Minden Press-Herald

Thursday
Oct 02nd

The Thanksgiving Holiday and Our Early Americans

Winterhawk eased through the underbrush, concealing himself as best he could. He grasped his homemade spear tightly as the short-faced bear shuffled toward him. Winterhawk took a deep breath, summoned all the strength he had, and, when the bear was very close, with a mighty two-armed thrust, rammed the stone spearhead through the animal's ribs. He was thankful that the stone he chipped so carefully would provide food for himself and his family. Winterhawk was one of our first Americans. He was a Caddo Indian from the tribe known as the Kadohadochos.
 
The site of the kill could have been where Minden's City Hall now stands.
Now that Thanksgiving is approaching, we sometimes wonder how the first Americans, especially those who lived here, lived their lives. We remember the story of the first Thanksgiving that took place in Plymouth Colony in 1621. After a horrendous year, when many of the original Pilgrims died of starvation and scurvy, Governor William Bradford organized a feast that lasted three days. Although it hasn't been officially mentioned, I suspect that a major reason for their "thanksgiving" was to thank the Wampauag tribe for taking pity on the newcomers and for teaching them how to grow vegetables, especially corn, how to hunt and fish, and, in general, how to cope with nature in the newly established colony. We're told the Indians brought five deer for the celebration and probably provided codfish, clams, lobster, ducks and geese and various fruits and nuts.
 
Archeologists, anthropologists and geographers, blessed with infinite patience and remarkable insight, have traced the migration and struggles of the first Americans from the ice age to the beginning of the written word. We've been told the earliest Americans came from Siberia, traveled on the exposed land bridge to Alaska, and kept moving south to warmer climates. It is estimated that this migration started about 23,000 years ago and the natives reached the southeastern United States about 12,000 years ago. 
 
That entire scenario was the pre-historic era and did not end until the first Europeans arrived. At that time, written accounts were recorded and that's when "history" officially began.
According to Robert W. Newman and Nancy W. Hawkins, formerly of LSU, who wrote Louisiana Prehistory, the earliest Indians who lived here were called the Paleo Indians. They hunted many animals which are now extinct like the camel, giant armadillos, short-faced bears, mastadons, mammoths and ground sloths along with some that are still with us like rabbits, squirrels and deer. One extinct beast was the saber-toothed tiger, but one wonders who hunted whom.
 
The Paleo were nomads. They stayed in an area until they depleted the game and plant food supply. Their range may have extended from Texas to Mississippi during an Indian's lifetime without returning to the same place twice. Paleo Indian relics have been found at the John Pearce Site in south Caddo Parish.
 
Fishhooks were "invented" from animal bones during the Meso Indian period and they also used traps and nets for catching fish. The Mesos also used the atlatl, an extension of the hunter's arm for throwing spears faster, farther, and more accurately. They also made baskets to carry seeds, tools, fruits and nuts and made axes and chopping tools.
 
The next period is referred to as the Neo Indian period where they advanced to stone and pottery vessels, baked clay cooking balls for heating food and built shell and earthen mounds as sacred burial grounds. There are indications of this at our Poverty Point location further east. The Poverty Point Indians cooked their food in a new way. They heated their clay cooking balls like charcoal briquettes. They were heated in a fire until hot and as many as 200 were placed in a roasting pit. They built huge earthen mounds which can be seen near the Epps Township and traded with other clans along the Mississippi River.
 
Other cultures, like the Tchefuncte and the Marksville Troyville-Coles Creek group, added their share of improvements. The descendants of the Troyville Coles-Creek people living in northwest Louisiana developed close ties with their neighbors in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, which emerged as the Caddo culture. By now they had garden crops of beans, corn, squash, gourds and other native plants. They continued to use mounds as burial places and included ceremonial objects like tools, jewelry, fine pottery, rare minerals and an assortment of ornaments.
The first Europeans arrived around the mid 1500's. By then the Caddos were divided into several distinct groups like the Adaes, Doustioni, Natchitoches, Ouachita and Yatasi.
 
Trading began with the Europeans where the Indians supplied salt, horses and food in exchange for glass items, kettles, guns and ammo, knives, ceramics, bells and bracelets. At this point, recorded civilization takes place where facts and stories are documents and the pre-historic period ends. From that point on, the mingling natives and foreigners leads to disease and other disasters that take a heavy toll on the early native Americans.
 
In the 1500's, the Caddos experienced a terrible series of plagues that decimated their ranks. Smallpox, measles and cholera wiped out as many as 95% of their tribe. But as time progressed, the hapless Caddos suffered through many serious setbacks at the hands of the oncoming Europeans. Eventually, with their population severely weakened, all three of the Caddo confederacies, the Kadohadocho, the Hasinai and the Natchitoches joined into a single tribe to face the onslaughts of the soldiers, traders and settlers from Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas and the United States.
 
During the 1600's and 1700's the Caddos continued to experience more hardships. For example, the Chickasaw Indians, a longtime enemy of the Caddos, supplied with guns and ammo from the British, increased their attacks in order to obtain slaves to sell to the British. They reduced the Caddos from around 3,500 to 1,000, the Natchitoches from 2,000 to 500 and completely wiped out the Yetasi.
 
Fast forward to around 1938, after all the hardships and swindles the Caddos experienced, their remains were confined to a tribal complex on 37 acres in Caddo County, Oklahoma.
So goes the history of the American Indian throughout the country. Where they were originally peaceful and helpful, they were persecuted, their lands stolen, their treaties broken and have been reduced to reservations in the most desolate parts of the country. And to this day, if it weren't for charitable organizations that struggle to feed and educated them, their plight would be bleak indeed. 
 
And our government squanders hundreds of millions of dollars on the U.N. and countries that hate us and ignores our own people who need it most. If any readers would like to contribute to an Indian organization to help them have a better Thanksgiving, here are some.
 
Red Cloud Indian School, 100 Mission Drive, Pine Ridge, SD 57770-2100
Running Strong For Indian Youth, P.O. Box 42144, Phoenix, AZ 85072-9612
Southwest Indian Children's Fund, P.O. Box 906, Broken Arrow, OK 74013-9938
Council of Indian Nations, P.O. Box 1800, Apache Junction, AZ 85117
American Indian Relief Council, P.O. Box 6037, Albert Lea, MN 56007-9843
 
 

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