The Conquest of the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, 1821-1859
Native American Studies - Texas History
6 x 9, 216 pp.
Bib. Index.
Pub Date: 06/24/2016
Elma Dill Russell Spencer Series in the West and Southwest
Price:        $22.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

To Receive E-News


The Conquest of the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, 1821-1859

By Kelly F. Himmel

In 1821, although Spain claimed what is now Texas, American Indian groups occupied it. Less than forty years later, they had been largely displaced, and their subsistence economy, supplemented by raiding and trade, had been replaced by an Anglo-Texan agricultural economy linked to a rapidly expanding and industrializing capitalist system.

For the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, the period from 1821 to 1859 was particularly devastating. Once thriving communities, the Karankawas survived only as scattered individuals after a small remnant on the banks of the Rio Grande was massacred, and the few remaining Tonkawas had been pushed across the Red River into Indian Territory.

Kelly Himmel has written an account of this conquest that gives new understanding of the processes. He explores geopolitical and economic factors, as well as the role of individual and collective human actors and the effects of cultural orientations of the conquered and conquering groups toward each other.

Among his findings is the importance of geopolitical location. During the early Spanish period, the coastal Karankawas offered a buffer against French, English, and Anglo-American intrusion into Texas. Later, during the early days of Anglo-American settlement, the Tonkawas provided a barrier against the Wichitas and Comanches. For both groups, when the threat to their European-origin allies ended, so did the alliances. In considering the social construction of the “other,” he describes how early trade patterns predisposed Anglo-Texans to characterize Karankawas as cannibals, while viewing the Tonkawas, for whom much stronger evidence of cannibalism exists, as harmless beggars and petty thieves.

Through the detailed analysis of factors such as these, Himmel not only portrays a period in the history of these two peoples that has been largely unstudied, but also offers lucid explanations of the framework of Anglo-Texan conquest. Historians, sociologists, and anthropologists will find new insight and information in this valuable addition to the literature on Texas Indians and Texas history.

Kelly F. Himmel is an assistant professor and the graduate advisor in the Department of Sociology, University of Texas–Pan American.

What Readers Are Saying:

“A detailed and scholarly account of the destruction of these people. . . . a vivid description of this period of Texas history. If you are interested in the history of Texas and the history of the Indians of the southern Plains, you’ll find this book a useful addition to your library.” --The Branding Iron

“In addition to his thought-provoking analysis of the Anglo-Texas conquest, Himmel traces the source of the ‘myth’ of Karankawan cannibalism. Himmel has produced a very worthwhile study of two Indian tribes during a relatively neglected period of Texas history.” --American Historical Review

“It is very refreshing to read a [work] that looks at different aspects of the Anglo-Texan conquest of Texas, in this case a sociological and historical perspective focusing on Anglo-Texan and Native American individuals, the resulting [work] being one that I feel should be of enduring interest to historians, anthropologists, and others . . . ” --Timothy K. Perttula, author of The Caddo Nation, Frontera Archaeology,

“His research is thorough and his writing interesting.” --Book Talk

“So little is retrievable of the actual lives of Karankawas and Tonkawas that the Indian “social mind” can only be inferred, yet the author provides a number of valuable insights about human agency, showing in the words of Stephen F. Austin and others how tribes were saddled with claims of savagery and cannibalism that served the process.” --East Texas Historical Assoc.

“Himmel’s well-documented book is instructive in regard to the fates of small nations at the hands of larger ones. ...this is a fine piece of historical research that adds another chapter to the often violent history of the nineteenth-century Texas frontier.” --Journal of Southern History

“One closes this book with a greatly deepened understanding of the Anglo-Texas takeover of the lower mid-continent. Especially commendable is Himmel’s ability to elucidate how various factors—geopolitics, expansion of the modern world-system, cultural constructions of the “other,” and individual human agency— made the conquest a variable, multifaceted process that cannot be reduced into simple stories of military subordination.” --Books for the Western Library

“Himmel’s work significantly helps to fill what has too generally been a gap in Texas history. . . this book will be of interest for historical sociocultural studies in Texas and will help to create a better-informed perspective on the Native American peoples who once lived here.” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Review Copy Request Form Desk Copy Request Form