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Caddo Life: Society and Economy

Caddo village scene
Caddo village scene about 900 years ago (A.D. 1100) as envisioned by artist George S. Nelson. This scene is based on archeological details from the George C. Davis site in east Texas and on early historic accounts. Courtesy of the artist and the Institute of Texan Cultures, the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Caddo village scene
Artist Ed Martin's depiction of a Caddo village scene similar to those witnessed by Henri Joutel in 1687. Courtesy Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Click images to enlarge  

modern Caddo crafts
Modern Caddo crafts including women's moccasins made by Wildena Moffer, gourd peyote rattles made by Wilbur "Lefty" Williams, and stick game pieces (also made by Williams). Photo by Danya Bowker Lee.
Frances Cussen Kodaseet
Francis Cussen Kodaseet taking part in the Turkey Dance. She carries the cane staff given to the Caddo by the Spanish in the late 1700s or early 1800s. Equivalent symbols of authority were used by Caddo ancestors for at least 800 years. Photo by Dayna Bowker Lee.
painting of Acee Blue Eagle
Painting by the famous Creek-Pawnee artist, Acee Blue Eagle depicting a story about Hi-Chah, a young Caddo boy that was written by Carol Dorman. The story was published in her book Southern Indian Boy (1967). Carol Dorman Collection, Watson Library, Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, Louisiana.
seed picking
Artist Terry Russell's depiction of Caddo woman and her child collecting seeds from goosefoot (Chenopodium sp.), one of the starchy seed crops domesticated in the Eastern Woodlands by 1500 B.C. Drawing courtesy of the Arkansas Archeological Survey.

Painting a picture of Caddo life requires us to try and freeze a moment in time as if we were there. For the scene above, the artist depicted a moment about 900 years ago at the height of one of the ancient Caddo sites archeologists know the most about. But what moment should we choose here, for a verbal sketch? Caddo life changed in countless ways throughout the Caddo Homeland over the long march of Caddo history. Therefore we need to employ anthropology's favorite descriptive device: the concept of the ethnographic present. We will try to describe what Caddo life was like about 400 years ago, at the end of the 17th century (late 1600s), based mainly on the accounts of early Spanish and French observers. We choose this particular time as the ethnographic present because this is the earliest period for which we have detailed eyewitness descriptions as well as the latest period during which Caddo society was still intact and relatively unchanged by European contact.

"Relatively unchanged by European contact?" Yes, compared to only a few years later when the invaders' epidemics, guns, and horses brought about swift and often terrible changes in Caddo life. The fact that the French saw peach orchards and watermelon patches at Caddo sites in the 1680s shows that Caddo life had already changed as a consequence of the arrival in the New World of peoples and plants from the Old World brought by Spanish colonists. It is thought that the first epidemics of Old World diseases, to which New World peoples had no immunity, spread widely and cruelly across the densely settled Eastern Woodlands before Europeans ever visited most areas. During the succeeding centuries of European colonization, wave after wave of Old World diseases swept across native North America. It has been estimated that Caddo population may have fallen by as much as 95% between 1691 and 1816, a catastrophic change few human societies have survived. So we choose the late 17th century as our main window on Caddo life, mindful that the lives of generations before and after may have been quite different.

Early Spanish and French accounts mainly describe the Hasinai groups living in the southwestern part of the Caddo Homeland in what is today east Texas. Far less is known about the Cadohadacho-allied groups and even less about others elsewhere in the Caddo Homeland. If we had comparable accounts for all Caddo groups, we would probably be struck by the differences across the Caddo world as much or more than the similarities. Some of these suspected (and known) differences relate to the environmental differences across the region, while others are cultural differences reflecting each group's own history and customs and the influence of their nearest and most influential non-Caddo neighbors. For instance, Caddo groups living along Red River below the Great Raft interacted with lower Mississippi Valley peoples living a day's canoe trip downstream. In contrast, Red River Caddos living upstream from the Great Bend near the western edge of the homeland traded with Arkansas Valley peoples as well as neighboring Plains tribes (with whom they sometimes fought). With these factors in mind, we will mention geographical variations glimpsed from available documents as well as make brief references to earlier and later periods to point out a few of the more important changes through time.

