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Caddo Nation Today

Enoch Hoag
Enoch Hoag, principal leader or Caddi (cah-de) 1913-1920, was a traditional hereditary leader recognized by all Caddo people. This undated photo by Laura Kinsloe was probably taken during or just after the period during which Hoag was Caddo leader. Louisiana State University, Digital Library.

Traditional Caddo government was preeminent for centuries before there was a United States of America. By the turn of the twentieth century, the United States scarcely considered traditional Caddo government legitimate. Indian Territory was whittled away and Oklahoma became the 46th State in 1907. Enveloped by heavy white settlement as well as restrictive federal law, the chance that Caddo people could survive as an identifiable Caddo nation was further diminished. Strength lay in their ability to hold on to distinctive Caddo traditions. Weakness rested in lack of power to promote an effective relationship with the government of the United States.

Enoch Hoag was one of the last traditional hereditary leaders recognized by all Caddos. In 1925, he headed a group of tribal representatives sent to confer with Oklahoma congressman, Elmer Thomas. They were accompanied by Ross Hume, attorney for the Caddo tribe. Through his interpreter, Chief Hoag presented three major concerns. The Congressman treated the group civilly and gave their concerns token support. His direct advice, that Congress would only act on Indian Agency recommendations and the Caddo should properly work though their Agency, underscored the impotence of traditional Caddo tribal government.

Chief Hoag and his family
This photograph of Chief Hoag and his family was made by Laura Kinsloe, an employee of the American Missionary Association. The photograph is not dated but was probably taken ca. 1920. Louisiana State University, Digital Library.

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We have made this trip here for the purpose of seeing you and holding a conference, according to the matters which we brought out to you this morning...we have done this with former Congressmen...now they are both out and you have succeeded those men...They have appointed me Chief of the Federated Tribes and I urge that you take hold of this and try to do what you can...when the people were moved out of the State of Texas, and located here on the Washita, there was an understanding that they was to have a piece of land extending from the Canadian to the Red River, six miles west of the Antelope Hills, from the 98th to the 100th meridian...

[I] understood that we had at that time an agreement made with these Indians to this land south of the Washita river and with the Indians that were still roaming the plains. The Government intended to round these Indians up, have them to settle down and stop roaming and the Government promises the Caddos, Wichitas and Delawares whenever they done that, the Plains Indians settled down, the Government was to place those Indians on the land extending from the Washita on south. And the promise was made to them that they would be paid for this land....We have mentioned two other former Congressmen, and have had them handle this to the best of their ability. We have come today to ask you to take this matter up and do what you can for us....

The Commissioner informed the former chief, that if they would consent to take these allotments, and open this country to settlement, they would see that Congress passed a law to hold these Indian lands in trust for a period of 25 years...the Commissioners said this: It will be at that time the young children will be grown, they will be into manhood and womanhood, and at the expiration of this period, it will be up to the young men and women as well as the older class of people, it will be up to them whether they want to remain under Government supervision or not...even though we have young men here pretty well off in education he doesn't think that that are competent enough to have their restrictions removed...take me, myself and several others that has not got an education, they are the class of people it helps and who need the Government to look after them. For that reason, he is speaking on behalf of the tribe to see whether we can get an extension or not....

We all know that we have a Creator above us, that created us and all things that we see...we have a religion among the various tribes of Indians in Oklahoma and that religion is something that we like to maintain. You understand, you no doubt have heard something about the bills that have been presented in Congress to try to put a stop to this religion of our and we sincerely ask you to do what you can to prevent those bills from going through.

Enoch Hoag, principal chief, 1923

Response of Congressman Elmer Thomas:

Your lands are controlled largely by the Anadarko Agency, your conduct with the Government and the Indian Department is through the Anadarko Agency; it is the go-between between you people and Washington. Congress will not consider or pass any bill that the Indian Bureau is against and the Indian Bureau will not recommend any legislation unless the Anadarko Agency recommends it...When the bill is introduced it will be referred to a committee then at the convenience of those interested the committee set the bill down for hearing, at which time you will be advised and you can send your delegation to Washington and send your attorney who can come and present such arguments, present your statements, data, and treaties to the end that the committee be convinced that the bill be passed.

