Tonkawa Falls

Crawford, Texas, is home to the beautiful Tonkawa Falls, drawing visitors and locals alike for recreational activities and fun each year. The falls are named after the Tonkawa Indians who inhabited the area for centuries before the arrival of white settlers to Central Texas. The Tonkawa left behind a great deal of evidence of their existence and way of life, and much of it can still be viewed today at Tonkawa Park, for those who know where to look.

The Tonkawa Indians, a semi-nomadic group of hunters as well as growers, relied on wild game such as buffalo and deer as well as beans, squash, and other vegetables for their daily diet. They interacted often, though only sometimes peacefully, with other Indian groups from the area, such as the Waco and Tawakoni Indians. They were also known to be sworn enemies of the Comanche. When the Spanish arrived in Texas, they set up missions in order to control and civilize the Indians. The Tonkawa, who first encountered the Spanish around the year 1690, refused to stay in these missions, frustrating the Spanish. Negative rumors began to circulate about the Tonkawa, including stories of cannibalistic rituals.

In 1855, as more and more settlers moved into Central Texas, the Tonkawa found themselves forced from their homes and onto a reservation along with the other Indian groups of the area. The Tonkawa, whose numbers were significantly depleted by enemy attacks and disease, again endured forced relocation in 1884, this time to Oklahoma, where descendants of the Tonkawa people still live today.

During the Great Depression, the Texas Civil Works Administration funded the construction of Tonkawa Park, in an attempt to create jobs for locals. (The Civil Works Administration was a forerunner of the Works Progress Administration.) Crawford, given the choice of a city park or a city sewage system, chose the park. The close proximity of the beautiful Tonkawa Falls made their choice an easy one. The men set to work building a clubhouse and caretaker’s house, as well as stone picnic tables and barbecue pits. They cleared brush and carved out stone steps leading down to the water. All of these structures were built using stone which the workers harvested from along the creek. The workers built a concrete driveway which stretched over the falls. Locals referred to this spot as “The Dip,” and it became notorious as a lovers' lane for young people.

During construction, workers found a burial site and various remains, believed by many to be Tonkawa graves. During the summer, workers also discovered petroglyphs etched into the creek bed, visible due to the low water levels. There is evidence of both Indian and Spanish influence in the etchings, which makes the Tonkawa, who interacted with the Spanish, the most likely creators of these drawings. During the arid months of the summer, when Tonk Creek begins to dry up, many of these petroglyphs are visible.

Over the years, the park became a significant part of the Crawford community and a gathering place for its citizens. In the early 1940s, the Waco Camp Fire Girls used this location for their summer camps. They built cabins and a shower house on the site, with the help of several men who had helped construct the camp originally. At one point, a rodeo arena was created in the park, as well as a football field for Crawford High School, a Saddle Club, and an RV park. A seafood restaurant opened for operation in the clubhouse in the 1980s. In more recent years, Crawford constructed a community center in the park.

Today if you visit the site, you may see campers at the RV park, picnickers sitting on the old stone picnic tables, and children and adults jumping from the falls into the swimming hole below. But if you look more closely, you will see the rich history which has been literally etched and built into the park.

Images

The Beautiful Falls (c. 1980)

The Beautiful Falls (c. 1980)

Though the Tonkawa Indians wandered throughout large areas of Central Texas, this site served as a permanent campground for the people for hundreds of years. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Land of Plenty

Land of Plenty

This area was an ideal location for the Tonkawa Indians. The caves along the creek provided natural shelter and protection. Walnut, pecan, and plum trees also grow abundantly along the water, which would have been easy food sources for the Tonkawa women to harvest. | Creator: Stephanie Endicott View File Details Page

The Return (1912)

The Return (1912)

These Waco Indians were brought back to the city of Waco in 1912 to participate in an exhibition at the Texas Cotton Palace. Like the Waco Indians, the Tonkawa were taken from their native lands in the area and put onto reservations in Oklahoma. The name Tonkawa actually came from the Waco language and means “they all stay together.” The Tonkawa's name for themselves, Tickanwatic, means “real people." | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Stories Around the Cooking Pot

Stories Around the Cooking Pot

Waco Indian women sitting around a cooking pot at the Cotton Palace Pageant. American Indians of Central Texas enjoyed a wide variety of foods, including hunted meat such as buffalo. Several stories circulated that the Tonkawa also consumed human flesh, enjoying it more than buffalo. One alleged report stated that the Tonkawa, having captured a lone enemy Comanche rider, brought him back to their village where they promptly cut him up, cooked him into a stew with vegetables, and ate him. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Great Depression Creations

Great Depression Creations

The Clubhouse was one of the features erected by workers during the Great Depression. Construction of the park occurred off and on, as the project was often halted by delays such as poor weather. Workers were paid $1.25 an hour and worked 3 10-hour days a week. | Creator: Stephanie Endicott View File Details Page

The Big Discovery

The Big Discovery

At this site in 1934, construction workers at Tonkawa Park discovered the remains of what are believed to be a Tonkawa woman and child. Workers found the remains pinned beneath a slab of rock that most likely had fallen from the the ceiling of the cave, and they turned the rock slab into a bench. Today, many visitors enjoy bouldering and other recreational pursuits at this spot. | Creator: Stephanie Endicott View File Details Page

Downtown Crawford (c. 1980)

Downtown Crawford (c. 1980)

Though Crawford is a small town with a population of about seven hundred, it boasts a large city park, something uncommon for other towns of comparable size. Tonkawa Falls is one important attraction which brings visitors to the area. Seven miles northwest of the town, Prairie Chapel Ranch, purchased by George W. Bush, is another. | Source: Photo Courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Fun at the Falls (c. 1950)

Fun at the Falls (c. 1950)

A teenage girl enjoys watermelon at Tonkawa Falls. Since its creation, Tonkawa Park has been a place for swimming and family fun. | Source: Photo Courtesy of the City of Crawford View File Details Page

Payday

Payday

This Civil Works Administration Payroll lists the names of Crawford men and their pay for a Friday Shift in 1934. It is not known what project these men were being paid for, but it is likely at least some of these men also helped build the park. | Source: Photo Courtesy of the City of Crawford View File Details Page

Audio

Campfire Girls Remember

Cathryn Donaldson Carlile shares her memories of summers at Tonkawa Falls | Source: Carlile, Cathryn Donaldson, interviewed by Rebecca Sharpless, December 12, 1995, in Woodway, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Stephanie Endicott, “Tonkawa Falls,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/149.

Subjects

Share this Story