12. Caddo

If the experts are right the Caddoan language demonstrates linguistic evolution extremely well. Caddoan is believed to have split into northern and southern branches more than 3000 years ago. Northern Caddoan further evolved into Wichita 2000 years ago and Kitsac 1200 years ago. The Pawnee-Arikara branch is thought to have split again 300 to 500 years ago. The Caddo are believed descendants of the Mound Builders and thanks to the informant Silver Moon in 1921 we know something of their magic.

Sickness was thought to be caused by a witch (there’s that word again) that sent undesirable things into another’s body such as animal hair, insects, arrows, stones, fish bones, and even in recent times, bullets. The Caddo believed that offending arrows could be sent from hundreds, even thousands of miles away. The witch and the healer would have a “battle” to determine which of the two was stronger. Should the witch dominate the “fight” the practitioner wouldn’t take the case. Exorcisms were performed by healers who drew the objects out, often by sucking on the suspected spot. He then sent the offending object back into the witch. Plants were also used as were various techniques of incising and burning. When incisions were made the object was sucked out through a horn or tube.
The position of practitioner among the Caddo was a hereditary one. Grandfathers taught their daughters’ daughters, while grandmothers taught their grandsons. Caddoan witches and practitioners believed they couldn’t kill a white man because of the excessive salt and pepper he used on his food.

Witches were believed to get their power from screech owls. The two developed a working relationship and eventually the witch could turn into an owl. If the owl was killed and boiled in a kettle the witch would die. It is widely believed among Indigenous Americans, not only the Caddo, that owls, coyotes, and other creatures foretell death, doom, and other categories of bad luck, making them perfect for doing the bidding of witches.

The Beaver doctors or practitioners worked in groups and were believed to be the most powerful. In the spring a Beaver doctor would dance and demonstrate his power by setting a grass house on fire while preventing it from burning. One doctor might shoot another in the heart with an arrow and the shooter would revive the victim. Other demonstrations included finding lost objects, and foretelling epidemics and other events within a period of four days.

A doctor’s services were solicited with an offering of tobacco. He stayed at the patient’s side for six days and no one was allowed near the afflicted without first being smoked with cedar. Sweat baths were essential features of doctoring. If after six days that patient wasn’t cured the first doctor “put down his medicine” and another doctor assumed the responsibility provided he had received the necessary signs. The Caddo believed that everyone’s death was preordained which suggests that the intervention of medicine men and women didn’t always cure the afflicted. It was also recognized that each practitioner cultivated his or her own rules with regard to their practice and treatments. Practitioners, with the help of eagle plumes, often deliberately took on someone’s illness so that it could be treated more effectively. Caddoan practitioners used mescal beans in their medicine but it is no longer known how those beans were used.

Another responsibility of medicine people was to make certain that a deceased person remained on the right road on his journey to the afterworld.  The same medicine people took measures to insure that the trails for the living were clear, safe, and easy to traverse.
Deceased relatives were always buried near their home. This allowed the living to send messages to other deceased members of their family. Burial goods included everything the deceased might need or want on his journey including talismans, bows and arrows, and herbs to protect against or combat malevolent forces.

It was believed by the Caddo that a person’s spirit stayed around for six days. The deceased’s head was placed in the west end of the grave, and a fire was perpetually maintained in the east for those six days. All of the deceased’s belongings hung from a pole during the course of this ceremony and at its end anything unfit for further use was burned. Other things were smudged and given away. The people who had participated were then smudged and went off to bath in a local creek. Finally a feast was put up at the grave. A sample of each dish was carefully spooned onto the center of the grave for the deceased’s journey. A similar ceremonial feast took place each year for up to four years, followed by a peyote meeting (please see notes at the end of this essay).

The Caddo also cultivated the ability to bring back the dead. Practitioners would get to work shortly after death to catch up with the deceased and bring him back, provided he had not traveled beyond the clouds. The resurrected were kept in a grass house maintained by the practitioners who would collaborate with the returned individual. There was one account where a man who had been buried for five or six days was brought back to life. Although afflicted by the experience, the man went on to live another 50 years. The last practitioners of this art to survive into the 20th century were women, four sisters. It is unknown if this art was practiced only by women.

The Caddo recognized two forms of practice. One doctored the sick while the other prevented harm. The latter was capable of bewitching people that lived a long way off. Practitioners had a repertoire of songs sung to the dying that frightened off the spirit of death. Such powers, according to the Caddo, came from the sun as well as from ferocious animals.

There are various Caddoan rules about eagles that survived. It was forbidden to snare an eagle, it had to be shot. It was taboo to pick up a plume off the ground; doing so caused great harm. Ritually killed eagles were buried much in the same way humans were after the plumes were removed. The plumes were smudged, and the eagle’s killer bathed in warm water and tobacco smoke. Ritually prepared eagle plumes that belonged to a deceased person were smudged and passed on. Medicine men were the only men who truly knew eagle medicine and how to kill eagles properly.

Numerous supernatural spirits were remembered into the 20th century. There was Father Sun, Mother Earth, Grandfather Fire, Grandmother Lightning, Grandmother Noisemaker (thunder), and Grandfather Wind. These supernatural spirits were remembered as having less significance than ghosts and animals. A partnership with an animal however was considered highly significant and both parties worked together to cultivate specific knowledge and medicine. Killing an animal in anger required a forgiveness ceremony. Often an injury acquired from an animal attack provided the victim with the animal’s medicine. There are accounts about such relationships where the victim became half animal and half human. The Caddo believed that wolves were thieves. It was believed that having wolf medicine turned a man into a thief. Horned hoot owls were known to predict floods, and partnering with one allowed the human to send messages to other humans via his owl ally. However, partnerships weren’t limited to animals. A person could partner with lightning, with the moon, and with clouds giving him the ability to summon rain. I imagine one could partner with most anything.
Supernatural spirits were fed with every meal by taking small amounts of food outside. Any food left out for human consumption was covered at night to prevent its essence from being consumed by spirits. Water left to stand overnight was never used the next day. I found all of these customs or similar ones to widespread throughout most Indigenous American tribes.

Note 1: Peyote. Before any Caddoan participated in a peyote meeting he or she first had to take a sweat bath. Meetings were opened with prayers that asked forgiveness from supernatural helpers. Had someone failed to fast from salt those supernatural helpers would not attend the meeting.

Note 2: Peyote. I am not clear how long the Caddo included peyote in their rituals. They could have acquired it with the advent of Quanah Parker’s vision as was the case with many tribes. It is also possible the Caddo had used peyote for millennia. Peyote is indigenous to an area of southern Texas and Mexico; the Caddo certainly lived within range of that region. Cave paintings thousands of years old found along the Rio Grande depict medicine men hunting peyote with bow and arrow just as they hunted deer. Consequently it is possible the Caddo had used peyote thousands of years before Quanah Parker was ever born. Numerous tribes in the north insist they too had been using peyote long before Quanah Parker was born, millennia before Europeans arrived.

Note 3: Peyote. Quanah Parker was born in 1845 to Cynthia Anne Parker, a white captive, and Puhtocnocony “Peta” Nocona, a Quahadi Commanche. After being mortally wounded Quanah had a vision of Jesus. He was doctored with peyote by a Ute medicine man and subsequently recovered. Quanah founded the Native American Church and the Christian twist spread throughout the tribes. Utes believe that peyote was given to a Ute woman who had become lost in the desert. The peyote led her back to her people and she gave it to Ute men to take care of it.

In conclusion, with regard to the use of peyote, I remain uncertain if the Caddo had used it for thousands of years or were introduced to Native American Church a mere century and a half ago.


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