The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes, who traditionally inhabited much of what is now East Texas, northern Louisiana and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The Caddo Confederacy was actually known first by its Spanish spelling, Tejas. It is pronounced Te-haas. Sound familiar? Today, we pronounce this word as TEXAS. It means “those who are friends.”
The Caddo Indians are the principal southern representatives of the great Caddoan linguistic family, which include the Wichita, Kichai, Pawnee, and Arikara. Their confederacy consisted of several tribes or divisions.
Before the middle of the nineteenth century the term Caddo denoted only one of at least twenty-five distinct but closely affiliated groups centered around the Red River in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. The term derives from the French abbreviation of Kadohadacho, a word meaning “real chief” or “real Caddo” in the Kadohadacho dialect. European chroniclers referred to the Caddo groups as the Hasinai, Kadohadacho, and Natchitoches confederacies, although the “confederacies” are better interpreted as kin-based affiliated groups or bands of Caddo communities.
The Hasinai groups lived in the Neches and Angelina River valleys in East Texas, the Kadohadacho groups on the Red River in the Great Bend area, and the Natchitoches groups on the Red River in the vicinity of the French post of Natchitoches (Fort St. Jean Baptiste aux Natchitos), established in 1714. The first European description of the Caddo peoples came in 1542 from diarists traveling with De Soto.
Caddo is a popular name contracted from Kadohadacho, the name of the Caddo proper, as used by themselves. It is extended by the whites to include the Confederacy. Most of the early writers, and even many of the later ones used different names for the Kadohadacho.
Chevalier de Tonti, a French explorer, called them Cadadoquis, M. Joutel, historian for La Salle’s exploring party, called them Cadaquis, and John Sibley, Indian agent at Natchitoches, called them Caddoes. They were called Masep by the Kiowa, Nashonet or Nashoni by the Commanche, Dashai by the Wichita, Otasitaniuw (meaning “pierced nose people”) by the Cheyenne, and Tanibanen by the Arapaho.
The number of tribes formerly included in the Caddo Confederacy can not now be determined. Only a small number of the Caddo survive, and the memory of much of their tribal organization is lost.
In 1699 Iberville obtained from his Taensa Indian guide a list of eight divisions; Linares in 1716 gave the names of eleven; Gatschet procured from a Caddo Indian in 1882 the names of twelve divisions, and the list was revised in 1896, by Mooney, as follows: Kadohadacho (Caddo Proper), Nadako (Anadarko), Hainai (Ioni), Nabaidacho (Nabedache), Nakohodotsi (Nacogdoches), Nashitosh (Natchitoches), Nakanawan, Haiish (Eyeish, Aliche, Aes), Yatasi, Hadaii (Adai, Adaize), Imaha, a small band of Kwaps, and Yowani, a band of Choctaw.
A more recent study by Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, of the University of California, reveals the fact that there were two confederacies of the Caddoan linguistic stock inhabiting northeastern Texas, in stead of one, as indicated by Mooney and Fletcher.
Bolton says that the Caddo whose culture was similar to the Hasinai, lived along both banks of the Red River from the lower Natchitoches tribe, in the vicinity of the present Louisiana city of that name, to the Natsoos and Nassonites tribes, above the great bend of the Red River in southwestern Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. The best known members of this group were the Cadodacho Grand Cado, or Caddo proper, Petit Cado, upper and lower Natchitoches, Adaes, Yatasi, Nassonites, and Natsoos. On the Angelina and upper Neches rivers, lived the Hasinai, that comprised some ten or more tribes, of which the best known were the Hainai, Nacogdoche, Nabedache, Nasoni, and Nadaco.
Of the names mentioned by the different writers nine tribes named by Mooney in his list are found under varying forms in the lists of 1699, by Iberville, and 1716, by Linares. Both Mooney and Bolton included the Cadodacho, Natchitoches, Yatasi, and Adai in the Caddo Con federacy. It appears from the evidence at hand that during the eighteenth century two confederacies existed instead of one as indicated by Mooney.
The Yatasi, Adai, Natchitoches, Natsoos, Nassonites, and Cadodacho are the tribes that most likely belonged to the Caddo Confederacy for sure.
