Four major tribes inhabited the Red River Valley of the Southwest before and during
European invasion. The Caddos, Wichitas, Kiowas and the Comanches dominated
the region and its history for centuries, if not millenia.

After European contact, fortunes for Native Americans changed drastically. The Red
River Valley reflected this through the migration of the Shawnees, the invasions of
the Osages, and the alliances with the Tonkawas.

In the American period, the Red River Valley became home to two tribes, the
Choctaws and Chickasaws, removed from their lands east of the Mississippi River
via the final Indian Removal Act of 1830.

Historical travelers can discover their impact on the landscape if they where to look.
These pages will be your guide to learning about these important cultures, their
places in history, and where they are now.
Tribes in the Red
River Valley before
and during
European contact
The Caddos
The Wichitas
The Comanches
The Kiowas
Tribes migrating to
the Red River
Valley after
American contact
The Shawnees
The Osages
The Tonkawas
Tribes settling in
the Red River
Valley at the onset
of Indian Territory
The Choctaws
The Chickasaws
End of the Trail
Limited Scopes
Because the original inhabitants of the Red River Valley did not leave a written
record of their own, it has often been hard to categorize the people as being part of
a "nation" or, at least, a "confederacy." The first written accounts of the Caddos, for
example, came from the
Spanish, who viewed the villages they encountered as
resources to exploit. This point of view was evidenced by other European
chroniclers, who documented the Native Americans they encountered in the
confines of how useful/beneficial they could be to them. European chroniclers of
the original inhabitants of the Red River Valley include Spanish, French, and
Anglo-American accounts- this area was never under English rule.

Archaeology
Scholarly attempts at reconstructing the history of the aboriginal inhabitants of the
Red River rely on several clues that help to piece together incomplete but workable,
broad understandings.

Archaeological digs and artifacts provide some context. The archaeological record
can be haphazard, as several, possibly important sites in the Red River Valley have
been destroyed over the years through neglect, ambivalence, or apathy. For
example, entire mound cities once occupied by people of the
Caddos have been
destroyed by farming or by relic hunters. The relics left behind by the Comanches
were often purposely destroyed by ranchers. The cultural touchstones of the
Wichitas were outright stolen; one of their major cities near Wichita, Kansas became
a golf course.

Still, scientific surveys of sites that have been explored reveal certain key factors:
that at one point, the Caddos and Wichitas belonged to a much more centralized
culture with major ceremonial cities that acted as religious centers and trade
conduits. Prior to 1492, something happened (there is no consensus as to WHAT
happened) that made the tribes decentralize and localize. One theory that I support
is the climate change theory: a mini-ice age that led to decline in agriculture output,
coupled with deforestation in the vicinity of the cities. In any case, the ceremonial
cities fell to ruin, and smaller, family clans became the centers of villages and
settlements. This de-centralization allowed emerging powers, like the Comanches,
access to the area. By the 17th and 18th centuries, the power dynamic shifted
further, and the Europeans came to dominate the region, leading to clashes with the
emergent Comanche Empire and the faltering Caddoan and Wichitan domains.
Due to the uncertainties and incomplete records that archeology provides,
anthropologists rely on language to understand how tribes are related to each
other. Caddos, for example, have a distinctive language base in which the
languages for the Nasonis, Kaddahadachos, Adaes, Natchitoches, Nacogdoches,
Hasinais, and others are related. Their language influenced Wichita linguistics, that
villages occupied by the Tawakonis, Wacos, Taovayans, Tehuacanas and Keechis
(among several others) held in common. The Comanche language differs
substantially from the Caddoan group: Comanche is a branch of the Shoshone
linguistic group, a tribal affiliation that stems from Wyoming. All of these language
bonds help to explain the historical origins of the Red River Valley tribes, too.

Oral Histories
Ultimately, a true understanding of the history of the original Red River Valley
inhabitants relies on their own stories. These consist of oral traditions and tales
that have been passed down but which, unfortunately, have also been neglected
due to policies that insisted on the “Americanization" of Indians that led to the
destruction of tribal memories. Americanization programs included forcing children
to stop using their language, wear western clothing, and ignore their religion,
customs, and traditions on threat of punishment.  Some of these stories remain and
have been recorded, while others still exist as family stories that are passed down
through the generations. The oral versions of the stories are true "living histories,"
as subsequent story tellers embellish, add, change, or take away some parts of a
story to make it their own.

Tribal Impacts
Today, the Caddo, Wichita, and Comanche tribes are no longer decentralized and
scattered - they exist as nations, with constitutions, courts, and laws. Their national
forgiveness towards the U.S. is formidable, too. Native Americans make up a
disproportionate number of veterans and active duty military members relative to
their population numbers. In fact, if it hadn't been for the Comanches code talkers,
the U.S. would not have fared as well during World War II.

Read more about tribal histories:
Red River Originals
Map of original
native languages
in the United
States, U.S.
Geological 1991
(Library of
Congress). Click
on the map to see
a bigger version.