The Tonkawa are a Native American tribe indigenous to present-day Oklahoma and Texas. They once spoke the now-extinct Tonkawa language, a language isolate. Today, many descendants are enrolled in the federally recognized tribe Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.
Seal of the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma
|Regions with significant populations|
|United States ( Oklahoma)|
|English, Tonkawa language|
|Christianity, Native American Church, traditional tribal religions|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Wichita, Waco, Tawakoni, Kichai, Guichita|
In the 15th century, the Tonkawa tribe probably numbered around 5,000, with their numbers diminishing to around 1,600 by the late 17th century due to fatalities from new infectious diseases and warring with other tribes, most notably the Apache. By 1921, only 34 tribal members remained. Their numbers have since recovered to close to 700 in the early 21st century. Most live in Oklahoma.
The Tonkawa tribe operates a number of businesses which have an annual economic impact of over $10,860,657. Along with several smoke shops, the tribe runs 3 different casinos: Tonkawa Indian Casino and Tonkawa Gasino located in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and the Native Lights Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma.
The annual Tonkawa Powwow is held on the last weekend in June to commemorate the end of the tribe's own Trail of Tears when the tribe was forcefully removed and relocated from its traditional lands to present-day Oklahoma.
Scholars once thought the Tonkawa originated in Central Texas. Recent research, however, has shown that the tribe inhabited northeastern Oklahoma in 1601. By 1700, the stronger and more aggressive Apache had pushed the Tonkawa south to the Red River which forms the border between current-day Oklahoma and Texas. The Tonkawa had a penchant for cannibalism, which made them unpopular with other Native American groups and the new Texans.
In 1824, the Tonkawa entered into a treaty with Stephen F. Austin to protect Anglo-American immigrants against the Comanche. At the time, Austin was an agent recruiting immigrants to settle in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. In 1840 at the Battle of Plum Creek and again in 1858 at the Battle of Little Robe Creek, the Tonkawa fought alongside the Texas Rangers against the Comanche.
Due to Tonkawa loyalty to the Confederacy during the American Civil War, pro-Union tribes fought against them in 1862 in what is now known as the Tonkawa Massacre, killing 133 of the remaining 309 Tonkawa. The surviving Tonkawa were removed to Indian Territory and were resettled in the area of present-day Kay County, Oklahoma.
In October 1884, the federal government relocated more than 90 Tonkawa from their lands on the Brazos River Reservation in Texas to the Indian Territory. During the train journey which began in Cisco, Texas, a Tonkawa baby was born en route and was given the name "Railroad Cisco".
The Tonkawa were actually made up of various groups, many of which are no longer known by name. These groups are generally counted as Tonkawa:
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