This is the first field trip of the 2019 Texas Master Naturalist class, East Texas Chapter located in Tyler, Texas. A naturalist has a broad interest of all aspects of the natural environment with no particular speciality focus. It seems appropriate, therefore, that we visit the habitat of the Caddoan Indians, aka Hasinai, who, by adapting their culture to this land, may be considered naturalists by default.
Caddo Mounds SHS is located a short six minute drive southwest of Alto, Texas on State Highway 21. One would just drive by giving little notice to the grass covered mounds off each side of the road. Signage directs one to the Visitor Center and museum. Once inside the agent can provide information and a working map of the site. A 0.7 mile self-guided interpretive trail includes the reconstructed grass house, mounds, and borrow pit. Carts are available for those with limited mobility.
The site is named for the mounds built by the Caddoans during their living in East Texas from 800 – 1250 AD. They were primarily farmers of the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash), but did hunt for local game found in the pine woods including deer and turkey.
Of course the main attraction are the mounds, small earthen hills that contain remnants of the village. The large mound across the highway and just down from the visitor center is the temple mound. It contains successive layers of grass houses in which priests and elders lived. These were burned when no longer useful, leveled with mud from the borrow pit, and built over with new structures.
The other mounds were burial mounds. They contain the bodies of important leaders along with others sacrificed for their afterlife benefit. These mounds can rise up to four stories above ground with multiple layers of burials.
The grass house now standing is a reproduction built under the direction of a Caddoan elder and his apprentice to the design of their ancestors. Both traveled from their homes in Oklahoma to oversee the construction. All materials were harvested using primitive technologies to build the house by hand using only historical methods. the house contains a fire pit, a smoke hole at the top, shelves, and beds along the side.
The site hosts many special events including the Caddo Culture Day on 13 April 2019. Activities include a live performance of Caddo Indian music and dance, information about Caddo culture, guided hikes, children’s activities, exhibits by Caddo artists, a silent auction, and more. Admission is free, but a donation to the site is encouraged.