It is impossible at the present time to identify all the tribes that belonged to the Caddo Confederacy. It is estimated that before European contact, the Caddo peoples may have numbered about 10,000.
The Natchitoches lived on Red River, near the present city of Natchitoches, Louisiana. Whether the army of De Soto came in contact with them is unknown, but the companions of La Salle, after his death, traversed their country, and Douay speaks of them as a powerful nation.”
In 1730 according to Du Pratz, the Natchitoches villages near the trading post at Natchitoche numbered about two hundred cabins. The population rapidly declined as a result of the wars in which they were forced to take part, and the introduction of new diseases, particularly small pox and measles.
In 1805 Dr. John Sibley, Indian agent at Natchitoches, in a report to Thomas Jefferson relative to the Indian tribes in his territory said:
“There is now remaining of the Natchitoches but twelve men and nineteen women, who live in a village about twenty five miles by land above the town which bears their name near the lake, called by the French Lac de Muire. Their original language is the same as the Yattassee, but speak Caddo, and most of them French.
The French inhabitants have great respect for this nation, and a number of very decent families have a mixture of their blood in them. They claim but a small tract of land, on which they live, and I am informed, have the same rights to it from Government, that other inhabitants in their neighborhood have. They are gradually wasting away; the small pox has been their great destroyer. They still preserve their Indian dress and habits; raise corn and those vegetables common in their neighborhood.”
The Yatasi tribe is first spoken of by Tonti, who states that in 1690 their village was on the Red River, northwest of Natchitoches. In the first part of the eighteenth century, St. Denis invited them to locate near Natchitoches, in order that they might be protected from the attacks of the Chickasaw who were then waging war along Red River. A part of the tribe moved near Natchitoches, while others migrated up the river to the Kadohadacho and to the Nanatsoho and the Nasoni.
At a later date the Yatasi must have returned to their old village site. John Sibley, in a report from Natchitoches, states that they lived on Bayou River (Stony Creek), which falls into Red River, Western division, about fifty miles above Natchitoches. According to Sibley’s report they settled in a large prairie, about half way between the Caddoques (Cadodacho) and the Natchitoches, surrounded by a settlement of French families. Of the ancient Yattassees (Yatasi) there were then but eight men and twenty-five women remaining. Their original language differed from any others, but all of them spoke Caddo. They lived on rich land, raised plenty of corn, beans, pumpkins, and tobacco. They also owned horses, cattle, hogs, and poultry.
The Adai village was located on a small creek near the present town of Robeline, Louisiana, about twenty-five miles west of Natchitoches. This was also the site of the Spanish Mission, Los Adaes. The first historical mention of the Adai was made by Cabeca de Vaca, who in his “Naufragios”, referring to his stay in Texas, about 1530, called them Atayos. Mention was also made of them by Iberville, Joutel, and some other early French explorers. In 1792 there was a partial emigration of the Adai, numbering fourteen families, to a site south of San Antonio de Pejar, southwest Texas, where it is thought they blended with the surrounding Indian population. The Adai who were left in their old homes at Adayes, numbered about one hundred in 1802.
According to John Sibley’s report in 1805 there were only twenty men of them remaining, but more women than men. Their language differed from that of all other tribes and was very difficult to speak, or understand. They all spoke Caddo, and most of them spoke French also. They had a strong attachment to the French, as is shown by the fact that they joined them in war against the Natchez Indians.
The Cadodacho (real Caddo, Caddo proper), seem to have lived as a tribe on Red River of Louisiana from time immemorial. According to tribal traditions the lower Red River of Louisiana was their original home, from which they migrated west and northwest. Penicaut reported in 1701 that the Caddo lived on the Sabloniere, or Red River, about one hundred and seventy leagues above Natchitoches, which places them a little above the big bend of Red River near the present towns of Fulton, Arkansas, and Texarkana. In 1800 the Caddo moved down the Red River near Caddo Lake, which placed them about one hundred and twenty miles from the present town of Natchitoches. Sibley says:
They formerly lived on the south bank of the river, by the course of the river 376 miles higher up, at a beautiful prairie, which has a clear lake of good water in the middle of it, surrounded by a pleasant and fertile country, which had been the residence of their ancestors for time immemorial. They have a traditionary tale, which not only the Caddoes, but half a dozen other smaller nations believe in, who claim the honor of being descendants of the same family; they say, when all the world was drowning by a flood, that inundated the whole country, the Great Spirit placed on an eminence, near this lake, one family of Caddoques, who alone were saved; from that family all the Indians originated.
