The Caddo Indians
by Ann M. Early
The Caddo lived in several tribal groups in southwest Arkansas and nearby
areas of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma from A.D. 1000 to about A.D. 1800.
When visited by Spanish and French explorers around 1700, they were organized
into three allied confederacies, the Kadohadacho on the great bend of
the Red River, the Natchitoches in west Louisiana, and the Hasinai in
east Texas. The Cahinnio, who were allies of the Kadohadacho, lived along
the Ouachita River. Each confederacy was made up of independent communities,
but all had similar languages and customs.
Caddo Creation Legend, by Acee Blue Eagle. Courtesy of Northwest
State University of Louisiana, Watson Memorial Library, Cammie G.
Henry Research Center, Caroline Dormon Collection.
The Caddo were sedentary farmers who grew corn, beans, pumpkins, squashes,
watermelons, sunflowers, and tobacco. Hunting for bear, deer, small mammals,
and birds was important, as were fishing and gathering shellfish, nuts,
berries, seeds, and roots. People who lived on the edge of the plains
also hunted bison in the historic period. Bows, commonly made of Osage
orange, or bois d'arc, wood, and stone or bone-tipped cane arrows were
normal hunting equipment. People living near saline marshes or springs
made salt by boiling brine in large shallow pans. Salt was used with food
and was traded, along with bear oil or lard, bois d'arc bows, animal skins,
and other goods to other Indians and European settlers. Horses and captives
were also traded to the French for European goods in the early historic
period. The Caddo also made elaborately decorated pottery vessels until
metal and ceramic replacements were acquired from traders.
Men typically hunted, held most civic and religious roles, and were involved
in warfare. Men and women shared some tasks in preparing gardens and building
houses. Raising children, tending gardens, making food and clothing, preparing
skins, and weaving mats were primarily women's work. During celebrations
and ceremonies, each gender occupationally had its own special activities
Before trade clothing became common, men wore breechcloths and moccasins
with deer and bison skins added in winter. Women wore deerskin or woven
skirts. In warm weather they went topless, and they wore a skin wrap
in winter. Deerskin shirts with colored and beaded designs and fringes
were sometimes worn by both sexes, and other elaborate deerskin garments
were used on ceremonial occasions. Both men and women also decorated their
bodies with painting and tattooing. Women in particular sometimes tattooed
their faces, arms, and torsos with elaborate designs. Men had several
hairstyles; the most common was short with a long braided or otherwise
decorated lock. Women wore their hair long and braided or tied close to
Communities consisted of widely dispersed households separated by garden
plots and woodlots. Each household or farmstead consisted of dwellings
and work areas for one or more closely related families. The size, shape,
and number of dwellings varied. Some houses were circular, conical, and
covered with thatch. Others were oval or rectangular, made of timber stuck
vertically into the ground and daubed with mud, and roofed with thatch
or bark. An elevated corncrib, outdoor work platform, and upright log
mortar for pounding corn usually stood near the dwelling. Inside the house
were sleeping and storage platforms where baskets and supplies were kept,
and a central fireplace. Woven mats, made usually by women and often elaborately
decorated, covered floors and benches, and were important ritual items.
Each community also had at least one temple or religious building, originally
on an earthen platform mound, where sacred objects were kept and the most
important rituals were performed.
Society was organized by households and clans. Social position, marriage
prospects, and some political roles were based on clan membership. Political
leaders of the community, tribe, and confederacy were a ranked set of
offices, with a priest, or xinesi, holding the highest civil and religious
position in the confederacy. Other leaders took care of various secular
or sacred activities, and one group, shamans or connas, performed a variety
of rituals and treated illnesses.
The Chief Placed a Beautiful Robe on His Shoulders, by Acee Blue
Eagle. Courtesy of Northwest State University of Louisiana, Watson
Memorial Library, Cammie G. Henry Research Center, Caroline Dormon
The Caddo world was populated by many supernatural beings who had varying
degrees of importance and power, with a supreme being, Ayo-Caddi-Aymay,
having authority over the others. A series of rituals performed to ensure
favorable relations between people and these supernatural beings and forces
organized the annual cycle of life. These included a springtime planting
ceremony, an 'after harvest' ceremony in the fall, and numerous ceremonies
to commemorate birth, death, warfare, housebuilding, and other important
individual and community events.
The multilayered organization of Caddo society provided a way to interact
with Europeans. When European travelers approached, they were usually
met along the path by a contingent of greeters from the community. The
travelers would be escorted to the dwelling of the caddi, the community
leader, or to a special structure, and be seated in a place of honor.
Here community leaders shared with the Europeans a smoke of tobacco from
a calumet-an elaborately decorated pipestem and bowl, which created a
bond of friendship that extended to all members of the respective communities.
In this way the Caddo recognized the relationships among different members
of their own confederacy, and they were able also to incorporate Europeans
within their hierarchically organized society.
The Caddo were important trading partners and allies of both France and
Spain during the colonial era. However, epidemic diseases; competition
and occasional hostilities with the Osage, the Cherokee, and the Choctaw;
and the westward spread of American settlement eventually encroached on
their domain. The Ouachita valley communities moved shortly after A.D.
1700, the last Red River communities were abandoned in the late 1700s,
and in the nineteenth century most Caddo were forced to move first to
Texas and then to reservations in Indian Territory. A large number of
Caddos now live near Binger, Oklahoma, where their modern tribal center
Newkumet, Vynola B. and Howard L. Meredith
A Traditional History of the Caddo Confederacy. Texas A & M Press.
Sabo, George III
Paths of Our Children: The Historic Indians of Arkansas. Arkansas
Archeological Survey Popular Series No. 3.
Swanton, John R.
Source Material on the History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians.
Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 132.
<<< Return to Map