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Caddo Indians


Long before the Caddo culture first took root, early and later Paleo-Indians occupied northwestern Louisiana.  Remnants of mastadons and early tools from the time when big game hunting was possible have been found in the Red River Valley.  No campsites have been located in the area. 1

The Indians believe that their origin began with a woman who had two daughters, one of which was pregnant.  A monster ate the pregnant daughter while the other escaped, but a drop of blood from the pregnant daughter was salvaged.  Two nights after the blood was set inside an acorn, a full grown man emerged.  He defeated the monster and then took his grandmother and aunt into the sky to rule the world. 2

Other Caddoan lore tells the story of the Great Flood mentioned in the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark and in the epic of Gilgamesh.  The supreme being poured down rain upon the earth because of the iniquitous behavior of the Indians. 3  Fourteen people, parents and their children, were saved by reaching high ground where pairs of animals were saved as well.  The Mexican and Louisiana Indians are said to be from this original family. 4

The oldest camps in the Caddo area date between 8,000 and 6,000 B.C. and are of the San Patrice culture, having been named for the stream in DeSoto and Sabine Parishes.  The campsites south of Shreveport yielded tools that suggested they grew their food as well as hunted small game.  Grinding stones for seeds and nuts as well as stone hatchets for cutting wood were found.  These people hunted with darts that were two feet in length. These were heavier than their typical arrows and were thrown with a stick. This was known as the “atlatl” and had a hook made of a bone or an antler. 5  They also polished beads to use as ornamentation.  One of the small sites, located in Caddo Parish, had small mounds, where polished stones and copper beads were found with the cremated burials there. 6

The Coles Creek people established themselves in the lower Mississippi Valley, including the area along the Red River, in about 700 A.D.  This civilization of pottery-makers and farmers soon expanded in the first occupation of the northwestern part of the state because of their highly developed agricultural skills. 7  Some historians say that the Caddos originally were part of the Coles Creek Indians from around Marksville, Louisiana in about 1000. 8  These were probably a more advanced tribe of American Indians who hunted as well as cultivated their own crops, which included corn, potatoes, beans, pumpkins, sunflower, squash, and other vegetables. 9-12  These communities were occupied only for select periods of the year, and did not serve the Indians all year. 13

Settling along the Red River were the tribes of the Kadohadacho Confederation with all of the tribes being connected to one another by joint practices and the Caddoan language. 14-15  They were also related to the Pawnee and the Arikara of the western prairies linguistically. 16  According to the accounts of some early explorers of the area, the Indians were capable of communicating with their simple sign language. 17  The Adaes (also Adais), Doustioni, Natchitoches, Ouachita, and Yatasi settled in the areas presently known as Mansfield, Monroe, and Natchitoches.  Their territory ran west from the Ouachita River to the Sabine River and headed south to the end of Cane River.  In northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas, the Kadohadacho, Petit Caddo, Nasoni, Upper Natchitoches, and Nanatsoho settled, but later these groups moved to Louisiana and settled along Caddo Lake near the Caddo Prairie. 18  Although the Indians kept the distinction of their tribal names, the settling white men referred to these groups collectively as the “Caddo Indians,” which is a contraction of “Kadohadacho” that means “Chief Caddo” or “Caddo proper.” 19-20  

A small Caddo Indian village, occupied in about 1000 A.D., was discovered in Hanna in April of 1977 with an excavation beginning in June of that year under the U. S. Army Corps of Engineer archaeologist Thomas M. Ryan. These remains, the first prehistoric ones to be found in northwestern Louisiana, were destroyed when the Corps constructed a trench-filled revetment to avoid erosion of the river bank. The community would have held no more than sixty residents and did not serve as a year-round home. 21 Five human skeletons were discovered at the site. 22

 Kendall and Rose Kelly discovered a prehistoric, thirty-one foot long canoe on the bank of the Red River between Dixie and Belcher.  Work to free the canoe from thirty feet of deposit began on August 14, 1983.  Made of bald cypress and having the capacity to carry fifteen or sixteen Indians, the front end measures twenty-two inches wide and has two seats; the rear is the same but is four inches larger. The side walls are three inches thick, and the bottom is five to six inches thick. As no other artifacts were found at the site, it was presumed that the boat floated to this area. 23 It is possible that the canoe was involved in the trade route from Texarkana to Natchitoches.  Radiocarbon dating yielded the dates 1005 A.D. from one sample and 1065 A.D. from another. 24  Over fifty years about 640 acres of the river bank were lost, revealing the canoe. It was cut into three pieces to be moved to be preserved. It was donated to the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport. 25

