I have only begun to learn about the Native Americans in the Houston area. I have yet to learn about southern Louisiana and other areas in our synod, like the Atakapa, who lived from what is now Houston to what is now New Orleans, in several “bands”: Opelousas, Alligator, Snake, and the Akokisas.

The synod office now sits on land that once belonged to the Karankawa (see the historical marker placed at Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island) or the Akokisas (a band of the aforementioned Atakapa, who lived along Galveston Bay and the lower Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers in what is now the greater Houston area). One of these (probably the Karankawa) was the first band of Native Americans reported here by Cabeza de Vaca in 1535. “The Spaniards’ journals give in-depth descriptions of life in the community—creating dugout canoes, fishing, gathering plants for food and medicine, and building different shelters to accommodate the seasons.” (“Houston’s Native American Heritage Runs Deep“). Their property was taken away from them, despite Sam Houston’s attempts to protect them. Things, as you can imagine, did not end well.

It is interesting that history is always written by the winners. This area is now called Houston. The victors even have the power to rename a place. The heavily-tatooed Karankawa people (sometimes referred to as the Kronk) lived along the coast down to Corpus Christi. They waded from the shallow waters in the bays to the deep pools with lances or bows and arrows to spear fish. They ate stone crabs, oysters, mussels, sea turtles, shellfish, clams, black drum, redfish, spotted sea trout, and the other abundant species of fish in the nutrient rich waters. During the summer months or hurricane season, when shellfish are not safe to eat, they would migrate inland. They loved dogs.

When Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528, he and his men were cared for and fed by the Karankawa. Starving and desperate, he was the first European to step foot on the soil of what is now the State of Texas. They lived there for six years. Many died of disease. Eventually Cabeza de Vaca trekked south to Mexico City.

In time, more settlers moved in, and settler violence ensued. When attacked for trespassing, they would inevitably fight back and were eventually labeled as vicious cannibals. The dominant culture must always demonize the subdominant culture in order to justify their violence and recruit others. The Karankawa were completely wiped out by 1858.

We only know about 100 of their words. No one ever studied them or learned their history. We have these words because a young girl named Alice Oliver hung out with them in the 1830’s. Her father owned land near the coast. He “let” the friendly Karankawa pass through and camp on “his” land, and allowed his daughter to spend much time with them. In the 1880’s, she recounted as many of their words as she could. When I read Texas history, I sometimes wonder how the Karankawa would tell the story if they were writing our textbooks.