hurricane devastated the mission and presidio. The Spanish ultimately broke their trade agreements with the Bidai when it was learned that they were providing French firearms to the Lipan Apache and involved in other alliances detrimental to the interests of New Spain.
Ultimately breaking up into small bands, the Bidai were devastated by epidemics, and by the middle of the 19th century, there were few remaining. Those who survived joined other groups. Remnant groups of the Akokisa population remained in their traditional homeland into the 19th century. However, as Anglo-American settlers moved more aggressively into the region, surviving Akokisa moved inland to join the Bidai. Based on remarkable documentary evidence uncovered by archeologists Roger E.