Thursday, November 22, 2012

Karankawa Thanks Giving: Pirates and Indians

The Karankawa are a lost tribe of Native Americans that lived along the Texas coast at the time that a variety of European explorers came wandering through.  They rescued some of the earliest Spanish explorers, are connected to the destruction of the early French settlement in the area, and we have featured them in a number of battles with the early Texas settlers.
However, they one item does make them stand out from your typical native tribal folk.
They are said to have battled with pirates.  And not just any pirates, but pirates associated with Jean Lafitte, the pirate who is famous for helping the Americans fight off the British at the Battle of New Orleans rather late (to say the least) in the War of 1812.
All of this is going on after the war.  Lafitte had taken over a camp on an island where eventually Galvaston, Texas, came to be.  He actually left, and took at least some of his men with him, prior to the Pirate-Indian battle.
Most stories, as noted below, have the fight occuring over a woman.  Just as likely the Karankawa were tired of unruley pirates/adventurers trapsing around through their hunting areas and started harasing the Americans.

The Early History of Galveston (PDF)
Doctor J.O. Dyer, Galveston, TX 1916
The year 1821 brought Long trouble with his men. They were impatient' and had a difficulty with the Carancahuas. Long was forced by his men to attack them on February 20, 1821, at the Three Trees, on the high shell ridge, near the bay shore on Galveston Island.
Many accounts have been written of this battle, mostly fictitious. The battle has been erroneously attributed to Lafitte, who with two cannons and two hundred men attacked the Indians. The locality where the battle took place was surrounded by swamps and cannons could not have been used.
Long's account, given in an early issue of DeBow, states that the fight lasted fifteen minutes; that many Indians were killed; that Long lost on killed and seven wounded, two of whom died; that Long had but thirty nien. It is hardly probable that Long gave out this account. Colonel Hall's account said that Long had one hundred men, surprised the Indians, killing thirty and taking one woman and child prisoner. Long had seven wounded.
Mrs. Long's account said the battle lasted a few minutes, the men firing three volleys. Ten Indians were killed and many wounded. One woman and her children were captured. Several were bitten by rattlesnakes in the swamps. Long had but three wounded. George Early received an arrow which pierced his thigh; Dr. Long removed it, and Mrs. Long nursed the wounded. (The arrow head that wounded George Early was presented by Mrs. Long to the author's family, and is in the Texas exhibit at the Rosenberg Library.) General Long returned the wounded and captives to the Indians and made peace with them. They never bothered his wife when left alone at the fort in Bolivar during the winter of 1821-1822. Yoakum says that Lafitte fought the tribe the year before. John Henry Brown gave the old story of the Indians capturing a vessel loaded with wine, were drunk and dancing, that Long attacked them with thirty men, killed thirty two Indians and captured two boys, one of whom was accidentally killed. Long lost three killed and a number wounded (page 9-10).

I say pirate-adventurers, because James Long of Tennessee, was as much of a capitalist-revolutionary-brigand, known as filibusters, as he was a privateer.  If you read the (confusing) details of the back and forth between Long and Lafitte and Lafitte's men, you will see that it is likely that there was some intermixing of the two groups manpower.  The opportunistic pirates joining whomever they thought could bring them the most prize money.
Long continued on with his adventures, and eventually was captured by the Mexicans and executed in 1822.  The Karankawa as a group did not make it much further as fighting broke out with Texas settlers.  Within a decade,  most of them would be gone.


PioneerPreppy said...

Maybe they learned Jackson's trick of using alligators as canon substitutes for swamp actions :)

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: The idea he used alligators I think comes from the modern Johnny Horton song. Although there was I think a song of the time that said he was half-alligator, he wasn't even the president that had an alligator for a pet - that was John Quincy Adams. Jackson I think had a parrot that swore alot.

I say all this because I know you meant it all very seriously.