KADO is an exciting, engaging saga that follows the adventures of Tom Murrell and his friends as they stumble into a world of ancient Indian secrets and hidden treasure. It is also based on well-researched historical and geographical realities, including the history of the Caddo tribe and the Murrell family of northern Louisiana. Read more below.
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The Caddo people are American Indians who formerly lived throughout the woodland regions west of the Mississippi River Valley in what today are called southwest Arkansas, northwest Louisiana, northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma. Through study of the archaeological records, we can trace strong continuities in settlement patterns, food production, culinary practices, stone and ceramic technology, ornamental styles, religious rituals, and other cultural aspects of the Caddo people back at least to the tenth century. The Caddos were divided into numerous social and political groups, many of which were organized into complex societies consisting of multiple communities. They were linked by ceremonial centers, where community leaders resided and were interred after death.
The largest Caddo communities were strung along major river courses, but many smaller upland villages existed as well. Caddo families lived in cone-shaped, beehive-like houses made of a framework of poles covered with thatched grass. For food, the Caddos depended primarily on farming—growing corn, beans, squash, and native oily and starchy seed plants. They were hunters of deer and small game, fishermen, and collectors of nuts and other wild plant foods.
Production of ceramic containers was important to the Caddos. They made jars and bowls for routine cooking and storage, as well as “finewares” used in ceremonies and as gifts and products of exchange. Many of their finewares have polished surfaces and are engraved with elaborate designs—they constitute some of the finest ceramic art ever produced in North America. The Caddos made bows of prized bois d’arc wood and traded them to other American Indian groups. They also converted nonlocal materials such as distinctive stone, marine shell, and copper, into ornamental and sacred objects.
Caddo peoples briefly encountered Europeans during the DeSoto entrada in 1542, but sustained contact did not occur until the beginning of Spanish and French colonial efforts in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. At that time, there were two major clusters of Caddo people: the Kadohadacho centered in the Great Bend region of the Red River, and the Hasinai in the Neches and Angelina river drainages of what is now eastern Texas. Downstream along the Red River were several other Caddo groups, including the Natchitoches, who resided near the city of that name in Louisiana. Each of these clusters, or confederacies as they are sometimes referred to by historians and anthropologists, was made up of several smaller political or tribal groups.
Historical accounts contend that the name “Texas” is derived from the Hasinai word “teyshas” or “tayshas,” which means friends or allies. In the mid-1540s, it is reported that Spanish explorers misunderstood this word to be the name of the tribe, reporting it as Teyas or Tejas. Over time this came to mean the area north of the Rio Grande, extending to the Sabine River, which today is the border between Texas and Louisiana. A trading network between various Caddo groups and French settlers developed in the early eighteenth century. Its hub was Fort St. Jean Baptiste, which grew to become the town of Natchitoches, Louisiana, oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase and for one hundred fifty years a French community in culture and language.
The Caddos exchanged livestock, salt, bear grease, buffalo and deer hides, and other goods for French manufactured goods, especially firearms, cloth, and iron tools. Following the cession of Louisiana from France to Spain in 1762, European populations expanded rapidly along the Red River and the number of Caddos declined, due largely to a series of epidemics. Spanish and French colonists established farms and ranches and maintained a continuous commerce between Natchitoches and New Orleans, diminishing the importance of trade with the Caddo groups.
From the earliest time of colonization, the Kadohadacho had been under attack by Osage peoples from the north and Chickasaws from the east. By 1800, these attacks forced most of the Kadohadacho groups to consolidate in villages near what is now known as Caddo Lake, along the Texas-Louisiana border. During the early nineteenth century, the temporal setting of KADO - Lost Treasure of the Kadohadacho, relations between the Caddos and the federal government of the recently formed United States were volatile. Competition for land was increasing, Euro-American settlers complained of Indian thefts of cattle and horses, and government officials no longer felt compelled to provide traditional annual trade goods and gifts. In July 1835, Caddo leaders were coerced to sign a treaty ceding all of the Caddo homelands along the Red River and to agree to never again live there as a group. Caddo communities were forced to move to new locations.
