Like so many Native American tribes, the Caddo were forced to leave their ancestral land in 1835 and relocate, first to Texas and then to Oklahoma. The Caddo Nation still thrives in Oklahoma today. You can read more about the modern Caddo here.
The Caddo Nation
Mounds and Ceremonies
The Caddo Culture first developed along the Red River between AD 900 and AD 1050. They are the only prehistoric culture in Louisiana with continuous documentation from AD 900 to present. It is the best documented Louisiana Native American culture due to the work of Dr. Clarence H. Webb, who helped define and organize the archaeological complexes of the Caddo area.
The Caddo people built mounds along the river to cover sacred sites and burial areas, and as platforms for buildings or special events. The largest sites were Gahagan and Mounds Plantation in Caddo Parish and Crenshaw Mound, in Miller County, Arkansas. Several smaller mounds, like Haley and Belcher, have also been found between Crenshaw and Mounds Plantation. Each site is roughly equidistant from the others, with 75 miles along the River between each.
From the 1930s to the 1990s, Webb worked with his brother-in-law Monroe Dodd, Jr., Ralph R. McKinney, and Robert Plant to excavate and document many Caddo sites, including Gahagan, Mounds Plantation, Haley and Belcher.
Ceremonial pottery, shell beads, pipes, copper ornaments and stone tools excavated from these sites are all on display in the Museum’s Webb Native American Gallery. The artifacts referenced in this booklet written by Webb in 1978 are on display at the Museum.
The River and Trade
The most impressive piece of LSEM’s Caddo collection is the Cypress Dugout or Canoe. Constructed sometime between A.D. 1005 and AD 1065 , this canoe would have been used by the Caddo for transportation, hunting, and fishing. From AD 900 – 1200 the early Caddo people lived in villages along streams near Red River. They travelled to their ceremonial mound sites in boats such as this.
To construct a dugout, Native Americans used controlled fire to hollow out a log and extinguished the fire at intervals to scrape out burned wood with stone hoes. This method created a flat bottom with straight sides. Dugouts are not true canoes, as a canoe has rounded ends.
According to Dr. Webb, “All early Caddo centers show evidence of considerable long distance trade in copper, stone tools and ceremonial objects, an excellent tie-in with river traffic.” The system of developing trade helped the establishment of political rank and control. Larger boats could carry more valued items and accomplished navigators may have served as leaders.
Webb, Clarence H. and Hiram F. Gregory. The Caddo Indians of Louisiana. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Louisiana Archaeological Survey and Antiquities Commission, 1978.
Lee, Dayna Bowker. Caddo Nation. KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 30 Nov. 2010.
Further Reading and Lesson Plans
- Rack cards and flyers created for the Clarence H. Webb Native American Gallery: LSEM- Webb Gallery Rackcards.
- An art activity for use by Kindergarten through 3rd grade classes who will be visiting the Museum or will be studying Native American cultures – Caddo Pottery- K-3rd Teacher Activity Guide
- For more information on Native American’s in Louisiana, check out the Louisiana’s Division of Archeology webpage. In particular, notice their downloadable books.
- Produced by UT Austin, this site delves into the world of the Caddo Nation, including relevant lesson plans.
- While there are Caddo Mounds along Red River, many are on private property. This driving map outlines all the publically accessible Mounds East of Monroe.
- This site, produced by the Louisiana Regional Folklife program, discusses more about the modern Caddo.