Karankawan Indians

Karankawan Tribes. The name Karankawa is derived from one of the constituent tribes, but the significance is unknown.

  • Nda kun-dadehe, Lipan name, meaning “people walking in the water.”
  • Quelancouchis, Clamcoets, names given by the French.
  • YRkokon kdpai, Tonkawa, meaning “without moccasins,” but this name includes the coast Coahuiltecan tribes.

Karankawan Connections. The Karankawan tribes are placed in an independent linguistic stock, which was connected most closely, it would seem, with the Coahuiltecan group.

Karankawan Location. On the coast of the Gulf of Mexico between Trinity and Aransas Bays.

Karankawan Subdivisions

Five principal tribes constituted the Karankawan stock. They were as follows:

  • Coapite.
  • Coaque or Coco, on Galveston Island and at the mouth of Brazos River.
  • Karankawa, on Matagorda Bay.
  • Kohani, near the mouth of Colorado River.
  • Kopano, on Copano Bay.
  • To these should perhaps be added the Tiopane and Tups, and perhaps also the Pataquilla, and the Quilotes mentioned by Cabeza de Vaca (1851).

Karankawan History. The Karankawan coast was skirted by a number of early voyagers but the first contact with its inhabitants worth noting was by Cabeza de Vaca and other shipwrecked members of Pamphilo de Narvaez’s expedition. There is little doubt that the people among whom Cabeza de Vaca was cast away in 1528 were the Coaque or Coco. In 1685 La Salle landed in their country supposing that he was near the mouth of the Mississippi, and he built a fort (Fort St. Louis) in which the French maintained themselves for 2 years. In 1689 the region was visited by a Spanish expedition under De Leon intent upon driving the Frenchmen out of the country. Shortly afterward the Spaniards began to colonize Texas and, though few settlements were made near the coast, missions were established from time to time to gather in the Karankawan Indians. The neophytes could never be induced to remain long at these missions, however, and continued during the Spanish period in about the same condition of savagery in which they had been found, though they decreased steadily in numbers. After the American settlements had begun, the coast tribes annoyed them by constant pilfering, and the reprisals which the Karankawans suffered finally destroyed them entirely. The last are said to have perished shortly before the Civil War. The only Karankawan vocabulary of undoubted purity was recorded in 1720 by the French Captain Beranger. In 1891 Dr. A. S. Gatschet published two others, one obtained from Tonkawa Indians and the other, much longer, from a white woman named Oliver who had lived near the last band of Karankawa in her girlhood and had learned a considerable number of words. But this band is said to have been much mixed with Coahuiltecan, a contention which an examination of the material seems to confirm.

Karankawan Population. Mooney’s (1928) estimate of 2,800 for the Karankawan tribes in 1690 appears to me decidedly too high, but there are practically no data upon which to make a satisfactory determination.

Connection in which the Karankawan Indians have become noted. The Karankawan tribes will be longest remembered as those among which Cabeza de Vacs and his companions were cast away in 1528, and where La Salle’s colony was established in 1685. The name of one Karankawan tribe (Kopano) is preserved by Copano Bay.


Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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3 thoughts on “Karankawan Indians”

  1. Unfortunately it virtually impossible to determine any ONE single tribal group we’ve descended from at this stage of mixing of everyone in this region. We can talk further in detail if you like.

  2. My family is descended from the Karankawa, Comecrudo & Coahuilteco. I speak some of the language. I have solely begun to resurrect the Karankawa language.
    Nayi awa ta t’al bewus
    (I want to share it with you)

    1. Hello, I’m trying to piece together my Native American heritage. I have been told my Great Grandmother was Karankawa Indian. I’m from Corpus Christi, TX. My DNA verifies the heritage. Any idea how I can find more info? Thank you!

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