by C. David Pomeroy, Jr.

When Stephen F. Austin brought his "Old Three Hundred" colonist to the southeast section of Texas in the 1820s, "history" began in this area. Although the Spanish had ruled Texas as a colony for 300 years and the French had traded with the Amerinds (American Indians) for 200 years, there were no settlements, fortifications or even roads in the greater Pasadena area. Before Austin, our community was part of the domain of the Karankawa Indians.

Man first came to Texas approximately 40,000 years ago. The "old Americans" crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Asia into present day Alaska during the last of the Great Ice Ages and wandered south. They came in search of food and hunted the now extinct Columbian elephant, mammoth, mastodon and ancient bison. These Paleo-Americans left little to note their passage; a few spear points here and there and some stone heads along the Trinity River.

The Amerinds rediscovered this earlier trail to the Americas about 8,000 years ago and came to populate this continent. "The People" or, as some called themselves, the "Real Humans," were of Mogoloid or Asian stock. They came in ever increasing numbers and spread across the land. By 2,500 B.C., the great agricultural communities of Central America began to develop. These new American natives domesticated only a few meat products and independently developed an agrarian economy based upon the cultivation of corn and potatoes.

With the cultivation of crops in the Americas came the evolution of communities and cultures not previously available to nomadic peoples. As this newly developed civilization spread to the north and to the south of its Central American base, Texas was bypassed. The wide arid region straddling the Rio Grande could not support farming and since transportation was limited to walking, the South Texas "desert" could not be commerically travelled. Thus the direct expansion of "civilization" into Texas was precluded.

Eventually, Eastern Texas became settled by agrarian Indians migrating from the Mississippi River region, a spin off culture from Central America via the Carribean islands.

The coastal region west of Galveston Bay became the habitat of the Karankawa tribes. They were an imposing race that could put fear in the hearts of its enemies. Standing over six feet tall and with fine physiques, they pierced their nipples and upper lip with pieces of cane. They carried six foot bows and equally larger arrows which they could sink deep into any target.

Their practice of cannibalism, now thought by most to be for ceremonial purposes against their enemies, earned them a frightening reputation. Although the Karankawa ranged the coastal region from Galveston Bay to Corpus Christi Bay, their total population was probably less than a few thousand. They normally travelled in family, or small extended family groups.

Being nomads in constant search of food they did not have any permanent shelter or permanent camp sites. They skillfully travelled their rivers and bays by dugout canoes, but did not venture far out into the Gulf waters. They lived on the coast and the islands during the winter months where the climate was milder and food, in the way of fish, oysters and roots of sea grass were generally available.

In the summer, they moved inland along the rivers and bays to hunt the plentiful game such as deer and antelope. Bear was hunted, not as a food source, but for its fur and fat. Numerous popular seasonal sites have been discovered around Clear Lake. Short term camp sites have been identified up Armand Bayou and early citizes of Pasadena discovered arrow heads and spear points along Vince Bayou.

The first reported contact between Karankawas and Europeans was on November 6, 1528, when Alvar Numez Cabeza de Vaca washed up shipwrecked on what is thought to be Galveston Island. Cabeza de Vaca spent eight years barely surviving with the Indians as a combination slave, trader and doctor. No one else studied the Karankaws as closely as he did. The Indians initially were curious and helpful but soon learned to avoid the Europeans who brought customs and diseases the Indians could neither understand nor combat. By the time of Stephen F. Austin in 1820, they were considered hostile and uncivilizable.

The Spanish priest had tried for centuries to convert the Karankawas into mission Indians. The priest failed because the Karankawas could not be united into communities nor taught to cultivate crops. The Karankawas could be attracted to the missions for "gifts" and to eat when they could not find food in the wild. They stayed long enought to fill their stomachs and then might steal a cow for future slaughter.

Unlike the Commanches to the north, they did not adapt to the horse, but would only steal them for trade. They remained hunters and gathers, from nature or from settlers, until their ultimate extermination.

The Karankawas resisted, as one writer stated, the "culture we offered, resisting our proffered blessings to the last." By 1850 the few remaining Karankawas bands had been forced south of Corpus Christi where their civiliztion vanished forever, the victim of small wars with the settlers and from the white man's diseases such as smallpox and measles.

For four hundred centuries our land had known only the Indians. The white man first came to Pasadena a little over 170 years ago. With them they brought a written language, and "history," as it is commonly defined, began. The few hundred nomadic Karankawas grudgingly gave way to today's few hundred thousand settlers. The land that once ruled the savage Indians is now ruled by the urban space cowboy. So much has changed in such a short period of time. What will our great-grandchildren witness in Pasadena 170 years from now?

Check out our Texas Archeaology resources.

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