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"The Caddo Nation"

"The Caddo Nation"
Archaeological and Ethnohistoric Perspectives
Foreword by Thomas R. Hester

An exploration of Caddoan cultural change from the perspectives of both archaeological data and historical, ethnographic, and archival records.

Series: Texas Archaeology and Ethnohistory Series

January 1993
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344 pages | 6 x 9 | 14 figures, 18 maps, 27 tables |

First published in 1992 and now updated with a new preface by the author and a foreword by Thomas R. Hester, "The Caddo Nation" investigates the early contacts between the Caddoan peoples of the present-day Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas region and Europeans, including the Spanish, French, and some Euro-Americans.

Perttula's study explores Caddoan cultural change from the perspectives of both archaeological data and historical, ethnographic, and archival records. The work focuses on changes from A.D. 1520 to ca. A.D. 1800 and challenges many long-standing assumptions about the nature of these changes.

  • Foreword by Thomas R. Hester
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part 1. Contact and Theoretical Issues
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. European Contact with the Caddo Nation: An Overview
  • 3. Archaeology and the Contact Era: Theory and Methodology
  • Part 2. Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Issues
  • 4. The Archaeological Record in the Caddoan Area, 1520-1685
  • 5. The Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Record in the Caddoan Area, 1685-1800
  • 6. Special Aspects of the Eighteenth-Century Caddoan Archaeological Record
  • Part 3. Summary
  • Conclusions and Future Prospects
  • Appendix
  • The Chronological Sequence in the Titus Phase of Northeast Texas
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index

Timothy K. Perttula is a consulting archaeologist living in Austin, Texas.


Contact between Europeans and native Americans in the New World has over the last five hundred years forever changed the cultural and social character of both peoples. This interaction, which continues today in a multiplicity of ways, has left in its wake unprecedented and catastrophic native American population losses and dispossession of traditional homelands. The ideas, people, and products from Europe and the United States that have been thereby introduced have altered in many ways the traditional nature of native American lifeways. At the same time, this contact has called attention to the rich cultural heritage of native Americans, to the strength of their spirituality and beliefs, and to the tenacity with which they have held to their traditional homelands and way of life in the face of unwavering and unrelenting cultural contact.

I examine here through archaeological, historical, ethnographic, and archival means the nature of contact and interaction between the Caddoan Indian peoples of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and Europeans—especially the Spanish and French—and the Euro-Americans. The Caddoan Indian peoples lived in the region for over a thousand years before they had any contact with Europeans; the culmination of over three hundred years of contact was expulsion from their homelands and forced removal to Indian Territory in 1859.

The emphasis in this study on the archaeological, ethnohistorical, and archival records dealing with the effects of European contact on native Caddoan peoples can be summarized in the form of the two following questions, which are derived from the classic study by Edward Spicer (1962) entitled Cycles of Conquest: What are the principal ways in which Caddoan groups responded to European contact? What happened to their traditional cultures as a result of the manifold effects of contact? As such, these questions focus on the record of Caddoan cultural change initiated by European explorers and settlers in the region since ca. 1540 and the de Soto-Moscoso entrada.

The focus of much current archaeological and ethnohistorical research in the United States is on the systemic relationship between the archaeological and ethnographical records (i.e., the records gathered by anthropologists, traders, missionaries, explorers, and others about native American groups), and this study of the Caddo nation is solidly in that tradition. While both the archaeological and ethnohistorical perspectives hold considerable promise for elucidating the processes of native American cultural change and acculturation, it is only in concert that a broader understanding can be reached of what Bruce Trigger (1985) calls "Native history." Concern with the Caddoan peoples of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas brings to the forefront again that Caddoan Indian peoples played a significant role in the Euro-American settlement of the area in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and in the European and American political arena of those times.

The detailed examination of the Caddoan archaeological record is of singular importance for the Protohistoric period (1520-1685) because processes of indirect, sporadic, and intermittent contact, and any initial changes in Caddoan lifeways brought about by European contact, are difficult to document thoroughly or explicitly from an ethnohistorical and ethnographic perspective. Profound demographic, social, and political changes could have occurred prior to the onset of face-to-face European contact with Caddoan groups because of the introduction and widespread diffusion of diseases and European material goods without European knowledge (Dobyns 1983; Ramenofsky 1990). Thus, even limited contact by Caddoan peoples with Europeans, or their products, could affect native American cultures in very fundamental ways, and only the study of the archaeological record can provide information about them.

