Joseph María, the Most Prominent Karankawa Chief During the Karankawa-Spanish War (1778-1789)

Joseph María, the Most Prominent Karankawa Chief During the Karankawa-Spanish War (1778-1789)

There exists a multitude of eminent Karankawa men and women in history: Mateo, Jose Luis María, Manuel Alegre, Prudencia, Llano Grande, the daughter of Big Chief, to name a few. In past writings about these coastal Indians, authors often neglect to highlight these Natives.

In an on-going effort to reorient the Karankawas’ history away from the “Whites'” perspective and back to the Karankawas’, I have written an encyclopedia entry on Joseph María, the most prominent Karankawa figure during the Spanish-Karankawa war in the late eighteenth century. Joseph María united different Karankawa Peoples and demonstrated that the Karankawas held the most outstanding power on the Texas Coastal Bend.

Handbook of Texas encyclopedia entry on Joseph María

JOSEPH MARÍA (?-1789). Joseph María was the most prominent Karankawa figure during the Spanish-Karankawa war in the late eighteenth century. He united different Karankawa Peoples, he sparked the abandonment of mission Nuestra Señora del Rosario, and he demonstrated that the Karankawas held the most outstanding power on the Texas Coastal Bend. In addition to discussing Joseph María’s life, this entry focuses more broadly on the Spanish-Karankawa war, of which this Guapite leader heavily dictated. Joseph María’s date of birth is unknown. He perished sometime in 1789 at the hands of the Lipan-Apaches.

Of the Guapite tribe of Karankawas, Joseph María grew up in and out of mission Rosario where he learned the Spanish faith and language.[1] In the mid-1770s, presidial captain Luis Cazorla imprisoned Joseph María because the Guapite leader slaughtered a cow without Friar Joaquín de Escobar’s permission.[2] After being imprisoned for an undisclosed amount of time, Joseph María somehow escaped to the coast where he led a band of apostate Native Peoples on raids against the presidio La Bahía and the missions of Rosario and Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga.[3] The Spaniards responded by sending expeditions, unsuccessful and punitive in design, that targeted all Karankawas, not just those of Joseph María’s band.

In March 1778, Joseph María and eleven other Karankawas killed all the members, save one, of Luis Andry’s nautical expedition mapping Texas’s bays.[4] The Karankawas’ murder of stranded shipwrecks had become normalized on the Texas coast and exemplifies what little power the Spanish had in the region and how harvesting these shipwrecks served as a valuable source of trade goods for the Karankawas.[5]

On July 25, 1778, with a substantial amount of rifles, bullets, and powder acquired from Andry’s ship, Joseph María and his apostate group forced the abandonment of Mission Rosario.[6] Twenty-two out of thirty-one remaining neophytes accompanied Joseph María to the coast. The captain of La Bahía sallied after the fleeing Karankawas with fifty-seven men, but Joseph María’s forces ambushed the chasing party, killing one pursuer, and causing the rest of the Spanish troops to retreat. Three months later, the governor of Texas, Barón de Ripperdá, granted a pardon for the neophytes—excluding Joseph María and his companion, Matheo—but the runaway Indians remained on the impenetrable coast.[7]

The Spanish saw Joseph María as the primary agitator among the coastal Indians and believed that his death would result in the rest of the Karankawas returning to “civilized” life. Accordingly, the Spaniards concocted all manner of plans to apprehend or assassinate the fugitive. They requested fake peace talks with the Karankawa leader, planning to hang Joseph María as soon as he appeared; they implored other Karankawa chiefs to capture and imprison him; they jailed his brother, Jose Luis, to use as leverage; and they even discussed having a ship full of soldiers feign a shipwreck to lure the apostate Karankawas into a trap.[8] Yet, Joseph María remained out of the Spaniards’ reach. And the conflict between the colonizers and the Karankawas increased, as did their suspicion toward each other. Most significantly, the Karankawas suspected that the Spaniards sought their absolute annihilation. These suspicions were well founded. The Spanish attempted at least three different extermination plans. Each failed.[9]