The Caddos had intricate designs including animal, plant, and lightning-like elements carved into their skin from the top of the forehead to the end of the chin.  After piercing the skin, charcoal was rubbed into the open wound.  Their bodies were also painted for war in long wavy lines of red, green, and black. Sometimes the Caddos cut holes in their nose inserting shells, stones, or rings into the gap for decoration. The men wore their hair long all over, but allowed it to grow to their waist from one place on the back of their head, ornamenting this patch with feathers. Other times a narrow band of short hair stretched from the forehead to the base of the neck with a long section of hair being pulled back. Women parted their hair in the middle and gathered it at the base of their neck in a knot, holding it all together with a rabbit skin that had been dyed red for such use. 26 

They were good tanners and potters. Their bowls were perfectly round even though they did not have tools such as the potter’s wheel. Their engraved artwork often took the shape of animals like bears or fish. 27  The wavy designs of the early Coles Creek pottery took on new variations under the Caddos. They used the low-oxygen firing method, sometimes decorating or adding dyes after the earthenware had been fired. 28  They made bottles and bowls with angled edges, and fired their work to make it dark brown and almost black. 29

The Indians also made fine weapons, although they were a peaceful group. It has been said that they never willingly killed a white man. 30 They hunted using the bow and arrow and were talented with the lance. 31-32 They hunted deer, bear, and birds. Although they considered the eagle to be sacred, they did hunt it. A robe was taken on the hunt to cover the bird after it fell, and once the feathers were plucked, it was given a special burial. The medicine men were the only ones allowed to actually kill the eagle. 33

The medicine man held a high priority among the tribes. He received several privileges, such as being the only person to be seated higher than the chief at ceremonies and having the best foods reserved for him. Honor sometimes comes at a high price, however. 34 When the medicine man was unsuccessful at curing the victims of an epidemic that was running through the tribe, the relatives of those deceased victims beat him to death with clubs. 35

The Caddos had a class system that existed under a chieftain in the tribe, strong religious beliefs, and highly organized burial. 36-37  One custom performed by the elite was the binding of an infant’s head to its cradle to give the head a flattened shape, thus signifying that the child was of an elite family. 38 Spanish explorers described the Caddo government as an en policia government, which means “a government of policy. 39 They put their faith into the “Great Captain,” their principal deity, and they believed that after death they went to a large house where they worked until everyone in the present world died. Then they would all begin life in the new world from this house.  At the death of a member of the tribe they held a ceremonial dance and played a doleful song before the deceased was placed in the tomb. 40

Spanish missionaries described the burial rituals, stating that the Indians bathed the dead and kept the body for several hours in the deceased’s home. More important people were buried several days after their deaths. 41  Some of the tombs of the early Caddos were usually between fifteen and twenty feet long and anywhere from eight to sixteen feet deep.  Pipes, carved conch shells, and copper masks portraying two gods, a feathered serpent and a long-nosed god, were found at the burial site along with hints that servants may have been sacrificed to aid the deceased in the afterlife. 42 Along with these offerings, the scalps of enemies were placed in the tombs so that the enemies may work in the afterlife as servants for the deceased. The bodies were buried in sitting positions with their head facing the sunrise. Later on the deceased were also buried horizontally. 43 Priests, chiefs, and their families were the only ones to receive mound burials. The common people were buried beneath their homes or in tribal cemeteries. 44

One of the early Caddo sites is at Gahagan, Louisiana, on the west side of the Red River between Shreveport and Natchitoches. Much of the site and the old river channel it was located on were destroyed by erosion.  The central plaza was surrounded by a tapering burial mound and a flat-topped mound; a smaller mound was located a shorter distance.  In 1912 Clarence B. Moore excavated the area, finding a central shaft tomb being thirteen by eight feet long and descending eleven feet into the ground. Over 200 offerings were found with the five burials. Another excavation in 1939 by Clarence H. Webb and Monroe Dodd produced two additional pits. One, measuring nineteen by fifteen feet, housed six burials; the other, a twelve by eleven foot pit, had three burials. Included in the 250 to 400 offerings in each pit were clay and stone pipes, flint arrow points, stone knives, greenstone hatchets, bone hairpins, and shell beads.  Several copper items were also found, such as plaques, ear ornaments, and masks. The Indians had a broad trading network, as none of these items were native to the area.  It is possible that the network included Oklahoma, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Gulf Coast, although it may have also included the Great Lakes area. 45

