What Kind of Food Did the Karankawa Indians Eat?

Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The Karankawa Indians ate a diet that primarily consisted of berries, plant roots and other edible plants, as well as wild deer, turtles, rabbits, turkeys, oysters, clams, drum and redfish. They lived along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, in southeast Texas, adjacent to the Coahuiltecans to the south and west, and the Tonkawa to the north.

One myth about the Karankawas is that they practiced cannibalism. It is true that if they captured an enemy chief or warrior, they would kill him and eat him. However, the purpose of this was not for sustenance. Instead, the purpose was to capture the power that resided within that warrior. The fact that the Karankawas were shocked when the Spanish explorer Cabeza da Vaca told them that some of his companions had eaten their fellow expedition members to stave off starvation indicates that the Karankawas did not consider fellow humans a food source.

The Karankawas rarely stayed at their camps for more than a month or two, primarily because of the availability of food. They generally traveled by dugout canoe when they were moving from island to island, although they also traveled by foot, living in portable wigwams capable of holding as many as eight people. The constant search for food drove the Karankawas to wander throughout southeastern Texas.