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Caddo History

The Caddo originated in the lower Mississippi Valley and spread west along the river systems. Sometime between 700 and 800 they settled the area between the Arkansas River and the middle reaches of the Red, Sabine, Angelina, and Neches rivers and adopted agriculture. They grew corn and pumpkins as primary crops which, later combined with beans and squash, stimulated population growth.

The name Caddo derives from a French abbreviation of Kadohadachho (“real chief”). The Caddo people in historic times (after 1535) comprised at least 25 distinct but closely affiliated groups centered at the Great Bend of the Red River and extending into the Piney Woods region.

The Caddo people differ from most other American Indian groups that lived in Texas because of their territorial stability. Settlement and use of lands had great permanence: the Caddo lived and sustained themselves in the same broad forested and well-watered landscape for over 1,000 years.

By the time of contact with Europeans, the Caddo were organized into three kin-based affiliated groups. The Hasinai confederacy (called Cenis by the French and Teyas by the Spanish) occupied between nine and 12 communities in the Neches and Angelina river valley region of East Texas. The Kadohadacho and Natchitoches confederacies lived in the area of the Red River to the north and east in what are now the border regions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.[1]

Late Archaic Period (2000 BC) to Early Woodlawn Period (200 BC)

Atlatl Spear Thrower

The early ancestors of the Caddo were hunter-gatherers, who moved from place to place hunting and trapping wild animals and gathering the seeds, nuts, fruits, and roots of wild plants. Archaic hunters used the atlatl (spear-thrower) and dart to kill their favorite prey, white-tailed deer. By 2,000 B.C., people living not far to the north and east (in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky) began experimenting with gardening. By selecting the best stock, they gradually developed the first domesticated forms of oily and starchy seeded plants such as squash, goosefoot, and sunflower. Some of the Late Archaic groups in the Caddo Homeland may have begun small-scale gardening as well. Part-time gardeners or not, Late Archaic peoples seem to have increased their numbers and put down roots. The intensive harvesting of hardwood nuts, such as hickory and walnut, combined with deer hunting and a host of other food resources, apparently provided enough surplus food for people to begin staying longer at one place.[2]

Late Woodland Period (500 BC) to Mississippian Culture (1500 AD)

Caddoan Pottery

Continuing a pattern begun in Late Archaic times, Woodland-period Caddo ancestors gradually shifted from being mobile hunter-gatherers to increasingly settled villagers who planted domesticated crops to supplement wild foods, a change with profound consequences. With agriculture and settled life came the ability to produce and store surplus food, higher population levels, and the need for new ways of organizing, integrating, and protecting society.

Caddo Weapon (Bow)

The finding of artifacts in graves made of exotic materials from sources hundreds of miles away, shows that Fourche Maline and Mossy Grove peoples living in the Caddo Homeland were linked to other peoples across much of the Eastern Woodlands. In this sort of long-distance trade (down-the-line exchange) the exotic goods were probably given leader to leader to further ritual and social ties, not economic ties. The Woodland period also saw the introduction of pottery making from the Southeast, as well as, around A.D. 500, a new weapon system, the bow and arrow (probably from the Southwest).

Around 800 AD, early Caddo society began to crystallize as one of the earliest Mississippian cultures in the Southeast. Among the many villages, some emerged as ritual centers, special places where religious and political leaders lived. Early ritual centers were places where temples and other special buildings stood, sometimes on top of earthen mounds. Temple and burial mounds were sometimes arranged around open plazas, where the peoples gathered on solemn and festive occasions. During this time, complex religious and social ideas took hold, including the notion that some people and certain lineages (kin groups) were more important than others. Evidence of these changes are seen most clearly in large tombs thought to contain adult male leaders accompanied by retainers or family members sacrificed in their honor and fancy grave offerings including obvious symbols of authority and prestige.

