Dehahuit, hereditary chief of the Kadohadacho Caddo community of Native Americans at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, is remembered as an effective, respected leader of the Caddo during turbulent times.
The Kadohadacho (kado-ha-dach’-o) were the most prominent of several Caddo groups that lived in villages along the Great Bend of the Red River in southwest Arkansas. These Caddo are believed to have lived on the Great Bend for more than 500 years before the Europeans arrived. They remained in this homeland until just before 1800, when disease and Osage raids forced them downstream into northwest Louisiana.
Other Caddo viewed the Kadohadacho as descendants of the tribe’s most ancient and prominent ancestral community. Dehahuit was recognized as the principal authority figure for the Caddo in dealings with Indian nations and representatives of colonial powers. Dehahuit was chief from about 1800 until his death in 1833. He has been described as a shrewd leader and skilled diplomat who used his influence to protect Caddo interests and sovereignty in dealings with Spanish and American authorities. His long and successful life helped the Caddo maintain a hold on part of their traditional homeland and a position of influence in relations with Americans. When he died, the ancient hereditary leadership ties were broken, and no one of comparable lineage and skill was available to step forward as leader. Within two years, the Caddo gave up claims to ancestral lands along the Red River and agreed to move into Texas.
Little is known of Dehahuit’s personal life. He was probably born in Arkansas, in the Kadohadacho’s ancestral village near modern Texarkana (Miller County). He was an adult when he succeeded to the position of hereditary chief, and by then, he lived in the new Kadohadacho village near Sodo Lake at the present-day Texas-Louisiana border. This remained his home until his death.
In 1804, most Caddo lived in an area contested by other powers. The Louisiana Purchase boundary with Spain was uncertain, and both Spanish and American authorities wanted Dehahuit’s support and his influence with the Caddo and their Indian allies. Dehahuit spoke for the Caddo in identifying large areas along the Red River and elsewhere as lands under Caddo control. Bands of immigrant Shawnee, Delaware, and Coushatta, for instance, sought and received permission from Dehahuit to move onto Caddo lands in southwest Arkansas (the Caddo had not given up claims on what they considered their homeland, and other tribes respected their obligation to ask permission before moving there). In his discussions with Spanish and American representatives, Dehahuit wanted both countries to respect the integrity and independence of Caddo lands and communities.
Dehahuit became an influential supporter of U.S. interests. He sanctioned the Freeman-Custis expedition on the Red River in 1806 and provided logistical support. In 1807, he used his influence to bring several southern Plains tribes to a grand council with Indian agent Dr. John Sibley in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where U.S. interests in the contested region were strengthened, and he continued to negotiate with Indian and U.S. representatives for many years.
Dehahuit’s diplomatic skills and personal authority were most evident during the War of 1812. Fears of conflict along the Spanish-American border on one side of Louisiana and from the Creek-British alliance on the other prompted both Americans and Europeans to lobby Indian tribes to side with them in the conflict. Dehahuit undertook personal diplomatic missions to Texas tribes on behalf of U.S. interests, and he used his influence with emigrant Eastern tribes against Creek attempts to recruit the tribes to the British side. Behind the Kadohadacho leadership, several tribes openly declared their support for the U.S. cause by 1814 and offered to join the U.S. military effort if necessary. Ironically, it was Andrew Jackson who accepted this offer, and Indian forces were staging at Natchitoches in anticipation of battle when Jackson’s victory at New Orleans in January 1815 ended the war and the threat to U.S. interests in the Mississippi River Valley.
Unchallenged U.S. control of the Trans-Mississippi South—the area southwest of the Mississippi River—brought unfortunate consequences to the Caddo, who were no longer needed as strategic military or economic allies. Incursions on Caddo lands and resources by American settlers increased rapidly, and Dehahuit’s influence with American authorities in defending Caddo interests diminished accordingly. Pressure on the Caddo to relinquish claims to their traditional lands was increasing when Dehahuit died in 1833. The Caddo were removed to Texas two years later.
For more information:
LaVere, David. The Caddo Chiefdoms: Caddo Economics and Politics, 700–1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Smith, F. Todd. The Caddo Indians: Tribes at the Convergence of Empires, 1542–1854. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.
Swanton, John R. Source Material on the History and Ethnology of the Caddo Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
Ann M. Early
Arkansas Archeological Survey
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