At the same time, there is much of interest in the ethnographic, archival, and historical records for studying culture contact between Caddoan peoples and Europeans. These data provide specific details of change and traditional lifeways in a number of dimensions, particularly in such facets as political organization, language assimilation, settlement and community structure, religious persistence, and economic systems that can only be indirectly and poorly comprehended in the archaeological record. With the integration of such diverse sets of information—the archaeological, ethnographic, archival, and historical—we can explore the long-term effects and consequences of European contact on Caddoan peoples, discuss the processes and causes responsible for cultural change among Caddoan Indian groups between ca. 1540 and 1859, and lay the groundwork for a coherent history of the relationship between Caddoan peoples and Europeans.

The major conclusions of this study of Caddoan and European contact can be summarized as follows: First, severe population loss among many Caddoan peoples, beginning in the sixteenth century, occurred as a consequence of acute epidemic diseases introduced by the Europeans. The introduction and diffusion of these diseases occurred well before any substantial ethnographic descriptions of the Caddoan peoples were recorded. Second, these population losses, which continued episodically from ca. 1540 to 1890 and totaled an estimated 94 percent, were apparently accompanied by reductions in social and political complexity as well as changes in Caddoan settlement density and organization. These population losses are not uniform temporally or spatially and may have been heavier along the major rivers (such as the Red River), where Caddoan population densities at first contact were at their highest levels. Third, regional abandonments because of depopulation and mobility (following the introduction and adoption of the horse by Caddoan peoples in the late seventeenth century) are thought to be related to the development of Caddoan confederacies—the Kadohadacho, the Hasinai, and the Natchitoches—and to the coalescence over time of formerly separate Caddoan ethnic and tribal entities. Fourth, these confederacies, particularly the Hasinai confederacy in East Texas, maintained an active trade relationship with the French and Spanish through the Contact period, as is clearly demonstrated in both the archaeological and historical records. They also participated strongly in the fur trade developed by the French. Fifth, these confederacies were the preeminent native American political entity in that part of the Spanish Borderlands West until about 1800, when waves of immigrant Indians and Euro-Americans from east of the Mississippi River began to move into Louisiana and Spanish Texas. And, sixth, Caddoan communities that existed in small dispersed groups and formal settlements along the minor streams, tributaries, and hinterland areas do not appear to have been depopulated as severely as were large Caddoan riverine communities on the Red River (such as the Kadohadacho and related groups). Consequently, it is mainly the small dispersed Caddoan groups who made up the Hasinai confederacy, who were subsequently described ethnographically by Europeans and Euro-Americans, and who are the best known from historic times. Many of the Caddoan groups described in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries by Europeans ceased to exist by the late eighteenth century.

The Texas [Hasinai Caddo] are lively by nature, clear-sighted, sociable, proud and high minded ... of great heart, and very quick in military activities. With their friends they keep unchangeable peace, and with their enemies they never, or very seldom, make peace.

—Fray Juan Agustín de Morfi, ca. 1780

The first known European explorers of the Caddoan Area in the Spanish Borderlands West were the two hundred or so ragged and exhausted members of the de Soto-Moscoso entrada in 1542. In their search for treasure and great wealth, the members of the Spanish de Soto entrada hoped to discover native civilizations to exploit in La Florida similar to those encountered earlier in the sixteenth century by Spanish conquistadores in Mexico and Peru (Quinn 1979, 2:93-96) That no such native American civilizations were discovered in these wanderings does not lessen the overall importance of the de Soto entrada and its various chronicles for the archaeologist and ethnographer concerned with understanding the nature of aboriginal lifeways in the southeastern United States (Hudson et al. 1985; Hudson, DePratter, and Smith 1989).

The de Soto chronicles introduce us to the Caddoan peoples, one of many aboriginal societies described as living west of the Mississippi Valley in the general direction of New Spain. The various Caddoan societies described therein were noted to share basic similarities in material culture, behavior, and custom, but they spoke a language different from other aboriginal groups previously encountered by the Spanish (Swanton 1939). Indeed, the Spanish were unable to find a translator among the native American retinue accompanying the entrada. The chronicles describe these people as successful maize agriculturists as well as bison hunters and provide an initial glimpse of these aboriginal Caddoan populations who "were still in the full state of their indigenous developments" (Brain 1985a, xlvii).

