The people's supreme deity was known as Ayanat Caddi. There were also other deities and spirits, including the sun. Most annual ceremonies revolved around the agricultural cycle. Each Caddo tribe was headed by a powerful chief, who was assisted by other people of authority. Among the Hasinai (at least), a high priest had supreme authority. Clans were more hierarchical and social classes more pronounced among the western Caddo than in the east. Shell beads were used as a medium of exchange. Premarital sexual liaisons were condoned. In some tribes, men were allowed to have more than one wife, although in others a woman might not allow it. Divorce was easily obtained and occurred regularly.
At least one 17th-century town had over 100 houses. Some villages may have been reinforced with towered stockades. Houses in the east were round, about 15 feet high and between 20 and 60 feet in diameter. They were constructed of a pole frame covered with grass thatch, through which smoke from the cooking fires exited; roofs came all the way to the ground. Western Caddo built earth lodges, with wooden frames and brush, grass, and mud walls reaching to the top. There were also outside arbors. Sacred fires always burned in circular temples.
Women grew two corn crops a year, as well as beans, pumpkins, sunflowers, and tobacco. They also gathered wild foods such as nuts, acorns, mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, pomegranates, persimmons, and grapes. Agricultural products were most important in the diet, although buffalo grew in importance as the group moved westward. Men hunted deer, bear, raccoon, turkey, fowl, and snakes. They stalked deer using deer disguises. Dogs may have assisted them in the hunt. Fish were caught where possible.
The Caddo exported Osage orange wood and salt, which they obtained from local mines (licks) and boiled in earthen (later iron) kettles. They imported Quapaw wooden platters, among other items. Their fine arts included basketry, pottery, and carved shells, and they used single-log dugout canoes and cane rafts to navigate bodies of water.
Most clothing was made of deerskin. Men wore breechclouts, untailored shirts, and cloaks. Women wore skirts and a poncho-style upper garment and painted their bodies. They parted their hair in front and fastened it behind. Both wore blankets or buffalo robes and tattooed their faces and bodies, especially in floral and animal patterns.
Caddoans are thought to have originated in the Southwest. They reached the Great Plains in the mid-12th century and the fringes of the Southeast cultural area shortly thereafter. They gave the Spanish under Hernando de Soto a mixed reception in 1541. Few of the Spanish missions in their country had any success.
Trade with the French began in the early 17th century. The Native Americans traded their crops for animal pelts, which they then traded to the French for guns and other items of non-Native origin. During the 18th century, Caddo villages suffered from Spanish-French colonial battles. Many tribes were wiped out by disease during that period.
In 1835, the Caddo ceded their Louisiana land and moved to Texas. In the 1850s, however, non-Native Texans drove all indigenous peoples out of Texas, and the Caddo fled from their brutality to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). In 1859, the United States confined them to a reservation along the Washita River, which the Wichita and Delaware later joined.
Rather than support the Confederacy, most Caddo fled to Kansas during the Civil War, returning in 1868. Some scouted for the U.S. Army during the Plains wars, in part as a strategy of supporting farmers against nomads. The boundaries of their reservation were secured in 1872, but, despite Caddo objections, most of the reservation was allotted around 1900. After extensive litigation and appeals, the tribe won over $1.5 million in land claim settlements in the 1980s.
Barry M. Pritzker
Debo, Angie. A History of the Indians of the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970; Iverson, Peter. "We Are Still Here": American Indians in the Twentieth Century. Arlington Heights, IL: Davidson, 1998; Power, Susan C. Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: Feathered Serpents and Winged Beings. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004; Rawls, James. Chief Red Fox is Dead: A History of Native Americans in the Twentieth Century. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishing, 1996.