Caddo Society

Like other aspects of Caddo life, Caddo society changed through time. During the historic era in particular, Caddo society was radically transformed by the chain of events initiated by the European invasion. Even before Europeans arrived, there is no reason at all to think that Caddo society was uniform across the Caddo Homeland at any point in time. Nonetheless, early Spanish visitors noticed more commonalities than differences among the Caddo groups they visited. They were struck by the highly organized and civilized society of the Caddo, especially in comparison to the smaller scale hunting and gathering groups they encountered elsewhere in Texas. Unlike some of the tribes living in fortified towns along the lower Mississippi and elsewhere in the Southeast with whom the Spanish had fought bloody battles, the Caddo lived in sprawling, unfortified communities.

Caddo society was made up of independent named groups sometimes called tribes or nations by the early Europeans. Each was comprised of a principal community or village (groups were known by the name of the principal village) and various affiliated communities. The communities were made up of villages, hamlets, and farmsteads. Nearby villages and hamlets belonged to the same community. Typically the affiliated communities shared a section of a river valley and adjacent uplands and were within a day's walk from one another. The normal settlement pattern was dispersed (spread out), but nucleated (tightly clustered) villages and hamlets also existed.

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.

The Caddo people looked to the xinesi for mediation and communication with their principal god, the Caddi Ayo, for religious leadership and decision-making influence, and in leading certain special rites, including the first-fruit or green corn rituals, harvest, and naming ceremonies. In essence, the xinesi connected Caddo life to the supernatural realm. In return, community members provided for the xinesi's needs in terms of food and shelter. At a less exalted level, each community had various lesser priests as well as connas (medicine men) who cured sickness and carried out daily rituals.

Caddo peoples traced descent through the maternal (mother's) line, as was still reflected by kinship terms recorded as late as the early 1900s. They also recognized clans, kinship groups that traced their heritage to a common ancestor through the female line. The clans were named after an animal (e.g., bison, bear, raccoon) or celestial phenomena (sun, thunder) and were ranked, some clans having a higher social status than others. Presumably the leaders were members of the highest ranked clans. Marriage typically occurred between members of different clans. Beyond these meager characterizations, the Caddo kinship system remains poorly understood in comparison to that of some tribes because many elements of it were drastically altered during the tumultuous historic period.

The Caddo society described by Henri Joutel, Fray Casañas and other early observers in the late 17th century was not all individualistic, it was communal, an integrated whole woven together and tightly bound by kinship, custom, and expectation. Each Caddo lived life according to the expectations and traditions of her/his community. The roles of men and women, girls and boys were defined by age, sex, and kin group. Group solidarity was reinforced by shared activities—building houses, planting and harvesting crops, feasts, dances, and rituals.

