Indians and An Island
In 1840, Francis Moore, Jr., an enterprising citizen of the Republic of Texas, published a map and description of the new country. Similar to promotional literature published throughout the West, the book was directed to all potential immigrants. It praised Texas as possessing a healthful climate, abundant resources, and opportunities unlimited. Texas did have a few frontier disadvantages such as a minor Indian problem, but they were not serious. Those thinking of making Texas their new home should not be deterred by exaggerated tales of Indian depredations. "The Indian tribes of Texas," he wrote, "with the single exception of the Commanches, are all small and but the mere remnants of tribes who have been driven from their original hunting grounds."  Moore's observations were especially accurate in relation to the tribes of the Texas gulf coast. Americans, who had been entering Texas in ever increasing numbers since empresario Stephen Austin's 1821 settlement, had by 1840 in fact reduced the coastal tribes to mere remnants of their former numbers. As a result very little is known about the tribes that inhabited the region from Galveston Bay south into Mexico. Their uprooting was so total and complete that American ethnologists never had an occasion in later years to visit reservations to study their cultures. Although more Indian tribes lived in Texas than in any other state, it contains no major reservations.
The study of the archeology of the Texas gulf coast is still a young field of investigation. This is especially true of the central and southern sections. From what data has been gathered, archeologists have grouped the Texas Indian cultures in four stages: Paleo-American, Archaic, New-American, and Historic. On the Texas gulf coast next to nothing is known about Paleo-American culture. Archeologists have defined only one Archaic culture, the Aransas focus. It is confined to the area around Aransas and Corpus Christi bays. Although archaic groups from the mainland visited Padre Island, nothing is known about them. For the New-American stage, archeologists have again defined only one culture, the Rockport focus. It is found along the coast from Matagorda Bay to Baffin Bay. This area includes Padre Island. The Karankawa and Coahuiltecan tribes of southern Texas are linked to this focus. These two tribes can be considered Padre Island's principal Indian visitors.
As is the case with the other tribes of the Texas Gulf Coast very little is known about the Coahuiltecans. They belonged to the Western Gulf culture area, which also included the Karankawa. Ethnologically the term Coahuiltecan is unusual. Most North American Indians are identified with a linguistic family. This is not the case with the designation Coahuiltecan. The name does not stand for a tribe or group of tribes that shared a common basic language. Rather it is a geographical designation. Coahuiltecan gathers together and identifies more than 200 small tribes and bands which inhabited a territory running from Corpus Christi Bay south across the Rio Grande. To the west Coahuiltecan territory extended to the Nueces and crossed the Rio Grande in the vicinity of the mouth of the Pecos. The problem of identifying, locating, and estimating the populations of the over 200 Coahuiltecan tribes and bands which inhabited this territory plagues historians and ethnologists. It is perhaps an impossible task. A number of groupings have been identified, such as the Aranamas between the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers, the Orefons on the lower Nueces, and the Barrado and Malaquite between the Rio Grande and Corpus Christi Bay. The Barrado and Malquite probably often visited Padre Island.
The Spanish knew the Coahuiltecans and established missions such as San Antonio de Bexar among them. Spanish missionaries labored long and hard among the Coahuiltecans and apparently had some success. However, by the time the Americans first arrived in Texas after the 1821 Mexican Revolution, the Coahuiltecans had all but disappeared. They had been driven out of southwest Texas by the Lipan Apache, who themselves had been driven south by northern tribes.
The Coahuiltecans were in terms of their subsistence type and material culture among the most primitive of the Texas Indians. Having a very limited natural resource base, their subsistence combined hunting, gathering-collecting, and fishing. They very literally ate anything they could kill. This included bison and deer, which they hunted communally. They fished with the bow and arrow in the streams and lagoons. Their vegetables consisted of, among others, the bulbs of agaves and lechuguilla and prickly pear fruit or "tuna." A favorite food was the bean of the mesquite. The Coahuiltecans dried the beans, pounded them into a flour, mixed the flour with other seeds or berries, and then ate the concoction together with such gourmet delights as pulverized bones.
Their tools were few and uncomplicated, including knives, scrapers, flint hammers, and curved wooden sticks used in grubbing and digging. The bow and arrow was their principal weapon. Coahuiltecan huts or wickiups consisted of sharpened willow poles, which were implanted in the ground in the form of a circle. A ring of these poles constituted a lodge frame, which was covered with skins. There was no arrangement for a fire hole. Smoke from the fire within the lodge escaped through any side left open.