We now know, 450 years later, that these peoples were southern Caddoan-speaking groups. They were apparently living at the time on and between the Arkansas and Red River valleys and south into deep East Texas, now within the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri. The de Soto entrada provides an introduction to a native American people who had a significant role in defining the nature of the European and American settlement of the area in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The examination of the cultural contact and interaction process from an archaeological and ethnohistorical perspective is the focus of this study (see also Perttula 1989a, 1991).

It was more than one hundred years after the de Soto entrada that these southern Caddoan-speaking peoples again became known to Europeans through information derived from southern Plains nomadic groups who came to the Santa Fe trade fairs. Tantalizing rumors of a populous nation of Indians, soon to be known as the "Kingdom of the Tejas" (Bolton 1917.), reached Spanish administrators in the Santa Fe area. Messages carried from the Tejas to the Spanish by the Jumano (a nomadic group who lived mainly in West Texas) suggested that they desired not only to initiate commerce with the Spanish but, according to the interpretations of the missionaries, desired also to be introduced to the Catholic faith. More than thirty years of propaganda efforts by the missionaries to capitalize on these desires were for nought until the political climate was right. Not until the Spanish became concerned that the French colonization of the Lower Mississippi Valley would interfere with their ambitious plans for the "Kingdom of the Tejas" and the colony of New Spain did they take action. This political and religious interplay between the Spanish and French that began in the late seventeenth century in the Spanish Borderlands West was a contributing factor to why the Caddoan peoples, located on the borders of these two political rivals, played such a pivotal role in shaping the colonization of the Red and Arkansas rivers first by the Spanish and French and then later by the Americans. Their importance is well attested to in the archival and ethnohistorical records of the colonial powers and American state (Flores 1984; Usner 1987; Winfrey and Day 1966).

The scholarly interest in the southern Caddoan-speaking peoples by ethnographers and archaeologists first began as part of a more general concern with the origins and character of the aboriginal inhabitants encountered during European and Euro-American settlement of the eastern United States and the Great Plains. The study of native American groups was an intellectual curiosity and was frequently motivated by paternalistic feelings expressed by the U.S. government, missionaries, teachers, traders, and scientists of the day for the native American groups whose history and culture was so poorly known. Nevertheless, from these efforts, particularly those of historian Herbert Eugene Bolton (1915, 1987), John R. Swanton (1942.), and James Mooney (1896) of the Bureau of Ethnology in the Smithsonian Institution and George A. Dorsey (1905a, 1905b) of the Carnegie Institution, a corpus of historical and ethnographic information was compiled that was (and still is) of considerable interest to those studying the Caddoan peoples.

As I will discuss in greater detail, archaeological investigations of the material remains thought to have been left by these peoples proceeded at the same time but without an overall view and clear appreciation of the historical and developmental relationships between the Caddoan archaeological record and the ethnographically described Caddoan peoples. In large measure because of refinements in dating archaeological materials, more intensive regional investigations, and a better understanding of temporal and spatial variability in Caddoan culture within the Caddoan Area (Story í99o; Jeter et al. 1989), our perceptions of the Caddoan people have been substantially and rapidly changing.

Of late, scientific studies of the Caddoan peoples have come to emphasize cultural change over time and the meaning of cultural variations that are particular to the aboriginal populations living in the region (e.g., Schambach 1987.; Jeter et al. 1989; Story 1990; Perttula 1989a). As noted, the systematic study of Caddoan archaeology and ethnography has a long and rich tradition beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. Recent promising developments in archaeology, ethnohistory, physical anthropology, and linguistics continue the productive inquiry into the development of these Caddoan peoples and their ways of life. The studies by Chafe (1983), Gregory (1983, 1986), Phillips and Brown (1984), Rose (1984), Story (1985a), Fritz (1986b, 1989), Bruseth (1987), Sabo et al. (1988), Rogers et al. (1989), Jeter et al. (1989), and Story et al. (1990) are examples of significant recent research efforts that have illuminated many aspects of Caddoan prehistory and history. Future studies will undoubtedly contribute even further to our understanding of the cultural heritage of the Caddoan peoples.

