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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

The Mystery of Caddo Mounds

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Long before Anglos settled East Texas, the region’s first settlement was going about its business on a prairie slope near the Neches River in what is now Cherokee County.

Caddoan Mounds, a settlement of dwellings and temples, was the home of a prehistoric group of Caddo Indians, who settled in the Neches Valley sometime in the late eighth century, A.D.

What is left of the mound-building Caddos is found in stone artifacts and small tools at the Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site east of Alto on Texas Highway 21, often known as El Camino Real. Founded in the l960s, it is a wonderful place for a weekend family trip and to learn about the Caddos.
Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, TX - Caddo  Tools
Photo courtesy Dana Goolsby, October 2010
Caddoan Mounds State Historic Site
The Texas Forest Service’s tree nursery, standing across the road from Caddoan Mounds, was also a part of the Indians’ village. Nearby are two natural flowing springs likely used by the Indians.

While the Caddo were among the first to establish villages in East Texas, they were not the first Indians to come here.

During some 11,000 years preceding the Caddo occupation at the prairie, small groups of nomadic hunters and gatherers wandered through East Texas, following game animals and collecting nuts and fruits.

Over several centuries, the introduction of corn, pottery and the bow and arrow transformed the nomad hunters and gatherers into village dwellers. The result was villages such as the one found at Caddoan Mounds.

As their populations grew and their influence spread, the Mound Builders established trade networks extending from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Trade goods included foods, raw stone materials, pottery, and finished luxury and ceremonial objects, such as copper, ear spools, and stone effigy pipes.

The Caddos lived in round beehive-shaped houses, which ranged from 25 to 45 feet in diameter and of similar heights. Temples and other public buildings ranged in shape from round to squarish thatched structures, often built on platforms.

Periodically for more than sixty years, archaeologists have been investigating the mounds, attempting to learn more of their origin. Conclusions from the excavations indicate that the site was an important Caddoan community for centuries.

The volume of information gathered at Caddoan Mounds has provided more knowledge about East Texas’ oldest known “town,” but many questions remain unresolved.

Among them: What happened to the Caddos? Did they travel to another land? Were they vanquished by rival tribes? Did they die of starvation or an epidemic illness? Or did they simply leave when French and Spanish explorers brought new and different people to East Texas?

The answers are still to be resolved.


All Things Historical August 4, 2008 Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
(Distributed as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a former president of the Association and the author of more than 35 books. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

Related Topics: East Texas | Texas State Parks
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