Tawakoni Tribe

Tawakoni Indians (Ta-wa’ko-ni “river bend among red sand hills” (?) -Gatschet) A Caddoan tribe of the Wichita group, best known on the middle Brazos and Trinity Rivers, Texas, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The name “Three Canes,” sometimes applied to them, is a translation of the French form Troiscanne,” written evidently not as a translation of the native name, as has been claimed, but to represent its vocal equivalent. Mezières, for example, writing in French, used “Troiscanne” obviously as a vocal equivalent of Tuacana, a usual form of his when writing in Spanish 1 In 1719 La Harpe visited, on the Canadian river, Oklahoma, a settlement of 9 tribes which he collectively called “Tonacara,” from the name of a leading tribe 2 That the Tawakoni, later known on the Brazos, were the same people is not perfectly clear, but it seems probable that they were. A fact that helps to establish their identity is that among the 9 tribes visited by La Harpe were the Toayas, Ousitas, and Ascanis, who appear to be the later known Tawehash, Wichita, and Yscani (Waco), close relatives of the Tawakoni and living near them in Texas in the latter part of the 18th century. These tribes all seem to have moved southward into Texas about the middle of the 18th century, being pushed by the hostile Osage from the north east; and the Comanche from the north west 3 The exact nature and time of the Tawakoni migration, however, are not clear. By 1772 they were settled in two groups on the Brazos and Trinity, about Waco and above Palestine, but there are indications that this settlement was recent and subsequent to considerable wandering. For example, in 1752 De Soto Vermudez 4 was informed at the Nasoni village, on the upper Angelina, that the “Tehancanas” were a large nation, recently increased by the Pelones, and living 20 leagues to the northward, with the Tonkawa and Yojuane beyond them. If the direction was correctly given, they must have been somewhere near the upper Sabine. In 1760 and 1761 Fray Calahorra, missionary at Nacogdoches, visited the Tawakoni; they were then living in two neighboring villages, near a stream and five days from the Tawehash, who were then on Red river below the mouth of the Wichita. These villages seem to have been the same as those mentioned below as found by Mezières on the Trinity in 1772, though they may have been on the Brazos, for the information here is not explicit 5 In 1768 Solis reported the Tawakoni and Yscani as ranging between the Navasota and the Trinity 6; they had evidently settled in the general locality that was to be their permanent home. In 1770 allusion is made to a migration, as a result of peace established with the Spaniards, from the neighborhood of San Antonio and San Sabá, where they had been located for the purpose of molesting the Spanish settlements, to the neighborhood of the Nabedache, who were living on San Pedro creek, in north east Houston County. 7 This residence near San Antonio was probably a temporary one of only a portion of the tribe, for the indications are that the country between Waco and Palestine was already their chief range. In 1772 Mezières speaks of the village on the Brazos as though it had been founded recently by a “malevolent chief” hostile to the Spaniard, 8 Finally, for the migration, it appears that by 1779 the village on the Trinity had also moved to the Brazos, which for a long time thereafter was the principal home of the Tawakoni, who now again became a settled people.

Tawakoni Indians History

With Mezières’ report in 1772 the Tawakoni come into clear light. In that year he visited the tribe for the purpose of cementing a treaty recently made with them by the governors of Texas and Louisiana. One of their villages was then on the west bank of the Trinity, about 60 miles north west of the Nabedache village, on a point of land so situated that in high water it formed a peninsula with only one narrow entry on the west side. This location corresponds in general with that of the branch of the Trinity now called Tehaucana creek. This village consisted of 36 houses occupied by 120 warriors, ” with women in proportion and an infinite number of children.” The other village, of 30 families, was 30 leagues away on Brazos river, not far from Waco. Mezières tried to induce the inhabitants of this village to move eastward to the Trinity, farther away from the settlements. This they promised to do after harvest, but the promise was not kept. Mezières recommended the establishment of a presidio on the Tawakoni site when the Indians should be removed 9

In 1778 and 1779 Mezières made two more visits to the Tawakoni. One village, containing 150 warriors, was then on the west side of the Brazos, in a fertile plain protected from overflow by a high bank or bluff, at the foot of which flowed an abundant spring. Eight leagues above was another village of the same tribe, larger than the first, in a country remarkable for its numerous springs and creeks. It seems that this was the village that in 1772 had been on the Trinity, since for nearly half a century we do not hear of the Trinity village 10 The lower village Mezières called Quiscat, or El Quiscat, apparently from its head chief, a name which it kept at least as late as 1795. Morfi 11 erroneously (?) says that Quiscat was a village of Kichai and Yscani. The upper village was called Flechazo, and the inhabitants Flechazos, which often appears as a tribal name 12

The Tawakoni and the Waco speak dialects of the Wichita language and sometimes have been considered the same people. Mezières remarked that they lived apart only for convenience in hunting 13 This language, though kindred, is very distinct from that of their relatives, the Hasinai and the Kadohadacho, as was noted in the statement by an official at Nacogdoches in 1765 that two Hasinai chiefs “served as interpreters in their language, which I know, of what it was desired to ask the chief of the Taguais [Tawehash] nation, called Eiasiquiche” 14 In connection with the ethnological relations of the Tawakoni, the Waco require mention. They were apparently simply one of the Tawakoni villages, perhaps the Quiscat of Mezières’ day. The name Waco has not been noted in early Spanish documents, nor does it occur at all, it semis, until the 19th century, when it is first applied by Americans to Indians of the village on the site of modern Waco, who are distinguished from those called Tawakoni living only 2 miles below 15.

