What Kind of Houses Did the Karankawa People Traditionally Build?

The Karankawa people traditionally built simple, round, thatched huts and lean-tos at campsites near the ocean called ba-ak, and sturdier huts inland called wikiups. They were normally made from willow reeds, saplings, palm fronds, grasses, sticks and animal skins, with woven grass mats for floors. The homes were easily assembled using materials that were readily available. Their homes reflected the warm ocean climate and their nomadic nature.

The Karankawa inhabited the coastal areas from Galveston Island along the Texas Gulf Coast to Corpus Christi. They were primarily a nomadic people who followed seasonal migrations of sea life along the coastal bays. Fish, shellfish, oysters and turtles were large parts of the Karankawa diet. During the summer, tropical storms and warming ocean temperatures made sea fishing difficult and the shellfish unsafe to eat, so the Karankawa abandoned their huts and moved inland, where they hunted deer, alligator, antelope and bison.

The Karankawa built homes from materials that were in abundant supply and allowed cool ocean breezes to enter; they did not remain in them very long or move them to new locations. They were easily abandoned and rebuilt using materials that were plentiful at their new campsites.

The Karankawa were among the first tribes to become extinct from exposure to European diseases and virtually disappeared in the early 1800s. By 1840, only 100 remained; by 1860, they were completely extinct.