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Seal of the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 United States ( Oklahoma)
English, formerly Tonkawa language
Christianity, Native American Church, traditional tribal religions
Related ethnic groups
Wichita, Waco, Tawakoni, Kichai, Guichita

The Tonkawa are a Native American tribe who now live in Oklahoma.[2] Their Tonkawa language, now extinct,[3] is a linguistic isolate.[4]

Tonkawa people are enrolled in the federally recognized Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.


The Tonkawa's autonym is Tickanwa•tic (meaning "real people"). The name Tonkawa is derived from the Waco tribal word, Tonkaweya, meaning "they all stay together".[2]


Recent research indicates that as of 1601 the tribe inhabited what is now northwestern Oklahoma.[2] By 1700, Apache and Wichita enemies had pushed the Tonkawa south to the Red River which forms the border between current-day Oklahoma and Texas. In the 16th century, the Tonkawa tribe probably had around 1,900 members. Their numbers diminished to around 1,600 by the late 17th century due to fatalities from European diseases and conflict with other tribes, most notably the Apache.

In the 1740s, some Tonkawa were involved with the Yojuanes and others as settlers in the San Gabriel Missions of Texas along the San Gabriel River.[5]

In 1758, the Tonkawa along with allied Bidais, Caddos, Wichitas, Comanches, and Yojuanes went to attack the Lipan Apache in the vicinity of Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá, which they destroyed.[6]

Tonkawa lands

The tribe continued their southern migration into Texas and northern Mexico, where they allied with the Lipan Apache.[2][7]

In 1824, the Tonkawa entered into a treaty with Stephen F. Austin to protect Anglo-American immigrants against the Comanche. At the time, Austin was an agent recruiting immigrants to settle in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. In 1840 at the Battle of Plum Creek and again in 1858 at the Battle of Little Robe Creek, the Tonkawa fought alongside the Texas Rangers against the Comanche.[8]

The Tonkawas often visited the capital city of Austin during the days of the Republic of Texas and during early statehood.[9]

In 1859, the United States removed the Tonkawa and a number of other Texas Indian tribes to the Wichita Agency in Indian Territory, and placed them under the protection of nearby Fort Cobb. When the American Civil War started in 1861, Texas declared for the Confederacy, so the federal troops at the fort received orders to march to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, leaving the Indians at the Wichita Agency unprotected.

In response to years of animosity (in part regarding rumors that the Tonkawas engaged in ritual cannibalism against defeated enemies [10][11] ), a number of pro-Union tribes, including the Delawares, Wichitas, and Penateka Comanches, attacked the Tonkawas in 1862 as they tried to escape.[12] The fight, known as the Tonkawa Massacre killed nearly half of the remaining Tonkawas, leaving them with little more than 100 people.

The tribe returned to Fort Griffin, Texas where they remained for the rest of the Civil War. After the war, the tribe was returned to Texas.

In October, 1884, the United States removed them, once again, to the new Oakland Agency in northern Indian Territory, where they have remained. This journey involved going to Cisco, Texas, where they boarded a railroad train that took them to Stroud in Indian Territory, where they spent the winter at the Sac and Fox Agency. The Tonkawas travelled 100 miles (160 km) to the Ponca Agency, and arrived at nearby Fort Oakland on June 30, 1885.[a]

On October 21, 1891, the tribe signed an agreement with the Cherokee Commission to accept individual allotments of land.[14]

By 1921, only 34 tribal members remained. Their numbers have since increased to close to 950 as of 2023.[15] The Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma incorporated under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act in 1938.[13]

A 60-acre property (24 ha), was purchased by the Tonkawa Tribe in 2023 in commemoration of its status as a site sacred to the Tonkawa.[15] Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point in Milam County, Texas, will become part of a historical park.[16]


The Tonkawa tribe operates a number of businesses which have an annual economic impact of over $10,860,657 (as of 2011).[1] Along with several smoke shops, the tribe runs three different casinos: Tonkawa Indian Casino and Tonkawa Gasino located in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and the Native Lights Casino in Newkirk, Oklahoma.[17]


Tonkawa otter pelt turban, circa 1880, Oklahoma, Oklahoma History Center

The annual Tonkawa Powwow is held on the last weekend in June to commemorate the end of the tribe's own Trail of Tears when the tribe was forcefully removed and relocated from its traditional lands to present-day Oklahoma.[18]

Tonkawa groups[edit]

The Tonkawa were made up of various groups. These groups are generally counted as Tonkawa:

  • Awash
  • Choyopan
  • Haiwal
  • Hatchuknni
  • Kwesh
  • Mayeye
  • Nilhailai
  • Ninchopen
  • Pakani
  • Pakhalateh
  • Sanukh
  • Talpkweyu
  • Titskanwaticha

See also[edit]


  1. ^ From 1879 to 1885, some of the Nez Perce people who had surrendered at the end of the Nez Perce war had lived at Fort Oakland, near the present site of Tonkawa, Oklahoma[13]


  1. ^ a b 2011 Oklahoma Indian Nations Pocket Pictorial Directory. Archived 2012-04-24 at the Wayback Machine Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2011: 36. Retrieved 8 Feb 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d May, Jon D. "Tonkawa (tribe)". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  3. ^ International encyclopedia of linguistics. Frawley, William, 1953- (second ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2003. ISBN 9780195307450. OCLC 66910002.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  4. ^ Hoijer, Harry (1933). Tonkawa, an Indian language of Texas. University of Pittsburgh Library System. New York : Columbia University Press.
  5. ^ Gary Clayton Anderson, The Indian Southwest, 1580-1830: Ethnogenesis and Reinvention (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999) p. 85
  6. ^ Anderson, The Indian Southwest, p. 89
  7. ^ Walker, Jeff (November 16, 2007). "Chief returns » Local News » San Marcos Record, San Marcos, TX". Sanmarcosrecord.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved November 11, 2011.
  8. ^ Gwynne, S. C. (2011). Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. Scribner. pp. 7, 211. ISBN 978-1-4165-9106-1.
  9. ^ Barnes, Michael "With time, the story of the Tonkawa tribe evolves" The Washington Post (February 13, 2014)
  10. ^ Jones, William K. 1969. “Notes on the History and Material Culture of the Tonkawa Indians.” Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology. Vol. 2, No. 5.
  11. ^ Jerry Withers "The Tonkawan Indians of Texas" reprinted by SonsofDewittcolony.org
  12. ^ : John D. May "Tonkawa Massacre" OKHistory.org
  13. ^ a b "Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma." Oklahoma State Department of Education. Oklahoma Indian Tribe Education Guide. July 2014. Accessed October 28, 2018.
  14. ^ Deloria Jr., Vine J; DeMaille, Raymond J (1999). Documents of American Indian Diplomacy Treaties, Agreements, and Conventions, 1775-1979. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 346–348. ISBN 978-0-8061-3118-4.
  15. ^ a b Miller, Alex (December 23, 2023). "How the Tonkawa Tribe bought back sacred Sugarloaf Mountain in Central Texas". Waco Tribune-Herald. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  16. ^ Barnes, Michael (January 17, 2024). "'We're home': 140 years after forced exile, the Tonkawa reclaim a sacred part of Texas". USA TODAY. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  17. ^ Oklahoma Indian Casinos: Kay County. 50 Nations. (retrieved 8 Feb 2009)
  18. ^ Tonkawa Tribal History. Archived 2009-03-04 at the Wayback Machine The Tonkawa Tribe. (retrieved 7 Feb 2009)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]