 
Caddo Business Committee
"Caddo Indian Tribe Business Committee and Friends on the steps of the Oklahoma State Capitol Building, January 25th, 1929." Archives and Manuscripts Division, Oklahoma Historical Society.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Indian Law

Who is considered to be an Indian?
Indian tribes have the authority and power to define their own requirements for membership. Tribal membership is most frequently defined by blood quantum, however...
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Tony Williams
Leonard "Tony" Williams, Chairman 1992. Williams was an enthusiastic Turkey Dance partner. He was reared in a traditional Caddo family and honored the ways of his people for all his life. He was one of the founding members of the Caddo Culture Club, organized in 1990 to involve youths in cultural activities and ensure that traditional songs and dances continue to pass from generation to generation. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Vernon Hunter
Vernon Hunter, Chairman 1997. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Mary Louise Downing Davis
Mary Louise Downing Davis, Vice-Chairwoman 2000. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Joyce Hinse
Joyce Hendrix Hinse, Council Secretary 2000. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Clara Brown
In 1993, Clara Brown remembered taking lunch to her husband when he was one of the group of men who built the Caddo Community House. She said that in the 1930s men used to sit under trees at Fritz Hendrix's place and sing songs everyday. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Fritz Hendrix building
The Fritz Hendrix Memorial building is the Caddo Senior Citizens Center. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Culture Center and Museum
Culture Center and Museum, Caddo Nation Complex. Photo by Cecile Carter.
first phase of the Turkey Dance
Women circle the arena in the first phase of the Turkey Dance. Photo by Dayna Lee.
third phase of the Turkey Dance
During the third phase of the Turkey Dance the women gather around the drumming men and sing. Photo by Dayna Lee.
Murrow Dance Grounds
Murrow Dance Grounds in the off season. The annual Murrow Dance is hosted by descendants of Chief Whitebread and his wife through their daughter Ellen, and her husband, Ralph Murrow. Photo by Steve Black.
Nu ka oshun
Caddo Dances always begin with the Women's Turkey Dance, Nu ka oshun. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Flag Song
The Flag Song is sung while the American flag raised on a pole beside the dance ground is lowered. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Caddo veterans' medal
Specially designed medals were presented to Caddo veterans honored in 2003 by a dance hosted by Pete Whitebead, recipient of a Purple Heart for his service in the Viet Nam War. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Drum Dance
Singer and drummers lead the Drum Dance, first of the evening dances. Those who know them join in singing the Drum Dance songs bonding them with the Old People, Ancestors, Kee-o-nah wah'-wah ha-e-may'-chee. May 2, 2003. Photo by Cecile Carter.
singing
Everyone follows the lead singers and drummers. Photo by Cecile Carter.

Whatever the U.S. government's motives were for breaking tribally held land into individually held allotments—land greedy interests (as seems transparent) or humanitarian ideals (as claimed)—the action was an affront to the inherent right of Caddo people to live and be governed as they wished. Tending small gardens for the family and coming together to plant large fields for the benefit of all was their age-old way of life. Ancient ceremonies and celebrations gave expression to their deep-seated spiritual beliefs. Forced moves from homelands and a harsh environment in Indian Territory interrupted Caddo self-sufficiency, but the constancy of their traditional leadership was never doubted by Caddo people.

In the twentieth century, though, they were painfully aware that the United States did not recognize the Caddo form of government as legitimate. The President, Congress, Secretary of Interior and lesser Washington officials were deaf to the voices of Caddo leaders. The time had come for the old Caddo way of governance to be "thrown away" and a new way brought about.

Two Congressional Acts, the Indian Reorganization Act (1934) and the follow up Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (1936) reversed U.S. policy favoring Indian assimilation. The first recognized the right of self-determination for Native Americans, authorized limited self-government under constitutions approved by the Secretary of the Interior, and allowed the formation of corporations to manage resources. Oklahoma was exempted from the Indian Reorganization Act but the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act amended the Indian Reorganization Act to provide for the organization on Indian tribes State of Oklahoma.