Coahuiltecan social organization was also simple. Each band or tribe had a chief, but there is no record of tribal societies. The nature of elite groups, if any, is unknown. Shamans occupied an important position. The family was the basic social and economic unit and kinship paterns were patrilineal. Within the band there were no full-time occupational specialization and apparently no class distinctions. Natural resources were free for all to exploit .
The supernatural beliefs or superstitions of the Coahuiltecans are also unknown. Their religious ceremonies and festivals involved dancing and feasting. Unfortunately, nothing is known about tribal ritual and none of the Coahuiltecan myths have been preserved. A shaman apparently functioned among the Coahuiltecan in a manner similar to his role among other tribes. He knew the ritual for religious ceremonies and was also the tribal doctor. Cabeza de Vaca, who spent time among the Coahuiltecans during his sixteenth century odyssey on the Texas gulf coast, became a noted shaman. The Indians felt he had supernatural healing powers. Passage from childhood to adulthood was marked by appropriate ceremonies. After a young man had proven his ability as a warrior, he was ready for tattooing. During all their festivals of thanksgiving for success in the hunt or good fortune in inter-tribal warfare, the Coahuiltecans consumed peyote. Eaten green or dried and drunk as tea, this hallucinogen provided stimulus for frenzied dancing which often lasted for days.
Like all other Indians, the Coahuiltecans participated in intertribal warfare. Little is known about which tribes were their historic or bitterest enemies, but it is probable that they fought with most of their neighbors. The bow and arrow was their major weapon. They apparently took scalps and were also cannibalistic, as were most of the coastal tribes. Inter-tribal warfare was constant, and thus security was as important to the tribe as the food quest.
Lacking firm historical evidence of Coahuiltecan culture, one can only infer their relationship to Padre Island. It is probable that visits to the Island were a part of the seasonal food quest. In search of food the Coahuiltecans wandered from food source to food source and often returned to the same places. At certain times of the year, probably during summer, they crossed over from the mainland to Padre via a ford or in canoes. On the island they fished with the bow and arrow, gathered oysters, and collected a variety of shell fish. In addition they might have fled to Padre seeking security from an attacking enemy. Unlike the Karankawa, who always remained on the coastal plain and islands, the Coahuiltecans also inhabited large areas of the mainland, where they hunted bison and deer. It is probable that their visits to Padre were of short duration. The island was not one of their major habitats, but they visited it on a seasonal basis.
"They were the Ishmaelites of Texas," wrote a chronicler of Indian depredations in Texas, "for their hands were against everyman and everyman's hand was against them."  The writer was referring to the Karankawas, the tribe most often identified with the Texas gulf coast. The Kronks, as Texans also called them, were indeed the scourge of the first American settlers in Texas. In defense of the land they inhabited long before Alonso Alvarez de Pineda first sailed along the gulf coast in 1519, the Karankawa raided and killed. Texans returned Karankawa depredations in kind, often decimating an entire band to repay the death of an unfortunate rancher. Unlike the other North American tribes who had resisted American westward expansion, the Karankawa were not granted a reservation by a guilt-plagued government. They disappeared.
The history of the Karankawa Indians is largely unknown. What little knowledge we have of them is derived from from Spanish sources to the 1820s and American sources thereafter. Ethnologically they are classified as a member of the Gulf culture area. They were probably related to the Coahuiltecan tribes to the west and south and more directly to the Pakawa group. The extent of Karankawa historic territory was first described by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, the now famous Spaniard who was shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528 and spent the next eight years as a slave and shaman among the coast tribes. According to de Vaca, the Karankawas inhabited a territory extending from Galveston Bay to Aransas Bay. They lived on a narrow strip of coastal prairie and frequently visited all the coastal islands. Rarely did the Karankawas venture away from the tidal plain into the territory of their enemies, the Tonkawas, and after the second half of the eighteenth century, the Lipan Apaches and the Comanches.
Five bands or groups made up the tribe. Between Galveston Bay and the Brazos River lived the Capoques and the Hans. South along the coast around the mouth of the Colorado were the Kohanis (also spelled Cohanis). The Karankawas proper resided around Matagorda Peninsula. Dwelling along Copana Bay and St. Joseph Island were the Kopanos (also spelled Copane or Cobanes).  Each of these five bands was autonomous and independent, but all shared the same language and culture. In historic times they apparently were not confederated for war or defensive purposes and may have often fought among themselves.