The hereditary enemies of the Tawakoni were the Comanche, Osage, and Apache, but toward the end of the 18th century and thereafter the Comanche were frequently counted as allies. The hostility of the Tawakoni toward the Apache was implacable, and Apache captives were frequently sold by them to the French of Louisiana 16. With the Hasinai and Caddo, as well as the Toukawa and Bidai, the Tawakoni were usually at peace. Their villages were market places for the Tonkawa and a refuge for many apostate Jaraname (Aranama) from Bahía del Espíritu Santo.

As in former times, the Tawakoni resemble in methods of agriculture and house-building the other tribes of the Wichita confederacy. The Spanish town of Bucareli on the Trinity depended on them in part for food. Austin reported at the Waco village about 200 acres of corn fenced in with brush fences. According to Mezièros 17 the Tawakoni ate their captives after the cruelest torture and left their own dead unburied in the open prairie.

Until about 1770 the Tawakoni, though friendly toward the French, were hostile to the Spaniards. In 1753, and several times thereafter, they were reported to be plotting with the Hasinai to kill all the Spaniards of east Texas 18 The founding of San Sabá mission for the Apache increased this hostility of the Tawakoni, and in 1758 they took part with the Comanche, Tawehash, and others in the destruction of the mission. In 1760 Father Calahorra, of Nacogdoches, made a treaty of peace with the Tawakoni and Waco, but they soon broke it. During the next two years Calahorra made them other visits and got them to promise to enter a mission. Subsequently the mission project was often discussed, but never materialized 19.

The transfer of Louisiana to Spain wrought a revolution in the relations between the Spaniards and the Tawakoni and other tribes. In 1770 Mezières, an expert Indian agent, and now a Spanish officer, met the Tawakoni and other tribes at the Kadohadacho village and effected a treaty of peace in the name of the governors of Louisiana and Texas 20. In 1772 he made a tour among these new allies and conducted the chiefs to Béxar, where, by the Feather dance, they ratified the treaty before Gov. Ripperdá. This friendship was cemented by a more liberal trading policy introduced by Gov. Oreiily of Louisiana 21. The Tawakoni were now relied upon to force the Aranama (Jaraname) back to their mission and to restrain the more barbarous Tonkawa and induce them to settle in a fixed village, which was temporarily accomplished 22. Friendly relations remained relatively permanent to the end of the Spanish regime. In 1778 and 1779 Mezières made two more visits to the Tawakoni villages. In 1796 the Tawakoni sent representatives to the City of Mexico to ask for a mission, and the matter was seriously discussed but decided negatively 23. About 1820 they for some reason became hostile, but on Apr. 23, 1821, Gov. Mezières, through the mediation of the gene cadó, or Kadohadacho chief, effected a new treaty with the Tawakoni chiefs Daquiarique and Tacaréhue 24.

By 1824 the upper Tawakoni village seems to have been moved back toward the Trinity, for in that year Thomas M. Duke, who described the Waco and the small Tawakoni village below them, stated that the principal Tawakoni village was on the waters of the Trinity 25. To the Anglo Americans the tribe frequently proved troublesome and were sometimes severely punished. They were included in the treaty made with the Republic of Texas in 1843 and also in the treaties between the United States and the Wichita in 1837 and 1856, which established their reservation in the present Oklahoma. In 1855 they were placed on a reservation near Ft Belknap, on the Brazes, and for 3 years they made progress toward civilization; but in 1859 they were forced by the hostility of the whites to move across Red river 26 Since then they have been officially incorporated with the ‘Wichita.

If the view that the Waco were only a part of the Tawakoni under a new name is correct, the Tawakoni suffered rather less diminution than other tribes during the half century after 1778. If the view is wrong, they decreased about half their number during that period.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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  1. Letter of July 22, 1774, in Archivo Gen., Prov. Intern., xcix, Expediente, 1.[]
  2. Margry, Dec., vi, 278, 282, 289,1886.[]
  3. see La Harpe, op. cit., 293.[]
  4. Investigation, 1752, MS.[]
  5. Lopez to Parila, 1760, in Expediente sobre Mission San Saba, Archivo Gen.; Testimonio de Diligencias, Bexar Archives Province of Texas, 1754-76, MSS.[]
  6. Diario in Alem. de Nueva Espana, xxvii, 279[]
  7. Mezières, Relacion, 1770, AIS.[]
  8. Informe. July 4, 1772, 1118.[]
  9. Informe, July 4, 1772, AMS.[]
  10. Mezières, Carta, in Mem. de Nueva España, xxviii, 274-5.[]
  11. Morfi, Hist. Tex., ca. 1782, MS.[]
  12. Cabello, Informe, 1784, MS; Leal, Noticia, July 10, 1794. See also Plechazos.[]
  13. Inforine, July 14, 1772, MS.; Courbiere, Relación Clara, 1791, Bexar Archives, MS.[]
  14. Testimonio de los Diligencias, Béxar Archive, Prov. of Texas, 1754-76[]
  15. Stephen F. Austin, ea. 1822, Austin papers, Class D.; Thos. M. Duke to Austin, June, 1824, ibid., Class P[]
  16. Macartij, letter, Sept. 23, 1763[]
  17. Informe, July 4, 1772[]
  18. De Soto Verinudez, Investigation; Mezières to Fr. Abad, 1758, MS.[]
  19. Testimonio de Diligencias, Béxar Archives, Prov. of Texas, 1739-416[]
  20. Mezières, Relacion, Oct. 21, 1770[]
  21. Mezières, Informe, July 4, 1772[]
  22. Mem. de Nueva España, xxviii. 274[]
  23. Archivo Gen., Prov. Intern., xx, MS[]
  24. Archivo Gen., Prov. Intern., CCLI[]
  25. Austin Papers, Class P[]
  26. Bancroft, No. Mex. States, ii, 406-410, 1889.[]

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