War with the Karankawas was a major detriment to the Spaniards. Primarily, it contributed to the near total collapse of a Spanish presence in Texas from 1780 to 1785. It also devoured much-needed manpower and left the citizens of La Bahía paralyzed, unable to tend to their cattle and fields.[10] When presidials made their expeditions against the Karankawas, a lack of watercraft meant that they could never follow the Indians through the maze-like bay systems and attack the Karankawas on their islands. Often Spanish patrols would spot the coastal Indians off-shore in their canoes and shout at them to come to shore so they could properly enact their punishment.[11] Joseph María and other Karankawa chiefs further confounded the Spanish patrols by employing elaborate smoke signals and using information from Native Peoples living in La Bahía and Espiritu Santo to learn troop movements.

Following an abundance of successful raids and skirmishes against the Spaniards, including another massacre of a shipwreck, Joseph María’s influence among the Karankawas flourished. His marriage with the daughter of a prominent Carancahuas chief that the Spaniards labeled “Capitan Grande” allowed him to unify even more disparate Karankawas. Nevertheless, war was as analogously costly for the Karankawas as for the Spaniards. The Spanish barred other Native groups from trading with the Karankawas and implored their allies to attack the coastal Peoples.[12] Although the repeated week-long Spanish forrays to the bays may have been consistently fruitless in terms of captured or killed bodies, they nonetheless limited the Karankawas’ ability to hunt large game on the mainland.[13] And European goods that once were reliably-acquired from the missions and presidios now had to be acquired through middlemen, including the Akokisas, Bidais, Cocos, and Mayeyes. Most devastating, however, was a large-scale outbreak of disease in 1780, 1781, and 1782 that ravaged Texas’s First Peoples, killing an untold number of Karankawas.[14]

Therefore in 1780 and 1781, Joseph María, with the backing of other Karankawa chiefs, probed the Spanish to cease hostilities.[15] Domingo Cabello y Robles, governor of Texas, knew that peace would be greatly advantageous, but thought the Karankawas incapable of keeping their word because they had not “experienced persecution or punishment whatsoever by the armed forces.”[16] The rumblings of peace were brushed away in favor of a continued war. From 1782 to 1786, hostilities persisted. Stock continued to be stolen, fear continued to entrance citizens, and the Karankawas remained the dominant coastal power.

When Rafeal Martínez Pacheco became the interim governor of Texas in 1786, the Spanish-Karankawa war drastically shifted. Martínez Pacheco believed the best way to end Indian hostilities was through gift-giving, or more accurately, annual tribute. He showed the effectiveness of this policy by first making peace with the Apaches, and then the Norteños, and then by reinforcing the peace with the Comanches through the aid of Pierre Vial.[17] After stabilizing Texas’s northern frontier, Martínez Pacheco turned his attention to the war between the Spanish and the Karankawas. While keeping his belligerent superior Juan de Ugalde in the dark, Martínez Pacheco sent four mission Indians from San Antonio to make contact with Joseph María, to offer the Karankawas a pardon, and to extend an invitation to discuss reconciliation in San Antonio.[18]

On June 26, 1787, Joseph María and nine prominent Karankawas representing the Guapites, the Cujanes, and the Carancahuas visited San Antonio. In a sudden reversal from having been bitter enemies, Martínez Pacheco writes that the Karankawas “were greeted with such rejoicing at this capital that they seemed to be long lost sons of our people.”[19] After being ladened with gifts by Martínez, Joseph María made his own demonstrations of goodwill by giving speeches in Castilian Spanish, by taking communion, and by confessing to the parish priest.

