Caddo Indian Village site on Sabine River studied before creation of Toledo Bend

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One of the readers of All Things Sabine, from Leesville, La., messaged me this morning, asking if I could find something on “an Indian burial site that was excavated back in 1966 or 67.”  The reader said he recalled going to the site, which was referred to as “Bison’s Homeplace” and watching the excavations.  I found this quite interesting article, which was published in The Sabine Index, Spring of 1966, and written by Index journalist Mary Calcote.  The article follows, along with pictures that were published with it:

The was the year 1266.  The Sabine River left its banks and rolled over the land in West Louisiana.

It was springtime, and the crops were budding and blooming and trees were green.  There was much game to hunt and the fish were plentiful.  But in the spring of this year, the Caddo people were burdened with sadness.

The oldest and wisest of the Indian tribe called by the name of Swift River was dying…

The sky was darkening and the amber moon was rising over the trees.  It was time to light up the evening fires and begin the chants that would take the sickness out of Swift River.

Death Nears

The time of departure was near for the old Indian and the chants of his followers could not save him.  As the sun rose over the hills, Swift River died.

Red Clay, the oldest of his sons, was the one the tribe would turn to today.  Swift River was buried that day, along with his eating utensils, drinking vessel, pottery, his arrows and his smoking pipe.

White Man Comes

The years rolled by faster and faster until the white man took over the beautiful country that the Caddos loved so much.  Soon, there were cabins built, farms planted, and our ancestors settled in to their new homes in Sabine Parish.

Robert Bison came to own the old Indian Village site, located about eight miles west of Noble.  And as he plowed the lands, he would often find the arrowheads and other artifacts left by the Caddos.

Then came the creation of the gigantic Toledo Bend Reservoir, and Bison was among many who had to move out of the Sabine River valley.

In 1963, working under a grant given by the National Science Foundation, a survey was made of Indian Village sites in the Toledo Bend Reservoir area.  This initial survey was made by Dan Skarlock of the University of Texas at Austin.  He mapped this and other sites in Sabine Parish.  Dr. Ed Jelks, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, worked on the project.  He later moved to Southern Methodist University.

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Digging Starts

About mid-April, anthropologists from SMU in Dallas began digging at the site.  Ned Woodall served as archeologist in charge of this, the second of four field seasons by SMU this year in the Reservoir area.

This was the third site in Sabine Parish to be explored and other sites in upper Sabine Parish will be looked at later.

When I arrived at the scene Friday afternoon, May 6, the rain was slowly falling, but archeologists were busy under a tent that had made from a parachute.

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I introduced myself to Dave Brown, who served as assistant in charge, while Wodall was in Reno, Nevada to give a speech.  Assisting Brown was Hiram Gregory, professor of Anthropology at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, and several of his students.

700 Years Old

Gregory, who is an authority on the Indian cultures of this area, said these Indians lived about 700 years ago.  They were Caddo Indians, so very early that the anthropologists gave them the name “Belcher Focus.” The Caddo tribe was believed to be of the same tribe that has baen discovered in a line running into Arkansas and East Texas.

Gregory told me these people were hunters, fishers and agriculturists.

When I was there, four burials had been found. Three had grave goods which consisted of arrowheads, vessels, pottery, and smoking pipes.

To find a lead as to where the graves might be located, the archeologists dig trenches with back hoes.  Gregory said these Indians were buried from five to six feet deep.  When the archeologists get near the skeleton, they are very careful not to disturb it or any of the grave goods.  They carefully use bamboo knives, trowels, and paint brushes as wisk brooms to uncover their finds.

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Skeleton Uncovered

I then saw one of the graves just as they were. uncovering the skeleton and grave goods. It gave me a good feeling to know that I was watching history being made.

Brown told me the digging at this site would definitely go on until Friday, May 13. He said that if other things of significance were uncovered, the exploration may go on longer.

Brown told me the digging at this site would definitely go on until Friday, May 13. He said that if other things of significance were uncov-ered, the exploration may go on longer.

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As I left, I looked at Mr. Bison’s old barn still standing a few feet from the grave sites, and wondered if someday archaeologists would be uncovering it. You see, in just a few months it will be covered by about twelve feet of water when the Toledo Bend Reservoir fills.

This was springtime, 1966.  I looked at the Sabine River 150 yards from the graves as it rolled by, increased by heavy rains from u north.  I looked back at the Indian Village, then again at the river, and left.

Excavation at the 700-year old Caddo Indian village on the Sabine ended a few weeks later.  This brought to an end the month of digging at the Robert Bison place, and ended with the uncovering of about 10 grave sites.

Woodall told The Index that his team had found evidence of houses at the old site.  He said holes were found in the ground, showing that poles supporting houses were once there.  A hearth area was also uncovered.

Woodall said the location was a wonderful place for a village.  Clear springs feed the Sabine River about 150 yards from the grave sites.  Fishing was good in the river, hunting was good, and the soil was rich.

The anthropologist said that deer bones and mussel shells were uncovered at the site.  He said the Indians planted corn and squash.

Those working at the village area said Saturday and Sunday were like carnival days at the site, with steady streams of people coming all the time.  They said as many as 500 people were at the site at one time.

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17 thoughts on “Caddo Indian Village site on Sabine River studied before creation of Toledo Bend”

  1. i live a mile north of this site. when the lake is lowered we see an incredible amount sign of the indians presents. this i had never heard.

  2. I remember going to the site as a Cub Scout. My dad worked in Noble and knew the area well. You could stand right above the workers and watch. I later took a class with Dr. Gregory at NSU. Thanks for the story!

  3. I have learned from the Four Winds Tribe that the Cherokee were also prevalent in the Vernon Parish areas I am a Cherokee descendant. Thank you for the post Miss Shannon and All Things Sabine I have missed you greatly and this was an interesting post.

  4. Bison’s Landing 8 miles west of Noble, La was my family’s land as long as I can remember. The Bison’s came through Natchitoches with the name Besson, Buison, Bisson, Bison. The Caddo Indian Village was located on Uncle Robert Bison’s property. The excavation took place after all of my family were removed from the banks of the Sabine River. Quite often we as barefoot children would find broken pottery and arrowheads up and down the old river bed and across the Sulphur Springs Slough area that ran through the prairie behind our home. We swam and fished in those muddy water holes and the Sabine River was our swimming pool. My mother was an avid hunter, trapper that roamed that river bottom most everyday of her life. The Bison family raised gardens, truck patches and large fields of cotton and corn. Most of the cattle and horses that roamed that river bottom carried a Bison brand on their hip. Hogs, both domestic and wild with a Bison mark in their ears ran through the rich forest of pines and hardwood that grew straight and tall reaching for the blue sky above. Did we know that we were of Indian descent? Our parents and grandparents did not talk of it. It was not cool to be Indian, however, my mother was to proud to not mention her lifestyle growing up and often hinted at our heritage. Yes, the waters of Toledo Bend Lake not only covers acres of land but covers a multitude of memories and stories that could yet be told.

  5. Robert Bison was my Grandfather. I remember my mom and grandfather telling stories of always finding arrowheads. My family was forced to move from this plot of land when Toledo Bend was coming in. They had to move their family, home, church and their loved ones that were dead and buried. My grandfather bought land from my great-grandfather and opened one of the first fishing camps on Toledo Bend.

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