These federal laws cleared the path that led the Caddo to organize a new form of government and receive recognition as a sovereign nation with inherent right to self-government. On the 17th day of the new year of 1938, surviving adult members of the old Caddo Nation's three branches—Caddo, Hasinai,Natchitoches—voted to accept Constitution and By-laws of the Caddo Indian Tribe of Oklahoma. The vote was 314 for, 38 against. Ten months later the Secretary of the Interior issued a Charter of incorporation to the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma. The Charter spelled out the limits of tribal functions within the federal system as well as safeguarding Caddo power: "To promote in any way the general welfare. To advance the standard of living of the Tribe through development of tribal resources, the acquisition of new tribal land, the preservation of existing land holdings, the better utilization of land and the development of a credit program for the Tribe."

It was not easy for Caddos to become accustomed to electing leaders. And it was not easy for those elected to blend the role of Caddi with that of Chairman, nit-tso-sah-dos-cha-ah, "one who takes the chair." The uppermost concern of a Caddi often centered on cultural tradition. More and more the responsibilities of Chairman became much like those of a CEO for any corporate business. By mid-1990, tribal affairs entailed complicated legal and business matters that required expertise two hundred years advanced from the knowledge and experience that made caddis powerful in earlier times. The original Constitution and By-laws was amended and, in 1976, revised and rewritten to better serve the best interest of the Caddo Indian Tribe.

LaRue Martin Parker elected Chairman in 1999 and re-elected in 2001, is not the first woman to take responsibility for directing the welfare of the Caddo Nation. She is, however, the first to preside over an all female Council who have been known to call themselves as the "Caddo grandmothers." The next major constitutional change came with the adoption of four amendments in 2002. The organizational name, Caddo Indian Tribe of Oklahoma was officially changed to The Caddo Nation of Oklahoma; blood quanta eligibility for membership was reduced from at least one-eighth to at least one-sixteenth; the period for terms in office for council members was increased from two to four years.

The old Community House, built on five acres deeded to the Caddo Indian Tribe of Oklahoma by Fritz Hendrix and his wife Eva Longhorn Hendrix in 1940, was the center of activities for many years. Hendrix was a son of Caddo Jake and a leader of importance during the transition between traditional leadership and constitutional government. Identified as Chairman of the Business Committee, he signed the certificate of Corporate Charter in 1938. The land from his allotment was deeded "in consideration of the construction and maintenance of community project.

Shaded by large, old, oak trees, next to the Dance Ground, the Community House is still a center for Caddo family gatherings and tribal functions. Downhill, the present Caddo Tribal Complex has grown steadily since the first modern building was dedicated to the memory of Fritz Hendrix. The building first housed tribal offices and is now the Senior Citizens Center. Next door is the Culture Center containing Historic Preservation offices, a large indoor dance arena. The Tribal Heritage Museum was more recently built next door. A much larger building now houses administration offices.

The old dance ground on the hill above modern buildings within the Tribal Complex is vibrant with color and sound during warm months of the year. There is no set calendar for these Caddo Dances—they are announced in the old way. Someone will say, I'm going to give a dance on such-and-such day, and the people come. Beginning in late spring, fresh willow branches are cut and laid on top the arbor frame that outlines the dance circle. The ground inside the circle is swept clean. Grass surrounding the circle outside the arbor is cut and cleared of winter debris. The old Murrow Dance Ground is meticulously groomed for the annual dance hosted by descendants of Chief Whitebread, his wife, their daughter Ellen and her husband Ralph Murrow. Many families camp under arbors, in tents, trailers, or RVs for two or three nights of dancing.

Dancing always begins with the women's Turkey Dance, Nu ka oshun. It starts in the afternoon, whenever tree shadows begin to shade the circle. The drum is set in the middle of the dance circle and the singers beat the rhythm of the first song, "Come on Turkeys!" Women and girls hearing the call enter the dance circle from all directions. Caddo girls are taught from an early age, "You're Caddo, you are one of us, you need to Turkey Dance." Turkey Dance is a celebration—celebration of the survival of the Caddo Nation.

When all are gathered, dancing with steps balanced on the ball of their feet, a song urges, "Kick, Kick the dirt!" The songs relate Caddo history—telling about enemy encounters, victories won, and major events such as the overnight formation of Caddo Lake. The songs are so old that no one knows when they were first danced.

There are various stories about the origin of the Turkey Dance. The most commonly told is that a hunter was in the woods when he heard beautiful songs. Following the sounds he discovered a group of turkey hens dancing around a gobbler. He watched long enough to fix the dance in his memory and returned home to tell all about it. After that, the dance he described was used with songs composed to record the people's history.

