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.

Iron Eyes Cody: Living the Dream or a Delusion?

Iron Eyes Cody in full regalia.

A year ago, I bought Iron Eyes Cody’s autobiography in an entertainment specialist shop in Norwich. I’d often wanted to read the book as he was a pretty iconic character after his pollution advert back in the 1970’s. He also had always claimed tribal ancestry not too far from my own and I hoped that by reading the book I’d learn not just about Hollywood in the early years but also about his lineage.

I had completely forgotten that Iron Eyes had been “defrocked” as it were in 1996. A half-sister appeared from the sagebrush and claimed that not only did he not have Indian blood in his veins, he was in fact Sicilian. Even after a birth certificate was produced and records found that substantiated the woman’s claim, Cody denied vigorously that he was anything but a Cherokee/Cree Indian.

He stood up for many Native American causes and was awarded for his efforts. He never left his house unless he was dressed in beaded moccasins, buckskin clothes and wearing his braided wig. Even though the tribes he supported through his efforts ascertained that he was not of Native American Heritage, they still accepted him as one of their own; which he was, in spirit at least, if not through blood.

The question is, was Cody so enamoured of his role as the mistreated red man that he came to believe it? Was this part of his “Hollywood” image that he maintained in order to find more work as an actor? Or had he lived this lie so long that he believed it; the “role” he’d invented for himself in order to ingratiate himself to the acting community?

Cody had a long career as a “screen” Indian. He worked with big names in the western film making crowd. He’d been around Hollywood long enough to be able to “name drop” with the best of them. He knew the old silent film cowboys and stuntmen. He also knew retired lawman and living legend Wyatt Earp (although he maintained that if you asked Earp anything about his past he would just look at you and say he couldn’t remember) as well as some of the other less savoury remnants of the old west.

He also provided a treasure chest of “authentic” props for film makers that were used in other films besides westerns. He appeared in over 200 films and worked quite a lot in television as well. But Cody was more than a celluloid “red man” he also lived his life according to the Cherokee/Cree culture.

Cody’s book, titled My Life as a Hollywood Indian, was published in 1984 and was ghost written by Collin Perry (the book’s jacket actually says “As told to Collin Perry”) and includes a lot of photographs of Iron Eyes and his family and some of the Hollywood “big wigs” he worked with. As I’d hoped the book did have a few anecdotes and stories about some of the lesser known players in the old days of western film making. A lot of the stuntmen and extras in those days were rough and tough real cowboys who found that fist fighting and getting shot off of a horse paid a hell of a lot better that working on a ranch punching cows.

So in that area the book was interesting enough. He tells a bit about his married life and his peccadilloes. He also talks about Native Americans and their battles to retain their heritage and claim back their past.

Of course, as the book was written in 1984, he makes not one mention of his Sicilian heritage. The book is set up to sell the idea that Cody was Native American. He obviously believed it. Writing a biography, even with the use of a “ghost writer,” puts your personal “truths” in concrete form. There is your life story, in black and white, filling pages of a book.

You cannot retract your story. You cannot go to the publishers who paid you for your book and say, “Oh by the way, I may have stretched the truth a bit in the area of ancestry.” They may want their money back or worse sue you. That could be the main reason that Iron Eyes Cody, who was actually born Espera Oscar de Corti in Kaplan, Louisiana the second son of two Sicilian immigrants Antonio de Corti and his wife Francesca Salpietra, continued to deny his “real” roots.

So the idea of lawsuits might well have been Cody’s inspiration for denying his true lineage, but, when you take into account his lifestyle; the life he lead following the traditions of the Native American culture, he believed in his “reel” life completely. He may have adopted the ancestry because it was more romantic than his own or he could have gotten so caught up in the whole idea that he forgot his real life existed.

I guess that perhaps that is another “truth” of one’s ancestry or past; when the pretend memories become real, so real that they take over fact and become a deluded reality.

A delusion that can be used to benefit some and that harms no one. Then it is most likely a truth or reality much stronger and powerful than the reality of a father who deserted his wife and children and ran away to Texas.

