“The Last Karankawa,” by Ernie Deats, America’s Press, 245 pages, $20.


The nomadic Karankawa Indians populated the coastal bend region of what is now Texas for hundreds of years.

Recent evidence shows large, as well as small communities, trading with other tribes nearby.

Like many other tribes between their first contact with the Spanish in the 1500s and the coming of the white men, tribes were dissimulated by disease and bloodshed. By the late 1880s, the tribes had scattered to isolated communities, focusing on day-to-day survival.

One of the last of these small units, attempting to avoid contact with settlers, was in the Galveston Bay area.

“The Last Karankawa” begins as white settlers make a night attack killing all but one boy, who later would find he was the last Karankawa.

Born with what was probably a club foot, as his mother placed him in a canoe she told him to paddle quietly away. A canoe was found days later by two boys near Dickinson, who were the children of W.S. Deats, and they took him to their home.

The boy’s name was Kola in his native language. He was quick to learn English and eventually was able to tell his adopted parents about the night of the settlers’ raid that killed the entire Karankawa community.

The Deats family accepted the boy as if he were their own. Mrs. Deats was able to straighten the child’s foot. However, many of the townspeople were against the child’s enrolling in the town’s school, held in the Methodist church.

A lawyer instigated an altercation at the school. When that approach failed, Lawyer Stokley took matters into his own hands and hired a man with no conscience, whose only pleasure was whiskey. The result scarred one of the Deats boy’s ears for life.

W.S. visited the lawyer’s office and presented him with an ultimatum. The lawyer soon fled to Austin to begin life anew. Little did that lawyer know, he would some day play a pivotal role in having Kola be among the first of his race to obtain a law degree. Over time, Kola grew to be liked and admired by fellow schoolmates, as well as townspeople.

This historical novel is based on family lore, as well as the author’s vivid imagination. Its plot and storyline have very realistic, in-depth characters. Each of whom acts according to his or her conscience or lack thereof would do.

As with his books, Ernie Deats contributes proceeds from the sale of this one to the Dickinson ISD Education Foundation, an organization set up to fulfill the author’s dream that every student who graduates from Dickinson ISD will have the opportunity to attend college and pursue a higher education.

If you thought his earlier works were good, wait until you meet Kola, the W.S. and Jane Deats family, Butch Tyler, “Lawyer” Stokley and his family, and the school’s teacher, Miss Hawks.

I read the book twice to savor each person’s character and noticed subtle transitions which evolve over time in all except one. Which one? You’ll need to read “The Last Karankawa.”

Margaret Barno lives in Tyler. She is an avid reader, creative short story writer, mentor and enjoys crossword and jigsaw puzzles.

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