In the fourteen-day long discussions with the Spanish governor, Joseph María and the other Karankawa chiefs intended to end Spanish sorties, to regain access to Spanish missions, and to open up trade opportunities with the Spanish. Martínez Pacheco agreed on all three counts, and in exchange, wanted the Karankawas to relocate from the coast to the mainland. Joseph María gave a faux agreement, only fully complying with having a royal engineer named Angel Angelino accompany the peace party back to Karankawas’ territory with twelve Spanish soldiers to map their bays. That the Spaniards still needed accurate maps of the Karankawas’ lands after more than a hundred years in Texas is further testament to the Karankawas’ control of the coast.

By late July 1787, Angel Angelino’s mapping expedition on the Gulf Coast had gone according to plan. This altered when Joseph María ordered his wife to accompany him back to San Antonio for the second round of peace talks with Martínez Pacheco. She refused. Joseph María became angry. The Karankawas then became angry at Joseph María. With arguments escalating, the commanding officer of the Spanish soldiers, Pedro Perez, stepped in with his troops to calm the situation. An intoxicated Karankawa named Chepito walked behind Pedro Perez and shot and killed him. A skirmish between the Karankawas and Spanish ensued, resulting in two Karankawas deaths and the Spaniards fleeing to La Bahía.[20]

The death of Pedro Perez revitalized the Spanish-Karankawan war. Martínez Pacheco’s superior Ugalde thought him incompetent and foolish in attempting to deal with these coastal Peoples and read the death of Perez as another ploy by Joseph María to murder Spaniards.[21] But the Karankawas gained nothing from the death of Perez. For the past six years they had made repeated overtures of peace, Angel Angelino had toured their lands without the least bit of trouble until the unfortunate conflict, and these same Karankawas agreed on an identical peace treaty a year and a half later. Nevertheless, Ugalde saw the Karankawas as “divorced from all that is humanity,” and ordered that they be “domesticated or wiped out once and for all.”[22]

The cycle of violence began anew. In February 1789, the Spaniards finally scored their first major success in battle. After the Karankawas killed three inhabitants around La Bahía, the captain of the presidio gathered ninety-two troops and attacked roughly four-hundred Karankawas at the convergence of the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers (near present-day Tivoli). Initially surrounded by the Karankawas, the Spaniards drove the Native Peoples back and then both sides retreated. The Spaniards had two men wounded. The Karankawas had eleven killed.

Commandant general Ugalde overjoyed at the news of battle, pressed for continued attacks on the Karankawas and reiterated that peace was not an option.[23] Nevertheless, in October 1789, an emissary named Manuel Delgado representing the Copane Chief Balthasar came to La Bahía requesting peace on behalf of multiple Karankawa tribes.[24] Martínez Pacheco went against Ugalde’s orders, opened up talks with the Karankawas, and ultimately agreed on peace.

This peace was precariously achieved. One of the foremost challenges to the peace talks came in December 1789 when a rumor spread that “that the Spanish had captured Joseph María and his son through treachery, bound them, and shot them to death.”[25] Because Spanish sergeant Antonio Treviño happened to be in Joseph María’s father-in-law’s settlement at the time, the rumor was squashed. Treviño explained that the Apaches had killed Joseph María and his son—not the Spaniards. How, where, and why the Apaches killed Joseph María and his son is unknown.

