Caddo (Native Americans of the Southeast)

Caddo, "true chiefs," from Kadohadacho, a principal tribe. The Caddo Indians included people of the Natchitoches Confederacy (Louisiana), the Hasinai (Tejas or Texas) Confederacy (Texas), the Kadohadacho Confederacy (Texas and Arkansas), and the Adai and Eyish people. There were about 25 Caddo tribes in the eighteenth century.

Location Traditionally, Caddos lived in a wide area from the Red River Valley (Louisiana and Arkansas) to the Brazos Valley in Texas. Today, the highest concentration of Caddo Indians is found in Caddo County, Oklahoma.

Population Numbering around 8,000 people in the late seventeenth century, there were 3,371 enrolled Caddos in the early 1990s.

Language Caddos spoke a Caddoan language.

Historical Information

History Caddoans are thought to have originated in the Southwest. They reached the Great Plains in the mid-twelfth century and the fringes of the Southeast cultural area shortly thereafter. They gave the Spanish under Hernando de Soto a mixed reception in 1541. Few of the Spanish missions in their country had any success.

Trade with the French began in the early seventeenth century. The Indians traded their crops for animal pelts, which they then traded to the French for guns and other items of non-native origin. During the eighteenth century, Caddo villages suffered from Spanish-French colonial battles. Many tribes were wiped out by disease during that period.


In 1835, the Caddos ceded their Louisiana land and moved to Texas. In the 1850s, however, non-native Texans drove all Indians out of Texas, and the Caddos fled from their brutality to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). In 1859, the United States confined them to a reservation along the Washita River, which the Wichitas and Delawares later joined.

Rather than support the Confederacy, most Caddos fled to Kansas during the Civil War, returning in 1868. Some scouted for the U.S. Army during the Plains wars, in part as a strategy of supporting farmers against nomads. The boundaries of their reservation were secured in 1872, but despite Caddo objections, most of the reservation was allotted around 1900. After extensive litigation and appeals, the tribe won over $1.5 million in land claim settlements in the 1980s.

Religion Their supreme deity was known as Ayanat Caddi. There were also other deities and spirits, including the sun. Most annual ceremonies revolved around the agricultural cycle.

Government Each Caddo tribe was headed by a powerful chief, who was assisted by other people of authority. Among the Hasinai (at least), a high priest had supreme authority.

Customs Clans were more hierarchical and social classes more pronounced among the western Caddo than in the east. Guests were greeted by ritual wailing and ceremonially washed. Shell beads were used as a medium of exchange. The people practiced frontal head deformation. Chiefs were carried on the shoulders of the people. Popular games included hoop and pole and also foot races. Men placed fowl down on their heads in preparation for feasts.

Premarital sexual liaisons were condoned. In some tribes, men were allowed to have more than one wife, although in others a woman might not allow it. Divorce was easily obtained and occurred regularly. The dead were buried with food and water as well as appropriate items (weapons for men, utensils for women). War dead were cremated. Six days after death, all spirits went southward to a pleasant house of the dead. Some tribes may have engaged in ritual murder.

Dwellings At least one seventeenth-century town had over 100 houses. Some villages may have been reinforced with towered stockades. Houses in the east were round, about 15 feet high and between 20 and 60 feet in diameter. They were constructed of a pole frame covered with grass thatch, through which smoke from the cooking fires exited; roofs came all the way to the ground. Western Caddos built earth lodges, with wooden frames and brush, grass, and mud walls reaching to the top. There were also outside arbors. Sacred fires always burned in circular temples.

Houses were generally grouped around an open plaza or game/ceremonial area. Cane beds, separated by mats, were raised about three feet off the ground. Doors usually faced east, although sometimes southeast or south. There were also indoor compartments near the entrance and outdoor areas to store dried corn and other items.

Diet Women grew two corn crops a year, as well as beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, and tobacco. They also gathered wild foods such as nuts, acorns, mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, pomegranates, persimmons, and grapes. Agricultural products were most important in the diet, although buffalo grew in importance as the group moved westward. Men hunted deer, bear, raccoon, turkey, fowl, and snakes. They stalked deer using deer disguises. Dogs may have assisted them in the hunt. Fish were caught where possible.

Key Technology Bows were made of Osage orange whenever possible. Most fish were taken in traps. Caddos made a variety of baskets and mats. Other important items included wood and horn dishes; wooden mortars, chests, and cradles; drums; rattles; and flutes (flageolets). Deer sinew was generally used as thread.

Trade Caddos exported Osage orange wood and salt, which they obtained from local mines (licks) and boiled in earthen (later iron) kettles. They imported Quapaw wooden platters, among other items. The Texas Caddos traded with Chichimecs from Mexico.

Notable Arts Fine arts included basketry, pottery, and carved shells.

Transportation Single-log dugout canoes and cane rafts were used to navigate bodies of water. The people acquired horses in the late seventeenth century.

Dress Most clothing was made of deerskin. Men wore breechclouts, untailored shirts, and cloaks, Women wore skirts and a poncho-style upper garment and painted their bodies. They parted their hair in front and fastened it behind. Both wore blankets or buffalo robes and tattooed their faces and bodies, especially in floral and animal patterns. Girls wore grass or hay breechclouts from birth.

War and Weapons Weapons included the bow and arrow and lances. Warriors underwent special ceremonies in a war house prior to battle; the house was burned down when the war party departed. Enemies included the Osage and Choctaw, whereas in the later period the people were often allied with the Delaware.


Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Tribal facilities are located on 42.5 acres near Binger, Oklahoma. A constitution and by-laws were adopted in 1938 and revised in 1976. An elected eight-member tribal council with a chair governs the tribe. The people also claim almost 2,400 acres of land held in trust in Oklahoma with the Wichita and Delaware.

Economy Unemployment often reaches 40 percent among Indians in Caddo County. Caddos participate in the local economy as professionals, ranchers, farmers, and workers of many kinds. The tribal economy relies heavily on oil, gas, and land leasing. With the other two tribes, the Caddo operate a smoke shop, a factory, and a bingo parlor.

Legal Status The Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribal entity. The people are considering changing their name to the Caddo Nation in Oklahoma.

Daily Life Tribal facilities include administrative offices, dance grounds, and several community centers. The tribe improved its housing in the 1990s and is seeking to build new program and activity buildings. The people have retained a significant amount of traditional culture, especially songs and dances, and there are many programs designed to revitalize Caddo traditions. There is an active Native American Church.

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