In 1719 the Assonites (Nassonites), and Natsoos, dwelt along Red River, often on both sides of the channel about one hundred and fifty leagues northwest of Natchitoches. They lived near the Cadodacho and were related to them.
The Cadodacho was the leading tribe in the Caddo Confederacy. This nation wielded a great influence over many of the tribes belonging to the Southern Caddoan family. In 1805 their influence extended over the Yatasi, Nandakoes, Nebadaches, Inies, or Tackies, Nacogdoches, Keychies, Adai, and Natchitoches, who looked up to them as their father, visited and intermarried among them, and joined them in all their wars.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the importance of the Cadodacho as a distinct tribe was at an end; the people became merged with the other tribes of the confederacy. In 1776 De Mezieres recommended that presents no longer be given to the Natchitoches and Yatasi tribes, since they had disbanded and scattered among other bands. In 1805 the Natchitoches numbered fifty. Shortly afterwards, they ceased to exist as a distinct tribe, having been completely absorbed into the other tribes of the Caddo Confederacy.
The Yatasi tribe was practically destroyed by the wars and new diseases of the eighteenth century. These had such an effect on the Yatasi that by 1805, according to Sibley, they had been reduced to eight men and twenty women and children. They, too, merged with the other members of the Caddo Confederacy.
All of the Adai, Natsoos, and Nasonnites disappeared as distinct tribes by the close of the eighteenth century. The Adai were absorbed by the Caddo, and it is thought the Natsoos, and Nasonnites were also merged with their kindred. By the close of the eighteenth century with the exception of a few scattered bands, the Caddo villages in the vicinity of the present Caddo Parish, Louisiana, represented the remnants of the old Caddo Confederacy.
The Spanish described several of the Caddo groups as having dense populations living in scattered settlements and having abundant food reserves of corn. Twentieth-century archeological investigations of many prehistoric Caddoan sites indicate that Caddo communities were widely dispersed throughout the major and minor stream valleys of the Caddoan area by around A.D. 800.
The roots of these peoples can be traced to Fourche Maline or Woodland Period culture groups that began to settle down in small communities, to manufacture ceramics for cooking and storage of foodstuffs, and to develop a horticultural way of life based on the raising of tropical cultigens (corn, squash, and later beans) and certain native plants.
The Caddo are thought to be an extension of Woodland period peoples, the Fourche Maline culture and Mossy Grove cultures who were living in the area of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas between 200 BCE to 800 CE. The Wichita and Pawnee are related to the Caddo, as shown by their speaking Caddoan languages. By 800 CE this society had begun to coalesce into the Caddoan Mississippian culture.
Some villages began to gain prominence as ritual centers, with elite residences and temple mound constructions. The mounds were arranged around open plazas, which were usually kept swept clean and were often used for ceremonial occasions. As complex religious and social ideas developed, some people and family lineages gained prominence over others.
By 1000 CE a society that is defined as “Caddoan” had emerged. By 1200 the numerous villages, hamlets, and farmsteads established throughout the Caddo world had begun extensive maize agriculture. Their artistic skills and earthwork mound-building flourished during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Spiro mounds, some of the most elaborate in the United States, were made by ancestors of the Caddo and Wichita. The Caddo were farmers and enjoyed good growing conditions most of the time. However, the Piney Woods, the geographic area where they lived, was affected by the Great Drought, from 1276–1299 CE.
Archeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present, and that the direct ancestors of the Caddo and related Caddo language speakers in prehistoric times and at first European contact and the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is unquestioned today.