Spanish contact with the Karankawas until well into the eighteenth century was limited almost exclusively to unfortunates who shipwrecked on the coast or an occasional exploration entrada. When in 1553 a gulf hurricane broke up a Spanish treasure and supply fleet of some 20 ships off Cuba, one or more of the stricken galleons ran ashore on Padre Island. Three hundred Spaniards, no longer thinking of once again seeing the motherland, faced a long march back to the settlements of New Spain and safety. They had not straggled far down Padre's scenic beach when Indians began a series of hit-and-run attacks which lasted all the way down the coast into Mexico and which left a single survivor, Father Marcos de Mena. The Karankawas receive the dubious distinction of being the perpetrators of these deeds, but the true identity of the Indian attackers is unknown. They could just as well have been Coahuiltecans. The trials and tribulations of de Vaca and de Mena among the Karankawas gained the tribe a reputation of being heathen savages.
When in 1685 Robert Cavelier Sieur de la Salle sailed past the mouth of the Mississippi and into Matagorda Bay in hopes of conquering Spanish territory for Louis XIV, he found himself among the Karankawas. After establishing Fort Louis for his colony on Garcitas Creek up from the bay, La Salle set out to explore the territory to the west. He hoped to win the Indians to his flag. He had little success and four years later, after a series of disasters, La Salle was forced to head for Canada seeking a relief expedition. The Karankawas promptly overwhelmed the few remaining members of the ill-fated colony, killing the majority and taking a few youngsters captive. When shortly thereafter the Spaniards, who had heard rumors of the French threat to their Texas empire, finally found the remains of Fort Louis, they were naturally horrified at what had happened to their fellow Europeans. Some suggested the only way to deal with the Karankawas was to exterminate them. Better counsels, primarily a Roman Catholic Church anxious to save the Karankawas' heathen souls for God, prevailed. The scheme was temporarily forgotten.
At the end of the seventeenth century Spain, alarmed by both British and French activity on the eastern boundaries of her North American kingdom, decided to establish a presence in her exposed eastern territories. To accomplish the objective it was decided to apply a colonial policy which had proven successful among the natives throughout Latin America. At locations chosen for their strategic importance, Spanish authorities established a presidio and a mission. The presidio handled secular affairs of colonial administration and military security. The mission was responsible for religious matters, i.e., Indian conversion to the Roman Catholic faith and their training in civilized occupations such as blacksmithing, tailoring, weaving, and brick making. As Carlos E. Castaneda. a leading authority of the Spanish period in Texas, points out, "The mission was primarily a frontier institution, designed to supplement the military outpost or presidio in holding and extending the Spanish dominion." 
For the purpose of pacifying the coastal tribes, and especially the wild and savage Karankawas, Spanish authorities established a presidio, La Bahia, and a mission, Nuestra Senora Espritu Santo de Zuniga, near La Salle's old Fort Louis. Between 1722 and the end of the Spanish period in Texas in 1836, Spanish civil and religious authorities labored long and hard to bring the benefits of Christianity and civilization to the Karankawas. Other missions were established for this purpose, e.g., Refugio in 1792. The efforts went unrewarded. Although the Karankawas came to the missions at various times in order to obtain security, food, and gifts, they never gave up their traditional habits and customs. The Karankawas refused to be acculturated preferring instead to roam their historic territory of coastal prairie and islands between Galveston and Baffin bays. One of the islands they often visited was Padre.
When in 1821 Stephen Austin assumed responsibility for his dead father's dream of colonizing Texas, he found his settlement plans blocked by the Karankawas. Between 1821 and 1836 Texans and Karankawas carried on an unrelenting war of raid and reprisal, raid and reprisal. In 1824 and again in 1827 Austin attempted to sign peace treaties with the Karankawas. The treaties were modeled on those signed by American authorities with other tribes. Neither party honored the treaties terms and the civil war continued. The Texans, assisted by the Comanches, Lipan Apaches, and disease, continued to decimate the Karankawas. At the same time the Spanish colonial administration slowly disintegrated. Refugio, the last mission among the Karankawas, was finally secularized in 1828 and then abandoned. As William Oberste, S.J., comments on the tribe's relationship to the church, "Their concept of the new religion was one to feed a gnawing stomach. The care of their souls was a necessity they could not comprehend."  By the time of the Texas rebellion, or War of Independence, in 1836, the Karankawas consisted of several small bands scattered among the bays and islands along the coast.
