This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
By Elaine Warner W


hile my ancestors were living in daub and wattle huts in the English midlands, Oklahoma Electric Co-op member Jeri Redcorn’s ancestors were engaged in trading that ranged from Florida to the Great Lakes. They were from the Caddo tribe, and they were produc- ing pottery with such craftsmanship and beauty that ethnologist, the late John Swanton, wrote, “In Caddo ceramics the art of the Southeast easily reached its apex…there are none that, upon the whole, equal artistic feeling.”

What happened to that artistic heritage is a mys- tery. The great Caddo Confederation center at Spiro was deserted by the mid-1500s. By the late 1600s, there were diverse bands of Caddo living along the Red River and its tributaries – in southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas, Louisiana as far south as Natchitoches, and northeast Texas. As the French moved up the Red River, the Cad- dos exchanged items with the Europeans, who not only brought new items but new diseases. The Span- ish, too, were active in the area, but more interested in converting the natives than in trading. Still, the Caddos adapted to the strangers.

With the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, a new ele- ment was added to their changing situation. These American settlers weren’t so interested in trade. And they didn’t care about saving souls. They wanted the land and wanted the Indians out. It may have been during these years of turmoil that the artistic tradition disappeared. With Indian removals and harsh measures banning traditional ceremonies, the Native way of life was under siege. Well into the twentieth century, Indian children were put in boarding schools and punished for speaking their Native languages.

While many of these measures were quite effec- tive in curbing the culture, elders remembered the traditional songs and stories and passed them on. In spite of the hardships of the past, Jeri says, “Our parents and aunts and uncles and all the other people of the community did not commiserate.


They didn’t talk about bad times. They could have handed those things down. Instead they handed down songs, dances and traditions. So we grew up laughing.”

Jeri grew up on the family’s allotment near Colo- ny, Okla. and she says, “I never remember not going to dances.”

As an adult, she joined the Caddo Culture Club, whose purpose was to preserve and promote Caddo traditions. It was on a Culture Club trip to the Mu- seum of the Red River in Idabel, Okla. in 1991 that she fi rst saw traditional Caddo pottery. A 78-year- old tribal elder standing by her commented, “I didn’t know we did this.” And neither did Jeri. “I thought someone ought to be doing this. I was not trained (in art); my degree was in mathemat- ics. My plan was, I can organize – there are all these other women who can do it because they have tal- ent,” she says.

But there were no Caddo potters. So she set about learning how to do it.

“The thing I didn’t have was any reference,” she says. “That was before the time of the Internet and I didn’t know that sitting right over here at the Uni- versity of Oklahoma they had a major collection of Caddo pottery.”

Jeri did know Dr. Don Wyckoff, then the state ar- chaeologist, later a curator at the Sam Noble Okla- homa Museum of Natural History and a specialist in Caddo culture. They had become acquainted through the Caddo Culture Club. When she be- came interested in pottery, he loaned her books. As she became more profi cient, Dr. Wyckoff suggested that she take her pots to an archaeological confer- ence in Austin.

“The archaeologists were ecstatic that a Caddo was actually making pots,” she says.

Today Jeri is known nationwide – not only for her art but for her role in recovering the lost tradition of Caddo pottery. To perpetuate the art, Jeri teaches workshops, gives demonstrations and presents lec- tures and seminars for both general and scholarly gatherings. Her work is often as enlightening to her as it is

to her audiences. She relates a story about a dem- onstration she was giving at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. She was standing on the banks of Cane River Lake, a former water- course of the Red River.

“I looked at the water and the moss hanging on the trees and all of a sudden I realized – we have the Alligator Dance out on the plains. And it was like an ‘aha’ moment – that’s why we have the Alligator Dance. And I thought, ‘They (the ancestors) kept that – they kept that tradition.’ As I stood there, I felt that there were other women on the banks, grass houses and arbors, and they were making pottery with me – even though I was the only one there,” she says.

Continued on Page 24 DID YOU KNOW?

✓ Archaeological information about the Caddo people dates back to around 900 A.D. but they were probably present in the area sev- eral thousand years before that time.

✓ The culture was at its apex around 1400

A.D. Two centuries later, decimated by disease and pressured by advancing settlement, the remains of the once-powerful confederation numbered only a few hundred.

✓ In 1835, the Caddos agreed to sell off their lands on American soil and move to Texas, which then belonged to Mexico.

✓ By 1859, many of the Caddos had moved north into Indian Territory. Following the Civil War, most of the nation was sandwiched into a small area between the Washita and Canadian Rivers

✓ Today the nation claims 4940 members; 2973 of these live in Oklahoma. Tribal head- quarters are in Binger.

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84