Did The Tonkawas Really EAT their Enemies?

Well, the television westerns that I grew up on let me down on this one if John Holland Jenkins told the truth in his book Recollections of Early Texas where he paints the Tonkawas as cannibals of a sort. In fact, in the forward of the book, J. Frank Dobie says, “Johnny Jenkins seems to consider it his duty to put down the truth whether it is complimentary or not.”

Considering that the book was published in 1958 and before the days of political correctness, Dobie seems to be a bit ahead of his time, and Jenkins destroys my image of the Tonkawas as one of the “friendly” tribes.


“There was a cowardly tribe among us, the Tonkawas, who were at peace with the whites, but hated all other Indians of every tribe. Only a short time before this, a band of Wacoes had killed five of them while out hunting, and, of course, this increased their hatred toward Indians. Hearing that I had killed one of their enemies [a Waco], they came in a body, thirty of them, and insisted that I should go with them and show them the dead warrior.

“As we went, their excitement and speed increased, and every now and then they would trot on faster than ever, while I trotted with them, determined to keep up and see what they intended doing. When they discovered the body, they seemed wild with delight or frenzy.

“They sprang upon the body, scalped him, cut off both legs at the knees, both hands at the wrists, pulled out his fingernails and toenails, strung them around their necks, and then motioned for me to move aside. Seeing they meant further violence to the body, already horribly mutilated, I demanded why I must move. They said, ‘We must shoot him through the head for good luck….’

“I moved aside, and they shot….They then went back to the house and camped, getting me to furnish them some beef. They boiled their beef, and the hands and feet of the dead Waco together….

“Upon inquiry, I found they intended having a dance, and would feed their squaws on the hands and feet of the dead Indian, believing that this would make them bring forth brave men who would hate their enemies and be able to endure hardness and face dangers.

“They erected a pole, to which they attached the scalp, hands, and feet of the Waco, and then with horrible yells and gestures, all danced around it, while the squaws constantly danced up to the pole and took bites from the hands and feet and then would go back and dance again. They would prolong these dances three, five, and sometimes ten days.”

Jenkins also went on to say, “The Tonkawas had a Plains Indian culture, subsisting mainly on buffalo and small game until the Apaches and Comanches began pushing them from their hunting grounds.

“The Tonkawas then became a destitute culture, scavenging for food. They befriended the Anglo settlers who came to Central Texas in the mid-19th Century, relying on them for food, supplies, and an alliance against their Indian enemies.

“The Tonkawas wore little clothing. The women went topless and tattooed themselves extensively. They painted black stripes on their mouths, noses, and backs, and painted concentric circles around their breasts.”

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About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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2 Responses to Did The Tonkawas Really EAT their Enemies?

  1. James Boldebuck says:

    It is ironic that you would publish this blog at this particular time. I am reading a book Empire of the Summer Moon in which you will find many stories corroborating what you wrote about the Tonkawas . The book mentions many different tribes and that was the only tribe so far that is described as being canabalistic.
    The Comanches were the most viscious warriors and succesful hunters because of their horsemanship.

  2. Mack Courtney says:

    Well I was born in Tonkawa…Tonkawa Oklahoma, and I think it is nice that the Tonkawas “liked” their enemies. Remember the Charlie Tuna Commercial? “No Charlie we don’t mean we like tunas with good taste, we like tunas that taste good!”…….. This has been a crazy week for me too.

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