Caddo oral history says the tribe emerged from an underground cave, called Chahkanina or “the place of crying,” located at the confluence of the Red and Mississippi Rivers in northern Louisiana. Their leader, named Moon, instructed the people not to look back. An old Caddo man carried with him a drum, a pipe, and fire, all of which continued to be important religious items. His wife carried corn and pumpkin seeds. As people and accompanying animals emerged, the wolf looked back and the exit was closed to the remaining people and animals.
The Caddo peoples moved west along the Red River, or Bah’hatteno in Caddo. A Caddo woman, Zacado, instructed the tribe in hunting, fishing, home construction, and clothing. Caddo religion focuses on Kadhi háyuh, translating to “Lord Above” or “Lord of the Sky.” In early times, the people were led by priests, including a head priest, the xinesi, who could commune with spirits residing near Caddo temples. A cycle of ceremonies corresponded to corn cultivation. Tobacco was and is used ceremonially. Early priests drank a purifying sacrament made of wild olive leaves.
The Caddo lived in the Piney Woods eco-region of the United States up to the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and often near the Caddo River. The Piney Woods is a dense forest of deciduous and conifer flora covering rolling hills, steep river valleys, and intermittent wetlands called Bayous. Several Caddo villages were resettled, including the community of Elysian Fields, Texas, and Nacogdoches and Natchitoches, both of which have kept their original names. The Caddo were progressively moved further west until they reached what is now western Oklahoma. The geography of the drier plains was quite a contrast to the lush hilly forest that were formerly their homeland.
With the arrival of missionaries from Spain and France, a smallpox epidemic broke out that decimated the population. Measles, influenza, and malaria also devastated the Caddo, as these were Eurasian diseases to which they had no immunity.
Before extensive European contact, some of the Caddo territory was invaded by migrating Osage, Ponca, Omaha and Kaw, who had moved west beginning about 1200 CE because of years of warfare with the Iroquois in the Ohio River area of present-day Kentucky. The Osage particularly dominated the Caddo and pushed them out of some former territory, becoming dominant in the region of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma. The new tribes had become well settled in their new traditional grounds west of the Mississippi by mid-18th century European contact.
Having given way over years before the power of the former Ohio Valley tribes, Caddos later negotiated for place with Spanish, French, and finally Anglo-American settlers. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, the United States government sought to ally with the Caddos. In 1835 the Kadohadacho, the northernmost Caddo confederacy, signed a treaty with the US to relocate to then Mexico. This area had been rapidly transformed by greatly increased immigration of European Americans, who in 1836 declared independence from Mexico with the Republic of Texas. “Texas” comes from the Hasinai word táysha?, meaning “friend.”
In 1845 when Texas was admitted to the US as a state, the government forced the relocation of both the Hasinai and the Kadohadacho onto the Brazos Reservation. In 1859 many of the Caddo were relocated to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. After the Civil War, the Caddo were concentrated on a reservation located between the Washita and Canadian rivers.
In the late 19th century, the Caddo took up the Ghost Dance religion, which was widespread among American Indian nations in the West. John Wilson, a Caddo-Delaware medicine man who spoke only Caddo, was an influential leader in the Ghost Dance. In 1880, Wilson became a peyote roadman. The tribe had known the Half Moon peyote ceremony, but Wilson introduced the Big Moon ceremony to them. The Caddo tribe remains very active in the Native American Church today.
After the turn of the century, the Curtis Act dismantled tribal institutions. The Dawes Act was directed at assimilation by breaking up tribal common landholdings into allotments for individual members. The Caddo vigorously opposed allotment. Whitebread, a Caddo leader, said, that “because of their peaceful lives and friendship to the white man, and through their ignorance were not consulted, and have been ignored and stuck away in a corner and allowed to exist by sufferance.”
The Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 provided the opportunity for the Caddo to reform their tribal government. They organized in 1938 as the Caddo Indian Tribe of Oklahoma. They ratified their constitution on January 17, 1938
The Haisinai confederacy included:
- Nasoni (Lower)
The Kadohadacho confederacy included:
- Nasoni (Upper)
- Natchitoches (Upper)
The Natchitoches confederacy included:
- Natchitoches (Lower)
Other affiliated tribes: