Native Americans lived in the woods of East Texas for thousands of years. Much later, Spanish missionaries, French soldiers, African-Americans and settlers from all over the world called East Texas home, too.
The Caddo Indians lived in the northeastern area of the Pineywoods. The Caddo cultivated (farmed) land, made pottery, and traded extensively with other Mound Builder tribes. They built cone-shaped huts covered with bundles of cane for thatching.
The Early Caddo were part of the Mound Builder culture that included other tribes across the eastern woodlands of the United States. They built huge earth mounds for their houses, temples, and graves. Most mounds were round or made like a pyramid with a flat top. The Caddo communities had a strong social structure and used the mounds for religious ceremonies and burying their rulers – in the Mound Builder Tradition. Some of their burial mounds are in the Caddoan Mound State Historical Park.
The Caddo Indians were farmers, but they also hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants. The Caddo Indians had villages of cone-shaped huts covered with mats made of grass or canes, called thatch. They made pots, jars, bowls and other items out of clay. Mound Builder people from other states traded items such as their own clay pottery and fine arrowheads with the Caddo. Some Caddo groups stayed in their homes near Caddo Lake until the mid-1800s. Today, many Caddos live in western Oklahoma as well as Texas.
Hundreds of years ago, different countries in Europe wanted to claim this part of Texas as their own. France and Spain both sent explorers to see what was here. Spanish explorers first traveled through East Texas and met the Caddo people over 450 years ago. The French came a little while later, and lived in the area for a time. The French were enemies of the Spanish. When the Spanish found out that French people were living in East Texas, they built missions and forts there to keep them out. None of them lasted very long for many reasons. The Native Americans who lived there did not want to change their religion or their way of life. The missions were so far away from big cities that they couldn’t get supplies very easily. They were also not very well protected because there were not enough soldiers there to guard them.
One of the oldest cities in Texas, Nacogdoches, is located right here in the Pineywoods. Like the rest of the Pineywoods region of East Texas, Nacogdoches has been home to Native Americans, Spaniards, the French, African-Americans, and Texans. It was named after a group of Caddo Indians who lived in the area. You can still see some of the mounds they built. The Spanish built a mission in Nacogdoches. Though the mission is long gone, the city is still here today. Many historians say that the Texas Revolution started with the Battle of Nacogdoches. The first newspaper in Texas was published in Nacogdoches. Nacogdoches has been an important city for many reasons!