War between the Karankawas and the Spanish ended with the reestablishment of the Rosario Mission in 1789 and the founding of the Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission in 1793. Joseph María sparked the conflict more than a decade earlier, and by uniting discordant Karankawa tribes, asserted his control over the Spaniards. Although Joseph María attacked the Spanish, he did not intend to rid them from the coastal plains as they thought, rather, he wanted to continue using the Spaniards as a resource. The Guapite leader derived a portion of his power from his enemy. His familiarity with the Spaniard’s customs and language gave him a diplomatic and military edge when compared to other Karankawa leaders. And the Spaniards, inclined to cloak their worldview over other Native Peoples, unknowingly reinforced Joseph María’s authority by treating him as the centralized leader for all of the Karankawas. After Pedro Perez’s disastrous death, Joseph María lost his influence and other Karankawa leaders, such as Chief Balthasar, stepped into the position created by Joseph María to win peace with the Spaniards.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bexar Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin. Lawrence Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765-1794, Translations of Materials from the Spanish Archives in the Bancroft Library, Part II: Post War Decade, 1782-1791 (Washington: United States Government Printing Offices, 1949). Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men’s Worlds, the Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540-1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). Kelly F. Himmel, The Conquest of the Karankawa and the Tonkawas, 1821-1859 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999). Athanase de Mézières, Athanase de Mézières and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1767-1780, ed. Herbert Eugene Bolton (Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1914).

[1] Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions on method of warfare against the Karankawa Indians, November 25, 1782, Bexar Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

[2] Martínez Pacheco to Ugalde, Discussing state of affairs of Texas, September 15, 1787, BA.

[3] Father Reyes’ account to the Viceroy of his work among the Indians at his mission and a report of the results of his observations, May 1, 1790, Box 2C72, BA; Martínez Pacheco to Ugalde, Discussing state of affairs of Texas, September 15, 1787, BA.

[4] Cabello to Croix, Explaining delay to San Luis Potosí, and reporting murder of the captain and crew of Spanish vessel by Aranama and Karankawa Indians, March 14, 1779, BA; Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions on method of warfare against the Karankawa Indians, November 25, 1782, BA; Cabello to Miro, September 21, 1783, in Lawrence Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 1765-1794, volume 2, part 1, the Revolutionary Period, 1765-1781 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1949), 331-334; Cabello to Miro, September 21, 1783, in Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valley, volume 2, part 1, 350-351;

[5] Herbert Eugene Bolton, Athanase de Mezieres and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier v1, 1768-1780 (Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1914), 260-262; Bolton, Athanase de Mezieres v2, 126; Henry P. Dart, “The Wreck of La Superbe in the Gulf of Mexico en Route from Veracruz to New Orleans, May, 1745,” The Louisiana Historical Quarterly 11, no. 2, (April, 1928): 179-208; Cabello to Croix, Reporting massacre committed by the Karankawa Indians on the coast, May 30, 1780, BA; Cabello to Croix, Reporting on expedition to the coast made by the commander of La Bahía to stop the Coco, Mayeye and Orcoquiza Indians from joining the Karankawa, October 17, 1779, BA;  Croix to Cabello, Giving instructions for the prevention of trade in firearms between Lipan, Coco and Mayeye Indians, February 1, 1780, BA.

[6] Croix to Ripperdá, discussing plans for the control of Karankawa, Ocoquiza, and Coco Indians, September 15, 1778; Croix to Cabello, discussing the flight of Rosario Mission Indians, January 14, 1779; Cabello to Croix, Transmitting reports of attacks by the Karankawa at La Bahía and Rosario Mission, July 3, 1779; Cabello to Miro, September 21, 1783, in Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valley, volume 2, part 1, 350-352.

[7] Fray Joaquín de Escobar to Governor of Texas, discussing return of Indians to Rosario Mission, October 13, 1778, BA.

[8] Cabello to Croix, discussing plans for the exploration of the Brazos and Colorado rivers and for punishing the Karankawa Indians, July 18, 1779, BA; Cabello to Croix, Explaining delay to San Luis Potosí, and reporting murder of the captain and crew of Spanish vessel by Aranama and Karankawa Indians, March 14, 1779, BA; Cabello to Croix, Reporting massacre committed by the Karankawa Indians on the coast, May 30, 1780, BA; Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions on method of warfare against the Karankawa Indians, November 25, 1782, BA; Cabello to Commandant of Río Colorado, Requesting more information about new settlement at the mouth of the Colorado and discussing plans to exterminate Karankawa Indians, July 8, 1785, BA.