Artist's depiction of building
a Caddo ritual center

By 100 AD, Caddo society can be said to have entered its heyday, an era of unprecedented wealth, population, and prestige that lasted over 600 years and was still underway in A.D. 1542 when Caddo peoples were first encountered by Europeans. The Caddo were the westernmost people of the Mississippian world, an ethnically and politically fragmented realm that stretched eastward to Georgia and northern Florida and as far north as Illinois and Wisconsin.

Holly Fine Engraved bottle from an
Early Caddo tomb at the George C.
Davis site, Cherokee County, Texas

Major Caddo ritual centers in most parts of the Caddo Homeland, especially along the Red River, were the principal places of small, independent societies. The Caddo had developed a distinct pottery tradition and produced extremely fine pottery, no doubt the envy of neighbors far and wide. Overall, the Early Caddo period seems to have been a time of cultural unity during which Caddo groups in many areas did many things the same way such as pottery making and burying their dead.

As Caddo peoples grew more numerous, more and more villages, hamlets, and farmsteads were established throughout the Caddo world. It was at this time that corn became the mainstay crop for most Caddo groups, a change that probably helps explain why Caddo settlements became smaller and more spread out. People lived among their cornfields. At the north end of the Caddo world the site of Spiro on the Arkansas River reached its zenith as an important trading and ritual center sitting strategically at the choke point of a natural transportation route (the Arkansas Valley) between the core of the Mississippian world to the east and the Buffalo Plains to the west. The Middle Caddo period is also a time during which Caddo potters experimented a great deal with different shapes and designs.

Caddo population peaked after A.D. 1400, with Caddo settlements built throughout the Caddo Homeland including many places that had not been settled before. Ritual mound centers seem to have become less important in some areas. By Late Caddo times, instead of broad cultural unity, there are many distinct local traditions, pronounced variations on the theme of being Caddo. The increasing reliance on corn agriculture and high population levels resulted in declining health among Caddo people. The east-west trade brought small quantities of marine shells, turquoise, cotton, and Southwestern pottery to the Caddo Homeland from as far west as the Pacific ocean as well as trade pieces from the Mississippi Valley.[2]

16th Century

The Spanish entrada of Hernando de Soto, led by Luis de Moscoso, passed through Caddo lands in present-day Arkansas and Texas between 1542 and 1543. Once they entered Texas the Spaniards traveled along an aboriginal trail (the Caddo Trace) that extended from the Red River southwest into the heart of East Texas, and connected to other trails (part of El Camino Real) within the Angelina and Neches river basins. As they bumped into Caddo families in the river basins, they found vast differences in corn supply—prosperity or scarcity for communities.[3]

In the late 1600s, the Spanish entered the region from the southwest and the French from the Mississippi Valley. They established missions and trading posts and competed with one another for control over the Caddo domain. Recurring diseases (like smallpox) continued to decimate Caddo populations. Rival Indian groups, now equipped with guns, encroached from the east. Yet this is the very period during which the Caddo entered written history and the period upon which much of our understanding about Caddo life is based. Early chroniclers encountered at least two dozen named, independent Caddo groups, some speaking separate dialects of a common language.[2]

17th Century

The Caddo people lived primarily in small groups, villages were scattered along Red river and its tributaries in what are now Louisiana and Arkansas, and also on the banks of the Sabine, Neches, Trinity, Brazos, and Colorado rivers in east Texas. The Caddo were not the only occupants of this wide territory; other confederacies belonging to the same linguistic family (Caddoan) also resided there. There were still some fragments of older confederacies of the same family, some of which still maintained their separate existence, while others had joined the then powerful Hasínai. These various tribes and confederacies were alternately allies and enemies of the Caddo. The native population was so internally divided that at no time could it have successfully resist the intruding white race. At an early date the Caddo obtained horses from the Spaniards through intermediate tribes; they learned to rear these animals, and traded with them as far north as Illinois River.[1]

Through missions, presidios, ranches, and trading posts, France and Spain laid claim to Caddo land and courted Caddo allegiance. In turn, the Caddo participated in the French fur trade, and they exchanged guns, horses, and other items with Indian groups and Europeans. The resulting economic symbiosis between the Caddo groups and Europeans, as well as the continued political stability of Caddo communities, was key to the political success and strength of Caddo tribes. Exposure to European epidemic diseases led to a Caddo population decline of 75 to 90 percent. The Spanish conducted a strong, unsuccessful effort to Christianize the Caddo. As a self-sufficient nation with their own religion, the Caddo studiously ignored the Spanish.[3]

