Published on May 25, 2014 by Amy

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Tonkawa Oklahoma Seal
Tonkawa Oklahoma Seal

The Tonkawa are a Native American people indigenous to present-day Oklahoma and Texas. They once spoke the now-extinct Tonkawa language believed to have been a language isolate not related to any other indigenous tongues. They are enrolled in the federally recognized tribe Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.

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In the 15th century, the Tonkawa Tribe probably numbered around 5,000 with their numbers diminishing to around 1,600 by the late 17th century due to disease and warring with other tribes, most notably the Apache. By 1921, only 34 tribal members remained, but their numbers have since recovered to close to 600. Most of these live in Oklahoma.


The Tonkawa’s autonym is Tickanwa•tic (meaning “real people”). The name Tonkawa is derived from the Waco tribal word, Tonkaweya, meaning “they all stay together.”


The Tonkawa Tribe operates a number of businesses which have an annual economic impact of over $10,860,657. Along with several smoke shops, the tribe runs both the Tonkawa Indian Casino located in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and the Native Lights Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma.


The annual Tonkawa Powwow is held annually on the last weekend in June to commemorate the end of the tribe’s own Trail of Tears when the tribe was forcefully removed and relocated from its traditional lands to present-day Oklahoma.


Scholars used to think the Tonkawa originated in central Texas. Recent research, however, has shown that the tribe inhabited northeastern Oklahoma in 1601. By 1700, the stronger and more aggressive Apache had pushed the Tonkawa south to the Red River which forms the border between current-day Oklahoma and Texas.

In the 1740s some Tonkawa were involved with the Yojuanes and others as settlers in the San Gabriel Missions of Texas along the San Gabriel River.

In 1758 the Tonkawa along with allied Bidais, Caddos, Wichitas, Comanches and Yojuanes went to attack the Lipan Apache in the vicinity of Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá, which they destroyed.

The tribe continued their southern migration into Texas and northern Mexico where they allied with the Lipan Apache.

In 1824, the Tonkawa entered into a treaty with Stephen F. Austin (the Father of Republic of Texas), pledging their support against the Comanche Tribe. In 1840 at the Battle of Plum Creek and again in 1858 at the Battle of Little Robe Creek, the Tonkawa fought alongside the Texas Rangers against the Comanche. At least as late as 1862, the Tonkawa practiced cannibalism, which served as a pretext for the Comanche and other more bellicose tribes to attack the Tonkawa, despite the other tribes’ true agenda, which was most often military and political.

Due to Tonkawa loyalty to the Confederacy during the American Civil War, pro-Union tribes fought against them in 1862 in what is now known as the Tonkawa Massacre killing 133 of the remaining 309 Tonkawa. The surviving Tonkawa were removed to Indian Territory and were resettled in the area of present-day Kay County, Oklahoma.

The Tonkawa fought alongside the 4th US Cavalry in its battles with the Comanche during both the 1871 Battle of Blanco Canyon and the 1872 Battle of the North Fork of the Red River.

In October 1884, the federal government relocated more than 90 Tonkawa from their lands on the Brazos River Reservation in Texas to lands north of Texas referred to as the Indian Territory. During the train journey which began in Cisco, Texas, a Tonkawa baby was born en route and was given the name, “Railroad Cisco”.

On October 21, 1891, the tribe signed an agreement with the Cherokee Commission to accept individual allotments of land.

Source: wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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