A second site is at Mounds Plantation on an old channel of the river just north of Shreveport about one mile south of Dixie. 46-47 The oval-shaped plaza covers about 25 acres, having seven mounds of various sizes and two others at a distance. This mound was also excavated first by Moore in 1912. Smaller excavations occurred later, including one by Ralph R. McKinney, Robert Plants, and Webb.  They determined that the Cole Creeks people had established the village, building at least four of the mounds. The Caddos evidently built on to one of these. The Coles Creeks also made a sixteen by fourteen foot pit for use in burials. Ten adults were buried here in two rows with offerings that included bone pins, ear ornaments, and rattles made from pebble-filled tortoise shells, along with tools such as flint arrow points and smoothing stones. A small mound was built over the pit and used for Coles Creek burials.  The Alto Caddos also used this area as a burial site, digging three small pits and four large shaft tombs; a nineteen by seventeen foot pit juxtaposed the Coles Creek pit and contained twenty-one people ranging in age from unborn infants to elderly. One six-foot-tall male, apparently a prominent member of the tribe, was found with a sheathed knife on his left arm and a bow, which almost equaled his height, on his left side. A support system of logs covered the tomb and aided in the preservation of several wooden and cane-made items including a wooden comb, baton, small bows, frames, and knife handles as well as leather cording and approximately 200 fragments of split cane mats. Also among the items in the tomb were two polished stone beads, half of a perforated slate gorget, and a hematite plummet; these items were most likely revered by the tribe leaders as they date 2,000 years before this burial occurred. Next to a male skeleton was a container of purslane seeds, 48 an annual summer weed that could survive in poor soil and through droughts and was used by the Indians for food. 49

The early Caddos evolved between 1100 and 1200 A.D. into a simpler culture, known today as “Bossier” for the parish of its discovery. At this time the settlements in the Red River Valley between Caddo Lake and Natchitoches. The Indians moved uplands settling along the Red River and the lateral lakes along the river. To the west in Caddo Parish the waterways were Black Bayou, Caddo Lake, and Wallace Lake; others on the west included Clear and Smithport Lakes in DeSoto Parish, and those to the east included Black, Bisteneau, Bodcau, and Swan Lakes. 50 Between 1100 and 1400 ceremonial life held less of an importance, but shortly after 1400 ceremonialism reached a new height with mounds constructed with temples or the chief’s house atop them. 51

 About one-half mile east of Belcher is the Belcher mound. 52-53 This Caddo culture most likely co-existed with the Bossier culture. Beginning in 1959 and continuing on through the next ten years, Webb and his associates excavated the mound finding levels where houses had been built, burned, and new ones built over them. The burials at this mound were beneath the houses in pits. The early houses were rectangular with posts set in trenches and filled with clay. Grass thatch covered the gabled roofs, and the seven-foot entrances faced a northeastern direction. The later houses were circular with interior roof supports, central hearths, and compartments. Remnants of food including shells from seeds and nuts; beans; maize; bones of fish, turtles, squirrels, minks, and birds; as well as shells from snails and mussels were found on the floors.  Hatchets, points, chisels, needles, hoes, awls, and saws were made of stone, shells, and bone. 54 Forty-eight skeletons were found in this mound along with the bones of twenty-two other adults buried together as a group. 55 The pottery found here was of a better quality than that of the Bossier people and has been referred to as some of the best of the Caddos’ work.  The pottery was in the form of bowls, vases, bottles, urns, and jars with engravings, brushings, and stampings serving as decorations. 56

French explorer Hernando DeSoto is credited with being the first in Louisiana, and in 1541 he traveled to the Ouachita and Red River country. 57 He died before he reached the Red River.  After DeSoto’s death, the remaining members of DeSoto’s group were led by Luis de Moscoso, the lieutenant of DeSoto in Florida. They crossed the Red River near present-day Texarkana. 58-60 They traveled from Arkansas to Mexico and found a tribe known as the Amayes, part of the Caddo Indians, near the river in June of 1542, making this the first encounter of the white settlers with the Caddos. Francisco Vasquez Coronado and his men were in the area, coming from the west, at about the time that Moscoso crossed the Red River near Belcher. 61-62