Spanish missionaries in the 1700s described Hasinai women performing a dance to celebrate the return of warriors. Today, women and girls select a male partner to welcome into the circle for the final stage of Turkey Dance. The entire cycle of songs is seldom sung. Some songs have been discarded over the years. Others have been and may still be added. Even a shortened version lasts an hour or more, and it must be finished before sundown. Remember, that's when turkeys go to roost for the night.

The American flag raised on a pole beside the dance ground is lowered at the end of Turkey Dance. The Flag Song accompanies the ceremony. Composed at the beginning of World War II, the words are:

Wunti shiahtsi ka kin ha nah
All the boys that means them

Kwi ahii sah dawi yasah
Where he was over there

Ki ah huu nit nah da gah
He came back now is among them.

Pete Whitebead, who served two tours in Viet Nam and was awarded a Purple Heart medal, gave a dance to honor Caddo veterans in June of 2003. After the Flag was lowered that day, he carried it back to its owner, the widow of another Viet Nam soldier. On Whitebead's request, the Department of Defense sent special medals made for presentation to honored veterans later in the evening.

Dinner for everyone is served following Turkey Dance and the lowering of the Flag. Plates are served in the Community House and carried to seats under the arbor. The first dance of the evening is the Drum Dance. For Drum Dance, the drum carried clockwise around the circle in harmony with earth's rotation. The leaders are men, singers and drummers. Young boys are encouraged to learn the songs by joining the lead singers, but they are not allowed to beat the drum. Everyone else falls in behind.

Songs are sung starting from the west side and between brief stops at the points, north, east, and south. The songs relate to the beginning of Caddo people on earth; coming up from the old world of darkness into the new world of light where they now live. For the last segment, the drum is carried to the middle of the dance ground and the drummers rotate in the center while the dancers move around them in the direction of the earth.

Turkey Dance and Drum Dance are the heart of Caddo culture. Both have significance in the preservation or language, thought, and the spirit of Caddos past and present. The dances that follow, Duck Dance, Bear Dance, Swing Dance, Stirrup Dance and a string of others are light hearted fun. The songs of one of the last dances, the Bell Dance, are the most beautiful and may be the oldest. There is no drum, only the ring of bells in the hand of the leader. Tony Williams was reared in a traditional Caddo family and honored the ways of his people for all his life. He was one of the founding members of the Caddo Culture Club, organized in 1990 to involve youths in cultural activities and ensure that traditional song and dance continues to pass from generation to generation.

Charter of incorporation
In 1938 the Secretary of the Interior issued a Charter of incorporation to the Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma. The Charter spelled out the limits of tribal functions within the federal system as well as safeguarding Caddo power: "To promote in any way the general welfare. To advance the standard of living of the Tribe through development of tribal resources, the acquisition of new tribal land, the preservation of existing land holdings, the better utilization of land and the development of a credit program for the Tribe."

Frequently asked Questions Regarding the Caddo Indian Nation

Who is a Caddo?
A Caddo person is defined by the Constitution and By-laws of the Caddo Nation...
read more>>

Noah Frank
Noah Frank, Chairman 1995. Photo by Cecile Carter.
LaRue Martin Parker
LaRue Martin Parker, Caddo Tribal Chairman 1999-. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Frances Kodaseet
Frances Cussen Kodaseet, Council Representative 2000. Photo by Cecile Carter.
working council
Working Council, August, 2003. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Community House
The old Community House has been a center for Caddo activities since sometime around 1938. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Culture Center
Culture Center, Caddo Nation Complex. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Administration building
Administration Building, Caddo Nation Complex. Photo by Cecile Carter.
dance ground
Dance ground at the Caddo Nation Complex. Photo by Cecile Carter.
start of the Turkey Dance
Women wearing traditional dance costumes enter the dance arena at the start of the Turkey Dance. The woman on the left, Frances Cussen Kodaseet, carries a leadership cane believed to have been presented to the Caddo by the Spanish prior to 1809. Photo by Dayna Lee.
Second phase of the Turkey Dance
Second phase of the Turkey Dance. Photo by Dayna Lee.
camping in the Murrow Dance Ground
Caddos enjoy congeniality in camping during dances held on the dance ground at the Tribal Complex and the annual dance held at the oldest dance ground still in use, the Murrow Dance Ground. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Dance sign
The 86th Annual Murrow Dance was held June 27-29, 2002. Photo by Steve Black.
youngster playing in Murrow Dance Ground
Youngster playing near drum at Murrow Dance Ground. Photo by Cecile Carter.
widow of a Caddo warrior
Pete Whitebead returns the folded American flag to the widow of a Caddo warrior who permitted her husband's flag to be raised for a dance honoring veterans in 2003. Photo by Cecile Carter.
back of Caddo medal
Back of special Caddo veterans medal. Photo by Cecile Carter.
young Caddo boy
Young boys are encouraged to learn Drum Dance songs by joining the lead singers, but they are not allowed to beat the drum. May 2, 2003. Photo by Cecile Carter.
young Caddo
Even the youngest feels the beat of the drum. Photo by Cecile Carter.
 