Between 1836 and 1846 the Republic of Texas established no Bureau of Indian Affairs. A Texas journalist who has written a history of the Karankawas describes their fate during the first years of American settlement in Texas. "The next two decades were to witness the progress of the bloody reducing process."  When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, the Karankawas had all but disappeared. Nobody apparently knows what happened to the last bands. Some claim they moved into Mexico, where they were killed either by other Indians or Mexicans. Smauel Reid, Jr., who was a member of group of Texas Rangers who rode down Padre Island in 1846 on their way to the war, contended that the Karankawas committed collective suicide on Padre Island. "Murdering their women and children," he wrote, "the warriors sought for some uninhabited island, where they could wait patiently for that death which was forever to destroy all traces of their tribe."  Alice W. Oliver, who as a child living on Matagorda Bay knew the Karankawas, was probably more accurate when she stated, "When they realized that their traditions were the only inheritance of their children and that the deeds of their generation could never add any luster to the record, that in a few years they would be utterly extinguished as a nation, the spirit seemed to die within them and their degradation was complete."  Death at the hands of Texas settlers, their fellow Indians, the Lipan Apaches and the Comanches, and the ravages of disease ended Karankawa existence. A tribe which Spanish missionaries at the beginning of the eighteenth century estimated to number in the thousands disappeared. There was nothing heroic in the deeds of the perpetrators, as a popular folklore of brave and hardy settlers versus savage and brutal Indians has long held. Karankawa culture was indeed primitive and some of their tribal behavioral characteristics repugnant and savage. There is, however, no rationalization for genocide.
The Karankawas' physical appearance impressed all those who saw them. Tall, often over six feet, and well proportioned, they projected an image of graceful strength. Upon drawing closer, however, one discovered that they were not beautiful children of nature. Both sexes were ugly, With the exception of splendid white teeth, they were very filthy. Indeed they gave off a most unpleasant odor which many thought resulted from poor hygienic practices. In reality the odor came from the shark or alligator oil with which they smeared their bodies as protection against mosquitoes and other insects. The oil may have been offensive, but it worked. When on Padre Island the Karankawas were never driven to the beach to escape the mosquitoes.
Karankawa dress and ornamental attire were not as elaborate as other Indian tribes, but they were nevertheless functional and distinctive. The men wore a simple breech cloth and the women a skirt to the knees. Children went naked. In colder weather men and women also wore blankets. However, because the shark and alligator oils ruined clothes, they preferred to go as naked as possible. Males often braided their hair in three strands into which they inserted bright objects. Females wore their hair long and straight. According to Jean Louis Berlandier, who visited the Karankawas in 1830, the men at times wore cock feathers behind their ears and a wreath of grass on their heads. Berlandier, a Frenchman who had been employed by the Spanish authorities to act as naturalist and ethnologist to General Manuel Mier y Teran's 1828 Texas survey, also reported that the Karankawas wore vermillion around their eyes and smeared their bodies with white, black, or red paints.  Others recorded that males also wore strings of shells, glass beads, or pistachio nuts at their throats in addition to little disks of tin, brass, or another metal.  The most striking element of Karankawa body decoration was their practice of tattooing their faces with blue lines and perhaps even figures. Every Euroamerican who encountered them noted the tattoos which, when combined with body paints, gave the tall, half-naked Karankawas a truly startling appearance.
