The Caddo homelands featured mainly pine forests punctuated by open prairies.
They were an agricultural people who relied on the Red Deer, bear, turkey, turtles,
and the occasional bison constituted their main sources of meat.
Their culture was matrilineal - all families traced through the mother's line - but for
the most part, their leadership was male. Each village had a xinsei, a revered
religious man and keeper of the fire, and this role was handed down through family
lines. The village leader was called the caddi, and a small but powerful noble class
made up the rest of the village councils. Men's work was mainly warfare, hunting,
bow making, and trading expeditions; older men who could no longer participate in
these activities may have held advisory roles or worked alongside the women.
Women could also occupy leadership and advisory roles, and a number of European
chroniclers mentioned female caddi. Women of child-bearing age organized village
life in the form of building houses, rearing children, and manufacturing export trade
items, including tanned hides, pottery and tools. The women held a lot of power
inside their families. They were responsible for all points of food production
including the dissemination of foods. They also conducted trade and practiced
religious rituals, such as burial traditions. Women also participated in warfare as the
"second line:" they meted out torture and punishments to captives.
The Caddoans didn't practice any rites that are associated with patriarchal cultures,
such as wedding ceremonies. The nobility held arranged marriages, but average men
and women were free to choose the partner they desired, and free to leave them, too.
Marriage was not considered binding because the children, inherently, belonged to
the mother. European observers would use their own bias to determine that Indian
women were thus loose on morals, much to the detriment of women held captive by
the Caddos. When the French began trading guns with Caddo men, captive women
were trafficked as trading commodities.
Like their distant cousins, the Wichitas, the people of the Caddoan language tribes
tattooed their bodies by rubbing charcoals into the decorative gashes carved into
their skins. Both men and women engaged in this beautification practice; they also
exhibited piercings through their septum. Men's hair styles consisted of a modified
"mohawk," whereas women's hair was long, parted in the center, and tied at the nape.
The tribes affiliated with the Caddo language are often labeled as a "confederation."
Scholars have identified three confederations of people who had the Caddo language
in common: the Kaddahadacho along the Great Bend Region of the Red River; the
Hasinais between the Sabine and the Trinity rivers; and the Natchitoches along the
Red River in central Louisiana. Every once in a while, these kinship groups held
multi-tribal councils on important issues that affected their well-being, not unlike the
Iroquois in the Great Lakes region. This points to the apt term "confederacy" in that
the villages acted independently to a point, but found common ground in larger
issues. For example, Caddoan villages tended to not conduct warfare against each
other but led concerted efforts against the invading Osages. They also shared
common salt mines and bow-making operations, and at times went on trading
Bow-making was a Caddo specialty. They were known throughout the western
Mississippi for their strong but flexible bows made of Bois d'Arc (aka Osage Orange).
Bois d'Arc is a hardwood that predominantly grows in the Cross Timbers along the
Red, Canadian, and Arkansas rivers.
Europeans invade and trade
profoundly. Henri Joutel, who led an expedition to the Kaddahadacho on the Red
River after Sieur de la Salle was killed, noted that the women held the primary trading
power in the villages. Joutel had brought with him a number of glass beads to trade
for food; these glass beads became prized by the Caddos, who used them to
decorate their dresses - the more elaborate and intricate the design, the more power
the woman and her family wielded. The Caddos were especially fond of blue trade
beads. However, upon establishing the gun trade with the French (the Spanish
outlawed gun trade with tribes), trading power shifted to the Caddo men, who also
traded furs and hides for commercial rather than locally-made products. This meant
that the pottery for which the Caddos were known became a relic of their past in
exchange for European-made goods.
The trade with the French helped the Caddos to flourish relatively well in the early
European period. They continued their traditional practices of mound burials while
also establishing trade in French posts at Natchitoches and along the middle Red
River at the Nasonite village (Great Bend region or in today's Bowie County, Texas).
At the same time, the Spanish built a counterpoint to the Natchitoches village at the
Adaes village in 1716. When the Spanish took over control of Louisiana Territory in
1763, the Caddos rebelled; they had recognized that the Spanish forced Indians to
remain inside the missions to be put to work as slave labor. Instead of asserting war,
the Spanish sent French envoys, such as Athanase de Mezieres, to seek amenity with
the Caddos as well as the Wichitas. The Spanish gave away presents and other
tokens to the tribe; this helped to keep the Red River Valley a relatively peaceful
place for the time being.
When the Americans bought Louisiana in 1803, the Caddos did not initially react
with hostility. By this period, tribal populations had been people from areas east of
the Mississippi River whom the Americans were pushing out, such as the
Coushattas - they lived with the government) attempted to forge good relationships
by providing guides to the Peter Custis and Thomas Freeman in 1806, when they
were charged by Thomas Jefferson to explore the Red River. The Sulphur River
Indian Factory, frequented by Indian Agent Dr. John Sibley, was established at the
confluence of the Sulphur and Red rivers (today, southwestern Arkansas) to further
negotiate peaceful relationships, and Fort Claiborne in Natchitoches, established in
1804, became a gathering point. Though the Caddos had been somewhat placated by
grand speeches made by Americans and presents given to them, they also
recognized that the influx of settlers to the newly acquired territory was squeezing
them out of their own homelands. To avoid war and frontier massacres, the U.S.
established Fort Jesup in 1822 and Fort Towson in 1824 - but American settlers,
Osages, and tribes that had been pushed out of their own homelands crowded the
Red River Valley. The U.S. urged Caddo removal.