bison in the woodlands
Although the bison (buffalo) is known as a Plains animal, some bison were adapted to the woodlands and ranged into at least the western part of the Caddo Homeland. When the southern Plains herds ranged into the prairies west of the Caddo Homeland, Caddo hunting parties sought them out. After Caddo groups acquired horses in the late 17th century, bison hunting became more frequent. Still, bison hunting was not a core part of Caddo culture and bison do not figure prominently in Caddo mythology. Photograph by Cecile Carter.
Caddo settlement
Artist Ed Martin's depiction of a dispersed Caddo settlement in what is today southwestern Arkansas. Caddo settlements sometimes stretched for miles along major streams and rivers. Each extended family had its own compound with one or several houses, and various granaries (raised storage bins) and shade arbors where people worked outside. Courtesy Arkansas Archeological Survey.
Caddo farmstead
Artist Ed Martin's depiction of a Caddo farmstead in northeastern part of the Caddo Homeland. All of the details are based on archeological and historical evidence. Courtesy Arkansas Archeological Survey, catalog #HSU-2967.
Grand Xinesi
Grand Xinesi (pronounced chenesi, meaning Mr. Moon), head religious leader of the Hasinai alliance. Painting by Reeda Peel, based on descriptions by Spanish explorers in the late 1600s. Courtesy of the artist.
Caddo archers
Caddo archers, ca. 1920. Identified on back from right to left as Tillman Murrow, Stanley Edge, and Ralph Murrow. Stanley Edge appears to using a bow made of bois d'arc. Courtesy Marilyn Murrow.
Chief Long Hat's family
Famous photograph of Chief Long Hat's family compound near Binger, Oklahoma taken around 1870 by William Soule. Many of the construction details match those described in Spanish and French accounts dating to the late 1600s as well as archeological patterns dating hundreds of years earlier. Courtesy Smithsonian Institution.
"Among the seed which the Indians plant at the proper season, is corn of two kinds, which they plant in abundance. One kind matures in a month and a half and the other in three months."
-Spanish priest Fray Casañas, 1691.
beans
Dried beans in an ancient Caddo bowl. The Caddo grew five or six varieties of beans according to Fray Casaņas, a Spanish priest who lived among the Hasinai Caddo in 1691. Photo by Frank Schambach.
white-tailed deer
White-tailed deer were the favored prey for Caddo hunters and the main source of meat throughout Caddo history. Deer hunts were preceded by special ceremonies involving deer heads and skins. Courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
persimmon tree
The American persimmon tree, Diospyros virginiana, grows in much of the Eastern United States including the Caddo Homeland. Its astringent fruit ripens in the fall and becomes sweet and quite delicious when fully ripe and after the first frost. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
turtle
Soft-shelled turtles and other aquatic critters and fish were part of the diet of those Caddos lived near rivers and larger streams. Courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife.
sunflowers
Sunflowers were an important seed crop and one of the plants domesticated in the Eastern United states. Early Spanish explorers were surprised by the size of the giant sunflower heads the Caddo grew. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
pumpkin
Pumpkins were grown and savored by the Caddo and their Wichita cousins. Like their close relative, the winter squash, pumpkins were cut into strips and dried. The strips were woven into crude mats for easy transportation and storage. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
salt-making scene
Artist Ed Martin's depiction of salt-making scene based on historic accounts and archeological evidence from the Ouachita Valley in Arkansas. Caddo groups who lived near natural seeps of highly salty water called salines collected the salt by evaporating the water. In 1700, French explorers encountered Ouachita Caddos paddling canoes laden with salt on the lower Red River on their way to trade with the Taensa people living in the lower Mississppi Valley. Courtesy Arkansas Archeological Survey.
bois d'arc tree
Bois d'arc or Osage orange tree in late fall. Its fruits are inedible to humans and most animals but horses love them, hence the name "horse apple." According to evolutionary biologists, only a small relic population of Bois d'arc trees survived after the end of the last Ice Age. The tree doesn't compete well with other trees and it needs large herbivores like horses or mammoths to spread the seeds. When Europeans reintroduced horses to North America in the 16th century, the tree spread quickly aided by farming practices. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
dugout canoe
This Caddo dugout canoe was found washing out of the base of a steep bluff on the Red River in northwest Louisiana. It has been radiocarbon dated to about A.D. 1000. Photo by Frank Schambach.
cermic pipe bowls
Late Caddo ceramic pipe bowls from the A.C. Saunders site in northeast Texas. Wooden or bone stems were added to such pipe bowls. Tobacco was grown by the Caddo and was used in both ritual and ordinary settings. The Caddo greeted early Spanish and French visitors with the calumet or smoking-pipe ceremony as was common among many Southeast and Plains groups. TARL archives.
fan
This hawk wing and peacock feather dance fan is a modern example of a very old Caddo tradition—the making of ritual and dance paraphernalia. Maker unknown, c. 1970, in the Claude Medford, Jr., Collection., Williamson Museum, Northwestern State University, Nachitoches. Photo by Dayna Bowker Lee.
Yucatac hut
This thatched hut in the Yucatan of Mexico was constructed using traditional techniques very similar to those used by Caddo groups in the northern Caddo Homeland. Photo by Frank Schambach.

