The Tonkawa Indians


Description of your research.

When you think about Indians of Texas you think about the Comanche or the Apache, you don’t think about the Tonkawa.  The Tonkawa Indians were a group of Indians living in Texas that had a lot of contact with surrounding Indians tribes and the Europeans and later the Americans.  This contact between the Tonkawa’s and whites was friendly but the contact with other Indian tribes varied between friendly and hostile.  The cause of the hostility with the Indian tribes was due in part to the Tonkawa being so friendly to the white people.  The friendly relationship with the whites was the cause of great massacre later in their history

Primary Sources

La Vere, David. Life Among the Texas Indians. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1998.


La Vere spent some time researching the Indian-Pioneer Histories in the Indian Archives of the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City.  These recollections were collected around the depression in the 1930s of people telling there story about their dealings with the Texas Indians or the Texas Indians telling about their own people.  The knowledge gained from this collection is unique among books as it has several first hand accounts of these Texas Indians.



Letter from the Secretary of War, in response to house resolution of the 20th instant … condition of the Tonkawa Indians at Ft. Griffin, Tex.  The Center for American History. The University of Texas-Austin.


          In 1876 the Tonkawa people were living at Fort Griffin.  Some of the warriors were employed as scouts for the army.  In this letter the officers tell of the condition the Tonkawa’s were in and ask the federal government for some help for these people.  They request for these people to be able to live on a reservation so that they can receive annuities from the government rather than left over rations of the army.



Smithwick, Noah. The Evolution of a State or Recollections of Old Texas Days. online book


          Noah Smithwick lived in the nineteenth century and had many experiences on the frontier so he wrote a book to tell these stories.  In part of this book he mentioned seeing the Tonkawa people and observed them eating a Comanche warrior that they had killed.  He goes into great detail, even telling the owner of the pot the Indians used to make the stew.  This gives a great account of the cannibalistic ritual that the Tonkawa people performed.



Secondary Sources


Jones, William K. Notes on the History and Material Culture of the Tonkawa Indians. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology. Volume 2, Number 5, page 65-81. Washington, 1969. Smithsonian Press


The culture of the Tonkawa is compiled in these pages.  It is very helpful to find out how the Tonkawa culture played a role in their relations with the white people and there Indian neighbors.  This is good background to help you understand the Tonkawa to understand how they relate to the world, giving a deeper understanding of their relationships with other people.



La Vere, David. The Texas Indians. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2004.


In this book La Vere has in a sense redone what Newcomb did in his 1961 book about the Texas Indians.  La Vere presents some new information that came forth after Newcomb wrote his book.  It gives a good account of the life of these people and there interactions with each other.



Moore, Stephen L. Savage Frontier: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas 2 vols. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2006.


          Like Wilbarger’s book on the depredations in Texas Moore researched many fights between the Indians and whites to tell a comprehensive story of these skirmishes. The detail that Moore provides gives the reader a greater idea of how these battles were.  The Tonkawa’s are mentioned in many of these conflicts to help understand their relationships with the white man and their Indian neighbors.



Neighbours, Kenneth F. Tonkawa Scouts and Guides. West Texas Historical Association Year Book, Vol XLIX. October 1973. Abilene, Texas


Little is said about the help that the Tonkawa’s gave to the white military in their pursuit of relocating the Texas Indians.  In Tonkawa Scouts and Guides Neighbours collects different accounts to put this great help of the Tonkawa’s into one book.  This greatly helps to analyze the relations the Tonkawa’s had with their white neighbors.



Newcomb. The Indians of Texas From Prehistoric to Modern Times. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1961.


In this book Newcomb puts all the Indian people of Texas into one book.  It is the first attempt to do such a thing.  He breaks the different tribes up and tells their own history.  It tells of these peoples way of life and there different social organizations.  It is a good comprehensive way to bring all these tribes together in one book rather than having separate histories.  It is a general overview of these Indians not an in depth analysis of them.



Sjoberg, Andree. “The Culture of the Tonkawa, a Texas Indian Tribe.” Spanish Borderlands Sourcebooks. Ed. David Hurst Thomas. New York and London: Garland Publishing Inc. 1991. 280-301


          Much like Newcomb and La Vere, Sjoberg wrote an essay about the life and culture of the Tonkawa.  Much earlier than the other two and much shorter it still adds value to the knowledge of the Tonkawa Indians but closer to the time period.



Wilbarger, J. W. Indian Depredations in Texas. Austin, TX: Hutchings Printing House, 1889.


The conflicts amongst the Indians in Texas and the whites were many.  Wilbarger has compiled many of these into a book to show the cruelty and conflicts of the Indians.  This greatly helps with the research to the Tonkawa Indians who were a part of some of the conflicts.  It shows there part in the many disputations among the whites and their Indian neighbors.