Kronks – The Native American Cannibals of Texas

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I am reading Mike Cox‘s brilliant recounting of the Texas Rangers in his Wearing the Cinco Peso 1821  -1900 The Texas Rangers and I found, early on in the book,  a mention of the Karankawa Indian tribe. This tribe, was said to be a cannibal tribe of Indians that were greatly feared by everyone.

They lived along the Texas coastal region next to the Gulf of Mexico. Cox relates in his book how Stephen Fuller Austin (ex-Missourian and “father” of Texas) encountered a “branch” of Coco Indians who were part of the larger Karankawa tribe.

Where it was considered common knowledge that the tribe engaged in the act of cannibalism, it was not a part of their dietary requirement. It was more a case of eating their fallen foes to gain their strength and abilities, a cultural rather than sustenance reason shared with other races in the world.

Author Robert A Ricklis points this out in his (out of print) book on the Karankawa tribe written in 1991. Although if you read Austin‘s description of the Coco’s he encountered they certainly don’t sound like they exist on human flesh, they look too healthy!

From The Texas Rangers by Michael Cox: “These Indians were well-formed and apparently very active and athletic men.”  The women were also something to be admired, “They wore painted animal hides that hung just below their knees, but, above the waist they were naked…Their breasts…marked or tattooed in circles of black beginning at the nipple and enlarging as the breast swelled. All the women were handsome and one of them quite pretty.” (Stephen Fuller Austin – July 1821)

Detailed picture of Karankawa Indians from Unversity of Autin
Detailed picture of Karankawa Indians from Unversity of Autin

The Karankawa, or Kronks as the white settlers called them, were not a popular tribe. The other tribes and the Spaniards feared them. They generally protected their territory fiercely and the added practise of eating the carcasses of their fallen enemies gave them an overall terrifying reputation.

They also, according to Austin, were clever and cunning in their dealings with outsiders. It was the war-like tendency of the Kronks combined with the cannibal rituals that made them especially feared by the white newcomers to the Texas territory. Before the battle with the Mexican government for their freedom, the settlers first declared war on the various tribes already entrenched in Texas. The Kronks were the first to be vanquished from the face of the countryside.

Oddly, this race of Indians were not the only people who did not find cannibalism distasteful. On a Ranger scouting trip after  three Indians had been dispatched with extreme prejudice; a member of the company named Dave Lawrence then proceeded to “step up and cut off the thigh of one of the slain Indians.” When Ranger Cicero Rufus Perry asked Lawrence what he intended to do with it, he replied, “Why, I am going to take it along to eat. If you don’t get some game before noon tomorrow we’ll need it.” (From Mike Cox’s The Texas Rangers)

It could be argued that Lawrence was just “buying” into the general feeling at the time that Native Americans were too hostile to be human and were viewed by many as more like animals, but, I don’t think so.

Being of Native American descent myself, I’m aware that the Indians encountered by the white settlers as they made their way across the country were considered savages by the mutual consent of the “civilised” men who did not understand their mostly nomadic and war-like way of life. When it came to the way the tribes fought and killed their enemy (often killing women and children indiscriminately) the white man could not and would not accept that this was acceptable.

Artist's rendition of The Trail of Tears. Painting by Max Stanley.
Artist’s rendition of The Trail of Tears.
Painting by Max Stanley.

War between the two factions was inevitable as was the Indian’s eventual defeat. Despite the country being enormous, the settlers numbers were too big to be turned back and having superior firepower and numbers, the tribes were continually being forced onto smaller and smaller bits of land.

As I have at least one direct relative that was found by the “trail of tears” (a baby abandoned, no doubt by the parents who most likely died on that forced march) by a Cavalry Patrol and was adopted by one Pvt Sallee (a French immigrant) I know that Native Americans all have long and fascinating stories of their life before and during the invasion of North America.

Having read a large amount of literature about my (distant) relatives, I was surprised to learn of a “cannibal” tribe. The tales from Texas Rangers and settlers who lived in the country at that time, give a wonderful look at the tribes that they encountered, fought and vanquished. Unfortunately, the tales are a bit one-sided as the victor often gets to dictate the “truth” of events.

In this case, the Karankawa or “Kronks” were not cannibals as such, as I stated above, they practised a cannibal ritual that has been around since, presumably, mankind first started walking the earth.

I’m reading three books on the Texas Rangers to get background for a book I am writing. I will periodically stop to write about the more interesting things I discover. Things like the cannibal Kronks.

Image of the Texas Ranger, the lariat, the pistol, cartridges and the cinco peso.
Image of the Texas Ranger, the lariat, the pistol, cartridges and the cinco peso.