Caddo Economy

The first Spanish and French visitors to the Caddo Homeland encountered thriving communities whose livelihood was based on farming, hunting, gathering, and trade. Archeological evidence indicates that a mixed economy was characteristic of Caddo ancestors for at least a thousand years, probably much longer. Most accounts of Caddo life emphasize agriculture and rightly so because farming provided much of the dependable food supply upon which village life depended. The central role played by farming also helps explain why Caddo settlements characteristically were scattered and spread out—the Caddo lived among their fields and gardens.

In historic times, corn (also called maize) was the mainstay crop. The Caddo grew several varieties of corn including "little" corn that ripened in the summer and "flour" or "great" corn that ripened in the fall. Corn was dried on the cob and stored in raised granaries to keep it dry and protected from rodents. The Spanish noticed that the Caddo always saved their best corn for seed and hung the seed corn cobs high inside their houses where it would not be touched except for planting, no matter how little food was available. Corn also figured prominently in the annual ritual cycle with planting ceremonies, first-fruit or green corn ceremonies, and harvest rites. Successful fall harvests occasioned major festivals at the principal villages. These drew kinfolk and allies near and far for several-day celebration of Caddo life: feasting, tobacco-smoking, black-tea-drinking, dancing, trading, negotiating, courtship, and more.

Other important crops included beans (five or six varieties according to Fray Casañas, the Spanish priest who lived among the Hasinai in 1691), squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, and various lesser-known domesticated plants including goosefoot (Chenopodium sp.). The Caddo quickly adopted crops introduced by the Europeans, including watermelon and peaches. Tobacco was another important crop required for ritual use. Women did most of the farming and all of the food preparation, although men did some heavy work such as clearing fields and helped at critical times such as harvest. Farming was also very much a communal activity. Fields were owned by the community and families were assigned specific plots by the tammas. Planting and harvesting were community projects that moved from plot to plot beginning with that of the xinesi and moving down the social ladder until each family plot had been reached.

Wild plants, game, and fish were also vital food resources. Wild plants included nuts (hickory, walnut, acorn, and pecan), berries, plums, persimmon, grapes, and various seed plants, just to name a few. Throughout most of Caddo history, the favorite game animal hunted by Caddo men was the white-tailed deer. Deer provided most of the meat as well as hides, antlers, sinew, and bones for tools and clothing. Deer also figured prominently in Caddo dance and symbolism. Buffalo were hunted on extended trips west or northwest out onto the prairie-plains, but were not an important food source until after the late 17th century after the Caddo acquired horses. Turkeys, rabbits, and various other small animals and birds were hunted and snared. Caddo living along productive waters caught fish, turtles, and other aquatic species. Bear were hunted for food, fur, and especially for their fat, which served many useful purposes and was traded to the French.

Three factors seem to underlie the long-term success of the Caddo economy: diverse natural resources, well-developed food processing and storage technologies, and the ready adoption of new crops from their neighbors and trading partners. Caddo peoples relied on many different wild and cultivated food resources, of which only a few have been mentioned. These changed in importance from place to place and with the seasons, the vagaries of rainfall, and through time. When crops failed, the Caddo turned to wild plant foods that had been used for generations.

They had many ways of storing food to get them through the annual low point in resource availability: winter and early spring. They dried corn, beans, pumpkins, wild fruits, and deer meat. They smoked fish and other meats. They built raised and tightly sealed granaries to keep their corn supplies dry and vermin-free. Along the Red River west of the Great Bend, some Caddo groups used underground storage pits similar to those used by their Plains neighbors. From river cane and certain barks and grasses, Caddo women wove baskets and trays large and small, tight or loose; some for storage, others for winnowing and sieving. Out of clay they created all manner of ceramic cooking, storage, and serving containers. Bear fat, for instance, was rendered and stored in clay pots. Through such methods the Caddo survived thick times and thin.

Agriculture was central to Caddo life when Caddo communities were first visited by Europeans, but this wasn't always the case. Early Caddo ancestors were hunters, gatherers, and fishers, living off the land. By 2,000 years ago, if not well before, ancestral Caddo groups began to cultivate the starchy and oily seeded plants that had been domesticated in the Eastern Woodlands by about 2000 B.C. We aren't certain when this happened because few plant remains of any sort have been recovered from the excavated Woodland sites in the Caddo Homeland. But there is little reason to doubt that native crops, including goosefoot, marsh elder, squash, and possibly sunflower, were adopted early on by the Caddo.

At first these native seed plants would have been mere supplements to hunting and gathering, but along with gardening comes the requirement of returning to fixed places to plant, harvest, process, and store. The native seed crops were probably sown broadly in minimally cleared plots and allowed to compete with weeds. The real labor was in the harvest and processing; only the sunflower had compact durable seed heads. Goosefoot and marsh elder had small seeds and friable seed heads. All had to be carefully cleaned and separated from the stalks and chaff. These native seeds tasted bland and were probably prepared mainly in stews and gruels. Gradually, farming became more important, but was probably still secondary to hunting and gathering for centuries. Even though early farming must have provided only a small, labor-intensive part of the diet, the ability to produce this extra food and the requirement to stay nearby while it grew may have been the critical factors that led to increasingly settled village life.

Later, we aren't sure exactly when, the Caddo adopted a tropical plant that had been domesticated in Mesoamerica and already adopted by farming peoples in the American Southwest: corn. Corn first appears at Caddo sites around A.D. 800, but may not have become a mainstay of the economies of most groups until after A.D. 1100. The reason for this lag is unknown, but a similar pattern occurred elsewhere in the Southeast, including the lower Mississippi valley. By 800 years ago (A.D. 1200), the Caddo were big-time corn farmers who also grew squash/pumpkins, beans, sunflowers, and various other crops.

Corn had to be planted seed by seed in individual holes and required greater effort to clear the land, keep it weeded, and fend off animals and birds. But the payoff came at harvest time when whole stalks could be broken off and gathered quickly, each containing one or two fat seed heads (cobs). (Corn was harvested stalks and all because the stalks were useful fuel for cooking fires.) Compared to the native seed crops, corn required minimal cleaning and processing and, once dried, could be readily stored without husking or stripping.

Perhaps even more important was the fact that corn tasted sweet and flavorful, and it could be prepared in many more ways than the native crops: raw, parched, roasted, steamed, boiled, ground into flour, and more. Small wonder that corn became the economic lynchpin of Caddo life, celebrated in song and ritual, and symbolically linked to the sun, the giver of life. There was a downside; eating lots of corn caused a noticeable increase in caries (cavities).

Trade was also an important part of the Caddo economy, at least in historic times. Caddo groups traded resources found within the Caddo Homeland among each other and to outside groups. The best-known Caddo trade goods were bois d'arc wood and salt. Salt was obtained in various places in the Caddo Homeland where saltwater springs or seeps were present. Caddo salt workers concentrated the salt brine by evaporation and boiling in heavy pottery pans and then traded the dried salt to groups elsewhere. For instance, in the spring of 1700, French explorers encountered Ouachita Caddos paddling canoes laden with salt along lower Red River, on their way to trade with Taensa peoples living along the Mississippi.

Bois d'arc (Osage orange) bow wood blanks and finished bows from the Caddo Homeland were traded for hundreds of miles east and west. Bois d'arc is the best bow wood found east of the Rockies and the Cadohadacho groups may have had a monopoly on it. By late prehistoric times the natural range of bois d'arc apparently was restricted mainly to a small area along and south of Red River valley, just upstream from Texarkana.

Bois d'arc does not grow well among other trees and evolved to rely on large herbivores like horses or mammoths to spread its seeds to open areas; most other species, including humans, find the horse apple, as its fruit is known, inedible. At the end of the last Ice Age about 12,000 years ago, horses and mammoths became extinct in North America, leaving the bois d'arc without a natural means of spreading. By the time Europeans arrived, the main remnant bois d'arc population grew within the western Caddo Homeland at the edge of the Blackland Prairie. The reintroduction of horses and Anglo-American farming practices allowed the bois d'arc to spread quickly over a wide area of the south-central U.S. Farmers planted bois d'arc along fence rows, were it is still principally found today.

