The Tonkawa

A Texas Tribe

The Tonkawa Introduction

The Tonkawa were a nomadic buffalo hunting tribe. They lived somewhere near Hillsboro and San Antonio and depended upon the buffalo.

Unique Dress

The Tonkawa wore protective leather jackets and caps that were decorated with buffalo horn and plumage from birds. They also wore jewelry, like chokers and ear pendants. Their warm weather clothing consisted of breechclout, leggings, and moccasins. A buffalo robe would be added on top for colder weather.

Region They Lived In

The Tonkawa were a nomadic tribe migrating between San Antonio and Hillsboro. They lived in the coastal plains region of Texas.

Food and How They Obtained It

The most important animal to the Tonkawa was the bison. They relied on the animal for meat and hide, using all parts of the animal for various things. The deer was ranked with the bison, too.

The Tonkawa also hunted wild horses, sometimes for adding to their herds or hunted for their hair. Hunting the wolf was taboo due to it being the creator of the Earth in their culture, though they possessed various wolf skins for their wolf dances. They also gathered nuts and berries, and reportedly ate their enemies in stews like the Karankawa.

The Tonkawa asked permission from the Wolf before entering new hunting grounds. They used bows and spears for much of their hunting.

Type Of Dwelling

The Tonkawa built two types of temporary homes. One, the tepee and two, brush shelters. The tepees were made out of bison hide and poles and were typically small. They used these more in the eighteenth century, for the tepees diminished along with the bison. Brush shelters were much larger, made of a framework of poles and light branches to form a cone. Over this were laid smaller branches, brushwood, and mesquite. Fire pits were built on the inside of these five to seven feet tall homes.

Weapons and Tools

The most important weapon was the bow and arrow, the bow being made of springy wood and bison sinew. Other weapons were the spear and lance, which were typically used in bison hunting.

Special Traditions and Religion

Dances were very important to the Tonkawa, especially ones associated with war. Most were preformed like rituals, at a set time and for a specific reason. War dances included the scout dance, the scalp dance, the hold-shield dance, etc. The most important dance was the wolf dance. It was performed to commemorate the creation of the Earth. It was performed inside huge lodges, and measures were taken to keep it secret from outsiders.


The Tonkawa were once lead by a chief, but is now lead by a small elected government. They have their own laws, police, and services, like a small country (though they still have to follow US laws).

Where They Are Now

The Tonkawa are now living on a reservation in Oklahoma, along with many other tribes who were forced out of their home in the 1800's. Many live below the poverty line, and the Tonkawa government is trying to fix this.
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