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Who are the Caddo Indians?

By Brenda Scott
Updated: May 17, 2024

The Caddo Indians were once a confederacy of numerous related clans, tribes and smaller confederacies of Indians speaking a similar Caddoan language. The name of one of the largest of these confederations, the Tejas, was the origin of the state name of Texas. Traditionally the tribes inhabited East Texas along the Red, Brazos, Sabine, Natches, Trinity and Colorado Rivers, extending into Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. In 1874, the remnants of these various Native American groups were legally combined as a unified Caddo Indian tribe.

The Caddo Indians were part of the Mound Indians found throughout the Southeastern and Midwestern United States, who built earth mounds to elevate their temples and the homes of important leaders. Their religious worship was conducted at temples by a formal priesthood as well as through independent shamans. Fire, which represented the sun god, played an important role in community worship and was kept burning at all times in the homes and temples. Once each fall, they would extinguish all of the old fires and build new ones with fresh fire carried from the temples in an annual celebration of renewal.

Archeological digs can trace the Caddo Indians in the US back to around the year 1000 AD; though the first recorded contact with Europeans was in 1541, when De Soto, the Spanish explorer, met with them. The Caddos, who were primarily farmers and hunters, lived in a sophisticated, highly structured society which maintained friendly relationships with most of their neighbors, including the French and Spanish explorers. They lived in stationary houses on farms where they grew corn, pumpkin, squash and various vegetables and supplemented their diet with fish and game.

In addition to being farmers, the Caddo Indians were craftspeople. They grew cotton which they dyed and wove into fabrics and made decorative wood and clay pottery items. The Indians also has a secret method of dying leather black. Early settlers described beautiful jewelry items made by the Caddos which were similar in design to those of South American tribes, only not made with gold or silver, which was not available in East Texas.

As white settlers pushed westward, the Caddo Indians were pushed from their land, finally being placed with other tribes on the Wichita Reservation. The Caddos left the reservation and moved into Kansas for a period of time during the Civil War, but returned after the war ended. In 1874, when the tribes unified under the name Caddo, they were given their own separate reservation. Later, as a result of the Dawes Act, the reservation ownership was revoked and each family that was willing to register with the federal government was given an allotment of 160 acres of land. The balance of the land was confiscated by the government and sold.

The Caddo Indians are recognized as both United States citizens and as an independent nation. In 1900 there were just over 500 members of the Caddo nation on record. One century later tribal membership exceeded 5,000. While all Caddo Indians speak English, their tribal council and elders maintain an effort to keep the Caddo language, customs and ceremonies alive.

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