The role of the bow-wood trade in Caddo history has recently become the subject of debate. Arkansas archeologist Frank Schambach has put forth the intriguing argument that, prior to the historic period, the bow-wood trade was controlled by Mississippian traders (ancestral Tunica) from Spiro who established trading posts within the Caddo Homeland. The idea that foreign, non-Caddo intruders controlled enclaves within Caddo territory, such as the Sanders site on the Red River in Lamar County, has not been accepted by many Caddo scholars (nor by the Caddo Nation). For instance, the state archeologists of both Arkansas (Ann Early) and Oklahoma (Robert Brooks) have taken issue with Schambach's argument. This controversial interpretation and arguments pro and con will be the subject of a future exhibit on Texas Beyond History.

Regardless of who controlled the bow-wood trade, trade may well have played a greater role in Caddo history than has been recognized. The Caddo Homeland is, after all, located between the Southeast and the Plains as well as the Southwest, three major culture areas and ecological zones with very different natural resources. Dried buffalo meat and buffalo hides from the Plains were traded widely in early historic times, as were salt, bow wood, and artifacts made of Gulf of Mexico shells from the Southeast, as well as cotton, turquoise, and shell artifacts from the Gulf of California from the Southwest. The spectacular wealth entombed in the Craig Mound at Spiro (about A.D. 1350-1450) is almost certainly a product of an earlier east-west trade system and there are many reasons to suspect that the Caddo groups to the south were also major players, particularly in the centuries following the demise of Spiro as a major center. In the early 18th century, the French quickly enlisted the Caddo as trading partners to take advantage of their strategic position and established reputation as trustworthy middlemen.

Caddo Ritual and Religion

In the late 17th century the Hasinai were said to believe in a supreme god called the Caddi Ayo or Ayo-Caddi-Aymay, sometimes translated as "captain of the sky." The Caddi Ayo was believed to be the creator of all things and was held in great deference. The natural world of the Caddo was, however, inhabited by many other kinds of spirits including those personified by animals, places, and forces of nature. The Caddo followed many ritual practices in order to keep things right in their world. Matters religious were organized in a hierarchal fashion parallel to those that ordered society.

The xinesi or head priest lived in a special precinct within the Hainai (chief Hasinai group) community or, after the early 1700s, in a separate place between the Neche and Hainai communities. Either way, the xinesi lived in a large grass-thatched house that stood near the fire temple, the principal Hasinai temple within which burned a perpetual fire fed by four logs, each oriented on a cardinal direction. Among the xinesi's chief responsibilities was keeping the fire going. There were apparently other, lesser fire temples among the Hainai groups, watched over by lesser priests or by the caddis. Similar temples were also described among the Cadohadacho and, archeological evidences suggests this was a widespread and old Caddo practice.

The Hasinai fire temple was a very large structure that also served as a council house where important matters were decided. Nearby was one or two small houses where two divine boys (possibly twins) called the coninisí lived. These children served as intermediaries between the xinesi and the Caddi Ayo and were only visible to the xinesi, a circumstance that the Spanish priests ridiculed and cited as proof of the false nature of Caddo religion. Nonetheless, belief in the coninisi was widespread and they are may be analogous to the hero twins found in many other Native American religions.

The xinesi was aided by other priests or shamans, some of whom carried out similar duties for individual communities and some of whom had specialized assignments. While most priests were men, there were apparently some women as well. The Spanish accounts are not clear on how the Caddo priesthood was organized, in part because priests on both sides saw the others, quite correctly, as dangerous competitors who challenged their own domains.

Caddo life was seen as dependent on the proper performance of rituals small and large for continued success. There were proper and wrong ways of doing all things of substance. For instance, hunters sought a priest on the eve of a deer hunt to perform elaborate rituals involving the head and horns of a deer. If successful, the deer could not be butchered and eaten until a priest had whispered into its ear and taken the first share of meat. Similarly important rituals were associated with agriculture. Young and old women took part in a special spring ritual prior to planting to ensure good crops. There were also first fruit or green corn ceremonies and harvest ceremonies, each being the occasion for feasting as well as ritual.

