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The Atakapan Indian Groups

The Bidai, Akokisas, Han, Deadoses, Patiris

by R. E. Moore

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An member of the Atakapans call and sent a Email about it. I have seen the photographs at a meeting in Baytown, Texas. I need to get some better pictures about their clothing and the people. It seems that 100 years ago most of the Atakapans moved out of Texas and moved to Louisiana on the coast - in the swamps. BUT, some of them are still there in Texas in Port Arthur, Baytown and other towns in TEXAS. The leader of the Atakapans, in Louisiana Lake Charles, is Ray Soileav. They all get togather several times a year. Even better, some Karankawa still live there, now in Louisisana, and they show up at the meetings with the Atakapans. More when I have the time and the gas money to meet them.

The Atakapans are a hard group to find out much about. The first Europeans to come in contact with them did not bother to write down much about them. Later Europeans did the same, so almost no record from eye witness accounts is available to us today. The accounts we do have are often second hand and appear to have some racial bias mixed in to them. Almost all of the more recent written material about them is in obscure archeological reports in filing cabinets at state agencies and universities.

Here is some of what is known. Atakapan is a language and not really a tribe. There were several tribes, or maybe just bands, who lived in the same geographical area and spoke Atakapan. The Atakapan language seems to be part of the larger Tunican language family. If this is so it would link the Atakapan speakers of Texas with the Southeastern Indians to the east of Texas. The other Tunican speakers are found in south eastern Arkansas going down along the Mississippi river to Natchez Mississippi. Atakapan itself is a Choctaw word that means "man eaters".

The several tribes and bands lived in an area starting around modern Houston and going east into Louisiana.  In fact, some Louisiana Atakapans are still living there. Swanton places the Atakapans as far east as the Lake Charles area of Louisiana. Some of them lived along the coast and others lived father north going up to the Caddo Indian territory. Most of the villages and campsites in Texas are near the major rivers in this area, the Trinity river and Sabine river. This area has several very different environmental zones and the zone a band lived in made a difference in how they lived. Click here to see a map of east Texas Indian lands.

Near and along the Gulf Coast there were smaller bands who lived very much like the Karankawa. The name of the main band near the coast was "Akokisas". They were also sometimes called the Han. The Akokisas were hunter gatherers. This means they would catch fish, crabs and clams in the gulf and hunt birds and small game like rabbits. They also hunted bear and deer a little farther inland. They gathered lots of plant for food. If you do really know what a hunter gatherer is you should go to the "Read me First" page and look it up.

The Karankawa had large shallow inland bays of water in their territory. The coastal Akokisas did not have these large bays – except for the eastern edge of Galveston bay. During the winter lots of fish come into the bays so the Karankawa would make large seasonal camps near the bays so they would be near this good supply of food. Without bays, the Akokisas seem to have done just the opposite. They would camp in temporary camps near the Gulf in the summer and move around a lot. In the winter they moved inland and made more permanent camps. In the fall there are a lot of ducks and geese that migrate though the coastal plains and marshes in this area. The land along the coast here is marshy and is not any good for growing corn or beans or any of the other crops the Indians had back then. So, the Akokisans did not farm.

This area is part of the Texas Coastal Plain. It is low lying grassy land with few or no trees. There are many marshes and wetland areas here. It often floods. Because there were so few trees the Akokisans did not make much in the way of shelter. They made very simple wind brakes and lean to shelters in the summer. In the winter they would move inland to where a few trees were available. They would then make small dome shaped crude huts. This kind of hut is called a wickiup. We built a wickiup and took pictures. Click here to see how a wickiup is built. They would bend flexible sapling trees over and make a simple frame. Then they would then throw bear skins and maybe grass on top of the frame to make a crude hut.

This is NOT an Akokisian hut. It just LOOKS a lot like a Akokisian hut might have. It is the same shape and type of construction. An Akokisian hut might use animal skins instead of the grass mats like you see here. This is really a Kickapoo hut. I wanted you to see what this kind of hut looks like.

To the north of the Akokisans were other bands and tribes of Atakapan speakers. These were the Patiris, Bidais, and Deadoses. The Patiris lived along the Trinity river and that is about all we know about them. The Bidias were part of the Hasinais Caddo confederacy and some people thought they were Caddo. But they were not Caddo. The Bidias did live much like the Caddo. They farmed and lived in permanent villages. This means they were sedentary farmers. They grew the same crops as the Hasinais Caddo and lived in huts like the Hasinais. Sounds to me like looking up the Caddo page would be a good idea, HINT, HINT. They grew corn, beans and other crops. They also hunted when they could for meat.

The area they lived in was on the southern edge of the East Texas Piney Woods. The land here is good enough to farm and grow crops so the Bidais were sedentary farmers and not hunter gatherers like their relatives the Akokisans just south of them. They also had more trees than the Akokisans did so they made huts like the Hasinais. See the Caddo page for pictures of this kind of huts.

Because they lived near so much water in the rivers and marshes all of the Atakapans made and used dugout canoes. A dugout canoe is made from a tree trunk that is hollowed out.

It is said that the Atakapans were short stocky and dark skinned. They did put tattoos on their bodies, a widespread custom of all the tribes around them. They wore very little, but eyewitness accounts of how they looked are so rare and sketchy we cannot be sure of what their clothes looked like.


Copyright by R Edward. Moore and Texarch Associates,1998, 2000, all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.

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