Population loss, warfare, and Anglo hostility against Indians convinced the Caddo
tribe to do just that. In 1835, the Caddo tribe decided to sell their remaining land to
the United States. Mexico enticed them with land grants in Mexican Texas, as it had
done with the Cherokees, Shawnees, and Delawares. Because the government
realized that the Indians could not pay the fees for the land grants, letters written by
envoys suggest that the tribes act as "colonists." This meant that the Mexican land
grants were predicated on the idea that the Caddos would be "buffers” between the
Anglo Americans, who had been illegally claiming to Mexican lands in northeastern
Texas, and the Mexican army. Therefore, all land designated for tribes by Mexico was
The land promised to the Caddos lay between the Red and Sabine Rivers. White
settlers in Louisiana claimed that this land was theirs. After re-surveys, the Supreme
Court held the same view, and the Caddos were expelled. Some members of the tribe
found homes along the Great Raft. Others still lived in Texas, but once Texas became
a Republic, its government requested that the U.S. prohibit the Caddos from moving
to Texas. Texans believed Caddos were agents for the Mexicans and accused them of
committing depredations. Under President Mirabeau Lamar, the Republic waged a war
of extermination on the Caddos who lived in Texas, even burning their villages. Texas
did not honor any lands claimed by Indians at all except to the Coushattas from
Alabama, who had been able to pay their grant fees, held title, and sued to keep their
lands near the Big Thicket in Deep East Texas .
Between 1836 and 1844, the Caddos, now homeless and stateless, lived in small
pockets along the Red River and endured raids from white settlements, and in return
retaliated. Peace with the Texans finally came at the Treaty of Bird's Fort in 1844,
championed by President Sam Houston. This peace did not last long, either. In 1845,
Texas became a state in the United States, and the U.S. re-negotiated the treaty to
place the Caddos and Wichita tribes in a reservation near Fort Belknap in Young
County in 1854. Surrounding the Brazos Indian Reservation were a number of Indian-
hating white men, who waged war under false pretenses against the tribes. Ultimately,
the United States dissolved the reservation, and the few hundred Caddoans who
remained re-settled at Fort Cobb near Anadarko, Indian Territory with their Wichita
Today, the Caddos are organized as a nation, with their headquarters located in
Binger, Oklahoma. Their new homeland is very different from their ancestral territory:
a windswept prairie west of Oklahoma City and not along or near any major river.
Here, they maintain their language and cultural practices and have increased their
census numbers, but it is still a very small tribe compared to their numbers before
European invasion. Their rich history and legacy are reminders to pay heed to the and
reverence to the forebears of the Red River Valley.
|This may be the only photograph to depict a traditional Caddoan village
set-up before reservation life profoundly changed their living standards.
The original homelands of the Caddos consist of the Red River Valley from
southeastern Oklahoma to Natchitoches, Louisiana. Beyond Natchitoches to the
Mississippi River confluence, tribes that claimed allegiance, kinship, or relationships
to the Natchez and Choctaws (whose principal settlements were east of the
Mississippi River) occupied the lands.
Caddoans stem from the Hopewell/ Mississippian Cultures of the ceremonial
complex period. The Hopwell Culture lived along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and
built massive fortified cities with earthen pyramid mounds. Through trade, religion,
manufacturing, and traditions, these cities influenced, the people living along the
tributaries of these major rivers. In Louisiana, the Marksville Culture was a part of the
Hopewell Culture - prominent sites like the Marksville Complex and Poverty Point
Complex were the ancestral homes for the Caddos. Spiro (near Heavener, Oklahoma)
along the Arkansas River and Belcher (near Belcher, Louisiana) on the Red River
were major cities for the Caddoans before de-centralization occurred.
De-centralization refers to the period when many Native American tribes separated
from the bigger civilizations to live individually in clan-centric villages. There is
currently no consensus on why the people, like the Caddos, de-centralized.
One of the most important pre-historic sites in the U.S., Spiro has been plundered by
grave thieves but its burial mounds still offer an incredible window into the lives of
native Americans before de-centralization: underground burial preparation chambers,
trade goods that ranged from the Caribbean and Mexico and Canada, copper and
bronze decorative plating, baskets of pearls, and pottery and totems from around
After de-centralization, power rested within villages comprised of familial clans. They
still maintained their traditions, such as mound burials, but these were no longer
inside the cities but concentrated within their villages.
|Excavation of an important
Caddo site in Bowie County
along the Red River revealed
important artifacts; pottery,
trade beads, trade goods, and
totems. This dig was
undertaken with funding and
labor by the Works Progress
Administration in the 1930s.
Very few massive
have since been given the
go-ahead. The Red River
Valley is one of modern
under-researched areas. (LOC)
|Simple tools and
uncovered at a mound
in Arkansas during
the 1960s (Arkansas
|The first European depiction of a
Caddo village was done in 1691 by
the Teran expedition to the Red
River. Note how the homes are
located inside "compounds"
surrounded by corn fields. The
villages are not centralized, but
instead line the Red River. These
compounds crowded the river in
Arkansas so much that the Great
Bend region was called "Mound
City" by early American settlers. A
copy of the original map (the
original has been lost) resides in
the Archives of the New World in
Seville, Spain. This portion is
from Texas Beyond History.
|The Caddo Village that
was purposely burned
by Texans in 1836 is
noted on this 1841 map
by John Arrowsmith,
heavily annotated by