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Caddo Indians

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An important group of closely cognate and usually allied tribes formerly holding a considerable territory in Western Louisiana and Eastern Texas, entering upon the Red, Sabine, and Neches Rivers. In the earlier period they were commonly known to the Spaniards as Tejas, whence the name of the State, and to the French as Cenis or Assinais. Of some twenty small tribes, the principal were the Nashitosh (Natchitoches), Yatasi, and Adai (Adayes), in Louisiana, and the Kodohadacho (Caddodaquio or Caddo proper), Hainai or Hasinai (Assinai), Nakohodotsi (Nacogdoches), Nadako (Anadarko), and Hai-ish (Alliche), in Texas. The Caddo were a semi-sedentary and agricultural people, living in large, conical, communal, grass-thatched houses, and cultivating abundant crops of corn, beans, and pumpkins. Their men were brave, but not aggressive, while their women were expert potters and mat weavers. In general culture they were on a plane with the Choctaw, Creeks, and other tribes of the Gulf States, and far superior to the moving tribes of the Plains, or the fish-eaters of the Texas Coast. They had a fully developed clan system with ten clans, in which descent followed the female line. All but one of these (The Sun) were named from animals, and no Caddo would dare to kill the animal from which his clan derived its name. The eagle also was held sacred and might be killed, for its feathers, only by the regularly appointed priest and after certain propitiatory ceremonies. Their religion savoured of the bloody rites of the Natchez and Aztecs, including cannibalism.

The French officer, La Harpe, describes one of these savage ceremonies which he witnessed while sojourning in their villages in 1712. A large war-party had arrived from an expedition against a western tribe, bringing with them two prisoners, all that remained of six unfortunates, the others having been eaten on the way. The prisoners were closely guarded in the open air, as, according to tribal custom, a captive who had once entered a Caddo house was therefore free and safe from harm. Two frames were quickly prepared by planting two pairs of stout uprights in the earth about four feet apart, with cross-pieces about one foot and nine feet from the ground. To these frames the doomed men were then fastened, with their outstretched arms bound to the cross-pieces above their heads, and with their whole weight hanging upon the cords. After hanging thus for about half an hour, facing the rising sun, they were taken down and compelled to dance for their persecutors. At evening, having been all day without food, they were again tied up in the same way, facing the setting sun. The next morning they were again suspended from the frames, this time with their faces looking for the last time upon the rising sun, while the whole tribe gathered around forthe final tragedy. Fires were lighted by each family and large earthen pots filled with water were placed over the blaze. Two old men, each bearing in one hand a knife and in the other an earthen bowl, then advanced upon the helpless victims and stabbed them repeatedly until the blood gushed out in streams and was caught in the bowls held below. This was then poured into a pot and cooked until clotted, when it was eaten by the priests. The bodies were then dismembered and a portion given to each family, by whom it was at once cooked and eaten. The cannibal orgy concluded with a dance. Such was the savagery which the missionaries challenged.

Cabeza de Vaca may have met some of the Caddo in his aimless wanderings in Texas before 1536. De Soto's expedition entered their territory in 1541-2, and about the middle of the next century another Spanish expedition reached their country from Santa Fe. In 1687 the French explorers La Salle and Joutel came into friendly contact with their principal tribes. In May of 1690 the first mission among the Tejas was established under the name of San Francisco de los Tejas, on Trinity River, Texas, by a party of Franciscans under Father Damian Masanet. At this time the total population of the allied Caddo tribes must have been close to 10,000 souls, but in the winter of the same year a terrible epidemic, possibly of white origin, reduced their number by 3,000, or perhaps one-third, which, with other causes, led to the abandonment of the mission effort in 1693, after three stations had been established. Although the missionaries were thus temporarily withdrawn, the cattle which they had introduced among the Indians were left behind to increase, and thus augment their food resources and foster habits of industry. In 1716, the Indians having expressed a wish for the return of their teachers, Captain Diego Ramon, with an escort of troops and a party of twelve Franciscan priests and two lay brothers, came up from the Rio Grande, and after a friendly meeting with the chiefs concluded with them a treaty of peace on behalf of Spain. Four missions were at once established--San Francisco, Purisima Concepción, Guadalupe, and San José, among the Nakohodotsi, Hasinai, Neches, and Nasoni respectively--all within easy reach of Nacogdoches, where a small garrison was established. Later in the year the missions of Dolores and San Miguel de Cuellar were founded among the Hai-ish (Aes) and Adai, the last-named being within the present Louisiana, making six Caddo missions in all.

French hostility accomplished the abandonment and destruction of the missions the next year, but in 1721 five of them were re-established, with a strong Spanish post on their eastern frontier to keep out the French. The Indian population thus brought within mission influence was estimated at nearly 5,000, not including the bands on Red River. The missions reached their highest prosperity about the year 1760, when the Indian population attached to all the missions of Texas numbered about 15,000 souls. Then began a period of decline, brought about by the weakening of Spanish power, the increasing hostility of wild tribes, and the wasting of the Indians under new diseases, which led to the final abandonment of the Caddo missions in 1773. Five years later the whole region was swept by small-pox, by which more than one-half the population was destroyed in a few months. In 1801 another visitation reduced the Caddo to about 1,400. In 1835 those within Louisiana joined their kindred in Texas, then a separate government. Later difficulties with the Texans led to their removal, in 1859, to a reservation in Western Oklahoma. Here they still reside, being now legal citizens, upon individual allotments. They numbered 550 in 1906.


BANCROFT, History of the North American States and Texas (2 vols., San Francisco, 1886 and 1889); Annual Reports of Commissioner of Indian Affairs (Washington, 1831-1907); LA HARPE, Journal Historique de l'etablissement des Francais, etc. (6 vols., Paris, 1876-1886): narratives of JOUTEL, LA HARPE, LA SALLE, SAINT DENIS; MOONEY, The Messiah Religion and the Ghost Dance in Fourteenth Annual Rep. of Bureau of Am. Ethnology (Washington, 1896), part II; SIBLEY, Historical Sketches of the Several Indian Tribes in Louisiana (Washington, 1806).

About this page

APA citation. Mooney, J. (1908). Caddo Indians. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mooney, James. "Caddo Indians." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Matthew Reak.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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