[9] The three plans of extermination are proposed by Athanase de Mézières, Nicholas de La Mathe, and Domingo Cabello, see Bolton, Athanase de Mezieres v. 2, 298-303; Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions on method of warfare against the Karankawa Indians, November 25, 1782, BA; Cabello to Rengel, Reporting inability to send expedition against Karankawa Indians, June 19, 1785, BA; Cabello to Miro, September 21, 1783, in Kinnaird, Spain in the Mississippi Valley, volume 3, part 2, 86, 125-126; Neve to Cabello, Discussing plan for securing Louisiana’s aid for campaign against Karankawa Indians, October 3, 1783, BA; Rengel to Cabello, Discussing plans for expedition against the Carancaguas, April 25 1785, BA; Cabello to Neve, Reporting on steps taken to make war against the Carancahuas, January 20, 1784, BA; Cabello to Neve, Discussing plans for construction of canoes for attack on the Carancagua, March 1, 1784, BA; Neve to Cabello, Approving plans for attack on Carancaguas, March 2, 1784, BA.

[10] Cabello to Croix, Transmitting military reports of La Bahía, October 5, 1780, BA; Cabello to Rengel, Discussing difficulties in following orders concerning duration of campaigns by Texas troops, February 16, 1785, BA.

[11] De Mézières’ diary of trip from La Bahía to mouth of Colorado River to investigate rumors of settlement from New Orleans, July 27, 1785, BA; Luis Cazorla, Cazorla’s report on expedition to investigate settlement on mouth of Colorado River, July 30, 1785, BA; Cazorla to Martínez Pacheco, Reporting on inspection of the coast and on encounter with Carancahuaces, January 22, 1787, BA.

[12] Ceballo to Croix, Reporting on expedition to the coast made by the commander of La Bahía to stop the Coco, Mayeye and Orcoquiza Indians from joining the Karankawa, October 17, 1779, BA; Cabello to Croix, Reporting on visit of Tejas Indians who gave account of Comanche hostilities, August 17, 1780, BA; Croix to Cabello, Giving instructions for the prevention of trade in firearms between Lipan, Coco and Mayeye Indians, Feburary 1, 1780, BA.

[13] Cabello to Cazorla, Transmitting orders to continue offensive policy with Carancahuases, September 9, 1786, BA.

[14] Statement of sums due to soldiers of abandoned presidio of Los Adaes, November 20, 1780, BA.

[15] Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions on method of warfare against the Karankawa Indians, November 25, 1782, BA. Cazorla to Martínez Pacheco, Reporting on results of pursuit of Indians who stole Arocha’s horses, June 22, 1787, BA.

[16] Proceedings concerning Croix’s instructions on method of warfare against the Karankawa Indians, November 25, 1782, BA.

[17] Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men’s Worlds, the Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540-1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975), 722-727.

[18] Martínez Pacheco to Ugalde, Discussing state of affairs of Texas, September 15, 1787, BA;  Martínez Pacheco to Ugarte y Loyola, Reporting management of affairs in Texas, October 12, 1787, BA.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Martínez Pacheco to Ugalde, Discussing state of affairs of Texas, September 15, 1787, BA; Martínez Pacheco to Ugarte y Loyola, reporting management of affairs in Texas, October 12, 1787, BA.

[21] Ugalde to Martínez Pacheco, Discussing Anglino’s map and Journal (account) of trip made to coastal region of San Bernardo, October 27, 1787, BA.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ugalde to Martínez Pacheco, Transmitting text of letter to Espadas of the same date and instructing Martínez Pacheco to render all possible aid to Espadas, Feburary 26, 1789.

[24] Espadas to Martínez Pacheco, Reporting the arrival of a messenger from the Cuxan Indians, making overtures for peace, October 26, 1789, BA.

[25] Antonio Treviño, Antonio Treviño’s diary of expedition against the Carancaguazes, December 12, 1789, BA.

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