Tonkawa Massacre

On the morning of October 24, 1862, pro-Union Indians attacked the Tonkawa tribe as they camped approximately four miles south of present Anadarko in Caddo County. Roughly 150 Tonkawa died in the assault, a blow from which their population never recovered.

The Tonkawa had been relocated from Texas to Indian Territory in 1859. Placed under the authority of the Wichita Agency, they settled along the Washita River near Fort Cobb in the Leased District. Rumored to be cannibals, the Tonkawa were outcasts among the southern plains tribes. This macabre reputation, and their loyalty to the Confederacy during the Civil War, led to their destruction. On the night of October 23, 1862, a roving Union force of Delaware, Shawnee, Osage, and other Indians attacked the Wichita Agency. Once the facility was destroyed, the marauders unleashed their fury upon the Tonkawa. Fleeing east toward Fort Arbuckle, the Tonkawa were overtaken and massacred the following morning.

The Tonkawa were resettled in Texas after the Civil War. In 1884 they occupied their last reservation in present Kay County, Oklahoma. Impoverished, their population continued to decline. Numbering some 367 individuals at the time of the massacre, the Tonkawa tribe was almost nonexistent less than one-century later.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Muriel H. Wright, A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951). Muriel H. Wright, “A History of Fort Cobb,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 34 (Spring 1956). Muriel H. Wright and LeRoy H. Fischer, “Civil War Sites in Oklahoma,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 44 (Summer 1966). Wilbur S. Nye, Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (3rd ed. rev.; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969). “Survivor of Tonkawas, Nearly Extinct Tribe, Relates Story,” Ponca City (Oklahoma) News, 15 September 1939.

Jon D. May, “Tonkawa Massacre,”  Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

© Oklahoma Historical Society