That’s the way the Kados told their story. These Indians reckoned that the white man and the diseases he brought were the evils of their Sah-coo, and frankly, it is hard to argue with that notion.
My name is Tom Murrell. My father was John Murrell, who fought with Andy Jackson in the Second War of Independence back in 1812. In 1818, my father helped lead an expedition to found a new settlement in the wilderness on the Red River, in what was then called the “Territory of Arkansaw” but today is the state of Arkansas. This book tells the story of that expedition and how it led to the most incredible adventure of my life—a quest to find the ancient, sacred sanctuary of the Kadohadacho.
Kadohadacho is the name of one of the most important Indian tribes to live in the region that is now Northern Louisiana, East Texas, Southern Arkansas and Southeast Indian Territory. Some call it the Piney Woods for the abundance of pine trees in the region.
We know a little something of the Kado tribe’s history. Decades before Europeans came to this land, the Kadohadacho were a family of tribes with similar languages and customs, perhaps a hundred thousand strong. Since ancient times, the Kados had thrived across a broad region on either side of the mighty Red River, which runs over a thousand miles from western Indian Territory all the way to the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers in southern Louisiana.
In the stories of the Kados, you’ll find no tales of bloodthirsty savagery like you hear about the Apache or Comanche, nor any surviving evidence of great civilizations such as the Aztec or Inca. Instead, mostly you hear about their peaceableness, their large grass-covered, beehive- shaped lodges, their talent as artisans, and, especially, their finely-honed mercantile skills. It is not commonly known, but back in olden times the Kados constructed massive, flat-topped earthen structures they used for public gatherings and religious ceremonies.
The Kados traded with almost all of the other Indian tribes living across the lands we know today, from Mexico all the way up to Canada. Due to their strategic position between the Mississippi Valley and the Great Plains, the Kados controlled a key trading gateway in North America, and they thrived.
Various versions of a legend of the Kado ancestors’ bargain with Sah-coo, their Great Spirit, made the rounds with some of the early explorers, with a special emphasis on the part about a much-sought- after secret Kado treasure. If there was such a treasure, they calculated, it was surely a treasure worth finding. The Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who in 1528 was stranded in what is today southeast Texas, started some of the stories. He said he had heard legends of large, well-organized Indian cities where the people were adorned with jewelry made of gold, silver, pearls, and turquoise. Likely based on de Vaca’s stories, another Spanish explorer named Hernando de Soto set out from Florida sometime in the sixteenth century with hundreds of soldiers, searching for treasure across a vast area of the central North American continent. But only halfway through the expedition, de Soto died. His second-in-command took over and scoured the Kado territory for the next year. But as far as anyone knows, they never found anything of value. Many followed the Spanish, but no evidence of either an advanced Kado civilization or its supposed riches was ever found.
The Spanish, and later the French, never discovered that there truly was a secret. A secret that stayed buried for countless decades, if not centuries, from a long-forgotten era of the tribe’s history.
Sadly for the Kados, one reason the secret was never revealed was because so many of their people died. Like other Indian tribes of the mid-sixteenth century, they had no resistance to European diseases. Waves of smallpox, influenza, and plague swept over the Kados, dramatically reducing their numbers. As generations passed, knowledge of any treasure was lost to memory.
Their secret would probably have stayed forgotten had it not been for two events in the first years of this nineteenth century. The first was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 by my namesake, President Thomas Jefferson, that eventually opened the territory to American settlers. The second was a series of huge earthquakes that hit the region between 1811 and 1812. These events would forever change the lives of the Kado and the American families moving into the land of the Kados. Unknown to us at the time, ours was one such family, who would be part of the magnificent history of the Territory of Arkansaw and the region that would become known as the Arklatex—northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas and northeast Texas.
What happened back in those primitive and untamed days has never been told, for fear the story might place those with knowledge of what happened at risk. But now it seems I am the only living witness to these events, so it is time that the story be told. It is a true story, transcribed from the journal I kept during that time. It is a story of the Murrell family, a new frontier, and what happened to the legendary treasure of the proud Kadohadacho Indian civilization.
Thomas Jefferson Murrell, Esq.
Claiborne Parish, Louisiana
May 16, 1857