East Texas Throwback: Caddo Mounds in Alto show off earliest E. Texas settlers

East Texas Throwback: Caddo Mounds in Alto show off earliest E. Texas settlers
Source: Texas Historical Commission
Source: Texas Historical Commission
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: Texas Historical Commission
Source: Texas Historical Commission
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff

ALTO, TX (KTRE) - It's a place that looks familiar. It should - it has been around for a long time in Deep East Texas, the Caddo Mounds in Alto.

"You're right a lot of people don't know about it or they remember it from their childhood but they haven't been out here in quite a while," said Victor Galan, Vice President of the Caddo Friends Group. "You're expected to touch scratch and sniff. You're expected to feel and to look around and ask questions."

"We have lots of people that drive by the area and say they haven't been in about 20 years and now is an amazing time to come back," said Caddo Mounds educator Rachel Galan.

The site, part of the Texas Historical Commission, has gotten some major upgrades – since probably your last visit.

While the site is now new and shiny, the Caddo Mounds date back to 800 A.D. -- way over millennium ago.

"There were up to 300 to 400 people living here at any given time this was one of their community centers, so they had religious and ceremonial activities going on. They had trade, several things like a modern day town or city would today," explains Victor Galan.

A vibrant community of Caddo, known as the Hasinai, lived in what we know as Alto around the site of the Caddo Mounds.

In recent years, archaeologist have uncovered more about these early East Texas settlers -- like their pottery, tools, and weapons.

"It was a place where people gathered. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, fathers sons, grandfathers all lived here for about 40 generations," said Victor Galan.

An interesting fact: the state of Texas got its name from these East Texas Caddo tribes. The Hasinai word "táysha," meant "friend."

But the three mounds you can see at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in Alto -- played a different role of the Hasinai.

"At some points, mounds were constructed which most of them were ceremonial. In which various dances and events were conducted and eventually some of these turned into burial mounds for the remaining chief tenants and so forth," said member of the Caddo Nation Phil Cross.

And the three mounds are special -- as they are the only thing that remain of the Hasinai that lived in Deep East Texas.

"In this site specifically, I think its true we don't' really know exactly what happened to them," said Galan. "There are some sites further up and down the river. Like Washington Square in Nacogdoches, which are possible places that the Caddo from here moved to. As far as Caddo in East Texas we know exactly what happened to them. They were pushed out by settlers."

The rest of the Caddo Nation, that did remain, was relocated by white settlers to reservations near Binger, Oklahoma.

"About a fourth of our members live around Binger, Oklahoma in their federally allotted land. Or the lands that were allotted to them when the reservation was broken up," said Caddo elder Phil Cross, who lives in Oklahoma.

However, while Cross and The Caddo Nation are over 100 miles away. They do come back for annual events at the Caddo Mounds in Alto.

And hope that people come see what their ancestors built. And visit they have.

In 2014, the Caddo Mounds site got a new visitors center.

"The museum is all refurbished and new the exhibits are new and hands on we have a slate of new programs," said Rachel Galan, who works at the site.

The site along with Cross and the Caddo Nation, are now working on building an authentic Caddo grasshouse that they hope to have up in summer 2016.

But the three mounds remain the focus of the Caddo site.

"They aren't big mountains... by the same token these were all built by the labor and sweat of people's backs, these mounds were built by people carrying basket load after basket load of soil and dirt," said Victor Galan.

And remain the soul of the Caddo here in East Texas.

"I see these and link to them I just get a special feeling, like hey I'm back on solid earth in which my ancestors walked along talked, laughed, sang songs, told tales," said Caddo elder Phil Cross.

If you'd like to plan a trip the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in Alto, click here.

If you're interested in volunteering or donating to the Caddo Mounds' 'grass house project' click here.

KTRE fall interns Hunter Sowards & Iris Rios contributed to this story. A special thanks to Caddo Mounds State Historic Site & The Texas Historical Commission. 

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