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Tonkawa Indians

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Shelter, Transportation, Food & Weaponry

Tonkawa, pronounced "tong-kuh-wah." is believed to have come from a Wichita Indian word Tonkaweya meaning "they all stay together" The Tonkawas name for themselves is Tickanwatic, meaning "real people'. The Tonkawas are some of the original native Texans. The Tonkawa Indian tribe was forced northward into Oklahoma in the 1800s along with many other tribes.

The Tonkawa Indians lived in large buffalo-hide tents called ti-pis or tee-pees. Ti-pis were designed with portability in mind.

Being a coastal plains tribe, the Tonkawa Indians didn't need to make canoes. When they needed to cross a river, they simply made a raft on the spot. For land transportation, they actually made a type of dogsled. Horses arrived with the colonists coming over from Europe.

The Tonkawa men hunted buffalo and deer and sometimes fished in the rivers. The Tonkawas also collected nuts, berries, fruit and roots to eat. They were not a farming tribe. The corn they got was from trading with other tribes who did farm.

Tonkawa hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Tonkawa warriors used bows and arrows or fought with war clubs and hide shields. They were one of the most warlike tribes during nearly two centuries of conflict with their enemy tribes, the Spanish and later the American settlers. The Tonkawa women were known to be very physically strong and vindictive.

1898 Tonkawa Indians-Photo credit:  Tonkawas photographed by Rhinehart in 1898. Standing L-R, Winnie Richards, John Rush Buffalo, William Stevens, John Allen, and Mary Richards. Seated L-R Joh

1898 Tonkawa Indians-Photo credit: Tonkawas photographed by Rhinehart in 1898. Standing L-R, Winnie Richards, John Rush Buffalo, William Stevens, John Allen, and Mary Richards. Seated L-R Joh

Clothing, Headdress & Adornments

Tonkawa women wore wraparound deerskin skirts, while the Tonkawa men wore breech-cloths. Even though shirts were not a normal part of the male attire, some Tonkawa warriors wore elaborately decorated war shirts like those used by northern Plains tribes. In cooler weather, Tonkawa women wore shawls made of rabbit fur and the men wore painted buffalo robes. Beautifully decorated moccasins were reserved for special occasions. The Tonkawas traditionally went barefooted.

Tonkawa Indian men did not utilize elaborate feather headdresses. Occasionally, they would tie a few feathers to a lock of their long braided hair. Oddly enough, sometimes the warriors would cut their hair short on the left side.

Tonkawa women wore their hair either loose or in one long braid.

The Tonkawas wore tribal tattoos, but they also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Tonkawa Government

The Tonkawa Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, similar to a small country.

However, since the Tonkawas are also US citizens and must also obey American law.

In the past, each Tonkawa band was led by its own chief. Today, the Tonkawa tribe is governed by council members who are elected by all the tribal members.

Tonkawa Language

The Tonkawas have their own language, but it has virtually disappeared since the 1930s, as they have adopted English as their language.

There is still a desire by some of today's youth to resurrect their native tongue.

An easy Tonkawa word is "ta'en" (pronounced similar to "tah-ayn") which means "friend."

Friends and Foes of the Tonkawa Indians

The Tonkawas traded regularly with other tribes of the southern Plains and the Southwest. Tonkawas regulary traded their buffalo products to farming tribes like the Caddo Pueblo Indians in exchange for corn. They shared land with the Karankawa and the Spanish often found them camped together. They also shared land with the Coahuiltecan tribes to the south of them.

The Tonkawas also fought wars with other tribes. Plains Indian tribes didn't fight over territory though, they fought to prove their courage. They had a custom called "counting coup" which was where they would touch an opponent in battle without harming him, steal an enemy's weapon or horse, or forced the other tribe's warriors to retreat. The Tonkawas biggest enemies were the Apaches and Comanches.

Artistic Craftsmanship

The Tonkawas are known for their hide paintings and copper jewelry.

Tonkawa Indians Today

According to Wikipedia:

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The Tonkawa Tribe is headquartered in Tonkawa, Oklahoma and their tribal jurisdictional area is in Kay County.

They have 571 enrolled tribal members. The tribe operates one gasoline station and two casinos, Tonkawa Indian Casino in Tonkawa and Native Lights Casino in Newkirk.

The annual Tonkawa Powwow is scheduled on the last weekend in June, to commemorate when the tribe ended its "Trail of Tears."


Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on February 25, 2015:

I really enjoyed learning about the Tonkawa Indians. Loved the photo.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on October 11, 2011:

Thanks for stopping by ThoughtSandwiches! Glad I could introduce you to a tribe you hadn't met. :)

Katelynn, I'm glad I was able to help with your project. I hope you get an "A"! :)

katelynn on October 11, 2011:

this was a very helpful hand with my prodject in texas history thank you so much and god bless you day

sub on October 03, 2011:

it is cool

ThoughtSandwiches from Reno, Nevada on September 08, 2011:

Hi KCC...Thanks for introducing me to this tribe that I was previously unaware of. Good interesting links too! Voted Up and useful!

hannah on November 03, 2010:

your welcome!!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on October 28, 2010:

Thanks, Wesman and Hannah!

Hannah :P on October 28, 2010:

I found this article very useful. I am doing a brochure on the Tonkawa Indians and this really made my life much easier! THANKS! :P

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on October 14, 2010:

Awesome topic. As a Texas who has always been a reader-I've heard of the Tonkawa; but I've always felt that I should know a whole lot more about Native Americans in general, and the tribes native to Texas in particular.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on October 05, 2010:

LOL...Kiba.....the point to your project is to research the topic from more than one source. Quit trying to take the easy way out. :)

kiba on October 05, 2010:

you need to put more info for people doing history projects on indians!

brianna on September 10, 2010:

hi thanks for the info

KRC (author) from Central Texas on September 09, 2010:

Thank you Randy! One of my dreams is to find an arrowhead on the ground. I've seen plenty, but I want to find my own. :) I'm guessing you've found plenty. Expert survivalist sounds like someone good to know....although I knew you were already. :)

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on September 09, 2010:

As an avid history buff and Native American projectile point collector, these types of hubs are of much interest to me. I am also an expert survivalist, so learning how the earliest Americans lived helps me appreciate their skills. Enjoyed!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on September 09, 2010:

Good luck on your project Lily! I'm sure you'll do fine! There is lots of information here and in the links I provided above. I'm glad you like the photo. It's an actual photo taken of real Tonkawa Indians. Thanks for stopping by and leaving me a comment! (I got to dress up like an Indian in 5th grade and I loved it!)

lily marie martin on September 09, 2010:

but i like the picture of the tonkawas

lily marie martin on September 09, 2010:

i am doing tonkawa indians for a texas history project and i need to find a bunch of stuff like i need to find out what they ate i know what they ate they ate buffalo ya and i need to find out what they used for hunting the buffalo and stuff like that but the project part is that i need to dress up like an indian and i have to bring food and stuff like that i hate school so school so very much but i have to take it

KRC (author) from Central Texas on August 02, 2009:

Thanks Dame! Thanks so much for stopping by!

Gin G from Canada on August 02, 2009:

Yeah, NA women were last line of defense for home, elders and children and mean, lol. Great article. :)

KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 30, 2009:

Thank you very much for saying so, 101lourdes!

101lourdes on July 30, 2009:

I enjoyed reading this article.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 29, 2009:

Thank you so much, always dish out such nice compliments. (hugs)

maggs224 from Sunny Spain on July 29, 2009:

What a fascinating country America is and you write so well about its history

KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 29, 2009:

Thank you alekhouse! It is a cool photo of them, isn't it? I was glad to find it.

Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on July 29, 2009:

Love the photo at the beginning! ood hub with lots of intesting info.

KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 28, 2009:

Thank you Candie, you're such a loyal fan! This article was my 11th for the HubChallenge.

Flower91, Thank you so much! Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

flower91 on July 28, 2009:

I really like your article... Good work..

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on July 27, 2009:

Yes you did, they are great links!! I've run out of time to follow all of them.. what is everybody putting out for the hub contest already?? I'm swamped!! LOL!! I do read yours, always!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 27, 2009:

Unfortuntely, the Tonkawas won't share their photos and the only one on Wikipedia commons is the one I used. I provided some great links though! Thanks for stopping by Candie!

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on July 27, 2009:

Good hub! If you have pictures of their clothing or artwork it would be fun to see!!

Our tribes up here (Northwest Coastal) are also self-governed. I believe most, if not all, are. Thank you for the work you did on this tribe.. so many we never hear about!

KRC (author) from Central Texas on July 27, 2009:

Thank you Ecoggins. They vary. Some take a few hours, some take quite a few hours. It's hard for me to keep track of the time because of how I write them. I start with about a dozen at a time. Then as the mood hits me I work on one until I'm ready to move on to another one. Tonight I have worked on seven different hubs all at various points of completion. I'm working on two simulataneously right now. They are similar though and as I find resources some are more applicable to one than the other. So, I'm working on the links at the moment for the two hubs.

ecoggins from Corona, California on July 27, 2009:

Your hubs are fairly elaborate; I appreciate the attention to detail. How long does it typically take you to research and write an article like this?

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