A HISTORY OF CADDO LAKE
THE CADDO NATION INDIAN TRIBE
The first primary inhabitants around Caddo Lake were the Caddo Indians. The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Native American tribes who historically inhabited much of what is now East Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. The Caddo Nation is thought to have lived in this area of the south as early as 200 BC and by the year 800 had begun to coalesce into the Caddoan Mississippian culture. Their villages were noted in 1540 when Spanish explorer Desoto surveyed for Spain. The Caddo Indians are noted for their Cypress tree canoes, mound culture, grass houses, bois d’arc bow and arrows, and pottery. They were very much diplomats and due to their political influence and peaceful nature, they became allies with both the Spanish and French explorers.
But, the interests of the Spanish and French often did not align with the diplomatic Caddo People. During the 18th century, the Spanish and the French were both contending for the territory occupied by the Caddo Nation and the brunt of these contentions fell upon the Indians. The trails between their villages became routes for armed forces, while the villages were transformed into garrisoned posts. Even greater threats to their way of life came in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. In 1835, the Caddo nation signed a treaty with the U.S. government and we relocated to Binger, Oklahoma. Today, the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribe with its capital at Binger and there are nearly 5,000 enrolled members of the nation.
THE GREAT RAFT
For hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans, the environment of the Red River was affected by a phenomenon unique among all the great rivers in North America. An enormous log jam that extended 100 to 150 miles clogged the lower part of the river in what is now Northwest Louisiana and Northeast Texas. This log jam was known as the Great Raft.
The Red River alluvial valley contains the most erodible soils of any major river valley in the United States. For centuries before the arrival of the industrial age and westward migration, periodic flooding of the Red River carved into the forests that lined the river’s banks. As they were torn loose from the soil, trees filled the river and formed a series of intermittent log jams from the present-day Arkansas-Louisiana border to the area of Natchitoches, Louisiana.
The Great Raft raised the banks of the river, created new tributaries and spawned numerous lakes along lower elevations of rivers and streams flowing into the Red River. Many of these lakes have disappeared, but Caddo, Cross, Wallace, Bistineau and Black Bayou lakes were preserved by the construction of dams in the early 20th Century. These lakes are still known today as Great Raft Lakes.