19th Century

Beginning in the early 1820s, increased Anglo migration into Caddo territory (“land grabs”) impacted the sacred Caddo landscape. Caddo groups were widely scattered across the land in East Texas (including villages on the Red River and in the Neches-Angelina river valleys). Alabama and Coushatta Indians immigrated to Texas and Caddo territory from lands east of the Mississippi River. Caddo settlements now lay well away from El Camino Real de los Tejas. In 1835, Caddo chiefs surrendered their lands within the United States territory in a forced land cession, giving up present-day Caddo Parish, Louisiana and Miller County, Arkansas. Caddo retreated to Texas and Mexico. Texas never recognized any claims to land by the Caddo.[3]

The Hasinai, Natchitoches, and Kadohadacho were forcibly pushed out of East Texas by Anglo settlers. Some moved into Indian Territory, while others traveled west into the upper Brazos River drainage. This was the final and bitter end to the Caddo settlement of their traditional homelands. Texas allowed the US government to set up a reservation for the tribes near present-day Graham, Texas with a lease stipulation that once the land was no longer needed, it was to revert back to the state of Texas.

According to the Caddo Nation in a 2013 statement, the Caddo perspective was that:

...the government did not want us living in the US. It truly was a ‘I don’t care where you go, you just can’t stay here’. The treaty was careful to ensure that the government did not allot any land for those Caddo forced out of Shreveport and the United States. Ancestor Mary Inkanish documented her experience of being removed from Shreveport in a 1927 interview. She explained that when that treaty was signed, her family went down into Mexico. This demonstrated the familiarity Caddos had with Mexico. Why would they go into Mexico first if they didn’t know what to expect? This linked the El Camino Real de los Tejas as the main road used to get there.

For a few years, the Caddo groups made a successful agricultural living in the Brazos River valley; although they were never secure from Anglo encroachments. In 1859 they were again forced to abandon their homes, all the fruits of their labors, and the graves of their kindred. Major Robert S. Neighbors, the US Indian Agent in Texas, led the tribes to the area of present-day Anadarko, Oklahoma along the Washita River valley in Indian Territory. On his return to Fort Belknap, he was shot in the back, brutally murdered because he helped the Indian tribes. The Caddo today commemorate his dedication to them by visiting and cleaning his gravesite.

In 1874, for the first time, the Caddo are recognized as a single tribe or nation, a change brought about by the necessity of dealing with the United States government. On order of the U.S. government, Caddo tribal lands, like those of certain other tribes, were parceled out to each adult Caddo, 160 acres each. White settlers were given everything left over (most of the Caddo land). This was a deliberate strategy intended to seize more Indian lands and prevent tribes from reorganizing and to force Indian peoples to assimilate into American society.

Famous Caddo

At the top of Caddo society were religious and political leaders who held inherited positions. These positions were normally held by men, but a few female leaders are known from historic accounts and in some high-status prehistoric tombs the principal individuals appear to have been women. Among the Hasinai groups, the xinesi (pronounced chenesi, meaning Mr. Moon) inherited the position of spiritual leadership (head priest) and served all of the allied communities. Each community had a caddi or principal headman (civil chief), a rank that was also inherited from father to son, as well as a group of village elders known as canahas. In consultation with the canahas, the caddi was primarily responsible for making the important political decisions for the community, sponsoring major ceremonies of a diplomatic nature, leading councils for war/raiding expeditions, and conducting the calumet (or peace pipe) ceremony with important visitors to the communities. The tammas were subordinate "enforcers" who made sure the caddi's decisions were obeyed and that people behaved properly.