By the 1840s, most Caddos had moved to the Brazos River, west of what today is the Dallas/Fort Worth area, to remove themselves from repressive measures and colonization efforts. In 1859, Texas forced the remaining Caddos (then numbering a little more than a thousand souls) to the Washita River in “Indian Territory,” now western Oklahoma. Since then, the Caddos have survived and prospered. Today, the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribe that promotes the economic, cultural, educational and health status of its members, as well as preserving and protecting the heritage and traditions of the tribe.
Genesis of KADO
The concepts for this novel jelled during genealogical research on my paternal grandmother’s family, the Murrells (we pronounce it “Murl”) in the early 2000s. With most of our side of the Murrell family no longer living, the process was slow and frustrating until I encountered relatives who had already done much of the research, and one had in her possession what we now call The Book of Murrell, published in 1975, which documents our family line back to the early 1700s.
The Book of Murrell revealed that the John Murrell family’s 1818 expedition from their farm on the Cumberland River in Tennessee to Arkansas and ultimately to Louisiana was fully documented in another book, The History of Claiborne Parish, published in 1886. That story, an excerpt from which is reproduced below, is a fascinating window into an aspect of U.S. history that is generally ignored: the movement of pioneers into the southeastern part of the Louisiana Purchase during the period between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
But that was not the most important revelation. The biggest surprise was that my great-great-great-great grandfather, John Murrell, Sr., was a personage of note, recognized as the father of Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, having moved his family to that untamed wilderness
The discoveries kept on coming. As I researched the period and geography further, it became obvious that this region where the Murrells and many other families settled had a long, rich history going back hundreds if not thousands of years. This was the land of the Caddos, once one of the most important American Indian tribes of what today is known as the Mississippian Indian culture. They lived for centuries across much of the southeastern region west of the Mississippi River Valley.
The more I investigated the Caddo tribe, the more fascinated I became by their history, culture, and architecture. Not only did they give name to the State of Texas, but they were caught in the middle of Spanish conquistador expeditions in the 1500s when explorers like Hernando de Soto scoured the Southeastern U.S. looking for treasure. This is a tribe that once dominated a huge area of the American continent with their rich folklore, language and art—especially their pottery. The full extent of what this tribe accomplished during its centuries of greatness can never be known, because so much of their history is long forgotten. Today all we have is a fragmented archaeological record, a rich collection of artifacts, descriptions of their civilization by Europeans that made first contact, and the stories, songs and legends remembered by the approximately five thousand members of the Caddo Nation, based in Binger, Oklahoma.
So where did this great civilization go? Why are the Caddos almost unknown today, when other tribes like the Apache and Comanche are well known by all? There were several factors at work that relegated the Caddos to the back pages of history. One was the decimation of their population by European diseases that infected all American Indian tribes in the four centuries following first contact. A second was that theirs was a culture that valued commerce over war, which kept the Caddos out of histories of the Western United States that focused on warlike tribes. And finally, the tribe relinquished their historical lands without a fight in 1835, excluding the Caddos from the historical record which is dominated with accounts of much more violent submissions of other Indian tribes to United States authority. Regardless of the reasons, the fact is that the stories of the Caddos are not widely known beyond the culture preserved by today’s Caddo Nation. A very brief summary of the Caddo tribe’s history is included below.
As my understanding of the Caddos deepened, so did my conviction that their story needed to be told to a broader audience. With my family’s migration into the land of the Caddos, I could visualize where the stories of the Caddos and the Murrells could have intertwined. Not in conflict, but in friendship. A story set in a world which gets little attention these days, but should. Because it was one of the most exciting, awe-inspiring periods of the American pioneering era.