René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, headed from south Texas to Canada, after sailing too far past Louisiana and into Matagorda Bay, Texas. 63-64 En route to Canada, La Salle received help from the Caddos, who gave the expedition provisions and two horses. 65  He was murdered by the members of his expedition, who, after his death, lived among the Caddos. 66 The Europeans brought manufactured goods and traded with the Indians, who had salt and deer hides. The Europeans also brought smallpox, influenza, mumps, and measles. 67 Disease became the number one killer in the tribes.  The Caddos associated water with healing, and in the community on Soda Creek, the tribal members bathed in the water at the first sign of a smallpox outbreak in 1802.  Dr. John Sibley, the Caddo’s first agent, felt this experience caused most of the death.  68

Early explorers found the Caddos behavior for meeting strangers to be one of the most distressing. Men and women began to cry and holler when they new people, and the women also wept when they foresaw an impending death. 69

By the 1690s some of the tribes in Texas had horses and it was not long before horses were introduced into the Red River villages of the Caddos. 70 In the 1690’s missionaries were sent to the Caddos from Mexico, but this only marked the beginning of the hostile relationship between the Caddos and the Spaniards which would go on to last through the 1600’s and 1700’s. The Indians did not accept the missionaries’ teachings, and the soldiers traveling with the missionaries often molested the Indian women. 71 The missionaries deserted their effort in 1693. 72

In 1700 Sieur de Bienville and Louis Juchereau de St. Denis came to northwest Louisiana, where they found the Caddo Indians. 73 St. Denis maintained a friendly relationship with the Indians for the entirety of his life and established a garrisoned fort in 1717. 74 Athanase de Mezieres, French lieutenant governor of the Natchitoches area and the son-in-law of St. Denis, entered the Spanish service after Spain began to rule Louisiana in 1763. He improved the relationships of the Spanish and the Indians by holding a great council of the Caddo tribes in 1770. The chiefs of the Kadohadacho and Yatasi tribes agreed not to furnish arms to the oncoming Comanche, Wichia, Tawakoni, or Kichai tribes and then ceded their lands to Spain. 75

By the late 1700s the tribes began moving closer together. 76 It was about this time that the Caddos established their primary community on the Red River’s banks. The Kadohadachos had migrated from Arkansas to the Caddo Lake area after being forced out of the area by the Osage Indians. 77  The Indians moved the Caddo agency from Grand Ecore to Sulphur Fork, then to Caddo Prairie and finally to Bayou Pierre, occupying the site at the corner of present day Ellerbe and Flournoy Lucas Roads. 78

On June 25 and 26, 1835 about 500 Caddo Indians along with their agent and government representative Jeheil Brooks and interpreter Larkin Edwards gathered at the Caddo Agency on Bayou Pierre.  On July 1, 1835 under the leadership of Tarsher (The Wolf) and Tsauninot (Father of Children) they signed a treaty with the United States, selling about one million acres from the present-day northern Texarkana to Desoto Parish. 79-82 The government was to pay them $10,000 each year for five years along with the $30,000 worth of goods and horses that were to be given immediately after the signing of the treaty; the Indians had the choice of $10,000 in goods or in money.  83

They gave 640 acres to their interpreter Larkin Edwards; this land later became downtown Shreveport. 84 Land was supposedly also given to François Grappe, a French-speaking mulatto, who, with his father Touline Grappe, had traded with the Indians. François was married to a Caddo, and as he had protected the Caddos, they respected him. 85  Brooks bought the land from the Grappe heirs for $6,000, and the Indians protested, saying that Brooks had added a section of land for the Grappes without their knowledge.  The case was taken to the Supreme Court, but in United States v. Jeheil Brooks, he won the title to the Grappe claim. 86 They agreed to leave the United States in one year. 87

Tarsher led his people to the Brazos River in Texas. 88 Under an agreement with the Mexican government many others migrated to Texas; however, before they arrived, Texas became independent. 89 They were invaded by Texan pioneers in a campaign against the Indians in 1838. In a treaty signed in that year in Shreveport, the Caddo Indians agreed to stay in Louisiana until area boundaries were set.  In 1859 they barely escaped a massacre instigated by the whites, and after a forced march of fifteen days, they reached the Wichita Indian Reservation in the Oklahoma Territory. 90 The boundaries of their new homeland were finally set in 1872, and under the Dawes-Severalty Act of 1887, each received 160 acres of land. 91    



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