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Collage of images related to the Caddo people
potsherds
Distinctive potsherds such as these fragments of Late Caddo pottery from the A.C. Saunders site allow archeologists to estimate the date of Caddo settlements. TARL archives. Click to see full image.
French Native America map
Map showing Native America as perceived by the French in the early 18th century. This was one of the first reasonably accurate depictions of the Mississippi and its tributaries including the Red (Rogue) River. The locations of Cadohadacho (Cadodaquios), Hasinai (Les Cenis), and Natchitoches are shown. From Carte de la Louisiana et du Cours du Mississipi, by Guillaume Delisle, 1718.

Over 150 generations of Caddo people have lived and died since the time more than 3,000 years ago (perhaps much more) when the ancestors of the Caddo split from the ancestors of the Northern Caddoan groups (see Caddoan Languages and Peoples section). Over this long span of human history, Caddo societies have changed in all kinds of ways, some of them fundamental. Today we have only an inkling of most of these changes.

Archeologists find evidence of only certain kinds of specific events, such as the burning of a house or the burial of an individual, that leave obvious traces. Most ordinary events and even those that must have been extraordinary like victory celebrations, visits by the leaders of distant groups, and the destruction of a village by a tornado, leave few traces that an archeologist can recognize. Similarly, most individuals are invisible in the archeological record. The only individuals who stand apart in prehistory are those whose burials we find. Archeologists can recognize patterns and detect trends through time, but without written or remembered history to guide us, our view of prehistory is very broad—sort of like flipping through a history book and seeing only the chapter titles and a few pictures.

To cope with uncertainty and information gaps, archeologists construct chronologies (timelines) such as the one presented below. While such a linear concept of time is useful to scientists and historians, it would have been foreign to the ancient Caddo. In most traditional Native American societies, time was perceived as cyclical and reoccurring. It was measured and marked by moons, seasons, generations, and transforming events such as massive floods, celebrated victories, the founding of a new village, or the death of a charismatic leader.

Unfortunately, knowledge of most of the transforming events in Caddo history has been lost, leaving us with a mix of faint surviving memories, dance and song tradition, a precious few detailed early written accounts, and an ever-growing mass of archeological data from hundreds of archeological sites linked to the Caddo. This latter may sound impressive, but most such archeological sites are places where fragments of Caddo-style pottery have been found on the surface and little investigation has been carried out. Even with the relatively few sites that have seen extensive archeological research, it is often difficult to determine precisely when the sites were occupied. Dating is almost always an exercise in approximation in archeology. Even the radiocarbon dating technique yields only statistical estimates with centuries-long standard error ranges, rather than precise dates.

Our knowledge of the later history of the Caddo, after Europeans arrived and began recording information, is much fuller, but still very incomplete. Europeans only wrote about what they happened to see or learn that interested or concerned them. And they always saw the Caddo through the eyes of strangers in a strange land. As we move toward the present, our view of history becomes sharper and sharper as we listen to Caddo voices and compare what they say to what various officials, travelers, and neighbors wrote. Maps, paintings, photographs, and voice recordings all add critical knowledge.

With these caveats in mind, we present a culture history timeline that summarizes some of the major changes through time. In this chart you will notice that the earlier periods are longer and are often rounded off into centuries or even thousands of years. This reflects the lack of precision of our dating methods. Note also that some of the periods shown below overlap with one another. This is because time periods are abstract approximations that cut up time into neat little blocks out of convenience; in reality things don't always occur in an orderly linear succession or occur simultaneously from place to place. Even today in the Digital era, there are still millions of people across the world that do not have electricity or running water, technological advances that most of us take for granted. This example reminds us that technological and cultural changes typically take decades or centuries to spread, even today.

ruins of a temple
The remains of this burned structure represent a specific event, the ritual destruction of a small temple followed by the intentional burial of the remains with a new layer of earth. Two successive temples, both burned and buried, were found within and beneath a small Late Caddo mound at the Harroun site in Upshur County, Texas. TARL archives.
As we move toward the present, our view of history becomes sharper and sharper as we listen to Caddo voices and compare what they say to what various officials, travelers, and neighbors wrote.
1873 census records
The 1873 census records a total of 401 Caddos, including 116 men, 139 women, 86 boys, and 60 girls as well as 2214 horses, 1032 cows, and 1293 hogs. Courtesy Cecile Carter.
potsherds
Sho-ee-tat, George Washington, was an active leader of the Whitebead Caddo band before, during, and after the Civil War. 1872 portrait taken when delegation visited Washington. National Anthropological Archives.

Caddo Timeline

 

Period/Event

Date(s)

Late Archaic

2000 B.C. to 200 B.C.

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.

archaic stone tools
Archaic and Woodland stone tools from the Coral Snake Coral Snake Mound on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River under what is now Toledo Bend Reservoir.

