The land that was to become the state of
Arkansas, and support the village called Penhook, was part of the Louisiana Purchase of
1803. Napoleon's plan to rebuild France's New World Empire was foiled by the
freed slaves in the Haiti. His attempt to re-enslave the people in St. Domingue
made enemies of them instead. What became the Army of Haiti destroyed most of
the French military forces sent over in 1802-04. Without revenues from sugar
plantations in the Caribbean Napoleon had little use for his New World territory
and he still needed money. Napoleon gave notice to his minister of the Treasury
that he was considering surrendering the Louisiana Territory to the United
States. On April 11th, 1803, the French offered the American representative,
Robert Livingston, all of Louisiana instead of just New Orleans. President
Thomas Jefferson had instructed Livingston to purchase only New Orleans.
The American negotiators were prepared to spend up to $10 million for New Orleans and the immediate area surrounding it, and were dumbfounded when the entire region was offered for $15 million. Needless to say, they jumped at the chance and a deal was signed two weeks later, called by some, "the letter that bought a continent". France turned New Orleans over on December 20th, 1803, at The Cabildo and on March 10th, 1804, a formal ceremony was conducted in St. Louis, to transfer ownership of the territory from France to the United States. The sale overlooked one important element: the native population.
|A Caddo Home. Image from the Depot Museum, Henderson, Texas|
Questions about how to approach the Native American past remain politically charged. Pre-Columbian life is viewed either as a savage and brutal darkness or as Rousseau's Eden where people lived in perfect harmony with nature and were, for unknown reasons exempt from greed, cruelty, and warfare ... that is until Columbus arrived and spoiled everything. What follows here is only a sketch of Caddo history, politics aside.
The Caddo people were once centered around the great bend of the Red River - present day Fulton, Arkansas is located on the edge of this bend. The Crenshaw site on the west side of the Red River in Miller County, Arkansas is a prime candidate as one of the key places where the Caddo cultural tradition developed. The Caddo were farmers, hunters, traders, craftsmen, and makers of pottery. They buried their dead near mounds which marked ceremonial centers; three such mounds are located around Penhook. Their farms stretched out around the mounds and were separated by gardens and woodlands.
Extended families lived together in one or more houses on a farmstead. The thatched roof houses were circular constructions with a frame of poles bound at the top to make an oval, giving the homes a beehive appearance. In addition to the houses, there were work platforms, drying racks, and elevated thatched domed structures used for storing corn.
|A map of a Caddo settlement along the Red River, 1691. -Arkansas Archeological Survey|
In 1790, weakened by European epidemics and raids by their enemies, the Caddo began abandoning their home in what is now Southwest Arkansas and moved further down the Red River. However, they continued to hunt in the abandoned lands and claimed it as their own.
After France turned the Louisiana Territory over to the U.S. on March 10, 1804 there was no turning back the white settlers. In 1805 Dr. John Sibley, Indian agent at Natchitoches, in a report to Thomas Jefferson relative to the Indian tribes in his territory said:
There is now remaining of the Natchitoches but twelve men and nineteen women, who live in a village about twenty five miles by land above the town which bears their name near the lake, called by the French, Lac de Muire. Their original language is the same as the Yattassee, but speak Caddo, and most of them French.
The French inhabitants have great respect for this nation, and a number of very decent families have a mixture of their blood in them. They claim but a small tract of land, on which they live, and I am informed, have the same rights to it from Government, that other inhabitants in their neighborhood have. They are gradually wasting away; the small pox has been their great destroyer. They still preserve their Indian dress and habits; raise corn and those vegetables common in their neighborhood.
As the Caddo numbers were shrinking the settler numbers were swelling. The Census of 1820, which covered the entire Arkansas territory, but excluded the Cherokee, counted only 14,273 people, but by 1830 there were still only 30,388 residents in Arkansas. Arkansas population grew rapidly during the 1830s and with the growth of cotton farming an increasing number of new settlers came from the cotton growing areas in Mississippi and Alabama.
By 1835 the Caddo knew the end was near. Their leader, Chief Tarshar quoted by Jacques Bagur, "A History of Navigation on Cypress Bayou," as saying:
My children: For what do you mourn? Are you not starving in the midst of this land? Do you not travel far in the quest for food? The game we live off is going further off and the white man is coming near to us; and is not our condition getting worse daily? So why lament for the loss of that which yields us nothing but misery? Let us be wise then and get all we can for it and not wait until the white man steals it away, little by little, and then gives us nothing.
In 1872 the boundaries of their reservation were defined, and in 1902 every man, woman, and child received an allotment of land under the provisions of the Severalty Act of 1887, by which they because citizens of the United States and subject to the laws of Oklahoma.
Missions were started by the Baptists soon after the reservation was established and are still maintained. The Episcopalians opened a mission in 1881, the Roman Catholics in 1894. If you would like to learn about the Caddo today, check out their Facebook Site:Caddo Nation
End note: The new settlers around Penhook used the two abandoned Caddo mounds as cemeteries. But as the Caddo abandoned the mounds, so too now have the descendents of the early white settlers. The two cemeteries are filled with the gravestones of original settlers, but the brush is so thick walking about is impossible. Only the Columbus cemetery established in 1860 is maintained. The marker below is in the Section Sixteen cemetery just east of Penhook.
|The first in a long line of Mary Stuarts in the family.|