As was the case with all Indian tribes, Karankawa subsistence and material culture demonstrated an adaptation to their environment. No one animal species was sufficiently prevalent on the Texas coastal prairie to become the basis of Indian subsistence, as happened on the Great Plains with its vast bison herds. The tidewater section of the Texas gulf coast from Galveston to the Rio Grande contained a large variety of flora and fauna, which constituted the food supply of Karankawa economy. Big-game animals which the Karankawa hunted included deer, buffalo stragglers, antelope, mountain lion, and bears. Hides from these animals were employed for a wide variety of purposes such as clothing, covers for the lodges, and bedding. In the lagoons and bays the Karankawas took sea trout, red fish, flounder, sheep's head, Spanish mackerel, and jew fish. Although in later years they may have used cane weirs and lines to catch these fish, the bow and arrow was their historic method of securing fish. They amazed the whites who had the opportunity to watch them with their exceptional accuracy with this weapon. In addition they collected shell fish such as mussels and oysters and killed turtles. They hunted the wide variety of ducks and geese found along the coast and also killed wild turkeys. Gathering also constituted an important source of food. They ate many plants such as bulbous nuts, berries, persimmons, the prickly pear tuna, and cactus figs. Tea made from the leaves of the yaupon shrub was a favorite drink. As in most Indian tribes the men procured the food and the women prepared it. Meat and fish were cooked in pots or roasted on a fire. Oysters were also cracked in the fire. The women crushed fruits and seeds on stones. Yaupon tea was prepared by boiling the leaves and then drinking the hot foam. According to some observers, this brew had an intoxicating effect.
Karankawa tools, utensils, and weapons were simple and primitive. They consisted of knives, scrapers, and some pottery. The oval pots were decorated with black lines and figures. The most prominent Karankawa implement was the bow and arrow, which was truly amazing. In length the bow extended from a warrior's foot to his chin: it was at times as long as six feet. Made of red cedar, the bow was about two inches wide in the center and one and one-half inches thick. The string was made of twisted deer sinew and was about one-quarter inch in diameter. Being the Karankawas' single most important implement, a bow was always well oiled and polished. Strings were kept in perfect condition. An arrow was a yard long; and a half inch in diameter. It carried a head about three inches long which was set in the cleft of the shaft and wound with sinew. Three feathers completed the arrow.  The Karankawas knew no equal in the power and accuracy of their shots with the bow and arrow.
Karankawa settlement pattern was nomadic. They roamed the coastal prairie, following the seasons and the food supply. They probably stayed three to four weeks in each location before moving on. They returned to the same camp sites year after year. Although the Karankawas moved away from the coastal islands during the winter, the availability of food was a greater determinant of their wanderings than the climate.
The Karankawas derived their mobility from the use of an unusual canoe or pirogue. They apparently did not have many horses and may have been poor horsemen. About twenty feet long, the pirogue was constructed by hollowing out a log. Leaving the bark on the outside, the builder blunted the ends. The boat was then ready to move the family across a lagoon to the next camp site or make a quick getaway to escape an enemy attack.
A lodge called a ba-ak was the Karankawa dwelling. It was built of willow poles about eighteen feet long and an inch and a half in diameter. The poles were sharpened on one or both ends. The ends were then stuck in the ground in the shape of a circle with each pole being about a yard apart. Undressed deer skins were placed over the frame. Smoke from a fire within the lodge drifted out a side left uncovered. Measuring from ten to twelve feet in diameter such a lodge could house two families or from seven to eight people. It provided adequate shelter and, equally important, was easily transportable.
Very little is known about Karankawa social organization, The band was the largest social and political group. Each band had both a civil and a war chief, but the decision-making powers of each are unknown. The family was the primary social and economic unit within the band. Kinship was reckoned patrilineally. Marriage, which often took place among members of different bands, was arranged by the parents. Although the Karankawas were monogamous, divorce was easy, especially when there were no children. The nature of elite groups or classes, if any, is unknown. Young men went through a period of training and testing before reaching warrior status, at which time they were tattooed.
Those who knew the tribe noted a number of unusual habits and customs. The Karankawas were weepers, i.e., they cried out of both happiness and sadness at the slightest occasion. A number of taboos characterized personal relationships. According to many Texans the Karankawas would not look one in the eye when engaged in conversation nor would they reveal their Indian names. As one can imagine, such manners made a very bad impression on people who found virtue in "looking a man straight in the eye." In addition the Karankawas gave the appearance of ennui. As a result they quickly gained a reputation as being slovenly, worthless and lazy. Another taboo involved intra-tribal family relationships. Once a man married, he could not enter his bride's former home nor could his parents-in-law visit his lodge or that of his children. In addition, they never spoke to each other and would go out of their way to avoid an encounter. The Karankawas felt silence was the best way to avoid family fighting, especially disputes over inheritance. The family of the bride was expected to lose all contact with their daughter and with their grandchildren. Still another taboo involved speaking the name of a dead person. The Karankawas never did, fearing that if the dead man's spirit heard his name, he would awaken, be displeased, and cause harm to the person who had disturbed him.
