Caddo grass house and tornado survivors restored at switch grass harvest

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Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 10:49 PM CST

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - The progression of a new Caddo grass house at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in Alto continues.

Volunteers, many of them survivors of the April, 2019 tornado which destroyed the last grass house, are busy collecting switch grass.

The process rebuilds a Caddo home replica, but also lives.

On a brisk Saturday morning was the harvest of a third of an acre of switch grass.

It’s one of the big 4 species of prairie grass in the United States,” said Alan Shadow, the manager of the USDA-NRCS East Texas Plant Materials Center in Nacogdoches County where the plots are growing.

The harvest represents teamwork.

Jeff Williams, President of Friends of Caddo Mounds SHS explained while preparing a bundle with volunteer Jim Lemon. “Yeah pretty much. It just helps to have two people. One guy gets a big arm full of the grass and the other person ties it tight.”

All the while a chain saw with a hedge clipper attachment could be heard above the rustling of the 4-6 foot grass.

Automated tools help with the bundle collection, but the Caddo process is followed.

“The Caddo most probably brought their bundles as family,” explained volunteer Yasmin Suther as she was tying off a bundle prior to placement on a low boy trailer.

The family on this day is the Friends of Caddo Mounds State Historic Site.

“We had you covered,” said a volunteer to Madeleine Ross.

Almost 3 years after the tornado Ross is still reassured. Friends of Caddo had her back when she was tossed 20 yards by the winds. Her husband John was thrown 50 yards.

“I broke in all 15 bones, 10 of them were of course ribs. That wasn’t too bad, but I broke my spine. I broke my arm,” said the petite Ross. She has what will hopefully her last of several surgeries on Valentine’s Day.

None of the pain mattered as she was carried into a partially destroyed museum.

“I could hear his voice. It was the most wonderful thing in my life. I thought he was dead,” said Ross of her husband, John. “And here we are. We thought the grass house was dead. And here it is alive again.”

Restoration happens, in so many ways, thanks to the volunteerism growing right along with the native switch grasses.

“The house is really, it’s kinda iconic, as a symbol of that place just as a community,” said Priscilla Coulter. She didn’t experience the tornado but has come to know its life-changing factor.

“After what happened in 2019 the resilience of this group, I think it’s even more of an icon now. To be a part of rebuilding is -- it really is special.”

The harvests will continue thru mid-summer when work begins on the new Caddo house. The Ross’s, into their 70′s, say it’s how they’ll use a new lease on life.

Schedules for more harvest and willow harvests in several locations can be found at the friends of the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site Facebook page.

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