I started writing that story in 2002, and finished the first draft in 2004. However, I was not satisfied with the result. The facts were right, but the characters seemed flat and the ending felt hollow. About that time, I changed jobs and had no time for a massive rewrite. KADO went on the back burner. It stayed there until 2016 when I pulled it off the shelf and discussed the possibility of reviving the project with Jack Rochester, my good friend and editor of a non-fiction book I wrote that was published that year. It took another two years. This book is the result of our collaboration to make this story a true, living window into that time and place.
KADO is intended as an accurate chronicle of the events of 1818 in wild, unsettled, Northern Louisiana and Southern Arkansas. It neither condemns or endorses the settlement of Indian lands by frontier settlers. Certainly, the decimation of Indian civilizations by European diseases was a horrific tragedy, and the treatment of native Americans during the entire period of settlement was shameful. But that does not mean these civilizations were in continuous conflict. In fact, many of the settlers and Caddos became close allies, learned from each other, and moved forward into the modern world. KADO captures this sentiment in a story of cultures and people coming together for a common cause. Surely that is a story worth telling in any era.
There are a number of academic resources available on the Caddo tribe, several of which are included below in the bibliography. But there is only so much that can be gleaned from the historical record. Fortunately, two experts helped with the development of KADO, to make sure the story is as accurate a representation of both the historical record and Caddo traditions as possible.
My thanks to: Phil Cross, Caddo elder, former chairman of the Caddo Culture Club and expert in all things Caddo. Phil provided Caddo stories, and invaluable help with the language and background on the Caddo culture. He is well known in the Caddo community. A few years ago, he supervised the construction of the Caddo Grass dwelling at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site near Alto, Texas.
Jeffery S. Girard served as regional archaeologist for the Louisiana Division of Archaeology and is a retired faculty member of Northwestern State University. He is the author of The Caddos and their Ancestors (LSU Press, 2018), and assisted my research with accurate accounts of the Caddo tribe and general history of the Caddo region.
In KADO, certain Caddo names and words have been changed out of respect for the Caddo Nation. The name Sah-coo, which means sun, is used to represent the great spirit. Na-Da-cah-ah, which means place of sorrow is used as the name for the Caddo’s sacred place described in the story. I use the tribal name Kadohadacho to represent all members of the Caddo Nation as it is known today, including Kadohadacho, Hasinai, Natchitoches and other tribes generally included in the southern Caddo language group from the Caddo homeland, which spans Northern Louisiana, East Texas, Southern Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.
|History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians||John R. Swanton||University of Oklahoma Press||1942|
|The Keelboat Age on Western Waters||Leland D. Baldwin||University of Pittsburg Press||1941, 1969|
|The Hasianais - Southern Caddoans as seen by the Earliest Europeans||Herbert Eugene Bolton||University of Oklahoma Press||1987|
|Hasiana - A Traditional History of the Caddo Confederacy||Vynola Newkumet and Howard Meredith||Texas A&M University Press||1988|
|The Caddo Nation - Archaeological & Ethnohistoric Perspectives||Timothy K. Perttula||University of Texas Press||1992|
|The Caddo Indians - Tribe at the Convergence of Empires||F. Todd Smith||Texas A&M University Press||1995|
|Caddo Indians - Where We Come From||Cecile Elkins Carter||University of Oklahoma Press||1995|
|Traditions of the Caddo||George A. Dorsey||University of Nebraska Press||1997|
|Caddo Verb Morphology||Lynette R. Melnar||University of Nebraska Press||2004|
|What's for Supper - Native American Foods in the Ouachita Mountains||Arkansas Archeological Society||Arkansas Archeological Society||2014|
|Cultural Interactions within and beyond the Caddo World||Girard, Pertulla and Trubitt||Rowman & Littlefield||2014|
|The Caddos and Their Ancestors||Jeffrey S. Girard||Louisiana State University Press||2018|
|Disinherited: Caddo Indians Loss of their Homelands||Phil Cross||Phil Cross Productions: documentary video||2018|