The Karankawa Indians called the mainland and barrier islands around the Gulf of Mexico home.
The Karankawa Indians called the mainland and barrier islands around the Gulf of Mexico home.

The Karankawa Indians lived along the coastal bend of Texas, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and what is modern day Corpus Christi and Galveston bays. Now extinct, the Karankawa Indians, made up of several bands sharing a common language and culture, were nomadic and traveled between the islands and mainland in this area according to the seasons and availability of food. Thus, the Karankawa Indians relied on temporary and portable shelters for their homes.

Portable and Temporary

Karakawan homes were called ba-ak. A primary characteristic of a Karankawa home was that it was temporary, portable or both. That's because Karankawa Indian bands didn't stay in one place for longer than a few weeks, notes the Texas State Historical Association. Portable or temporary homes made life easier for the tribes, because they moved around so they were always living in an area where food and resources were plentiful. For example, the bands lived near water during the fall and winter months because they could fish, according to Robert A. Calvert, author of The History of Texas.

What the Houses Looked Like

Karakawan Indian homes were constructed using willow pole frames. They put one end of the tree limbs or saplings into the ground, making a circle, then bent them into the middle and tied them together. The result was a dome shape that resembled a classic wigwam. The willow pole frames were covered with animal skins or rush mats. Grasses, palm fronds and other leafed branches were also used to cover the frame, the Calhoun County Museum website notes, and grass mats covered the floor. Other shelters were little more than "improvised windbreaks," notes Calvert.

Characteristics Separate From Appearance

The Karakawan Indians typically built their homes to hold between seven and eight people. That doesn't mean, however, that the homes were large, but instead only encompassed enough room to sleep since the people didn't spend time in their homes eating, resting and pursuing hobbies the way more settled peoples do. Smaller homes were more convenient, among other reasons, because the Karakawans didn't need to make room for cooking, since that was done outside.

Benefits of the Housing Design

The simple construction allowed the Karakawans to easily tear down the houses and transport them in their dugout canoes when they abandoned their camp. They rarely stayed in the same area for more than a few weeks. The simple design also allowed the Karakawan people to easily set the homes back up when they chose a new camp, Robert A. Ricklis notes in his book The Karankawa Indians of Texas.