It's important to keep the culture, the songs and dances, alive. My dad was the last of the Caddos to know all the songs. I started singing at 15, I sat at the drum at 8. I took up these songs that we have now. It looked like we might lose them, but we started the Caddo Culture club...and the kids are learning. When we first started, we'd have to tell them what we were going to sing or dance—we'd tell them how to do it. But now we start a song, they know what dance it belongs to. I think our language is gone, but I think we can keep the songs going.

Lowell "Wimpy" Edmonds, speaking as a conference focused on community based music of Native Americans. Edmonds was president of the Caddo Culture Club from its organization in 1990 until his death in 1997.

 
Lowell Edmonds
Thompson Williams, Hubert Halfmoon, Lowell Edmonds at the drum in 1978. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Buntin Williams and his wife, Margaret
Buntin Williams and wife, Margaret. Fluent in both Caddo and English, Buntin Williams is often asked to speak at important events.Photo by Cecile Carter.
Binger Bluffs
Binger Bluffs in Caddo country. Photo by Cecile Carter.

The Caddis who insisted that children attend school to learn to speak, read, and write English in the 1890s were wise to do so. But when sent away to government schools like Carlisle in Pennsylvania, Hampton Institute in Virginia, Haskell Institute in Kansas, and Chilloco in eastern Oklahoma, young students were forbidden to speak Caddo, and punished if they did. Attending public schools, beginning in the 1930s, peer pressure and fear of appearing backward or ignorant restrained the use of Caddo language outside the home. By that time, too, Caddo was spoken in fewer homes. More parents married to members of different tribes communicated primarily in English. Grandparents, who still spoke the language in conversation with others of their generation or older, spoke it less often in homes where English had become the every day language. For young people entering the workplace, speaking Caddo could actually be a hindrance. So it is in 2003, less than 30 Caddos are able to speak the native fluently.

Buntin Williams a fluent speaker in Caddo and English, is the one most often called upon for public prayer. Every Caddo meeting, large or small, every meal, every dance or other gathering begins with prayer. This has always been the Caddo way. Buntin Williams knows and practices the old way as leader of the Caddo Native American Church. Peyote had a part in sacred Caddo rituals for centuries before the first Native American Church was organized. There are now a large number of Caddo converts to Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical churches. Others still find all their spiritual needs fulfilled in Native American Church services.

The Ghost Dance was another spiritual outlet when times were desperate early in the twentieth century. Ee-cha, the pole, was important to the dance. Carved from the heart of a cedar tree, it stands about twelve feet tall. Set in the center of the old dance ground, it was circle by dancers by the dancers. The songs, most often composed by a person revived from a trance, were sung as prayers. Prayers that the world would be better-fruitful and peaceful as it had been in the past.

The old people said: "In the beginning, the world was still green—that is not yet ripe." The world of the nineteenth century did, of course, change. Time carried it forward, not back. Changes unimaginable in earlier time have occurred but rooted in ancient Caddo-Hasinai tradition, the Caddo Nation survives and grows strong.

Follow Caddo History

Thurman Parton
Thurman Parton, also one of the Culture Club founders, is the second president of the organization that carries on its mission to teach and preserve Caddo song, dance, and traditions. Photo by Cecile Carter.
Caddo country
Except along the river and some creeks, Caddo country climate and soil is not conducive to farming, but as long as the waters run it is a beautiful green. Photo by Cecile Carter.