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The Tonkawa are a Native American people indigenous to present-day Oklahomamarker and Texasmarker. They once spoke the Tonkawa language, an isolate not related to languages of other tribes. It is now extinct. The tribe is federally recognized and most members live in 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 Rivermarker. They kept migrating into the area of Texas, where they allied with the Lipan Apache.

Tonkawa lands
1837, the tribe migrated into southwest Texasmarker and northern Mexicomarker, away from encroaching American settlers. Due to their diminishing numbers, they were supervised by the Wichita Agency. In 1858 Tonkawa fought as allies of the Texas Rangers in the Battle of Little Robe Creek. Due to Tonkawa loyalty to the Confederacy during the American Civil War, in 1862 pro-Union tribes fought against them, killing 133 out of the remaining 309 Tonkawa, in what is known as the Tonkawa Massacre.

They fought with the 4th US Cavalry in 1871 Battle of Blanco Canyon and the 1872 Battle of the North Fork of the Red River against the Comanche. In 1879 the federal government settled the Nez Perce on what would be Tonkawa Reservation. The Nez Percé returned to their northern homelands in 1885.

In October 1884, the government removed more than 90 Tonkawa from their lands on the Brazos River Reservation in Texas and sent them to the Indian Territory. They traveled by train, beginning in Cisco, Texasmarker. A Tonkawa baby born en route was named "Railroad Cisco".


The Tonkawa Tribe is headquartered in Tonkawa, Oklahomamarker and their tribal jurisdictional area is in Kay Countymarker. They have 593 enrolled tribal members. Donald L. Patterson is currently serving a three-year term as the tribe's elected President. The tribe operates one gasoline station and two casinos, Tonkawa Indian Casino in Tonkawa and Native Lights Casino in Newkirkmarker.

The annual Tonkawa Powwow is scheduled annually on the last weekend in June, to commemorate when the tribe ended its "Trail of Tears."

The Order of the Arrow lodge that serves the Capitol Area Council takes its name from the Tonkawa who populated the Central Texas region.


External links


  • Hoijer, Harry. (1933). Tonkawa: An Indian language of Texas. New York: Columbia University. (Extract from Handbook of American Indian languages, Vol. 3).
  • Himmel, Kelly F. (1999). The Conquest of the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, 1821-1859. Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas.

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