Early 18th century Spanish, French, and Anglo explorers found about 3,500 Akokisa (or Orcoquisa) Indians living in Chambers, Galveston, Harris, and Liberty counties, and a major Akokisa village was located just across Spring Creek from Jones Park. The Akokisas were skilled at making dugout canoes from cypress logs and used them on nearby waterways for fishing and transportation. They were also noted for their excellent hide tanning skills, especially bearskins, and their use of native plants for medicinal purposes.
By the 1850s most of the Akokisas had merged with other American Indian tribes or died from European diseases to which they had no immunity.
The Akokisas lived in palmetto or grass-thatched roundhouses. In winter, they occasionally added animal hides and a small fire for warmth. Woven mats served as seats and beds. A smoke hole at the top would serve as a chimney. In most Gulf Coast Indian groups, the women, not the men, owned the property.
In the summer, the Akokisa and many other southern American Indian groups lived in a "chickee," an open-sided structure with a raised platform that allowed them to sleep above ants and other insects. A bed of soft straw would be made on the platform and covered with skins for sleeping. During mosquito season, a small smudge fire underneath the platform would sift through the platform and repel mosquitoes. They also smeared their bodies with rancid alligator fat as a mosquito repellent.
The Akokisas often built easily constructed, open-sided structures for work areas while traveling. Pictured here is the lean-to where hides were worked into clothing, tools and weapons were made, or food was prepared. The brush arbor, opposite the lean-to, has hide-tanning racks and provides a breezy work space where such tasks as basket weaving, mat making, and child care would have taken place.
Every American Indian village had a sweat lodge for both health and religious purposes. Here they might seek inspiration and guidance for an upcoming adventure through a dream or vision of a totem animal. Like modern saunas, respiratory and other ailments were likely treated here.
The council lodge was the focus of community life and rituals. Matters of general interest would be discussed here, and tribal history and legend would be passed on through story, song, and dance. Oral tradition filled the gap of written language, as the elders would tell tales of the past.