Of all the Karankawa behavioral traits which the Euroamerican found strange or repugnant, one stood out above all others. Like other gulf coast tribes, the Karankawa practiced cannibalism. Many Spaniards and Texans were convinced human flesh was a standard part of Karankawa diet and were understandably horrified. A Texas journalist, who included the word cannibal in his book about the tribe, claimed that the Karankawas considered human flesh a "choice gastronomical treat."  This is untrue. Like members of other primitive cultures who practiced cannibalism, the Karankawas ate human flesh out of superstition. They did not have any special attachment to such consumption. The Karankawas felt that by consuming the flesh of an enemy they at the same time transferred his strength and other virtues to themselves.
Another popular idea of Karankawa customs maintains that they were indifferent to childen and purposely killed female offspring in order to assure that the girls would not marry into an enemy tribe and thus increase its strength, The first is untrue and the second questionable. According to Cabeza de Vaca , who lived among the Karankawas as a slave and shaman for several years in the sixteenth century, they loved children.  Alice Oliver, who knew the tribe during their last years in the 1830s, noted no young girls and few children.  Although it is possible the Karankawas practiced female infanticide, there is too little documentation of the subject to prove it conclusively.
Some accounts of the tribe maintain that the Karankawas were morose and dour and that they played no games. This is also untrue. Among their games were wrestling, hachet throwing, bow and arrow shooting, and ball games. Like many North American Indians, the Karankawas were animated and cheering spectators at sporting events. It is, however, unknown whether or not they gambled.
Karankawa artistic and intellectual attainments were primitive. In addition to decorating their bodies, they painted black lines and figures on their crude oval pottery. They also carved wood figures and made dolls for the children by painting faces on carved pieces of wood. They apparently had a system of counting, but little is known about it other than they used their fingers. Perhaps their greatest skill lay in long distance communication, which they carried out by means of smoke signals. According to some observers, the Karankawas knew twenty different ways of communicating messages through the use of smoke. They could literally make smoke rise sideways.
There is also very little information about Karankawa supernatural beliefs. They apparently honored and/or worshipped two major deities called Pichini and Mel. Ceremonies or festivals for thanking these deities or imploring their assistance were called mitotes. Shaman called comas knew the required ritual and presided. The Karankawas had several different types of mitotes depending on the occasion, e.g., a festival of thanksgiving for a good hunt, for success in battle, or for good fishing. Others involved a burial and still other supplications for a bountiful gathering season, for successful results of an inter-tribal raid, and for liberty, victory, and prosperity in general. The Karankawas implored the assistance of anthropomorphized gods. When it was granted, they expressed their appreciation. Unfortunately, there are very few descriptions of Karankawa mitotes and those we do have are vague. At one type of festival the participants gathered in a lodge where they drank yaupon tea, which supposedly had an intoxicating effect on the dancers. Accompanied by music from gourds filled with stones and a flute, the participants ecstatically danced around a fire. A mitote often lasted three days and, it is interesting to note, women apparently took no part.
The Karankawas' relationship to the natural environment was to the gulf coast as a whole. There is no evidence that they had any special relationship to Padre Island other than or different from their relationship to all the coastal islands from Padre north to Galveston Bay. Inded, the islands north of Padre were probably more important to them, with Galveston being the most important of all.
Although ethnological maps of the territory inhabited by the Texas tribes show Karankawa territory ending at Corpus Christi Bay, there is sufficient archeological and historical evidence to indicate that the tribe often visited Padre Island. In 1821 a vessel wrecked at Brazos Santiago Pass throwing the American and Spanish survivors onto Padre. They made their way up the island. Arriving at the north end of Padre, they encountered a Karankawa band which had a short time before left the Refugio mission and established a camp on the Ysla del Vallin (another of Padre's many names). The Indians apparently accompanied the men back to the wreck for the purpose of salvaging what cargo could be saved. Treacherously turning on the Euroamericans, the Karankawas killed them.
When in 1828 Don Domingo de Feunte surveyed the island in connection with reaffirming Padre Nicolas Balli's land grant, he reported no Karankawas, "who in the past caused injury and damage," were on the island at the time. However, he went on to say, they often came over the Laguna Madre to Padre. 
The most interesting account of the Karankawas and Padre Island centers on the tribe's last days. As we have already noted, Samuel Reid contended that a Karankawa band committed tribal suicide on the island. Although this tale is probably untrue, there is evidence that Padre became more important to the Karankawas during the years of their final reduction between 1830 and 1846. There is one report, for example, that a Spanish missionary in 1842 or 1843 attempted to establish the Karankawas on Padre, where they would be educated and at the same time separated and protected from the Texas colonists.  Like the other long attempts to civilize the Karankawas at the Refugio mission, this effort also failed. There is also another report that the Karankawa lived on the south end of Padre in the late 1850s before the last small bands crossed over into Mexico and disappeared.  There is, then, little doubt that Padre Island was a Karankawa habitat. In their unknown passing they left behind on Padre a host of artifacts and an atmosphere of mystery. In later years a romanticised Karankawa would become a standard part of a substantial local folklore. Stories of wild cannibals living on desolate islands included Padre.
Like other North American Indians the Karankawas were indeed children of nature. Their interaction with the natural environment influenced to a greater or lesser degree all forms of their existence. At Padre Island this interaction took place on a number of levels.
First and foremost was the impact of Padre's island environment on Karankawa economy. Dependent entirely on a natural food supply, Karankawa cultural traits reveal an adjustment or adaptation to the material conditions of the life zones in which their food supply was found. In that the Karankawas came to Padre to fish, to gather oysters and other shell fish, and perhaps to hunt deer and birds, they adapted to the island's conditions. First was the problem of getting to the island. This the Karankawas accomplished by means of the canoe. Each pirogue, which was easily poled through shallow water, such as the Laguna Madre, was large enough to carry the family and their possessions. Second was the question of the type of dwelling best suited to the island. Here a lodge constructed of willow poles, which the Karankawas could either bring with them or find on Padre, covered by undressed skins provided adequate shelter Moreover, in that the Karankawas remained only three to four weeks in any one camp, such a lodge, which was easily put up and taken down, was a perfect adaptation to their nomadic settlement pattern. Third were the concerns of securing fish, gathering oysters, killing animals and birds. The Karankawas adapted the bow and arrow to fishing and hunting. In addition the tools they devised for preparing the food came from nature and consisted of knives and stone and shell scrapers. The only implement which they made themselves seems to have been a crude type of pottery. A fourth consideration in their adaptation to the conditions of Padre centered on clothing. Karankawa adults found a simple deer skin breech cloth or skirt adequate to the island's climate. Children went naked. Shark or alligator oil provided protection against Padre's ever-present mosquitoes. In short almost every element of Karankawa economic life revealed an adaptation to the conditions of the environment within which they secured their subsistence. Their food supply was a part of the web of life. In their economy they adjusted and related to it.
Disciplined archeological investigations on Padre Island have revealed approximately 20 different Karankawa camp sites within the first twenty miles of the north end of the island.  Amateur archeologists, and especially Mr. Louis Rawalt of Corpus Christi, have collected artifacts from one end of the island to the other. These findings indicate that at one time or another the Karankawas camped all over Padre Island. Their visits were seasonal and probably took place during the summer months when the cool gulf breezes bring relief from the hot and humid conditions prevailing on the mainland. The Karankawas remained about three to four weeks at each camp, when they either moved to a new camp on the island or crossed over to the mainland. It is doubtful that they visited Padre at all during the short winter months when a famous Texas "norther" can drop the temperature on Padre into the 40s and 50s.
In addition to being a source of food, Padre, like the other barrier islands, provided the Karankawas with another major benefit, security. Inter-tribal warfare among the Texas Indians was constant. The Karankawas apparently waged primarily defensive war, limiting their offensive actions to raids against enemy bands. In the historic period they did not attempt to extend their territory by driving out other Indians. Instead they were encroached upon by tribes which intruded into Texas, primarily the Lippan Apaches and the Comanches. These two tribes, which had been driven southwest by plains tribes, became the Karankawas' bitterest and most feared enemies. One of the major reasons for the failure of Refugio mission, besides the Karankawa refusal to give up their traditional life patterns and acculturate, was the inability of the mission to provide security against the Comanches. They did find security along the coast where , if attacked, they could quickly sound the alarm by means of smoke signals and flee in their canoes across a bay or lagoon to the protection of an island. Padre was such an island.
Last Updated: 16-Mar-2007