This study attempts to examine Caddoan lifeways during a very significant period in North American history by focusing on the record of Caddoan cultural change preserved in the archaeological and ethnographic records from ca. 1520 to 1800. My primary concern is elucidating how these aboriginal Caddoan groups were affected by European contact and, likewise, how these Caddoan groups affected European societies in the Spanish Borderlands West. The emphasis on both archaeological and ethnohistorical records and on the dual nature of contact recognizes the unique but complementary promise of both disciplines for this investigation.

Examination of the relationships between the archaeological record of the Caddoan Area and ethnographically known Caddoan societies certainly exemplifies how ecological and evolutionary processes can shape the character of a native American population over the long term and, furthermore, provides the additional opportunity, through the pursuit of native American history (Trigger 1980, 1985; Axtell 1988), to address how Caddoan societies changed and/or maintained traditional cultural lifeways as a consequence of European contact and interaction over the last 450 years.

The Caddoan Area offers the further possibility of drawing upon the archaeological and ethnographic records to study aboriginal cultural change in great detail. To understand the nature of change in native American history among the Caddoan peoples during at least portions of the time under consideration foremost requires diachronic data primarily obtained from the study of the archaeological record. Certain ethnohistorical and archival records (population estimates, group movements, descriptions of significant rituals and ceremonies) are also appropriate sources of information about diachronic processes of cultural change in the Caddoan Area. These data together chronicle a specific record of change, a record that has great meaning to those who are interested in the history of the Caddoan peoples specifically and of native Americans generally.

The Caddoan Area

The relationship between the Caddoan tribes or groups recorded ethnographically over the last several centuries and the geographic region containing archaeological remains presumed to represent their prehistoric ancestors has specific temporal and spatial connotations. As an ethnohistorical and ethnographic construct, the term Caddo had little meaning before the middle of the nineteenth century, that is, before the Caddoan peoples were removed to Indian Territory. Prior to that time the Caddo (i.e., the Kadohadacho proper) were only one of at least twenty-five distinct social entities known in the ethnographic records of the Caddoan Area (see Bolton 1987 and Swanton 1942). These were groups who had primarily lived in close contact with the Spanish and French ca. 1685-1803 and became known to chroniclers of the times.

The term Caddo derives from the French abbreviation of Kadohadacho, a word meaning "real chief" in the Kadohadacho dialect (Newkumet and Meredith 1988). However, depending upon the context, the term means several different things in anthropological and archaeological usage (Story 1978). For instance, Caddo or Caddoan can refer to a native American linguistic family or a subdivision of related dialects within that family; be a collective term for up to twenty-five related tribes or bands, three possible confederacies, or specific Prehistoric and Historic period archaeological assemblages; or mean the geographic region containing these archaeological assemblages (Trubowitz 1984, 4).

Because of the overall thrust of this study, the consideration of Caddo or Caddoan from an archaeological perspective is a necessity. What is meant by the use of the term Caddoan Area? Basically, archaeological areas are coherent spatial and temporal entities within which the archaeological record is similar among its various regions and different from that of other broad geographic areas that have other cultural traditions (Willey and Phillips 1958, 18-21). Behind this relatively simplistic definition then, the Caddoan Area as an archaeological concept is thus recognizable primarily on the basis of a set of longstanding and distinctive cultural, social, and political elements that have temporal, spatial, and geographic connotations. While total unanimity in definition of a complex archaeological phenomenon such as the Caddoan Area may never be reached, some basic characteristics have been outlined by Prewitt (1974, 76), namely, that the Caddo had "a large population represented by many small settlements scattered within particular resource areas; a reliance upon horticulture as one of the primary means of subsistence; differentiated and undifferentiated mound/habitation sites with structurally differentiated mound classes (producing an apparently hierarchic division of places on the landscape); differential treatment of the dead reflective of a system of ranking; indications of long-term cooperation in disposal of the dead by groups represented by some of the archaeological units."

In general, these basic characteristics of settlement, subsistence, sociopolitical organization, and mortuary treatments for the Caddoan Archaeological Area over the last one thousand years, from ca. A.D. 750 to 1750, are very similar, if not identical, to what constitutes Mississippi period cultural traditions defined in eastern North American archaeology (Griffin 1967, 1985; Muller 1978; Smith 1986, 1990; Steponaitis 1986). However, in spite of these broad similarities, the evolutionary development of the prehistoric and early historic Caddoan tradition, Caddoan archaeologists argue, took place relatively independently of Mississippi period developments in the eastern North American region (Smith 1990).

