"deputations of Karankawas tall and austere, their faces dyed blue and their hands locked about their sixfoot spears, all but naked savages who with their painted skins and their whispered taste for human flesh seemed outrageous presences even in that fabled company."
Karankawas as depicted by Lino Sánchez y Tapia (c. 1828-1829)
Public DomainKarankawas as depicted by Lino Sánchez y Tapia (c. 1828-1829) - Credit: www.texasbeyondhistory.net

The Karankawa were an indigenous people, now extinct as a tribal group, who inhabited the Gulf Coast of Texas. Exposure to new infectious diseases and conflict with the newly arrived Europeans brought them to extinction before 1860.

Karankawa men were very tall, described as between six and seven feet. They tattooed and painted their bodies, and pierced each nipple, as well their lips, with small pieces of cane. They also practiced head flattening.

Rumours of Karankawa cannibalism may have arisen from early explorers confusing the tribe with the Atakapa, who were similar in appearance and also inhabited the Gulf Coast. The Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca refuted the notion that the Karankawa were cannibals after living with them, and described the Karankawa’s shock after de Vaca and his fellow conquistadors were forced into cannibalising their own dead after shipwrecking off Galveston Bay.