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Houses of the Caddo Tribe
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The “Caddo proper,” or Cenis as they were called by Joutel, early occupied the southwestern part of the present State of Arkansas, the Red River Valley, and adjacent region to the south and west.
La Salle was murdered near the banks of the Trinity, in eastern Texas, March 20, 1687. Joutel and several others of the party pushed on, and nine days later, when traversing the valley of the Red River, arrived at a village of the Cenis. Fortunately a very good account of the people and their homes is preserved in Joutel’s narrative, and from it the following quotations are made:
“The Indian that was with us conducting us to their Chief’s Cottage. By the Way, we saw many other Cottages, and the Elders coming to meet us in their Formalities, which consisted in some Goat Skins dress’d and painted of several Colors, which they wore on their Shoulders like Belts, and Plumes of Feathers of several Colours, on their Heads, like Coronets. All their Faces were daub’d with black or red. There were twelve Elders, who walk’d in the Middle, and the Youth and Warriors in Ranks, on the Sides of those old Men.” After remaining a short time with the chief ” They led us to a larger Cottage, a Quarter of a League from thence, being the Hut in which they have their public Rejoycings, and the great Assemblies. We found it furnish’d with Mats for us to sit on. The Elders seated themselves round about us, and they brought us to eat, some Sagamite, which is their Pottage, little Beans, Bread made of Indian Corn, and another Sort they make with boil’d Flower, and at last they made us smoke.”
They proceeded to another village not far away, and, so the narrative continues: “By the Way, we saw several Cottages at certain Distances, stragling up and down, as the Ground happens to be fit for Tillage. The Field lies about the Cottage, and at other Distances there are other large Huts, not inhabited, but only serving for public Assemblies, either upon Occasion of Rejoycing, or to consult about Peace and War.
“The Cottages that are inhabited, are not each of them for a private Family, for in some of them are fifteen or twenty, each of which has its Nook or Corner, Bed and other Utensils to its self: but without any Partition to separate it from the rest: However, they have Nothing in Common besides the Fire, which is in the Midst of the Hut, and never goes out. It is made of great Trees, the Ends whereof are laid together, so that when once lighted, it lasts a long Time, and the first Comer takes Care to keep it up.” Here follows a brief description of the appearance of the structures of the village, the dwellings resembling those later mentioned as being typical of the Wichita. “The Cottages are round at the Top, after the manner of a Bee-Hive, or a Reek of Hay. Some of them are sixty Foot Diameter.” There follows a brief account of the method of constructing such a house. “In order to build them, they plant Trees as thick as a Man’s thigh, tall and strait, and placing them in a Circle, and joyning the Tops together, from the Dome, or round Top, then they lash and cover them with Weeds. When they remove their Dwellings, they generally burn the Cottages they leave, and build new on the Ground they design to inhabit. Their Moveables are some Bullocks Hides and Goats Skins well cur’d. some Mats close wove, wherewith they adorn their Huts, and some Earthen Vessels, which they are very skilful at making, and wherein they boil their Flesh or Roots, or Sagamise, which, as has been said, is their Pottage. They have also some small Baskets made of Canes, serving to put in their Fruit and other Provisions. Their Beds are made of Canes, rais’d two or three Foot above the Ground, handsomely fitted with Mats and Bullocks Hides, or Goats Skins well cur’d, which serve them for Feather Beds, or Quilts and Blankets; and those Beds are parted one from another by Mats hung up.” 1
The preceding is probably the clearest description of the furnishings of a native structure standing beyond the Mississippi during the last quarter of the seventeenth century that has been preserved. The large circular structures served as the dwelling place of many individuals. The beds were placed, so it may be assumed, in a line around the wall, each separated from its neighbor by a mat. A large fire burned in the center of the space. In many respects the large dwellings of the Caddo must have closely resembled the great round structures which stood north of St. Augustine, Florida, about the year 1700.2
Brief accounts of the many small tribes living south of the Arkansas River soon after the transfer of Louisiana contain references to the numerous villages, but fail, unfortunately, to describe the structures in detail.3 The dwellings probably resembled those already mentioned as standing a century and more before.
Joutel, Journal of his voyage to Mexico: His Travels Eight hundred Leagues through Forty Nations of Indians in Louisiana to Canada: His Account of the great River Missasipi. London, 1719, pp. 106-109. ↩
Bushnell, D. I. Jr., Native Villages and Village Sites East of the Mississippi. 69, Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, 1919, pp. 84-86. ↩
Sibley, John, Historical Sketches of the Several Indian Tribes in Louisiana, south of the Arkansa River, and Between the Mississippi and River Grand. In American State Papers. Vol. IV. Washington, 1832, pp. 721-725. ↩
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