East & West Austin

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Re-establishing our

Native American Friendships

The last fifty years has seen new generations of Americans grow up in their respect for the role of Native Americans. Most of us have at least heard of the “trail of tears” even if we don’t fully understand its scope and impact. But while our respect is often present, actual friendships are quite rare. That must change! I propose that new friendships be formed locationally — that is, with those very Native American tribes who used to inhabit the land upon which our city formed. Since I live in Austin, my foremost interest is the Tonkawa Tribe.

Upcoming Book on the Tonkawa Tribe

While researching a screenplay for a friend, some of the stories regarding the Tonkawa Tribe caught my attention. The Tonkawa were the primary people group to inhabit the Central Texas area in the hundreds of years that preceded the establishment of Texas. As I began to look at the historical record, I found that the story of the Tonkawa in Central Texas and in Austin was in many cases anecdotal, generalized, and sometimes missing.

My current project has been to start by collecting together, reviewing and annotating every traditional source on the Tonkawa — the good, the bad and the ugly — and then adding to that all the mentions, all the anecdotes, all the newspaper stories, all the official records, treaties, petitions, and reports available. From all these sources I am putting together a comprehensive chronological historical sourcebook of the Tonkawa in Central Texas, beginning with the Spanish in the 1500s through the final relocation of the Tonkawa from Fort Griffin in Texas to Northern Oklahoma. This work began in 2019 and is still ongoing.

This collection of material, a complete-as-we-can-make-it historical record, when combined with Tonkawa oral stories and traditions, along with tribal commentaries on stories told by the white settlers, will become a gift to the Tonkawa Tribe itself and future generations. The sourcebook will also serve as a foundation for the future efforts to educate Austin and Central Texas about the Tonkawa, showcasing the historical evidence for the support and friendship that the Tonkawa Tribe showed to Texans, particularly those in Central Texas and Austin.

Although this endeavor is still young, I will not rest until something wonderful has been re-established in our day, from the deeply held friendships many early Texans held with their honorable Tonkawa friends.

Blog Posts from Native and White Americans

The Tonkawa Tribe is Extinct – Not!

Beginning with the major eyewitness accounts of the Tonkawa in Central Texas in the late 1800s, and continuing into the mid-1900s many statements were made by Texans that the Tonkawa were either extinct or close to it. For example, an American Statesman Article in 1947 concludes, “The Indian affairs people believe there’s only one Tonkawa brave left. And he lives not in Tonkawa, but in Texas.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Tonkawa Tribe has grown to over 800 persons, most of whom live in or near Tonkawa, Oklahoma just off I-35. The tribe still retains its friendly disposition, openness, and a strong desire to preserve its heritage.


For Bob’s Research on the Tonkawa

Russell Martin – Tonkawa Tribe

Bob O’Dell’s compilation of the recorded history and stories of the Tonkawa Tribe in Central Texas is the largest such collection I have seen.

Russell Martin

Chief, Tonkawa Tribe

Albert J McCarn – Historian

Every story left out of our past diminishes us all in some way. The grand story of Texas, rich as it is, still contains gaps that impact the collective identity of all Texans. The tale of the Tonkawa Tribe’s connection to Austin is one of those gaps. Bob O’Dell has begun the laudable effort to recover that story. His research shows that Austin, if not the entire State of Texas, still owes a debt of honor to this lesser-known Native people for their friendship and support in the creation of  Texas.

Albert J. McCarn
Lt. Col. (Ret), U.S. Army
Historian and Author

Get in Touch With Bob O’Dell

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