Popular lore has long depicted the Karankawa Indians as primitive scavengers (perhaps even cannibals) who eked out a meager subsistence from fishing, hunting and gathering on the Texas coastal plains. That caricature, according to Robert Ricklis, hides the reality of a people who were well-adapted to their environment, skillful in using its resources, and successful in maintaining their culture until the arrival of Anglo-American settlers.
The Karankawa Indians of Texas is the first modern, well-researched history of the Karankawa from prehistoric times until their extinction in the nineteenth century. Blending archaeological and ethnohistorical data into a lively narrative history, Ricklis reveals the basic lifeway of the Karankawa, a seasonal pattern that took them from large coastal fishing camps in winter to small, dispersed hunting and gathering parties in summer. In a most important finding, he shows how, after initial hostilities, the Karankawa incorporated the Spanish missions into their subsistence pattern during the colonial period and coexisted peacefully with Euroamericans until the arrival of Anglo settlers in the 1820s and 1830s. These findings will be of wide interest to everyone studying the interactions of Native American and European peoples.