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Piercings and tattoos: Not so new around Eagle Lake

July 29, 2020 - 00:00
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  • Piercings and tattoos: Not so new around Eagle Lake
  • Piercings and tattoos: Not so new around Eagle Lake
    Karankawa drawing depicting the tatoo culture. Courtesy
  • Piercings and tattoos: Not so new around Eagle Lake
    Tatooed Karankawa fishing with his long bow and arrow. Courtesy

“Not on my watch you’re not!” is the exclamation of many of today’s parents as youngsters look longingly at the colorful designs in the windows of a tattoo parlor. With all sizes and colors, this so-called ‘tattoo craze’ seems here to stay.

“I don’t understand this generation,” says another. “But what about my grandfather in World War II?” offers another. “He was in the Navy and always had a tattoo on his right arm with a heart design, with the name ‘Mother.’ It seemed acceptable then. He said they had them done in the Pacific Islands when on shore, where some believe early tattoos originated.” “Well, even if it were the Navy, I didn’t like them then, and I don’t like them now. And you’re not getting one.”

Well hold on now. Let’s settle down a little, since when you come to think of it, Tattoos and piercings are much older around Eagle Lake than you might imagine. We do learn from history; but we have to know about it first. Let’s retreat to a few centuries before Texas and its explorers. The natives were already here.

Long before the town of Eagle Lake was established, the local Karankawa Indians, a nomadic tribal group lived down along the Texas Gulf Coast, in an area be tween Galveston, Matagorda, and Corpus Christi. Their territory was a long, sandy strip next to the water for fishing and camping. Their rounded, thatched houses were easily taken up and moved with them, as the Karankawas moved from one fishing ground to the other, in their nomadic search for food and water.

In this warmish yearround climate, they wore few clothes. To adorn themselves, both Karankawa men and women tattooed themselves and had piercings of sticks and shells on various parts of their bodies, as adornments. Married women adorned their whole bodies with tattoos, where single women used simple stripe tattoos. Men were also well-tattooed, often with long stripes and bold designs.

When the weather changed from winter to summer, the Karankawas moved inland from Matagorda, as far as Eagle Lake, about a hundred miles from their coastal home. They camped for months around the lake, fished, picked berries, and hunted along the lake and Skull Creek. They fished and killed alligators with long six-foot bows and arrows, and covered themselves with alligator oil to ward off the mosquitoes in summer. They also hunted larger animals, as deer and bear when they needed the food.

The Karankawas could always be recognized by their adornments of piercings and tattoos. Tattoos were usually charcoal black in color. Perhaps the first type tattoo was done by smearing the charred wood from their campfires on their bodies, as adornment, later becoming permanent designs, some very bold, through the use of plant dyes and charcoal. Sharp-pointed sticks were placed through the noses, along with shells and other body piercings and adornments.

It seems that every culture has sought its distinguishing decorations. Most parents today would say we’re now coming full-circle. Tattoos and piercings around Eagle Lake and Colorado County are as old as the hills. Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun.