The Tonkawah Tribe
Navarro County, Texas


Indians Index



The Tonkawah Tribe
Originally published in the Navarro County Scroll
For the year 1991 - 1992
Researched by Alva Taylor
Courtesy of the Navarro County Historical Society

"As the buffalo goes, so go the Indians of Navarro County".  The Tonkawah tribe had their homes on Richland Creek, a few miles west of Dresden, Texas.  The waters of the Navarro Mills Lake now cover the camp site of these Indians, the last tribe of Indians in Navarro County.  There were some eight hundred in this tribe when they left in 1856.  The "Tonks", as they were called, were a peaceable tribe of Indians and were descendants of the Caddo tribes of Texas.

The Tonks lived in wigwams which were made by placing several poles upright and pulling around them, several buffalo hides.  An opening was left to let the smoke escape.  The hides extended out on the ground.   Sometimes designs were drawn on the skins, designs which would tell some of the owner's exploits.

The Indian men devoted their time to hunting, fishing, the art of stealing and fighting, how to travel in heavy woods, how to build a raft to cross the rivers, how to make a fire and how to imitate animal and bird calls, also how to creep on the ground so as not to make a sound.

The Indian girls were trained to prepare food, how to farm, how to make clothes, weave baskets, make pottery, how to make and mix herbs for medicine, how to grind corn, how to make glue from hoofs and spoons from horns of the buffalo.

The warriors were different head dress made of beads, shells and colored feathers.  The feathers were added by the chief to the head dress of ones who made the best report on hunting expeditions, or  for bravery, et cetera.  A warrior might put some design on his teepee to represent some great event in his  live.

In the summer some of the Indians would build what was called a hogan.  A hogan was a few poles put together to make a cone and then covered with twigs and leaves, leaving a small opening for entrance.  This could be called a work shop.

Part of their work was making arrows.  To make a good arrow, was an art which the white man was never able to accomplish.   Arrows were made of flint rock of various colors, sizes, and designs.  The small arrows were used for birds and fowls, the larger ones were used to kill buffalo, deer, etc.  It is said that the shaping of the arrow was done by putting pressure on the edge of the flint causing it to chip off.  Years of experience had taught them this art.  Also from the flint rock, knives and tomahawks were made.  Still another art of the Indian was the making of dye for the many beautiful designs in their baskets or blankets.  It is said that they never made the design perfect, for weaving a perfect design meant they had finished life, therefore no design was perfect.

The Tonkawahs had their social life, called the pow-wow, which was a dance.  There was a dance for everything; the dance for rain, the dance for food, for war, for health.  All both old and young alike, participated in the dance.  All rituals and customs were entered into with zest and as much sincerity as was known.

The Tonkawahs knew that soon they would be forced to move to the Indian Reserves and to make the long journey would require several pack horses, so some of the younger bucks began to look for stock which they could steal from the pioneers, who had just moved in.  One such pioneer was William R. Richie, the father-in-law of Britton Dawson, who, with his family lived west of Springhill on the old stage coach route to Waco.  Mr. Richie kept several extra horses so that the stage coach could change horses when needed.  In addition to keeping the extra horses were being changed for the rest of the journey.

One mid-afternoon, three Indians crept up near the Richie's barn where the horses were kept.  They knew that Mr. Richie had gone to town in the wagon to purchase supplies, so they thought that stealing a few horses would be easy.  They waited until the stage coach had gone and then crept up to the barn.   Polly, the Richie's fifteen year old daughter, saw an Indian rope the roan that was her father's favorite saddle horse.  She could not stand by and see them take this horse, so she quickly reached for the old cap and powder gun and pointed it through an opening in the door, aimed at the barn, then pulled the trigger.  Although the Indian was wounded, he did get away.

About one week later, the stage coach was held up by several Indians.  The coach was ransacked, apparently the Indians were looking for guns, ammunition, money among other things.


Navarro County TXGenWeb
Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox