‘A sense of renewal’: Caddo Mounds historic site reopens 5 years after tornado destroyed property

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The Caddo in Texas: ‘There were a lot of skirmishes’

When Mirabeau Lamar assumed the presidency of Texas in 1838, he made the removal of Indigenous communities one of top priorities.

“The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together,” Lamar said in his inaugural address. “Nature forbids it.”

When Lamar took office, the nascent Republic of Texas was deep in debt and struggling to assert its autonomy as a new country. That didn’t stop him from spending $2.5 million on a war to flush the Cherokee and other East Texas communities out of the Lone Star State. By the time he left office, he had been largely successful in his efforts.

“The Indians,” historian T.R. Fehrenbach wrote, “Lamar considered merely trespassing vermin on Texas soil.”

Historically settled near rivers, the Caddos were one of many Indigenous communities that found themselves caught on the tide of empire.

In pre-Columbian America, the Caddo lived in grass-thatched houses, hunted deer, and occasionally conflicted with other Indigenous communities. They were also expert farmers who grew crops like maize, beans, squash and tobacco.

A variety of nuts the Caddo collected and ate in pre-historic America.
Sean Saldana / Texas Standard

“Once you start farming, you’re stuck to that land for a lot longer,” said David La Vere, a history professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. “That’s a big point: hunting people and farming people. And the Caddos were farming people.”

Having permanent settlements meant that the Caddo were able to develop complex social systems – a chiefdom with nobles and commoners, La Vere said.

At one point, Caddos may have numbered around 200,000 in an area bounded approximately 70,000 square miles across current-day Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Louisiana. But disease, warfare, drought and forced relocations dramatically reduced the population in the following years.

Caddos spent much of the mid-19th century relocating as anglos pushed west. It’s unknown exactly how many Caddos were in Texas then, but Caddo historian Phil Cross puts the figure between 500 and 1,000.

“Caddos pretty much had to pack up and go to other places,” Cross said.

In 1854, Texas Caddos, along with affiliated tribes, were moved to the Brazos River Reservation, a 72-square-mile tract that was maintained by the federal government near current-day Graham.

Around 2,000 Indians – including some Anadarko, Tonkawa, Waco and other Indigenous communities – lived on and farmed land for a few years before relations with Anglo settlers started to sour.

“There were a lot of skirmishes around there,” Cross said. “Caddos and other Indians being killed, and vice versa with the Texans.”

In 1859, the Brazos Reservation was vacated and the Indigenous communities living there were escorted to Oklahoma, where the Caddo Nation is currently headquartered.

“Everyone gets their own Trail of Tears, it seems,” La Vere said. “And the Caddo got theirs.”

At one point, the Caddo numbered in the hundreds. Today, there are around 7,000, meaning that their culture is going through somewhat of a revival.

“We’ve reaffirmed that our culture is up here,” said Cross, who was born and raised in Oklahoma. “But it’s down [in Texas] too.”

Prehistoric sites like the Caddo Mounds are a reminder that long before European contact, society existed in the Americas.