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Transition to the Twentieth Century

Black and white photographic portrait of Sho-We Tit
Portrait of Sho-We-Tit (Billy Thomas), a Caddo Elder about 70 years old at the time this photograph was taken by Dr. Joseph K. Dixon in 1913. Courtesy William Mathers Museum, Indiana University.
Amos Longhat
Amos Longhat served briefly as one of the last principal leaders, 1922-1923. Undated photo by Laura Kinsloe, Louisiana State University Digital Library.

Click images to enlarge

 

Harry Edge

Harry Edge as a young man. From: Whitham D. Finney, 1976, Along the Banks of the Washita: The Story of a Town, Metro Press, Oklahoma City.

Caddo grandmothers and grandfathers have long told about the beginning of Caddo people and how the first leaders were chosen. It is said that in the Beginning, people and animals all lived together in a world of darkness until a person named Nesh ("Moon") came to lead them to a new world of light. Nesh called all of them together and told them they must hold council and choose the wisest, the strongest, and bravest among them to be their leader. The people decided that Nesh was that one and they would call him Caddi (cah-de). Nesh said he would be their Caddi, he knew the way. Then, because there were so many people, he said they must first divide into groups and each group should select a headman. After that was done, Nesh called all the headmen together. He gave each a drum to beat as they were led up into the new world of light where they built their first homes. It is also said that men built the first Caddo houses, but Sah Caddo, a woman, told them how to do it.

From that beginning until the twentieth century, a principal leader called Caddi worked in concert with community headmen (first called canahas, latter called chiefs) to govern Caddo civic and ceremonial affairs. Their positions were hereditary, passing from father to son or if need be, to wife's nephew or sister's son. Chosen successors were apprentices, learning from elder leaders. They were not allowed to assume their titled positions until they were sufficiently prepared and deemed old enough to be wise, strong, and brave leaders. The Caddi paid close attention to views presented by the canahas; meetings could last for hours. Decisions made by the Caddi after hearing all points of view, were accepted, respected, and adhered to without question.

Among the last men to fill traditional hereditary roles were Caddo Jake (1890-1902), Whitebread (1902-1913), Enoch Hoag (1913-1920), Harry Edge (1920-1922), Amos Longhat (1922-1923), Charles Adams (1923-1937). It was their lot to spend three decades defending Caddo rights to live as wished within the boundaries of the Indian Territory land where the United States placed them in 1859. In councils with agents, meetings with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and the President in Washington D. C., even following the white man's road by employing legal counsel, they expressed the right and desire of Caddo people to live as they always had, holding land in common for the benefit of all. Petitions, protests, and direct appeals detoured, but could not block the treacherous trail Congress opened with passage of the General Allotment Act (Dawes Severalty Act) in 1887. That Act provided for the granting of individual land holdings to individual Indians, replacing communal tribal holdings.

Enoch Hoag
Enoch Hoag was the grandson of Iesh (Jose Maria), in the "Caddo way"-that is, his grandmother was Iesh's sister. He was Whitebread's apprentice and interpreter and later became principal leader himself. 1891 photo by William J. Lenny. Archives and Manuscripts Division, Oklahoma Historical Society.
 

To his excellency, The President of the United States,
Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C.

February, 3 1888

Whitebread, a chief of the Caddo tribe of Indians would say to his great Father that, at the request of his people, he has come a long journey to see him and ask him to listen for a little while that he may learn the wants and wishes of his children who are so far away.

Whitebread knows that the great Father has so many people, whose interests he must care for, that only a little while can be spared to hear him. Therefore he will speak but few words and as directly as he can.

Last winter one of his old men, a chief of his tribe was here, and told the Commissioner of Indians affairs that his people were not prepared for, and did not wish their lands to be allotted to them. There were many reasons for this. First because they had no country that they could call their own—that where they now live was by the sufferance of the great Father's government, growing out of an agreement which his people, and the people with whom he now lives (the Wichitas and other bands) has never authorized to be made, and which had never been ratified by the government of the U.S. or by the affiliated bands. Second, because his people, when they had a country of their own, lived mostly by hunting and cultivating small patches of ground, and were used to moving from place to place in the spring and summer where the grass was good, and the streams were running with clear water, and in winter where they could find shelter from the storms and wood to make fires. Such had been the custom of their fathers and fore-fathers farther back than their tradition went, and which they had inherited for so many generations that it had become a part of their nature, and it was hard to get rid of.

Their old men and the present generation had this way of living in their hearts. They now know that the game is disappearing, the buffalos are all gone, and the elk is no longer seen in their ancient hunting grounds, and the deer and antelope, in their country almost extinct, and his people feel that they must as fast as they can, take up and follow the course of the white man. The old men are preparing for this and are trying as well as their untutored ways will allow, to teach their children in this way. His people believe that the great Father and his people desire to aid them in this and to promote their happiness and make them good people. But he would remind his great Father that the ignorant red children of the plains and mountains are like little infants and that it requires much patience and care to teach them to crawl and walk, and advance by slow degrees to maturity. He believes that before his generation dies out this good end may be attained, but it is only to be reached by patient effort. Where ever their homes have been their country has been enjoyed in common. If one place failed in grass or water, or did not give sufficient protection they could hunt another without hindrance. If confined to one spot, and the soil were unproductive and their corn and vines withered from the drought and the water dried up they could hunt a better place.

