Monday, December 28, 2020

Booknotes: The Texas Tonkawas

New Arrival:
The Texas Tonkawas by Stanley S. McGowen (State House Pr, 2020).

The author of an excellent 1999 unit history of the Confederate First Texas Cavalry, historian Stanley McGowen latest project turns its attention toward the Tonkawas, a small tribe that paid dearly for its close association with antebellum and Civil War Texas military and paramilitary forces.

From the description: McGowen's The Texas Tonkawas "revolves around the Tonkawa tribe in the history of the Lone Star State and the greater Southwest. The chronological account allows readers to understand its triumphs and struggles over the course of a century or more, and places the story in a larger historical narrative of shifting alliances, cultural encounters and economic opportunity. From a coalition with the Lipan Apaches to the incorporation of Tonkawa scouts in the U.S. Army during the late nineteenth century, the author tells the story of these often overlooked people." This new study "provides a fresh appreciation of their influence in frontier history and renders their ultimate fate all the more heartbreaking."

Formed from bands native to Texas as well as some others that migrated south from the Southern Plains, the Tonkawas were a small tribe with big enemies (most dangerous among them the mighty plains empire-building Comanche). Among the Texas clans most friendly toward white settlers, the Tonkawas established trade relationships with early American colonists and provided scouts to Texas Ranger outfits, U.S. Army forces, and later Texas state and Confederate military units. These ties, plus their practice of ritual cannibalism against enemy dead, made the Tonkawas pariahs among other Plains Indians. Despite the relationships forged with Texas during the antebellum period, by 1859 most of the tribe was forcibly relocated to Indian Territory. Nevertheless, Tonkawas still served as military scouts.

Along with many other Indian Territory inhabitants, the tribe signed a treaty of alliance with the Confederate government in 1861. In late-October 1862, a coalition of pro-Union Indians attacked the Tonkawas in Indian Territory, their attempt at extermination resulting in the deaths of over half the tribe's men, women, and children. The survivors fled to Confederate Texas. The Tonkawa Massacre deserves far more recognition among history readers, and hopefully McGowen's book will help provide that. Of course, Tonkawa history did not end with the massacre, and the book also documents the tribe's post-Civil War influence on frontier military campaigns and continues their story to the present day.

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