The connas, the Caddo medicine men or healers, were said to use herbs and various ritual practices such as smoking, sweating, incantations, and divination to cure sickness and heal the wounded. While the Spanish were distrustful of the medicine men, they also observed successful healing and realized that some of the herbal remedies were potent. Many of the curing ceremonies involved practices the Spanish associated with the devil. The Spanish priest Espinosa as translated by Bolton describes one such event.

To cure a patient they make a large fire [under the bed] and "provide flutes and a feather fan. The instruments [palillos] are manufactured [sticks] with notches resembling a snake's rattle. This palillo [rasp] placed in a hollow bone upon a skin makes a noise nothing less than devilish. Before touching it they drink their herbs boiled and covered with much foam and begin to perform their dance without moving from one spot, accompanied by the music of Infierno, or song of the damned, for only in Inferno will the discordant gibberish which the quack sets up find its like. This ceremony lasts from midafternoon to nearly sunrise. The quack interpolates his song by applying his cruel medicaments.

It is unlikely that the medical practices of 17th century Europe would be viewed by us today as any more sound or less superstitious than that of the 17th century Caddo. The Spanish and French witnessed and sometimes harshly described a Caddo society that had a complex and quite sophisticated set of beliefs and practices about the natural and supernatural world. It is only to be expected that the two worlds were foreign to one another and that neither side really understood the other.


Indian corn
Heirloom varieties of "Indian corn" thought to be similar to those grown by Caddo ancestors. The top ear is 7.5 inches long (19 centimeters). Photograph from Richard I. Ford, courtesy Dee Ann Story.
hickory nuts
Hickory nuts were an important food throughout Caddo history and probably long before. These tough-shelled nuts were high in fat and protein, but difficult to shell. Pitted "nutting" stones, such as those shown here, are found in Archaic, Woodland, and Caddo sites. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
wild turkey
Wild turkey in piney woods of southeastern Arkansas. Turkeys were hunted for their meat and feathers. The turkey also inspired the famous Turkey Dance, a Caddo favorite. Photo by Bill Martin.
persimmons
Ripe American persimmons were a fall treat for the Caddo and were used in a variety of ways. In early fall, persimmons are very astringent, causing the mouth to pucker. But when fully ripe and after the first freeze they become sweet and tasty. Dried persimmons could be stored for months. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
muscadine grapes
Muscadine grapes grow plentifully in much of the Caddo homeland. Although very tart, they could be gathered in large quantities in late summer. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
squash
Winter squash similar to this butternut squash was a favorite Caddo crop. The thick-fleshed squash could be cut into strips and dried, similar to pumpkins. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
wild plums
Wild plums (Prunas sp.) were a seasonal delight for the Caddo. These tart but nutrious fruits could be harvested in large quantities in late spring during good years when rains came at the right times. Some were eaten fresh, but most were mixed with other foods, such as stews and pemmican, or dried for later use. Photo by Frank Schambach.
Bois d'arc wood
Bois d'arc wood, one of the best bow-making woods in North America, was traded far and wide from its only source, a small area of the Caddo Homeland near the Red River above the Great Bend. Photograph by Frank Schambach.
Caddo woman
Artist Reeda Peel's depiction of a Caddo woman carrying a basket of freshly picked corn. Corn became the Caddo's mainstay crop about 800 years ago and was considered a sacred plant because of its importance to Caddo life. Courtesy of the artist.
river cane
Native river cane once grew profusely along streams and rivers in the Caddo Homeland. Today it has largely been replaced by an exotic species of Asian cane. Cane was put to many uses including house building and for weaving. The Caddo were famous for their split cane mats and baskets. Photograph by Elizabeth Stoker, courtesy Frank Schambach.
drawing of grass house
In the southern Caddo Homeland, tall grass-thatched houses with circular outlines were the most common form. Extended entranceways, as shown in this diagram, were often associated with larger buildings thought to be the residences of important people. Courtesy Frank Schambach.
split-cane mat
This split-cane mat, made by the late Claude Medford, Jr. (Choctaw), is probably very similar to those for which the Caddo were well known. Courtesy Frank Schambach.