The Tonkawa (Tátskan wátitch) group, which included the Cava, Emet, Ervipiame, Mayeye, Sana, Tohaha, Toho, Tusolivi, Ujuiap, Yojuane, and Tonkawa proper, lived until the mid-nineteenth century in east-central Texas in an area between Cibolo Creek on the southwest and Trinity River on the northeast. They spoke a language that may have been related to Karankawa, Comecrudo, and Cotonarne within the Coahuiltecan stock, but is usually classified as a language isolate in the Macro-Algonkian phylum. The Tonkawa now live in a federal trust area in north-central Oklahoma and are known as the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma. There were an estimated 1,600 Tonkawa in the seventeenth century, but epidemics, warfare, and massacres took their toll, and there were only 181 members enrolled in the tribe in 1984.
Although the Tonkawa no doubt encountered Cabeza de Vaca in 1542, sustained contact with Europeans did not begin until 1691. Between 1746 and 1749 the Tonkawa were gathered into missions on the San Xavier (San Gabriel) River, but these were given up in 1756. During the nineteenth century they were often at war with the Comanche, Lipan Apache, and Caddo, as well as with the Spanish. In 1862, 137 of a group of 300 Tonkawa were massacred by a mixed group of Delaware, Caddo, and Shawnee. In 1884, the surviving Tonkawa were given a reservation in Oklahoma, which later became the trust territory where they now reside.
Culturally, the Tonkawa displayed features of the Southern Plains and Gulf regions. Their early acquisition of the horse and dependence on the bison and absence of sea resources suggest that during historic times they more closely fit the Plains pattern. The Tonkawa consisted of a number of autonomous bands who led a nomadic hunting and gathering life. The matrilineal clan was the basic social unit, with a number of clans making up a band. Each band was led by a chief, elected by a council of mature men. Polygynous Marriage was permitted, and the sororate and levirate were customary. They lived in small, scattered villages and moved often, following large game and searching for other food-stuffs. Prior to contact they probably lived in small, conical huts covered with branches or bison hides. Later, they adopted a smaller version of the hide-covered tipi. Subsistence was based on the bison, which provided food, clothing, utensils, and materials for trade with Whites. They also hunted deer, bear, and small mammals and gathered many wild plant foods. Little is known of the traditional religion, other than that there were several deities.
Hasskarl, Robert A., Jr. (1962). "The Culture and History of the Tonkawa Indians." Plains Anthropologist 7:217-231.
Jones, William K. (1969). Notes on the History and Material Culture of the Tonkawa Indians. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, 2(5). Washington, D.C.
Newcomb, William W., Jr. (1961). The Indians of Texas from Prehistoric to Modern Times. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Sjoberg, Andree F. (1953). "The Culture of the Tonkawa." Texas Journal of Science 5:280-304.