Odd bits of Texas History: The Last of the Karankawans


English: Historical Marker for a Karankawa ind...
English: Historical Marker for a Karankawa indian campsite and burial ground located in Jamaica Beach, Texas on Galveston Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1819, Jane Long followed her husband James to the wild frontier of Texas. Her husband was always on some mission of one kind or another. He kept leaving Jane behind, first he left her in Mississippi to go to Texas to fight the Spanish, then left her to go to Galveston to recruit the pirate Lafitte, and then he went to Mexico to fight the Mexicans. The Mexicans caught and killed him.

 

I don’t know which is worse the part about James’ propensity for leaving his wife or the part about Jane following him. I think when he went to Mexico the only reason she didn’t follow him is because she was so pregnant. It would be one thing if he left her in a nice, cozy place but no, he left her in a mud “fort” on Bolivar Peninsula which is across the bay from Galveston.  There are no trees there hence the mud.

 

That would have been where I drew the line and would have gone home to mama, but not Jane. This woman was plucky, gotta hand it to her.

 

The Karankawan Indians were the true natives of South Texas. Supposedly they used smeared shark liver oil or alligator fat to ward off mosquitoes. So not only did they smell bad, but they were reputed cannibals.  The important thing to note they didn’t just snack on just anybody. They only ate parts of their conquered enemy. In so doing they were conquering them on the outside and the inside. Something to think about.

 

Their blood-thirsty reputation didn’t win them any awards with the neighbors. So in the winter of 1821 when Jane Long was cast alone on the narrow strip of land called Bolivar with crashing waves on one side and Karankawa Indians on the other side, she didn’t know what to do. The one time she saw the Indians crossing the bay in canoes coming towards them, she strung up her red underwear as a flag and loaded her only cannon ball in their canon and shot it. The Karankawans turned back.

 

The weather grew more dire. Jane, her children and Kian (her maid or servant or slave, history is unclear) had nothing. They were starving. Cold weather gave way to freezing weather. Kian gathered the fish as they froze and rose to the top and floated ashore. They ate what they could.

 

Winter grew even more frigid until the bay froze over. They just knew the Karankawa would cross the water, on foot, and eat them. But they didn’t. Probably because the Karankawa were probably freezing, too. Some passing immigrants saw Jane’s fort, came to investigate and found the women and children. They were rescued.

 

The Karankawa’s reputation continued to spiral downward with more and more immigrants crossing into Texas. By 1850 the Karankawa were almost non-existent. But because of their reputation Stephen F. Austin decided they needed to be annihilated. In 1858 a band of Texans led by Juan Cortino killed the last one. Or did he?

 

Another theory is that there was one Karankawa left from that expedition and he disappeared but a Texas Ranger chased him down and killed him a few years later.

 

Jane Long went on to buy an Inn and then a plantation where she lived during the civil war. She is called the “Mother of Texas” and Stephen F. Austin is called the “Father of Texas”. Both didn’t like the Karankawa.

 

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