  • Tommy Wayne Cannon (September 27, 1946–May 8, 1978) - An important Native American artist of the 20th century. An enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe with Caddo and French descent, he was popularly known as T.C. Cannon.
  • LaRue Parker - Former tribal chairperson Jereldine "Jeri" Redcorn, aka Bah-ha Nutte, (meaning "River Woman) (born 1939-) - A Caddo-Potawatomi artist who single-handedly revived traditional Caddo pottery.
  • John Wilson (1840-1901) - Caddo Peyote roadman José Maria, aka Iesh (Aasch) - Chief or caddice, as the Caddo people called their principal leader - of the Anadarko (Nadaco) from about 1842 to 1862, who rose to become principal chief of all the Caddo during the mid-1800s. He led the Caddo from the short-lived Brazos Reserve in Texas to the Indian Territory in 1859.
  • Sho-We-Tit (Billy Thomas) - A Caddo man photographed by Joseph Dixon on June 21, 1913 at Anadarko, Oklahoma. Tinhiouen - Kadohadachos Chief from 1760 to 1789. *Dehahuit - Kadohadachos Chief from 1800-1833.
  • Whitebread - Caddo chief (caddi) from 1902-1913.
  • Bar-Zin-Debar (Tall Man) - Sho-e-tat (Little Boy) aka George Washington (1816-1883) - Louisiana Caddo leader of the Whitebread Caddos. Appointed to the rank of major and in command of two-companies designated to protect peaceful Indian settlements from marauding Comanches. He played both sides of the fence, and bootlegged weapons to the wild Indians for more than 10 years.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 TBH Web Team. Caddo Fundamentals. Texas Beyond History.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 National Trails Intermountain Region. European Influence and Interaction. National Park Service; US Department of the Interior.
  4. Famous Caddo. AAANativeArts.

See Also:

  • Bolton, Herbert E. 1987 The Hasinais: Southern Caddoans as seen by the Earliest Europeans. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
  • Carter, Cecile E. 1995 Caddo Indians: Where We Come From. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
  • Gregory, Hiram F. (editor) 1986 The Southern Caddo: An Anthology. Garland Publishing, New York.
  • Griffith, William J. 1954 The Hasinai Indians of East Texas as Seen by Europeans, 1687-1772. Philological and Documentary Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3. Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, New Orleans.
  • Lavere, David L. 1998 The Caddo Chiefdoms: Caddo Economics and Politics,1700-1835. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.
  • Newkumet, Vynola Beaver and Howard L. Meredith 1988 Hasinai: A Traditional History of the Caddo Confederacy. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
  • Parsons, Elsie C. 1941 Notes on the Caddo. Memoir 57. American Anthropological Association, Washington D.C.
  • Smith F. Todd. 1995 The Caddo Indians: Tribes at the Convergence of Empires, 1542-1854. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
  • 1996 The Wichita and Caddo Indians—Relations with the U.S., 1846-1901. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.
  • Webb, Clarence H. and Hiram F. Gregory. 1986 The Caddo Indians of Louisiana. 2nd Edition. Anthropological Study 2. Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission, Baton Rouge.
  • Krieger, Alex D. 1946 Culture Complexes and Chronology in Northern Texas, with Extensions of Puebloan Datings to the Mississippi Valley. Publication No. 4640. The University of Texas, Austin.
  • Perttula, Timmothy K. 1992 "The Caddo Nation": Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Perspectives. University of Texas Press, Austin.
  • 2004 The Prehistoric and Caddoan Archeology of the Northeastern Texas Pineywoods, in The Prehistory of Texas, p. 370-407, edited by Timothy K Perttula, Texas A&M University Press.
  • Perttula, Timmothy K., Ann M. Early, Lois E. Albert, and Jeffery Girard. 2006 Caddoan Bibliography, updated edition. Arkansas Archeological Survey Technical Paper 10, Fayetteville.
  • Moore, C. B. 1912 Some Aboriginal Sites on Red River. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 14(4):526-636.
  • Webb, Clarence H. 1959 The Belcher Mound, A Stratified Caddoan Site in Caddo Parish, Louisiana. Memoirs No. 16. Soceity for American Archeology, Salt Lake City.

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