Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Caddo Indians are a tribe whose traditional historic homeland was located along the borders of present Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Caddos occupied a strategic position between Spanish Texas and French Louisiana. In the early nineteenth century, however, Texans forced the tribe out into the Great Plains. After wandering for three decades, they finally settled in western Oklahoma, where most of the Caddos still live today.

The Caddos were the southernmost tribe of the Caddoan language group, whose membership stretched northward to include the Wichitas, Pawnees, and Arikaras. About 2,000 years ago the Caddo peoples settled down in small horticultural villages between the Neches and Arkansas Rivers. By about 1000 A.D., the Caddos had developed complex and socially ranked societies with well-planned civic and ceremonial centers. They conducted elaborate ceremonial practices and mortuary rituals led by a religious and political elite, and engaged in extensive interregional trade.

In 1542 the Caddos were visited by the remnants of Hernando de Soto's Spanish entrada, at this point led by Luis de Moscoso. Although the Spaniards spent only a few weeks among the Caddos, they, and later members of other Spanish expeditions, left behind epidemic diseases, which caused the Caddo population to decline catastrophically. By the time Europeans returned to Caddo country in the late seventeenth century, the tribe had abandoned their village sites in the Arkansas Valley. The 10,000 remaining Caddos established permanent farming villages along the Red and the Neches Rivers. The Red River Caddos consisted of the four tribes of the Kadohadacho Confederacy, as well as the Yatasis and the Natchitoches. To the west, along the upper reaches of the Neches River in East Texas, were the nine tribes that made up the Hasinai Confederacy. Each individual Caddo tribe was led by a hereditary chief, or caddi, who presided over a well-defined chain of command that provided the tribe with strong, e.cient government.

By 1730 both the French and the Spanish had established themselves in the Caddos' territory. The French maintained trading posts at the Natchitoches, Yatasi, and Kadohadacho villages, while the Spanish set up three Franciscan missions in Hasinai country, as well as establishing the capital of Texas at Los Adaes, only a few miles west of the French post at Natchitoches. Despite the Spanish presence, all of the Caddo tribes obtained French weapons and metal goods, which, together with the adoption of the horse in the seventeenth century, allowed them to better defend themselves against enemies such as the Lipan Apaches to the west and the Osages to the east. By the mid–eighteenth century, however, the Caddos had abandoned most of their traditional crafts and were increasingly dependent upon European metal goods. When Spain obtained Louisiana from France in 1763, it continued to allow French trade goods to flow to the Caddos and their Wichita and Comanche allies in Texas. When the United States acquired the territory in 1803, the Caddos found themselves occupying an undefined border between American Louisiana and Spanish Texas. Seizing the moment, the Kadohadacho caddi, Dehahuit, expertly played the two rivals against one another to gain even further munificence for all of the Caddo tribes for whom he had become spokesman. After 1821, however, the border between Louisiana and Texas was settled, and both the United States and the newly independent Mexico neglected the Caddos. By the 1830s alcohol, disease, and Osage pressure had caused the Caddo numbers to dwindle to about 1,000, and the original fifteen tribes had coalesced into only three: the Hainais, Nadacos, and Kadohadachos. In 1835 U.S. Indian agent Jehiel Brooks forced the Kadohadachos to sign a treaty by which the tribe agreed to move to East Texas to live with the Hainais and Nadacos.

Unfortunately for the Caddos, Texas gained its independence from Mexico the following year and the Anglo-Americans who ruled the republic after 1836 and the state after 1845 were extremely hostile to the Indians of the region. In 1838 Texan settlers drove all three Caddo tribes from their homes in the forests of East Texas out onto the plains of central Texas, where they lived in various settlements for the next sixteen years. In 1854 the Caddos–along with Wichitas, Tonkawas, and Penateka Comanches– settled on two Indian reservations established by the U.S. government on the Brazos River. On the Brazos Reservation, the three Caddo tribes were led by Nadaco caddi Iesh (or José María), an impressive leader who convinced his fellow tribesmen to accept the federal government's "civilization" program and to assist the United States and the Texas Rangers in their struggle with hostile Comanches. Despite this accommodationist stance, in 1859 Texas vigilantes forced the Brazos Reservation tribes to move north of the Red River into Indian Territory. The Caddos splintered during the chaos of the Civil War, moving into Kansas and Colorado. The federal government finally brought them together on a reservation in 1872. On the Wichita Reservation, between the Washita and Canadian Rivers, the three remaining Caddo groups united into one tribe. Although the Caddos did everything the federal government asked of them in their new homes–farming, stock raising, and submitting to education and Christianity–the Wichita Reservation was dissolved in 1901 and the 534 remaining Caddos went through the allotment process as outlined by the Dawes Act of 1887.

Despite the attempts of the federal government to destroy it, the Caddo tribe remained intact, and a measure of home rule was provided through the terms of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936, which was accepted by the enrolled Caddo voters. The tribe ratified a constitution that remained in effect until 1976, when it was replaced by a completely new document. A measure of compensation for their historical losses came in the 1970s when the U.S. Court of Claims awarded the Caddo tribe $383,475 for abuses in the 1835 treaty and $1,222,800 for inadequate payments for allotments and surplus lands on the Wichita Reservation. Today, the approximately 3,200 Caddos maintain a tribal complex on thirty-seven acres of tribal-controlled land located at Binger, in Caddo County, Oklahoma.

F. Todd Smith

University of North Texas

Carter, Cecile. Caddo Indians: Where We Come From. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Smith, F. Todd. The Caddo Indians: Tribes at the Convergence of Empires, 1542–1854. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995.

Smith, F. Todd. The Caddos, the Wichitas, and the United States, 1846–1901. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996.

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