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.