Woodland (Early Ceramic)

500 B.C to A.D. 800

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. 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).

woodland period artifacts
Woodland period exotic artifacts from the Jonas Short Mound located on the Angelina River under what is today Sam Rayburn Reservoir in east Texas.

Emerging Caddo

A.D. 800-1000

Around 1200 years ago, 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.

mound building
Artist's depiction of work party piling up basket loads of earth to form an earthen mound at an early Caddo ritual center.

Early Caddo

A.D. 1000-1200

By 1000 years ago, 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. 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.

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

Middle Caddo

A.D. 1200-1400

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.

MIddle Caddo village
Map showing part of the "footprint" of the Middle Caddo period Oak Hill Village site in Rusk County, Texas.

Late Caddo

A.D. 1400-1600

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.

Late Caddo temple
WPA workers uncovering the outline of an enormous Late Caddo temple structure within an earthen mound at the Hatchel site on Red River near Texarkana. The site is thought to be the location of the Upper Nasoni village visited in 1691 by the Teran Expedition.

European Invasion

1542- 1730

The first Europeans to set foot in the Caddo Homeland were Spaniards who were members of the De Soto entrada in 1542. They did not stay long and well over a century would pass before Europeans returned to the Caddo world. In the intervening period, the seeds of profound change began to reach the Caddo: Old World diseases, plants (such as peaches and watermelons), animals (especially horses), and metal tools and weapons. 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.

Upper Nasoni
Drawing of Upper Nasoni village on Red River by the Teran Expedition, 1691.

European Colonization

1730- 1800

As Europeans and their descendants colonized North America, Caddo societies grappled with catastrophic changes caused by rapid population loss, incursions of enemies from the north and east (especially the Osage), mounted raiders from the west (especially the Apache), and with a changing economy. Caddo groups became middlemen and active partners in trade, especially with the French and French allies such as the Tunica. Caddo groups formed alliances in an attempt to cope with massive population loss and threats from encroaching enemies.

glass trade beads
Glass trade beads were among the European goods obtained by Caddo groups from the French in trade for deer and buffalo hides, horses, and Apache slaves.

Anglo-American Conflict

1800-1859

The relentless push of Anglo-American settlers from the east forced the Caddo to abandon much of their homeland as they grew smaller and smaller in number, with the remnant groups banding together for survival.

Louisiana Treaty of Cession

1835

Given no choice, Caddo groups agreed to give up a million acres of their traditional lands in present day Louisiana and Arkansas and move westward into Texas in exchange for modest payments, only some of which were ever made. The forced exodus began a 20-year period during which the Caddo had no permanent home. Relentless Anglo settlement from the east pushed Caddo groups westward out of their homeland into north-central Texas.

signing of the Treaty of Cessation
With the signing of the Treaty of Cession in 1835, the Caddo transferred nearly a million acres of their land to the United States.

Brazos Reserve, Texas

1855-1859

Finally the new state of Texas set aside a small reserve on the Brazos River about 75 miles west of Fort Worth for the dwindling groups of Caddo, Wichita, and other tribes. Hostile settlers in the area soon forced the Caddo to flee to the Indian Territory (today's Oklahoma) where they were to be given land with the Wichita. Major Robert S. Neighbors, the federal Indian Agent who protected and led the Caddo and Wichita to their new home, was killed by an Indian-hating settler upon his return to Texas.

Brazos Reservation
Redrawn 1854 map showing location of Brazos Reservation.

Civil War

1860-1867

Distrustful of southerners, most of the surviving Caddos moved to Kansas during the war. Some stayed in Oklahoma.

Resettled in Oklahoma

1868

Caddo people returned to Indian Territory to find that that most of their lands had been given to Plains Indian groups. The Caddo finally settled down on the remaining land near the towns of Binger, Fort Sill, and Anadarko, Oklahoma. In the 50 years following the Civil War, the Caddo learned to live in west-central Oklahoma, often intermarried with members of other tribes, slowly increased their numbers, and struggled to cope with assimilation into American society.

Oklahoma Territory
Map of the Oklahoma Territory, 1866-1889, showing Caddo and Wichita lands.

Caddo Tribe

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.

Map of Caddo County
Map of Caddo County, Oklahoma showing area where Caddo families settled.

Allotment

1889-1901

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.

Fanny Brown house
Plank house dating to the late 1800s that was built on the allotment of Fannie Brown. The property is still in the hands of her descendants.

Tribal Charter

1936


The Caddo adopted a Tribal Charter and set up a formal government with an elected chairman and tribal council.

Delegation of Caddo Indians
Delegation of Caddo Indians to the 1935 Shreveport Centennial Exposition honoring 100th anniversary of the 1835 Treaty of Cession.

NAGPRA Enacted

1990

The enactment of the Native Americans Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) gave the Caddo Nation a greater voice in their cultural patrimony and deciding the fate of the bones, grave goods, and sacred items of Caddo ancestors found on federal and tribal lands or held in federally funded institutions.