The only sad thing is, Iron Eyes Cody never told anyone why he preferred the lie or if he was even able to recognise that it was a lie. The 1996 revelation casts an unfortunate tinge on the biography and the validity of its source. But it is still worth looking up just for some of the photographs and for the stories (true or not) of the characters who filled the backdrop in the early days of western film making.

Shedding a little tear…


Another Versatile Blogger Nomination??

Just when I thought it was safe to start blogging again, I got nominated by a person I nominated! So I owe a double thank you to Christopher, a self proclaimed blogging noob, over at . I also have a small confession to make, I am also a noob when it comes to WordPress! I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half, but most of that was on another site.

I also have another confession to make, I don’t have a list of ten folks to nominate. Having not been on WordPress that long, I don’t follow that many people yet. So I will be nominating a lot less than ten sites. I managed to nominate ten sites the first go around and that pretty much covered my little follow list!

So here is my list of nominees:

1. LKD

2. lesleycarter

3. alittlebirdtweets

4. mgedwards

Lord help me if I ever get tasked to nominate fifteen folks for anything!

I don’t know if there are any rules negating ‘re-nomination’ (I looked but could not find any) so I’m going to steam ahead and list the rules.

1. In a post on your blog, nominate 10 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award; and link to them.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 10 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

I also have to put the award in my post:

And last but definitely least another 10 amazing (not) facts about me:

1. I have a lot of  Native American blood on both sides of my family.

2. I sang as Dean Martin as part of my act for my high school talent show.

4. I got Honourable Mention in the same talent show.

5. For about ten years I was licensed to broadcast radio from ship to shore.

6.I once talked to actor Alfred Molina for a full five minutes before I realised who he was.

7. I once, very briefly, worked with Alexis Denisof of Angel and Buffy fame.

8. I was once in the same film as Christopher Lee.

9. When I was 17 I auditioned for the Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) fifteen times before I got the part.

10. I did a television commercial in 1989 that was seen all over America and none of my family realised it was me.

And that, as they say, is that except to thank Christopher again for my re-nomination and to message the remaining folks I’ve nominated.

Racism

The word racist is an ugly word. It immediately conjures up images of white robed people burning crosses and hanging black people from trees. No, not a pleasant word at all.

It is also “over-used.” Let me explain.

My heritage is strong Native American. Both sides of my family tree in the not too distant past married “full-blooded” Native Americans. Cherokee on my mothers side and Choctaw on my fathers side. We also have a smattering of Wyandot (goodness knows where that came from). In essence, using the Old West term for it, I am a ‘breed.’

Granted, through the “watering down” process that comes with generational growth, I am only about one-quarter Native American. Not a lot, but enough that the US government uses that as a gauge for handing out benefits. Interestingly, none of my family are eligible. Why? Because our ancestors did not have reservation numbers. The reasons for this I won’t go into here.

So when I fill out the ethnicity forms I always have to pick the “other” box. Because I am not “White Caucasian” and living in the UK, they do not have a box with “mixed” that includes Native American. At any rate I do not think of myself as “white” nor do I think of my self as Native American. I just think of myself as a person.

The same way I think of other people.

But I have had people in the past accuse me of racism. Generally because I am upholding a rule that they do not like. I have said in the past, “I am not racist, the white man slaughtered my ancestors and stole their land, they were forced to live in hellish places and were given numbers that were in most cases tattooed on their bodies. I’ll put my ethnic background against yours any day.” This usually stops the accuser dead in their tracks.

It bothers me though, that people feel the need in this day and age to pull the “racism card.” Yes I know that racism still exists. But people who suffer these out-dated attitudes are ignorant. I don’t just mean academically. All racists maintain that “pure blood-lines” are tantamount to superiority. I think if they were a little more intelligent, they would realise that “pure blood-lines” are practically non-existent.

As for the people who continually throw out the Racist Card. Please stop. Just because you hear something you do not like or feel like you’ve been ignored or even mistreated. Stop for just a moment and see if maybe these things happened because of you personally and not just because of your ancestral background or ethnicity.

Like I said racist is an ugly word. And until we can get people to stop bandying it about, it will continue to blight the English language with it’s ugliness. Let’s try to eradicate this word’s existence by refusing to utilise the word and  its definition.