The combination of the cultural criteria outlined above, in conjunction with the specific distribution of the Trans-Mississippi South biome as defined by Schambach (1970), provides perhaps the most precise and useful geographic delineation of the Caddoan Area irrespective of its spatial extent at any one particular point in time. The area is approximately 200,000 square kilometers and centers on the Red and Arkansas rivers in portions of the states of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri (Fig. 1). It is characterized by an ecological or biotic community of hardwoods, pines, and interspersed prairies that is distinct from the tall-grass prairies to the north, west, and south and distinct from the floodplain environments of the Lower Mississippi Valley embayment and the Mississippian and Plaquemine peoples who lived there (Phillips 1970; Williams and Brain 1983; Schambach 1991).

The Caddoan Archaeological Area has recently been divided into three subareas, the Northern Caddoan, Western Caddoan, and Central Caddoan. Archaeological developments within each of these subareas seems to represent the in situ formation of separate and complex Caddoan cultural traditions (Schambach 1983): (a) the Arkansas, or Northern Caddoan, subarea of northeast Oklahoma, northwest Arkansas, and southwest Missouri, including the Arkansas Valley lowlands (region V in Fig. 1), the South Canadian basin (region IV), and the western Ozark Highlands (region VI) (Brown, Bell, and Wyckoff 1978); (b) the western Caddoan subarea of East Texas and South-central Oklahoma, including the western Gulf Coastal Plain outside the Red River Valley (region I), and the Ouachita Mountains (region III) (Story 1981, 1990; Wyckoff and Baugh 1980); and (c) the central Caddoan subarea in the Red and Ouachita river valleys in Southwest Arkansas, Northwest Louisiana, and Southeast Oklahoma (region II) (Schambach 1983; Williams and Early 1990). Within each of these Caddoan subareas there were probably significant intraareal and diachronic differences in the character of individual cultures and groups (Story 1990). Many of these regional cultural differences, as well as the larger set of broad overall similarities, will be discussed in more detail as we examine the effects of cultural contact between Europeans and Caddoan peoples from subarea to subarea.

This study is divided into three sections. Part 1, which contains this introduction and chapters 2 and 3, deals primarily with theoretical and methodological issues concerning the Protohistoric and Historic archaeological records of the Caddoan Area and reviews the documentary materials pertaining to the patterns of cultural contact between the Caddoan peoples and Europeans.

Part 2, which contains chapters 4, 5, and 6, is concerned with providing an assessment of the Caddoan contact period archaeological record from areal, regional, and thematic perspectives. Emphasis is given to discerning systemic differences at particular points and intervals in time (1520, 1520-1685, and 1685-1800) in such things as mortuary variability, the construction and use of mound structures and other community facilities, regional settlement density, and the occurrence and adoption of European trade goods among Caddoan peoples that highlight contrastive changes between Caddoan riverine town communities and rural communities in gauging the effects of contact with Europeans.

Finally, in Part 3 (chapter 7), I present a summary of the specific and general findings presented in this study and conclude with remarks about the limitations and future prospects of research on the Caddoan Historic archaeological and ethnohistorical records. Major issues important in future studies of the 1520-1860 period in the Caddoan Area are (a) further ethnohistoric research dealing with the still poorly tapped French, Spanish, and American archival and documentary records, (b) the archaeology of the fur trade, (c) the archaeology of the removal and post-Removal period (1840 to the present), and (d) analyses of the paleodemographic and bioarchaeological records necessary to directly evaluate the effects and consequences of demographic change and stress postulated in this study. This study should encourage renewed consideration of the archaeology, ethnography, and history of an important southeastern native American population occupying the Trans-Mississippi South.


“A welcome addition to the sparse literature on this important Native American society.”
American Antiquity

“Perttula's book is an essential reference for the specialist in Caddo culture and Caddo archaeology (the comprehensive bibliography alone is worth the price of the book). It offers much to a wider audience, however. Anyone who has ever studied the impacts of European/Native American contacts and the decline of native societies will welcome this as an excellent case study that succeeds in bridging the gap between historic documents and archaeological data.... It should eventually find its way into the classroom as a text, not only for the study of the Caddo, but for the study of European impacts on native people in general.”


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