Before It Was South Texas-Part II- KARANKAWA by Patrick King
Like the ancient Anasazi Indians of the South West, the Karankawas of Texas are as much a mystery today as they were. Many northern tribes today have descendants with oral or pictorial histories, the Karankawa left us with nothing. They left no living progenies.
What remains are some artifacts, a few graves, and a reputation of their violent past.
They stand out as probably the most feared and hated tribe of our earliest history. The Karankawa were comprised of five nomadic, individual family tribes, all coastal dwellers, they were the Carancaques, the Coco, the Coaques, the Copano and Capoques.
Brief but violent encounters with Europeans began in 1528, and 1685. Between 1691 through 1815, the Spanish recorded their long-troubled experiences.
Dozens of early accounts record their fierce nature. In 1823, Stephen F. Austin, speaking from his own personal observations, stated “…the Karankawas may be called the universal enemies of all man…there will be no way of subduing them but extermination.”
The reputation of the Karankawas is enveloped with total resistance to assimilation, unpredictable acts of violence and cannibalism. They fought everyone, white, brown or fellow natives, with staggering vehemence. Notably, they were also a people with long memories.
In 1813, Freebooter/pirate Samuel Kemper, accepted an offer from Mexican Rebels to lead an army of 800 against the Spanish in San Antonio. He successfully forced them back to Mexico. On his return trip to the coast, unprovoked, he attacked a large Karankawa village, killing many of them. The Karankawa never forgot.
In one of the last recorded attacks against white settlers in Texas, in December 1844, in Victoria County, a small war party of ten Karankawas attacked the home of John F. Kemper, Samuel Kemper’s brother. Targeting him only they filled his body with arrows from long distance. The Kemper debt was paid in full.
Having left Texas in 1848 for Mexico, the Mexicans chased them back into Texas in 1858. Within weeks, after attacking Hispanic ranchers on the U.S. side, they were exterminated near Rio Grande City by a small civilian army. The Karankawa passed into legend.