Besides these things they are ignorant of the use of many things easy to the white man. They know that a few farmers and black-smiths and carpenters and mill-wrights are sent to teach them, but how can two or three or even a dozen farmers and one or two other mechanics of each class teach, or attend the wants of several thousand people widely scattered over a territory many miles in width and length, and among a people with but few of the implements and tools necessary, and where there are not many gentle oxen and horses for use.

We beg to assure our great Father what we are doing out best, we are trying to teach our young men and children the way of the white man, and we believe if not too much hurried that in a few years we will be able to make our own selections, if we have granted to us a country of our own, where we can build on our cabins, clear our grounds, make our homes and raise our children. Then we will be glad to say to our Father your children have traveled the white man's road a while, he finds it good, and we want you to allot to us our home. My people have instructed me to say to you that they hope you will set aside the order designating the Caddos and affiliated bands as tribes when allotments should be made.

 

Treaties, special acts, and previous agreements pale when compared to the force of the allotment process mandated by the Dawes Act. It was compulsory. Discretion was left to the President. During negotiations to secure Wichita-Caddo acceptance of individual allotments in 1891, David Jerome, the Cherokee or Jerome Commission Chairman, admonished Caddo and Wichita leaders that dissolution of lands reserved for them was coming "one way or the other, either as we propose or under the law." For purposes of allotment, the United States considered Wichita and Caddo, two individual Indian Nations as one. The agreement forced upon their leaders wasn't what their people wanted, it was what they had to accept to retain a home place. A great effort to repudiate the agreement forced such a way proved futile. It was accepted and ratified by an Act of Congress, March 2, 1895.

Thomas Wister
Thomas Wister, known as Mr. Blue, spoke before the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington D. C. in 1899, and ask, in vain, that the U.S. government not to break up Caddo land in the Indian Territory through the allotment process. National Anthropological Archives.
Thomas Wister
This is one of pair of photos that are dated 1998, but were likely taken in 1899 when Wister was in Washington pleading the Caddo case. In this photo he is posed in western clothes. National Anthropological Archives.
Stanley Edge
Stanley Edge, educated at the Carlisle Indian school, served as an interpreter during Caddo visits to Washington. This is one of pair of photos that are dated 1998. In this photo he is posed traditional clothes. National Anthropological Archives.
Stanley Edge
Second photos of Stanley Edge taken in same session dated 1998, probably with his good friend Thomas Wister. In this photo Edge wears western clothes. National Anthropological Archives.
 

Hearing of the Delegation of Caddo, Delaware, and Wichita Indians, before the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C.

April 4, 1899

Speaker, Thomas Wister:

I am glad to shake hands with my white brother today, and I know that he sympathizes with me and wants to help us in every way that he can. We come to you because we know you to be our friend. We have but few friends. We do not trust many white men. We have been fooled too often, but we know you and know by your face that you are our friend, and we ask you to protect us in the possession of our homes, so that we may keep our land for our wives and our children. We cannot be white men. The Great Spirit made us to follow a different road, and if we try to follow the white man's road, we make a failure of our life. If you are satisfied to let us follow the Indian road, we can support ourselves and be happy.

We look around us and see other Indian tribes. Some of them have been allotted, and are trying to live like white men. They do not succeed. Seven years ago the Cheyennes and Arapahoes were rich people. They had plenty of horses and cattle and were living peaceably and happy. The white man has come among them. They have been put on to little pieces of land; they have sold their horses, eaten up their cattle, and are hungry and naked. We are poor, but not so poor as the Cheyennes, for we still have our land and can raise cattle. Nobody can raise cattle on 160 acres of the land in our country. You know it is, for you have seen it. You know that the cattlemen who pasture cattle in our country twelve or fifteen acres to keep one steer. We ask you to try and have Congress have pity upon us, and wipe out this law that has been made, and make a new one so that we may keep our reservation as it is, and continues to live as we are living.

 
allotment titles
Copy of one of the original allotment titles signed by proxy for President Theodore Roosevelt. Such documents contained a legal description of the 160 acres of land allocated to each Caddo adult and held in trust by the General Land office for the sole use of the named individual. Courtesy Cecile Carter.

Special allotting agents began their work in the spring of 1897. Their progress was impeded by two major obstacles: surveying the territory for allotment was an undertaking almost as daunting as an original survey of virgin country; and, they found "great opposition among the Indians." Work was suspended. When resumed in March 1901, pressure to complete work in time for a July 1 opening of surplus lands to white settlers pushed changes in processing allotments that created confusion. Initially instructed to stay on selected allotments, Caddos remained there for weeks without knowing that the process had been changed. Allotment agents followed behind the surveying teams. Decisions on allocations became hasty as work hurried toward a finish.

The Secretary of Interior approved 965 allotments on the Wichita-Caddo reservation on July 4, 1901. Some were selected by individuals, some assigned by agents. Surplus land, amounting to 586,468 acres, was made available for white settlement. The land parceled out in 160 acre allotments to Wichitas, Caddos, and Delawares amounted to 152,714 acres—about one-fifth of the land they had occupied since 1859 when it was pledged "they would remain, they and their children, as long as the waters should run, protected from all harm by the United States."

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allotment land today
Caddo allotment land today between Binger and Andadarko, Oklahoma. The land looks verdant in this fall photo, but most of it is poor farming land. Photo by Steve Black.